Spring 2011 Happiness Class Professor's Blog
Happiness: Jan 11 (1): First Class
Somewhere along the line I got in the habit of writing a blog to my once a week classes the morning after the class. A lot happens in a typical once a week class meeting, so there always seems to be something to follow up on. Our first class was necessarily introductory, but we did cover alot of information and you each have your "to do" lists to act on. The question at the top of that list, "When am I going to do the reading for this class?" is an important one for me too. People seem to like or need to stay busy, and you haven't yet acquired the attitude that will cause you to say "When do I get to do my happiness reading?," so you're going to have to be disciplined at the start. Get out your calendars. You can do a lot with 6 hours a week of prep and a 3 hour class for 15 weeks.
I think we have an extraordinary class and I'm still looking forward to meeting most of you. I felt some enthusiasm in the class for the project of thinking deeply about happiness. I hope you all go well beyond the readings to develop a personal philosophy of happiness that you can consult and update over the course of your life. Ok, maybe that's ambitious, but why not?
We only had a short session doing philosophy, but you all responded really well. After class I was able to recall lots of specific uses of method in your comments, which is a great sign. I think we developed at least three interesting principles or claims from the distinction between H-S and H-L. It does seem true that judgements are not completely distinct from affective states since they seem to induce specific kinds of feelings. Second, H-L clearly isn't a sum of H-S, but there's skepticism that a H-L could be without H-S. Finally, Humans require more than good feels (or positive affect). This got us to the "meaningfulness" question, which will be with us in many forms in the coming months.
So, just a great start. Thanks in advance for your energy and commitment to the inquiry. Let's make sure you're finding books and clickers and managing the websites for the course ok. I'm available to help with any difficulties.
Happiness: Jan 18 (2)
Good job last night. Lot's of good philosophical responses and good initial results from your groups. I'll have some advice below about reading preparation for next week. I don't think we've set our highest marks yet on that front.
Aristotle is really important, but I did have some second thoughts on the way home about what an easy time we gave him. Sure, major aspects of happiness are going to probably be rooted in our nature and so all of developmental psych and related fields are technically in line with Aristotle. But his focus on our "function," particularly our unique function, doesn't really seem well targeted. We already talked in class about how he has to add on this huge list of things to complete the picture. Some of those items, like friendship, relate to our nature as social but not directly (or exclusively) to the rational element of our soul. Lots of things that are going to secure our happiness (like the ability to love) are things that we share in varying degrees with other animals. To the extent that A-totle gets obsessed with function (which postmodern philosophers point out, is a little phallic) and what's different about us, he can't really incorporate these factors. Happiness is likely to involve lots of dimensions of our being that are not unique to us. These classical Greeks (unlike the Hellenists) are a bit wooden when it comes to appreciating relevance of our animal nature to our happiness.
I also wanted to mention that interesting research detail in Haidt about pre-goal and post-goal satisfaction (p. 83). It relates to a point that was made at the first class about how "life happiness" is still associated with a feeling and emotion, but maybe a different kind. We'll run into this more when we talk about pleasure, but it's already useful for you to start thinking about the kinds of pleasures you would recognize and their values.
For reading preparation next week you have two research-report articles, which is somewhat challenging. The main thing is to keep track of major findings, notice methodological issues (even if you can't track all of the technical dimensions), and pay extra attention to summaries and concluding sections.
Finally, there is a student in the class who needs a note-taker as an accommodation. Please let me know if you are interested in sharing notes with this student.
Have a great week. Plan your happiness reading and keep track of questions and things that seem important to you in the inquiry. As you can tell, developing a theory of happiness is going to be a big job.