Life at SJCME

As told by Michaela '14

What is Happiness?



There is one thing that almost all people strive for, and that is happiness. But what exactly is happiness? Is happiness something real? If it is real, can happiness be measured? Is happiness something attainable for everyone, and if so, what are the steps one must take to be happy? Some of these questions are philosophical in nature, some are psychological, and some are both.

This semester, spring 2014, I was able to discuss and explore some of these questions with the help of professors Dr. Joshua Schoenfeld (psychology) and Dr. Christopher Callaway (philosophy). These two professors, after discussing their fields with each other over the years, recognized the overlap between their domains of study and thought that it would be a great idea, instead of trying to separate the domains, to show how they intermingle. The class is one of the firsts of its kind and, “one of the things that precipitated it was the previous dean, Randy Krieg, mentioning that it would be good to offer some interdisciplinary team-taught courses,” says Dr. Callaway.

Dr. Christopher Callaway (philosophy)

Dr. Christopher Callaway (philosophy)

How Does the Class Work?

Each professor will teach a section from our reading and explain it while the other is in the room. In this way, the professors can point out the connections between the domains easier or raise questions to one another on how it can be viewed in a different light. Dr. Schoenfeld states, “One of the things that is really important to me in the field of psychology is that psychologists do not go beyond the bounds of their specific scientific process and make claims that outstrip their knowledge. This is really tempting, and most psychologists do it, and I really don’t like that. So, I really appreciate talking to a philosopher because he makes sure that there is sort of a touchstone to relate back to when making claims.” Dr. Callaway agrees with this reciprocity, stressing that sometimes philosophical theories should or need to be tested, and science is one way this can be done. Students are also encouraged to discuss and ask questions, so ideally there will be a deeper and richer understanding of happiness when the class ends.

Dr. Joshua Schoenfeld (psychology)

Dr. Joshua Schoenfeld (psychology)

I have only had this class for about a month, but here are a few things that I have learned about happiness that you may want to take away from this reading.

  1. The Stoics are just a little crazy when it comes to their approach of happiness. Essentially, they believe that everything is determined and so to be happy, we must simply accept our fate. We cannot control space or time but we can control how we REACT to something.

  2. Hedonism says we should satisfy our appetites and desires as often and intensely as possible. Happiness is also identified with pleasure.

  3. Plato thought that we had three parts to the soul: rational (reason), spirited (pursues honor, respect, recognition), and appetites (bodily needs/wants), and that we are happy when our rational part controls the other two parts.

  4. Happiness is important to your psychological wealth, which is essentially a bunch of different things that make you psychologically healthy in terms of your cognition, emotion, and behaviors.

  5. Happy people, on average, normally live longer lives than those that are unhappy. They also tend to be less likely to get sick or contract diseases. However, they also measured how long a person lives after they have been diagnosed with a disease, and happy people actually tend to fare worse than their unhappy peers. One explanation for this is unhappy people tend to feel more pain or be more likely to visit a doctor than those that are happy. Because of this more intense pain, doctors are more likely to diagnose and treat earlier than those who are happy and feel less pain or are optimistic that what they are experiencing is “nothing to be worried about.”

  6. Most importantly: HAPPINESS IS A PROCESS, NOT A PLACE! Sometimes, the process of getting to a goal can make you happier than reaching the goal itself. Often times if we become too focused on a goal, we may miss the things around us that can be rewarding and give us happiness now, in the present.

Recently, the class discussion was about happiness as it relates to social relationships and work. There are some psychologists who only study social relationships. We watched the video below, which I found to be rather interesting. Dr. Schoenfeld made sure to state that Jim Coan’s findings are only a piece to the puzzle of happiness in social relationships and that there are many other questions still to be answered. But with Coan’s findings, it lays a groundwork for further study. If you have 13 minutes to spare, the findings are pretty amazing to hear about.

As I mentioned earlier, I am only a month into class, but I have already learned so much about happiness and the theories and evidence of its existence and operation in our lives. I do not think that all classes can be combined in this way and that not all pairings of a team-taught class will be successful; but so far the class is operating smoothly, is engaging, and is a breath of fresh air because of its uniqueness.

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