The Composition of Happiness

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The Composition of Happiness
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Course Code
ENG 1101
Semester / Year
Fall 2013
Course Description

In English Composition I (ENG 1101), we will work our way through the complex and contradictory nature of “happiness,” exploring abstract concepts (such as virtue, value, freedom, and progress), zooming in to study individual needs and desires (and the ways in which these are both created by and marketed to by things such as popular culture, advertising, and self-help products), exploring the “science of happiness” as defined by the expanding field of positive psychology, and finally broadening our gaze to engage contemporary measurements of well-being and applications of it in areas such as social media, digital technologies, city planning, economic policies, and educational curricula.

Throughout the course, we will engage “happiness” as a discourse (the rhetoric of happiness) that both circulates in and helps create our world and ourselves, and we will move from merely personal visions and/or cultural stereotypes of happiness to more critical, theoretically grounded perspectives on the subject. We will ask many questions about happiness/well-being, such as:

• Why does studying/thinking critically about happiness matter?
• How do we (and others) define happiness?
• Are visions of happiness the same for everyone?
• What values do these visions of happiness endorse (perhaps implicitly)?
• How is happiness represented in various places, such as in the media, popular culture, advertising, schools, the government?
• What do these representations teach us about what we should desire (and not desire), what we should value (and not value), what type of people we should be (and not be), and what type of actions we should take (and not take)?
• Who gets to decide what happiness should look like?
• Is happiness measurable?
• How do you plan for/create happiness, both at the individual and the social level?
• Is there equal access to happiness (or even the possibility of happiness)?
• (Perhaps counter-intuitively) Is happiness (as defined by mainstream rhetoric/politics) even desirable? If not, how we might we imagine alternative visions of/methods for happiness/well-being?

Since this is a composition course, we will never leave writing out of the picture: all class meetings will be devoted in part to writing, revising, and/or discussing ideas and drafts. The last segment of the course centers on a collaborative service learning assignment (with HUS 1101), involving fieldwork and research, that assesses well-being in the City Tech environment and presents recommendations to various stakeholders in our college community.

*This course is part of a learning community with Human Services Professor Justine Pawlukewicz’s HUS 1101, D634 (80981), which meets on Wednesdays from 11:30am-2:00pm in Namm 419B.

Ever wonder what happiness really is? In this English and Human Services learning community, you’ll explore–from pop culture, positive psychology, and social services perspectives–what makes individuals and communities flourish or flounder.


This course was created by: Jill Belli