The Role of the Humanities in Improving the Human Condition

Carol D. Ryff, Ph. D. Pennsylvania State University. Hilldale Professor, Department of Psychology, Director, Institute on Aging.

Contemporary research on human health, which consumes billions of dollars every year and is a top priority around the globe, is largely oblivious to the good things that art, broadly defined, does for us. Scientific evidence is accumulating that improving people’s wellbeing is a key route to improving their health, broadly defined. That reality brings into high relief the next big question:  what are sources of well-being in our lives? I would argue the humanities, which encompass art, music, literature, and poetry, are vital contributors to human well-being. That, in turn, means that our museums, which are cultural repositories of creative human endeavors, are critically needed in our present era, not just for entertainment or educational purposes, but because they elevate our understanding of ourselves and what we are capable of. Those forms of enlightenment constitute critically needed nutrients for good lives, which collectively, make for good societies.

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