Fall 2014 Happiness Class Study Questions

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1. What is the relationship between classical greek philosophical culture (from Pericles to Alexander) and traditional greek culture concerning happiness?

2. How does the Symposium represent Plato's view of happiness?

3. How does Aristotle alter Plato's view?

4. In what ways are the Hellenic schools (Stoics and Epicureans) continuing and changing the classical philosophical model?

5. What are some of the structural features of the Greek models of happiness?


1. How does Aristotle set up the problem of happiness? What are the key steps in the argument?

2. Critically evaluate Aristotle's view in light of criticisms developed in class.

3. What is the connection between our nature and the possibilities for happiness? Is human happiness part of a "plan" for humans?

SEP 11

1. How does Haidt contrast and evaluate the two main strategies for pursuing happiness (internal and external)?

2. What are some of the key happiness makers and unmakers in Haidt's view?

3. What does it mean to say that we have a "set point" for our happiness?

4. What is the difference between hedonic adaptation and the hedonic treadmill?

SEP 16

1. What does Schimmack conclude about: top down vs. bottom up theories of SWB, the relationship between PA and NA, and between cognitive and affective well being?

2. How do positive and negative affect appear in your experience? What relationships can you notice between them in your experience. Does this lead to any hypotheses about changing your experience (presumably to increase the ratio of PA/NA)?

3. What is a scientific theory? How does our phenomenal experience constitute evidence in relation to science?

SEP 18

1. What features and structures of the brain does Haidt highlight in this reading?

2. What should we expect or not expect from a theory of happiness or our experience of happiness given that we have brains of this sort?

SEP 23

1. Summarize major findings from Argyle on correlations between happiness and Age, Education, Social Class, Income, Marriage, Ethnicity, Employment, Leisure and Religion.

2. What generalizations, if any, stand out from these correlations and the methodological issues associated with them?

3. What methodological issues (limits) do happiness researchers face if they apply quantitative methods from the social sciences to understanding "happiness-makers" (demographic and otherwise)?

SEP 25

1. How do Diener and Suh explain the differences summarized in the World Values Study (p. 436)?

2. What methodological difficulties beset international comparisons of happiness?

SEP 30

1. How is the Stoic worldview related to the specific philosophy in the Enchiridion?

2. What is the stoic counsel of happiness (consider various hypotheses)?

3. Do Stoics have good advice about happiness give what we have read from contemporary social science?


1. Identify principle doctrines of Epicureanism and their rationales, especially consider the role of virtue in hedonism and the rationale for the sort of hedonism Epicurus advocates.

2. Critically evaluate Epicureanism as a happiness strategy.


  • no class to to administrative events.


1. What is negative visualization and how is it theorized as a strategy in happiness?

2. Is the "trichotomy of control" an innovation in Stoic theory? What problem does it address? Does it succeed?

3. Does Irvine responds successfully to the traditional criticisms of Stoics: that they their philosophy might lead peole to avoid attachment or involvement in the world?

OCT 14

1. What does the story of Perpetua and Felicitas tell us about early Christian ideals of happiness and about happiness in general?

2. How does the Roman culture of Horace and Virgil model happiness?

3. What is specifically radical about the Christian conception of happiness and how does it evolve in the 5th, 9th, and 13th centuries?

OCT 16

1. What area the major changes in the Christian European view of happiness through the Renaissance?

2. In what sense are we the inheritors of the cultural model that emerges in the Englightenment? Consider Locke's view for example.

OCT 21

1. What is Patanjali's Yoga? Describe it in terms of its metaphysics and goals and account of suffering, but also give the psychological interpretation that a contemporary yogic might offer.

2. What are the four Brahmavihara? Do they constitute good advice?

OCT 23

Optional Mid-term Exam -- No study questions

OCT 28

1. Develop a reconstruction of Buddhism both as a metaphysically grounded worldview and as a psychology of happiness.

2. Why is liberation and enlightenment hard to describe for a Buddhist? How would you describe a bodisatva (an enlightened person who is still alive)?

3. How is mindfulness supposed to help us, according to a Buddhist?

OCT 30

1. How does a modern Buddhist articulate the nature of suffering?

2. How does a modern Buddhist articulate the the doctrine of no-self (the idea that the self is an illusion)?

3. Is "egolessness" an attractive goal? Could it be the basis of an organized personality? Would it lead to joy?


1. What is savoring and how is it related to pleasure, culture, mindfulness, social and esteem needs?

2. How is gratitude theorized from a sociological perspective?

3. What are some of the key findings of gratitude research? (include Watkins reading from Thursday)


(add notes to question 3 from previous class)

1. What common enhancing factors do coping and savoring share?

2. What are the essential preconditions for savoring?

NOV 11

1. How do our judgements about our happiness and our experience of happiness interact to create subjectivity of happiness?

2. Why is it not straightforward to say that we "know what we're feeling"?

3. How does the Law of Large Numbers help address objectivity and measurement concerns in happiness research?

4. What models of mind are ultimately at stake in developing a construct for the research evidence Gilbert cites?

NOV 13

1. How does Csiksentmihalyi's theoretical position as a humanistic psychologist inform his main theoretical claims in Chapters 1-3? What are those claims?

2. What is "flow" and what is it's relationship to happiness?

3. What, if anything, can ESM tell us about the way we experience different "affect/motivation" structures of everyday life?

NOV 18

1. What is Csiksentmihalyi's theory of relationship and how is it connected to culture and social life, in his view?

2. Compare and assess Csiksentmihalyi and the Dieners on their view of solitude. Should we cultivate a capacity to be happy alone?

3. What is the current evidence on the relationship between marriage and childrearing and happiness? What is the Dieners' explanation of it?

NOV 20

1. How does attachment theory help us think about nature of love?

2. How are different "cultures of love" (culture ideas about what love is and how it is attained, but also philosophical and religious thought on love) related to the larger phenomenon of love?

3. Is Brooks right to suggest that parallel to our phenomenal experience of love there is are psycho-physical processes that define the experience? What insights about happiness might follow from this?

NOV 25

1. What is classic liberalism and why does it pose challenges for happiness.

2. What is Toqueville's critique of the "American experiment"? How does Mill's endorsement of the liberty of the individual and Weber's analysis of capitalism add to this critique?

3. How is seeing things in the future like seeing like distant in space?

3. What is the significance of the U. Va. sports fan study, reported in Gilbert?

NOV 27


1. In what ways do we fail to account for the effect of future experience on future preferences? How good are we at "prefeeling" the future?

2. How does the spatialization of time, and in particular the reference point of the "now," affect our ability to judge our future preferences? What other biases add to our difficulties in judging our feeling in the future.

3. What, if anything, can we do to reduce the distorting effect of our cognitive limitations in predicting future preferences and satisfactions?



1. What does Gilbert mean by saying that we respond to meanings and representations of the world, not just stimuli? Why does that matter for understanding happiness?

2. What is the "psychological immune system" and "investment system". How do they work?

3. How do the asymmetries of prospective and retrospective judgments work and how might they impact our happiness?

DEC 11