Happiness, Meaning, and the Good Life (Full)

Stanislaus Husi, Assistant Professor

Course: PHILOS 192 SEM 001
Class Number: 43149
Credits: 3 HU
Time: MW 12:30-1:45 PM
Place: CRT 607

Course Description:

What is happiness? What makes our lives meaningful and go well? Is it possible to investigate such subjects objectively? In the seminar, we are going to look at some recent work in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and the social sciences to help us better understand these puzzling phenomena.

Swimming Girls Fu (happiness) Gothic Smile  Laughing Buddha

Among the questions we discuss are: which factors leave an enduring impact on our happiness, and which ones do we adjust to so quickly as leaving hardly any trace at all (the so-called hedonic treadmill)? What is pleasure, what explains its fluctuations, and how central a role does it play for overall happiness? Are there universal patterns in what contributes to the meaningfulness of people’s lives? Why do our forecasts about what will make us happy in the future so often turn out poor predictions? What lessons can we draw for how to lead our own lives? The last decade has witnessed a lot of fascinating research answering questions such as these and others, nicely and accessibly presented in recent bestsellers such as Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, Paul Bloom’s How Pleasure Works, and Paul Thagard’s The Brain and the Meaning of Life. Reading through those fun texts together will give us ample material to talk about in the seminar.

Work Involved:

The format for this class is going to be conversational. The class is designed so as to empower students to take an active role in class. Reading assignments will be quite manageable, and it is crucial that students come prepared. Students will work together in small groups on one project, the results of which they will present in class. They will write three short essays, each discussing an aspect of their interest related to happiness, meaning, and the good life.

  • Attendance & Participation (15%)
  • Short reading presentation (15%)
  • Project & Project presentation (as a group) (30%)
  • Three short essays (10%, 10%, 20%, total of 40%)

Major Readings:

  • Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis, Basic Books 2006.
  • Paul Bloom, How Pleasure Works, Norton 2010.
  • Paul Thagard, The Brain and the Meaning of Life, Princeton 2010.

About the Instructor:

Dr. Stan Husi joined UWM in 2012 as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Before coming to UWM, he taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For his graduate degree he studied at Rice University, Washington University in Saint Louis, and Tuebingen University, Germany. Stan is very interested in moral psychology, and aspires to integrate work in psychology and the empirical sciences with his own research in ethical theory. As a complement to his pursuit of foundational philosophical questions about the good life, he is especially fascinated by the growing occupation with happiness within the new field of positive psychology (venturing beyond the study of psychological deficiencies). His own happiness is much aided by spending time with his family, playing with his two young sons, and exploring Milwaukee by bike.

Stan Husi