The Psychological Science of Happiness


Historically, psychology has focused on understanding disorders of mind—such as anxiety, depression, hallucinations, and delusions—with the goal of bringing people from a negative state to “neutral.” In recent years, however, those who study human behavior have had a growing interest in positive emotions and what enables people to thrive and flourish. This course will survey research exploring various dimensions of happiness and well-being, drawing on readings from psychology, neuroscience, and economics. We will discuss a variety of topics related to the study of happiness, such as how researchers define and measure happiness, the biological basis of positive emotions, self-esteem, gratitude, resilience, creative achievement, emotional intelligence, meaning making, the characteristics of successful relationships, the bidirectional relationship between physical health and positive emotion, the evolutionary basis of positive affect, relationships between money and happiness, and when and why the pursuit of happiness sometimes backfires. Course and conference work will focus on exercises that connect you to the research that we will be discussing.