Happiness Core Course Proposal

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Happiness Core Course Proposal

1. Course Description

This course on engages the Year Four Question: "Imagining the possible: What is our role in the world" by challenging students to develop a personal "philosophy of happiness" that will have normative implications for their role in the world. The contemporary problems motivating the course are the challenges posed to human well being by contemporary society and the relationship between personal well being and the promotion of well-being in one's local and global community. These problems and issues require integration and collaborative problem solving not only because they involve complex problems addressed by many disciplines of knowledge, but also because they raise questions of identity, tradition, and moral integrity. Since questions about the assessment of knowledge, identity, tradition, and values are integral to the Core Learning Outcomes, the problem of developing a Philosophy of Happiness provides a good opportunity to integrate prior components of the Core using the humanistic principles of Jesuit Education and Mission.

2. Core Learning Outcomes

  1. integrate the principles of a Jesuit education, prior components of the Core, and their disciplinary expertise (knowledge).
  2. clearly and persuasively communicate with an audience of diverse educational backgrounds, personal experiences, and value commitments using ideas and arguments based on evidence, logic, and critical thinking (skill).
  3. assess the ways in which the Core has transformed the commitments and perspectives that will inform their future endeavors (attitude).

3. A general overview of the course topic and approach

This course is focused on helping students develop a philosophy of food. The research questions chosen for the course include:
  1. How objective, real, subjective is happiness?
  2. Is it true that money does not make you happy?
  3. What role does fate and luck play in happiness?
  4. What role does wealth play in happiness?
  5. What role does love and intimacy play in happiness?
  6. What role does pleasure play in happiness?
  7. To what extent can we influence our general happiness by the things we do?
  8. What insights and practices, if any, can I make use of from historical philosophical and relgious thought on happiness (Christianity, Hellenistic schools, Yoga, Buddhism)?
  9. Is Happiness the end of a good life (recall stoics)?
  10. If we know so much about happiness, why not use it to guide public policy?
  11. How compatible is Happiness with instances or conditions of great sadness in one's life?
  12. Do I need to know and practice to be happy with my life to be happy? (My Philosophy of Happiness Paper)
In the context of a philosophy course, these questions call for both in-depth study and the integration and development of basic constructs of knowledge (especially a construct for happiness which relates the personal quest for well being to social life) and values for addressing the questions with a consistent and well-grounded philosophy. The course mixes the follow types of literature and disciplinary knowledge:
  1. Classical Western Philosophy
  2. Contemporary Social Science
  3. Global Religious and Philosophical traditions
  4. Contemporary Political Science and Public Policy
  5. Philosophical thought on Love and Death
The approach to the research questions for the course involves both study and active engagement of the student with the material in relation to their own beliefs and values from their own assumptions about subjective well being to their awareness of the puzzles and challenges of promoting well being locally and globally. Students will have opportunities to develop practical positions on aspects of happiness through both academic and experiential learning. Course activities in my courses normally include collaborative and small group learning, lecture, student presentation, peer review of student scholarship, and writing and assessment of writing. Course activities unique to this course include options to engage in experiential learning (meditation, yoga, gratitude, and savoring) and to evaluate these experiences in relation to research literature on happiness.

4. Any required texts or other materials.

The current reading list for the course includes several books and numerous articles. Here is a partial course bibliography:

Argyle, M. (1999). Causes and Correlates of Happiness. Well-Being: the foundations of hedonic psychology. D. Kahneman, E. Diener and N. Schwartz. New York, Russell Sage Foundation: 353-373.

Aristotle. "Nichomachean Ethics, Books 1-3." Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Internet Clasics Archive.

Bok, D. (2010). The Politics of Happiness. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton UP.

Brooks, D. (2011). "Social Animal." The New Yorker.

Bryant, F. and J. Veroff (2007). Savouring: a new model of positive experience. Mahwah, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum.

Buddha (2006). The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness. Early Buddhist Discourses. J. J. Holder. Indianapolis, Hackett: 42-58.

Cahn, S. M. and C. Vitrano (2014). "Living Well." Think 38(Autumn 2014): 13-24.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, Basic Books.

de Botton, A., Ed. (2004). Status Anxiety. New York, Vintage International.

Diener, E. and R. Biswas-Diener (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth, Blackwell Publishing.

Diener, E. and M. Suh (1999). National Differences in Subjective Weil-Being. Will-Being: the foundations of hedonic psychology. D. Kahneman, E. Diener and N. Schwarz. New York, Russell Sage Foundation.

Emmons, R. A. (2008). Gratitude, Subjective Well-Being, and the Brain. The Science of Subjective Well-Being. M. Eid and R. J. Larsen. New York, Guilford Press: 469-493.

Epictetus. "Enchiridion." Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Internet Classics Archive.

Epicurus Letter to Menoeceus. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company.

Epicurus Principal Doctrines. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company.

Farhi, D. (2004). Chapter 6, "Cleaning Up Our Act: The Four Brahmavihara". Bringing Yoga to Life. D. Farhi. New York, Harper Books: 56-68.

Flemming, J. (2005). Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy. To the Best of Our Knowledge.

Gilbert, D. (2006). Stumbling on Happiness. New York, Alfred Knopf.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. New York, Basic Books.

Irvine, W. (2009). Chapter 4: Negative Visualization. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Irvine, W. (2009). Chapter 5: The Dichotomy of Control. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

McMahon, D. M., Ed. (2006). Happiness: A History. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press.

Miller, B. S. (1998). Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali. New York, Bantam Books.

Montaigne (1575). "Chapter 6: That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die."

Ricard, M. (2003). Chapter 6: The Alchemy of Suffering. Happiness: a guide to developing; life's most important skill. M. Ricard. New York, Little, Brown and Company: 59-80.

Ricard, M. (2003). Chapter 7: The Viels of the Ego. Happiness: a guide to developing; life's most important skill. M. Ricard. New York, Little, Brown and Company: 80-97.

Schmimmack, U. (2008). The Structure of Subjective Well-Being. The Science of Subjective Well-Being. M. Eid and R. J. Larsen. New York, Guilford Press: 97-124.

Siderits, M. (2007). Chapter Two: Early Buddhism: Basic Teaching. Buddhism as Philosophy. M. Siderits. Indianapolis, Indiana, Hackett Publishing.

Vitrano, C. (2010). "The Subjectivity of Happiness." Journal of Value Inquiry 44: 47-54.

Watkins, P. (2004). Gratitude and Subjective Well-being. The Psychology of Gratitude. R. A. M. Emmons, Michael E., Oxford University Press: 167-195.

5. The Grading Scheme

As in most of my courses, I offer students a mix of required and optional elements for them to customize in their grading schemes. I believe this approach allows me to optimize accountability and rigor along with motivating student interests.
Required elements for the course include:
  • reading quizes (10-15%)
  • short assignments (1-2 page practice analyses) - some of these involve peer assessment using peerceptiv. (15-30%)
  • an integrative term paper (which, in this case, is the student's Philosophy of Happiness), (25-35%) and
  • a final exam -- currently 3 short essays using notes and readings (20-30%).
Optional assignments include:
  • student presentations (formal or informal),
  • book groups (informal),
  • short term research (formal), and
  • practica unique to the course (informal). Practica are experiential learning opportunities allowing students to "practice" a practical implication of a philosophical position. They are typically "informal" work and involve journal reports on the experience. In this course practica including:
Percentage ranges for optional assignments constrain journal-based or informal work to 25% of the student's grade.

6. Response to questions

Question 1: A great deal of the normal work of a college philosophy course involves acquiring a base of knowledge and argument relevant to addressing the research questions of the course. Since acquiring this base of knowledge and argument, and exploring the arguments in relationship to one's committments is necessary to accomplishing the learning outcomes of the course as well as the fourth year question, the methods which support this core course activity also support, if indirectly, the learning outcomes of the course. These activities and assignments include small and large group discussion, lecture, reading quizes, small analytic writing assignments, peer evaluated assignments, student projects, reading groups, practica, and extended philosophical writing in the final project.
Learning Outcome One: The approach to philosophy in this course, as reflected in research questions, readings and assignments, embody the humanistic principles of education and reflected in the principles of Ignatian pedagogy (Context, Experience, Reflection, Action and Evaluation). The course pedagogy and reading attend to historical contextualization, move beyond rote learning, and focus on cultivating disposition and principles of action for contributing to the good, in this case a more just, healthy and sustainable food system and food ecology. Prior components of the Core will be integrated in course work by directing specific small group discussions to include discussion of each students' core experience and disciplinary expertise and to consider the extent to which this experience prepares them to solve the problems posed by the course research. The students' disciplinary expertise will also be highlighted in possible student presentations giving greater depth to course content from the student's discipline. For example, a biology student might explore a controversial area of nutrition, while a political science student might update allegations against the food industry.
Learning Outcome Two: The course content and methods of philosophy involve activities which routinely draw on critical thinking and logic, explorations of value commitments using evidence based ideas as well as personal experience. Clear and persuasive communication are certainly important to the practice of philosophy and will be valued highly in the course. Almost every detail of the class meeting time and assignments incorporate these aims, from the "focus" paragraphs which students read prior to reading their assignments, to study questions from class, which they are encourage to track to build the complexity of course themes, and writing assignments, in which students practice many of the component skills of this learning outcome. Special attention will be given to the requirement to "communicate with an audience of diverse educational backgrounds," which has not always been a traditional aim of philosophers. In the context of philosophy of food, this involves calling attention to the way food issues are differently framed and experienced by diverse socio-economic groups and ethnicities. Many of the readings in the course highlight these differences and classroom discussion will be used to help students appropriate a sensitivity to this diversity in their thought and writing.
Learning Outcome Three: Throughout the course students will be invited to consider the ways and extent to which the core has provided them resources for evaluating and potentially transforming their perspectives and commitments on the nature of food, food culture, systems, and ethics. The focus of these questions is typically on future individual, civic, and political choices.
Question 2: I will assess these outcomes in the following ways:
Learning Outcome One: This outcome will be assessed in two ways: first, by incorporating some of the values of Ignatian pedagogy in the rubric for peer and instructor responses to student work, and second, by a late term survey in which students will contribute to a measure of the strength and efficacy of these principles in the course. In addition, one section (2-4 paragraphs) of the final philosophy of food paper will ask students to reflect on the extent to which their Core and major studies are part of the integration they are making in their research for the course.
Learning Outcome Two: This outcome will be assessed in most small assignments which involve writing and in the final paper, which is a culmination of the skills and analyses practiced in small assignments.
Learning Outcome Three: We will routinely call attention to the values of the Core in the way we approach our topic. One section (2-4 paragraphs) of the final philosophy of food paper will ask students to reflect on the extent to which their Core and major studies are part of the integration they are making in their research for the course.