Pursuit of Happiness

Jesus and the Children, Church of St. Mary and St. Michael, Ireland, 2012

This writing-intensive interdisciplinary four-credit undergraduate seminar will explore the perennial problem of evil and suffering in light of contemporary research on human flourishing and happiness. The course draws on the insights of philosophy, theology, psychology, literature, and history in order to address the following questions:

  1. What is human flourishing? What are some philosophically and historically significant understandings of a good life and happiness? How do these understandings compare to the images of happiness in contemporary popular culture? Can human flourishing exclude suffering? In what sense is the pursuit of happiness a “right”? (Selections from Aristotle, D. McMahon, the Declaration of Independence, and C.S. Lewis)
  2. Given that suffering is unavoidable, what can be learned from the traditional and modern answers to the problem of evil? Under what conditions do sufferers have any freedom in shaping or embracing their experience of suffering? (H. Kushner reading).
  3. Suffering can either make or break a person. What are the effects of suffering and which of these are conducive to character development? Specifically, how does the Stoic maxim that suffering builds character square with contemporary psychological research? What is the difference and connection between physical pain and psychological/ spiritual dimensions of suffering? (Selections from Epictetus)
  4. What tools does logotherapy offer for learning how to find meaning in especially bleak and desperate situations? (V. Frankl reading)
  1. Can acute forms of suffering illuminate certain features of the human condition and be conducive to self-knowledge? What lessons can be gleaned on this score from classical literary examples? (L. Tolstoy reading)
  2. What tools does positive psychology give for using suffering as an instrument of human development? (Selections from M. Seligman; Hall, Langer, and McMartin article)
  1. Is there a distinctly Christian approach to the experience of suffering? What is the Christian framework for understanding happiness? (Selections from E. Charry)
  2. What does psychological research show about the importance of philanthropy and helping those “less fortunate”? A service learning opportunity at FOCUS Minnesota will be offered to students.     

Course Syllabus