Psychology 987i: The Science of Happiness
Spring, 2004 Thursdays 1-3PM
MBB 42 Church St Room 227
Instructor: Dr. Nancy Etcoff (Harvard Medical School)
Office Hour: Thursdays 3-4 pm at 42 Church St; other
times by appointment.
Office: MGH East, Room 2165
Building 149 Ė 13th Street
Charlestown MA 02129
Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, Norbert Schwartz, Eds. Well-Being: The
Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. Russell Sage Foundation, 1998
David G Myers. The Pursuit of Happiness. Avon Books, 1993
Martin E. P. Seligman Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive
Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. The Free Press,
Edward Diener and Eunkook M. Suh Culture and Subjective Well Being,
MIT Press, 2003.
Supplementary Reading Packet Ė Individual Articles are listed below.
You will receive these readings at the second class.
Each student will be required to make one class presentation and
write a 15-20 page paper.
The presentation will be a 30 minute talk briefly summarizing the
readings of the week and highlighting the questions and issues they
raise. The presenter will then co-lead a discussion.
The paper must be on a subject approved by the instructor. The paper
may be in one of two formats, either: 1. A critical review of a topic
within the science of happiness. This must be an original investigation
with at least ten references that come from outside the course readings.
Although I encourage people to choose topics that are personally
meaningful, the paper itself must focus on empirical findings.
2. A detailed proposal for original research on a specific hypothesis
within the science of happiness. This would include a detailed
background, proposed methods and statistics and a discussion of possible
Grading will be based on the class presentation (40%), class
participation (20%), and the paper (40%). The paper will be due on May
A significant portion of the grade depends on oral participation. If
a student wishes to take this course but finds oral participation
difficult, he or she must come to see me after the first class to discuss an alternate arrangement for
This course focuses on the science of happiness, integrating findings
from positive psychology, psychiatry, behavioral genetics, neuroscience
and behavioral economics. Over the course of the semester, we will
consider the genetics of happiness, including the notion of a
biologically determined hedonic set point, the brainís pleasure
circuitry, and the mindís power to frame events positively, a tool used
with great success in cognitive therapies. We will question an idea that
has gained prevalence since the Enlightenment: that pleasure and
happiness are our purpose.
Schedule of Classes
Among the questions considered:
How de we define happiness?
Is happiness what matters most?
Why study happiness; isnít suffering more important?
Does greater happiness come from pleasure or from acts of kindness?
Handout: Robert Nozick from Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 1974
Compared to what? How to measure happiness
Reading: Chapter 1 Myers
Chapters 1,3,4 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz
Chapter 1 Seligman.
Love and Happiness: In which we consider why people are so ecstatic
when they fall in love, whether marriage makes men and women equally
happy, and the pleasures of solitude.
Reading: Chapters 8,9 Myers
Chapters 18,19 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz
Chapters 11, 12 Seligman
Roy F. Baumeister and Mark R. Leary The need to belong: Desire for
interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation,
Psychological Bulletin, 117, 1995, 497-529
Genes and Personality Traits: Is happiness hard won or heritable?
Reading: Chapter 6 Myers
Chapters 11, 16 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz
David Lykken and Auke Tellegen: Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon
Psychological Science, 7, 1996, 186-189
The Brainís Reward Pathways. Or why you canít get no satisfaction
Readings: Chapters 24, 27, 28 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz
Consuming Happiness I: Drugs. In which we consider why people all
through recorded history want to get high, and whether you can get
"better than well" by prescription.
David Lenson. Pharmaka and Pharmakos. Chapter 1. On Drugs,
Peter D. Kramer, The valorization of sadness: alienation and the
melancholic temperament. The Hastings Center Report. March/April
Sadie Plant. Chapters 2,3,4 Artificial Paradises, Unconscious, White
Writing on Drugs, 2000.
Contagious Happiness: Smiles and Laughter
Charles Darwin, Chapter 8 (Joy, High, Spirits, Love, Tender Feelings,
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (edited by
Paul Ekman), l998.
Robert Provine, Chapters 2,3, 9 in Laugher: A Scientific
Paul Ekman, Chapter 9 (Enjoyable emotions). from Emotions Revealed,
1. Happiness and Culture: In which we will ponder whether or not the
East and West have alternate notions of happiness, and why people in
Iceland and the Nordic countries are so happy.
Readings: Chapters 6,7,10 Diener and Suh
2. Age and Gender and Happiness: Women are much more likely than men
to suffer from depression. Does that mean that men are happier? Are we
generally happier when young or old? And why are teenagers so miserable?
Readings: Chapter 4, Myers
Chapter 17, Kahneman, Diener, and Schwartz
Chapter 11 Diener and Suh
Consuming happiness II: Wealth, employment and the general issue of
whether money can buy happiness
Readings: Chapter 8 Diener and Suh
Chapter 2 Myers
Chapter 10 Seligman
Pleasures of the Body: where we consider the relation of pleasure to
happiness, and why sex is fun and chocolate tastes good.
Readings: Chapter 6 Kahneman, Diener, and Schwartz
Chapter 7 Seligman
Shigehiro Oishi, Ulrich Schimmack and Ed Diener, Pleasures and
Subjective Well-Being, European Journal of Personality, 15, 2001,
Ruut Veenhoven Hedonism and Happiness. Paper presented at ARISE
conference, October 2001, Nice, France.
Pleasures of the Mind: where we consider curiosity, creativity, and
Readings: Chapter 7, Myers
Chapters 7 Kahneman, Diener, and Myers
Pleasures of the Heart and Soul: where we consider awe,
transcendence, aesthetic bliss, gratitude, and compassion.
Readings: Chapter 10, Myers
.The Dalai Lama: The Value and benefits of compassion. Chapter 7.
The Art of Happiness. 1998
Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt. Approaching Awe, a moral,
spiritual and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 2003.
Jon Haidt Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In
Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the life well-lived (Keyes &
May 6 FINAL CLASS
In which we re-examine the questions we raised in January and
consider signature strengths and virtues
Readings: Chapters 8, 9 Seligman
Dr. Nancy Etcoff teaches Happiness at