In this course, we will investigate a fundamental human question: what is happiness, and what do we need to attain it? Is happiness largely in our own control or does it crucially depend on external circumstances, such as wealth or the kind of society we live in? Are pleasure or subjective satisfaction with one’s life sufficient to attain happiness, or do objective values play a larger role? What constitutes a meaningful life, and how is meaning related to happiness? To reflect on such questions, we will investigate the arguments of philosophers, psychologists, economists, and other thinkers.

In the first four weeks, we will discuss how happiness is influenced by economic, social, and political factors. In weeks five and six we will look at debates about the role of pleasure and values as constituents of human happiness. After the break, we will focus on sources of happiness deriving from our engagement with the world, from meaningful activities to relationships with others and with the transcendent. The goal of our inquiry is not so much to arrive at definitive answers to the question what happiness consists of but to critically reflect on this everyday concept from different angles.

In addition to investigating the topic of happiness, this course will serve as an introduction to the craft of writing and critical thinking. We will begin by analyzing the basic building blocks of an academic argument and discuss strategies to help you construct a well-reasoned argument, respond to other writers’ arguments, and anticipate objections. Next, we will discuss the structural elements of an effective research paper (introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions), with particular attention to strategies for revising your first draft. After the break, we will focus on the craft of research. We will discuss how to generate a significant research question as well as how to identify, evaluate, and use sources to support your own argument.


Course organization

Since this course aims to help you hone your writing and critical thinking skills, we will spend much of our time discussing strategies for becoming a better reader and writer. In addition to peer writing workshops, one-on-one writing conferences, and oral presentations, which will take up an entire class session, we will discuss a writing-related topic during the first half of each class. During the second half, we will discuss the assigned readings, guided primarily by student questions and responses.


Course objectives

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Analyze and critically evaluate arguments in texts drawn from different academic disciplines
  • Construct a clearly defined research problem, explain its significance, and articulate an argument that addresses it
  • Critically engage with relevant sources that will help you to contextualize and support your argument
  • Articulate your argument in a clearly structured, evidence-based way, and respond to anticipated objections
  • Revise your written work based on peer and instructor feedback and offer targeted suggestions for improvement to your fellow students