Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Happiness and Well-Being

Instructor: Patricia Turrisi


GLS 592-005 (Object Fancy) and GLS 592-006 (Technology and the Quality of Life) in Fall 2012, and, GLS 592-TBA (Evil and Suffering) and GLS 592-TBA (Happiness and Well-Being) in Spring 2013, are four topically related courses of 1.5 credits each. They may be taken as stand-alone courses, or in any combination or two, three, or all four courses. Each are cross-listed as PAR 492 course sections as well. The student learning objectives and course requirements differ for GLS 592 graduate sections and undergraduate PAR 492 sections while the course descriptions are the same for graduate and undergraduate sections.

Happiness and Well-Being

Aristotle argued that the purpose of human life was eudemonia, well-being. He outlined a complex set of rules for practicing self-controlled skill in managing the human dispositions and passions. The result of virtuous practice was supposed to result in a balanced and harmonious soul. Aristotle emphasized the development of human character and sensibility as the means by which happiness become possible. Yet he also warned that we could only do so much to gain control over our passions, especially if bad luck came our way. Happiness was contingent on the extent to which the values and overall virtue (or corruption) of one's society allowed the practice of individual self-control, and whether the conditions of life and, ultimately, good luck, left room for the development and practice of virtue. Thereby, life skills might be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. By contrast, in contemporary western culture, happiness is defined in a variety of competing ways, in many of which the long-term development of character plays little or no role. The presence of happiness in someone's life is variously explained as being a reward for hard work, the fulfillment of obligations or a matter of chance. The experience of happiness is often characterized as intense but impermanent pleasure. "Well-being," on the other hand, seems to carry some of the same meanings Aristotle conceived as belonging to eudemonia - satisfaction with life, a feeling of being in control or a long term condition of health. However, well-being, in contemporary understanding, plays a sedate second to its flashier cousin happiness. The contrast between them is frequently posed as an either/or choice one must make, with one having to be sacrificed for the other. In this course, we critically examine the differences between the worldviews that surround Aristotelian eudemonia, and the contemporary notions of happiness and well-being. The goal of our examination is to form a basis upon which to respond anew to the question "What makes life worth living?" in other words, "What makes a human life good?"

Last Update: February 29, 2012