Image by Clarisse Meyer

Philosophy History

008 The Past and Present of Happiness


High school students are interested in learning about history. This is also an excellent course to prepare for college writing and the kinds of literary analyses performed in college classrooms.  Some training in history or psychology or philosophy or statistics helpful


This workshop aims to introduce students to various perspectives on human happiness, individual and collective, past and present. The worship will explore historical understandings of happiness in different religious and wisdom traditions and cultural settings while charting its emergence since the 18th century as a fundamental human expectation and even entitlement.  The course is historical but draws on a wide range of disciplines in addition to history, including philosophy, religion, psychology, and social science. In addition to presenting students with a multidisciplinary field of perspectives on human happiness, this course is designed to enrich each student’s conception of the “good life” and the particular paths of pursuit that might lead to it.  It aims, in this respect, to be a course in the liberal arts or the humanities in the total sense of those terms, striving to develop skills of criticism, analysis, questioning, and reflection that ultimately will serve toward the enhancement of human life.  

【Sample research topics】

  • Explore how happiness is presented in the foundational writings of a significant religious or wisdom tradition.  How do those presentations relate to/differ from modern understandings of happiness? 

  • Analyze the role that appeals to happiness has played in a modern political or social movement.

  • Examine the language of happiness in the writings of a significant political or philosophical theorist.

  • Examine how visions of happiness are presented in contemporary and historical advertising.  How have marketers drawn effectively on psychological science to help sell their products?

  • Examine the genesis and evolution of the World Happiness Report.  

  • Examine your own country’s place in world happiness rankings and craft a historical argument to help explain its current position and how it might improve. 

  • Children’s Happiness in John Cassell’s Parenting Guide.

  • How Baron d’Holbach’s Radical Atheism in Relation to Happiness Altered the Enlightenment World