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Dr. Nancy Etcoff

Syllabus: The Science of Happiness

Psychology 987i: The Science of Happiness

Spring, 2004 Thursdays 1-3PM

MBB 42 Church St Room 227


Instructor: Dr. Nancy Etcoff (Harvard Medical School)

Telephone: 617-726-5574,

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

Required Texts:

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 Psychology to

Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. The Free Press, 2002.

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.

Course Requirements:

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 findings.

Grading will be based on the class presentation (40%), class participation (20%), and the paper (40%). The paper will be due on May 12.

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 grading.

Course Description

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

February 5


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 (pp 42-43)

February 12

Compared to what? How to measure happiness

Reading: Chapter 1 Myers

Chapters 1,3,4 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz

Chapter 1 Seligman.

February 19

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

Supplemental Reading:

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

February 26

Genes and Personality Traits: Is happiness hard won or heritable?

Reading: Chapter 6 Myers

Chapters 11, 16 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz

Supplemental Reading:

David Lykken and Auke Tellegen: Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon

Psychological Science, 7, 1996, 186-189

March 4

The Brainís Reward Pathways. Or why you canít get no satisfaction

Readings: Chapters 24, 27, 28 Kahneman, Diener, Schwartz

March 11

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.

Supplemental Readings:

David Lenson. Pharmaka and Pharmakos. Chapter 1. On Drugs, 1995.

Peter D. Kramer, The valorization of sadness: alienation and the melancholic temperament. The Hastings Center Report. March/April 2000.

Sadie Plant. Chapters 2,3,4 Artificial Paradises, Unconscious, White lines.

Writing on Drugs, 2000.

March 18

Contagious Happiness: Smiles and Laughter

Supplemental Readings:

Charles Darwin, Chapter 8 (Joy, High, Spirits, Love, Tender Feelings, Devotion)

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (edited by Paul Ekman), l998.

Robert Provine, Chapters 2,3, 9 in Laugher: A Scientific Investigation, 2000.

Paul Ekman, Chapter 9 (Enjoyable emotions). from Emotions Revealed, 2003.

March 25

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

Spring Break

April 8

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

April 15

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

Supplemental Readings:

Shigehiro Oishi, Ulrich Schimmack and Ed Diener, Pleasures and Subjective Well-Being, European Journal of Personality, 15, 2001, 153-167.

Ruut Veenhoven Hedonism and Happiness. Paper presented at ARISE conference, October 2001, Nice, France.

April 22

Pleasures of the Mind: where we consider curiosity, creativity, and contemplation .

Readings: Chapter 7, Myers

Chapters 7 Kahneman, Diener, and Myers

April 29

Pleasures of the Heart and Soul: where we consider awe, transcendence, aesthetic bliss, gratitude, and compassion.

Readings: Chapter 10, Myers

Supplemental Reading:

.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 & Haidt Eds).


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 Harvard.

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