Happiness Fall 2016 Study Questions

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AUG 30


1. How does McMahon account for the emergence of the topic of well-being in Greek philosophy in relation to Greek culture?

2. How does the Symposium provide a model for Socrates or Plato's view of happiness?

3. How does Aristotle's analysis differ from Plato?

4. To what extent do our judgments about "real" or "superior" happiness (Pat vs. Lee) track Plato and Aristotle's emphasis on the contemplative life?


1. How do subjectivist and objectivist intuitions in theorizing about happiness vary?

2. How does the case of Jane, discussed by Vitrano, suggest a weakness of objectivism?

3. Under what circumstances would you "discount" the report of a friend, that he or she was happy?

4. What main theoretical possibilities follow from the variation in happiness that Haybron acknowledges?

5. Is happiness best thought of as a psychological state? Does that make Haybron a subjectivist?


1. Why is "nexting" important for the problem of happiness?

2. What do we learn from Phinneas Gage and brain science (in Gilbert Ch. 1) about the location of this capacity to imagine the future? Can you draw any conclusions or make any hypotheses from this knowledge?

3. How has the nature of happiness changed as a cultural ideal through the centuries marking the Roman Republic and Christian era up to Aquinas? What is the best way to describe these changes?

SEP 13

1. What are some of the key claims about pleasure and the causes of happiness in Haidt?

2. How can we raise questions about and develop the happiness formula in Haidt?

SEP 15

1. What is emotional state happiness, according to Haybron?

2. How does Gilbert raise doubts about our ability to compare happiness intersubjectively?

3. What is the point of the discussion of "language squishing" and "experience stretching"?

SEP 20

1. How does knowledge of the brain and evolutionary psychology shape our theorizing about happiness? Constrains? Implications?

2. How significant is the evidence that we do not always know how we feel? Why is that a problem for pursuing and measuring happiness?

3. How does the law of large numbers resolve some of the variations in objectivity of self-reports?

SEP 22

1. What are some of the main causal factors of Happiness? Give examples of the complexity of ascribing causes to correlations.

2. What is the Network Theory of Happiness?

SEP 27

1. What methodological problems occurs in transnational happiness research? How serious are they?

2. How do national group vary in their self-reported happiness? How well do the theories summarized by Diener & Suh account for that?

3. How does the "inclusive approach" offered by Bishop respond to problems with the traditional approach to studying happiness?

SEP 29

1. How does the distinction between realism and idealism complicate the problem of happiness?

2. Can life satisfaction judgments really be divorced from assessments of happiness?


1. What is the Stoic counsel for living well?

2. How is the Stoic model for focusing on things you can control based on a plausible psychology?

3. Is the Stoic counsel for living well advice about happiness?


1. In what ways does Epicurean hedonism take a more sophisticated approach to the analysis of desire and pleasure than crude hedonism?

2. To what extent, if at all, do you agree with Epircurus that simple pleasures ought to be preferred or that most of all of achieving pleasure is removing want?

OCT 11

1. Why does Irvine think negative visualization might promote "stoic joy"?

2. How does the trichotomy of control address some problems in stoic thought? Is it successful?

OCT 13

1. How does Patanjali (and Yoga in general) diagnose the causes of our unhappiness and the possibilities of liberation?

2. How does Donna Farhi's explication the four Brahmavihara fit with the analysis of unhappiness in traditional yogic thought? Is it problematic to counsel "impartiality to the faults and imperfections of others"?

3. Taking both readings into account, what does the expression of a liberated spirit look like in practice?

OCT 18

1. How do the basic teachings on Buddhist offer a comprehensive analysis and remedy for unhappiness?

2. How do you move from a metaphysical interpretation of Buddhism to a contemporary psychological one?

3. What is mindfulness and why is its cultivation crucial to making progress toward enlightenment?

OCT 20

1. Is egocentricity the threat to happiness that Ricard suggests? Is true self-confidence egoless?

2. Would thinking of the self as "less reified" help one achieve emotional well-being?

OCT 25

1. Why do humans experience gratitude?

2. What evidence do we have that gratitude can increase emotional well-being and life satisfaction? How does it do this? Is it more likely to cause a "one time" improvement in your happiness or a continual "dividend"? Does gratitude adapt?

3. What is the right construct for understanding savoring, according to Bryant?

4. How does one enhance savoring? Is there good evidence to think this can produce lasting improvement in emotional well-being?

OCT 27

1. What is distinctive about PCNs as an account of happiness?

2. How do PCNs work?


1. How did Renaissance culture create new possibilities for thinking about the centrality of happiness and the relationship between religion and happiness?

2. How does Reformation and Enlightenment culture create new possibilities for thinking about happiness?

3. Does this history point to limits or potential problems with the emerging modern conception of happiness?

4. How does C's humanistic psychology approach the problem of happiness?

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


1. What are some of the key ingredients and influences in the "American cultural model of happiness"?

2. Given your understanding of happiness, are there aspects of the American model that you are particularly confident about or critical of?


1. How does Csiksentmihalyi articulate the importance of relationship? What part of his advice is traditional?

2. How should we assess trends in relationship in individualistic culture? Should we be less traditional or more? What are the main strategies for managing changing in the culture of relationships?

3. What is our capacity for "vertical relationships" to divinity and God? How flexible is the psychology of "elevation"? Will the cultivation of the sacred (with our without God) increase my happiness?

NOV 10

1. What does the attachment theory of love suggest about the ways close relationships do real work to improve and maintain well-being?

2. Comparing "pre-romantic marriage" culture, romantic 19th century European culture, contemporary theories, and trends in relationship, how variable is our idea of love? Do you recognize personal commitments among the possibilities?

NOV 15

1. According to Gilbert, our rationality has some "blindspots", especially with regard to things absent from a context. How is this a problem for happiness and what, if anything, can we do about it?

2. Identify the forms of solitude that Fenton Johnson advocates for, along with his rationales. What role does a capacity to enjoy solitude play in your philosophy of happiness?

NOV 17

1. What are the two reasons, according to Gilbert, that we have limited success accurately predicting how we will feel in the future? What are the implications for a philosophy of happiness of these limits?

NOV 22

  • Thanksgiving Week: Optional Meeting Time

NOV 29

1. How does Gilbert suggest that our psychology is compromised by the fact that we respond to representations of reality, not just to reality?

2. How does the "psychological immune system" work? What are the implications for happiness of this mechanism?


1. What is Montaigne's strategy for thinking about death and what rationales does offer for his approach?

3. In your opinion, what role, if any, does reflection on death play in a philosophy of happiness?