Reading guide and behavioral assignments

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Reading/activity guide for Jon Haidt’s Flourishing class

Emails to send out before each class with reading guide and behavioral assignments.


If you are getting this email it is because you are registered for Psyc 402. Welcome to Flourishing! Here is some important information:
1) I don’t want us to lose the whole 2.5 hour session just to introductory remarks, but on the other hand I don’t want to assign you much reading before the first class. So I’m asking you to do three simple things to prepare for class:
A) Click on the link below and take the “strengths survey.” Be sure you are at a computer with a printer; you will need to print out your completed survey and bring it to class. Please fill it out carefully – the issue of strengths will be a major theme of the course
B) Look at your printed survey and at your top strengths. Think of a time in your life when you clearly used one of your strengths. Jot down a few notes about the event. You won’t be handing in any of this. But everyone will be asked to introduce themselves by telling a brief story (like, 1 minute) about a time when they used one of their strengths. This is a much better way to get to know each other than just saying our names and where we are from.
C) Print out the 5 pages from the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, attached to this email. Aurelius offers a lot of advice about how to live, and how to manage your mind in a difficult world. Underline anything that seems like particularly good advice to you.
2) We will meet as planned at 9:00 on Wednesday. But for the rest of the semester I would like us to shift the time of the course by 15 minutes, so that we meet 9:15-11:45. This will give us all a bit more time in the morning, and help us miss Charlottesville rush hour (8:40-9:05). We’ll take a vote on this shift at our first meeting, and if 75% of the class is in favor, we’ll do it.
3) The syllabus is now posted on our webpage on toolkit. It’s appended here too, and I’ll have some printed copies at our first class.
4) The bookstore does not yet have the Seligman “Authentic Happiness” book. I also noticed that they charge the full list price for my book, “Flourishing”, which is $50. But you can buy it on Amazon for $33. So you might just want to buy both books on amazon. If you order right now, they will come in time for you to do the reading for our second class. (if you order after Monday, you should buy faster shipping)
I am looking forward to seeing you all on Wed. at 9:00 in Gilmer B001 (in the basement, the cognitive psych area).


Notes on the readings: All should be easy and straightforward introductory material to positive psych, and to the great truths.

–Franklin: Franklin’s autobiography was written in 4 parts, at four different times of his life. The last quarter is all about the many things he founded, and various historical events. It is the least interesting psychologically, and you can skip it entirely. In my edition, the text runs from p.16 to 157. With those page numbers, the most important parts are p. 78-99, where he presents his attempt to achieve moral perfection. Be sure to read that section very closely. The first half of the book (p.16-77 in my edition), about his adolescence and young adulthood, is charming, and useful for getting a feel for Franklin’s lifelong pursuit of self-improvement. You may skim this section if you prefer, but do spend at least half an hour with it.

–Seligman: gives an overview of positive psych, and how he came to start it. I will put a copy in the biopsych library on reserve, by Thursday eve.

–Keyes and Haidt: The introduction to “Flourishing” gives a brief introduction to positive psych, and then gives a preview of all the chapters. This may guide you to chapters you want to read, beyond those assigned. I have posted a Word file of this paper on our web page, for those whose books have not arrived yet.

–Haidt, Happiness Hypothesis: This is the introduction and first chapter of my book. The chapter lays out why it is so hard to change yourself, and offers a few general pointers for self-improvement at the end.

–Burns: read the introduction, and Part I (that is, up to p. 49). This is a very accessible mass-market book, from a man who was a student of Aaron Beck (the founder of cognitive therapy). We won’t be talking about this book next week, but I want you to get a good start on it, because we’ll be reading most of the rest of the book for the following week. The introduction is good, and chapter 3 is very important because it gives the specific distortions that people commonly use. (Chapters 1 and 2 are less important, and can be skimmed.)


Now that we’ve looked at our strengths, Franklin calls on us to look at our weaknesses as well and to think about the ideal self we might aim for. Franklin’s goal of “moral perfection” may be too ambitious, but your assignment for next class is to be too ambitious. After doing the readings for this week, take stock of who you are, and of who you could become. Imagine your ideal self, living in an ideal way, about 10 years from now. Your assignment for next class is to write up such a vision of yourself, and some preliminary thoughts about how to get there. (It is from this vision that you will draw one or two specific changes you want to make for your final project.) Specifically, you should hand in a short paper 1-3 double spaced pages that has 2 sections. 1)My ideal self, 2)My plans for getting there. Don’t worry about this paper; the grading of it will be minimal. It is really an exercise for you that will get you started on your final project. You can improve it as the semester goes on! You may describe your ideal self as “a doctor, married, with three kids,” but keep such factual/lifestyle features to just a few sentences. Focus instead, as Franklin did, on the CHANGES you want to make to yourself, or the areas in which you want to GROW.

Here are some suggestions, or things to think about.

–How will you even think about this project? As a list of virtues to cultivate? As a list of specific habits to break? As a list of conditions of your life to achieve?

–How could you know if you made progress? Franklin made up a “little book” in which he allotted one page for each of the virtues. Could you do this? Can you think of any other ways?

Our discussion in class will begin with the readings, and then turn to these “ideal self” statements. In addition, or along the way, we will discuss a question raised by both Franklin and Seligman: What is the relationship between virtue and happiness? What does Franklin say it is? How does Seligman link the two? What do you think the relationship is?




The assignment to do before next class is to catch at least 10 distorted thoughts, and to argue with yourself to try to change the emotions these thoughts create. With that in mind, here is the reading, with a few comments:
1)Burns. Start with this, so that you can quickly begin looking for distorted thoughts. Read all of parts I, II, IV, and VI. (You can skip III and V if you like. I may assign part VII when we cover prozac). Some of you will not have the distortions related to depression, but the later chapters include distortions related to anger, guilt, shame, and anxiety. Notice that Burns does not just try to intervene in your thoughts; he asks you to change your behavior too. I have uploaded two short files that might help you catch thoughts. The first is one I found on the web, called “”. You should print this out, it may help you to actually record thoughts, and dispute them. The second is a pdf file of the summary of Burns’ 10 distortions. It’s the same text as in your book, but you might appreciate having a 1-page summary to carry around with you.
2)Seligman, chapters 5 and 6. Focus especially on the section “learning to argue with yourself”, and “your disputation record,” for that’s the exercise for this week.
3)Epictetus: This is one of the great wisdom books of ancient Rome. Read as much of the introduction as you like. As you read the main text, mark it up heavily. Underline anything that seems to you to be a piece of psychological insight, or a piece of useful advice. You’ll see that much of what he says is similar in principle, though not always in technique, to what you are reading about cognitive therapy. Think about how Epictetus’s approach to life and to self-improvement differs from Franklin’s. Think of ways you can use it.
4) Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis, Chapter 2. Decide how you fared in the “cortical lottery.” Based on your trait level of optimism (which is essentially your set point/range), would you like to do something to change your mind (that is, to change your habitual appraisals and reactions.) Which of the three techniques covered – meditation, cognitive therapy, and prozac – seems best for you? Can you think of any other techniques for retraining the elephant?
You won’t have to hand anything in on Wednesday. I just want everyone to monitor their thoughts, and to do a kind of checkup on your mind, once you understand the perspective of cognitive therapy and attributional style. If you look closely, you will probably find some distorted thoughts. Draw on all the readings to challenge these thoughts, and force yourself to think different thoughts. We’ll talk in class about the range of distortions people found, and the effects of disputing them.
Also, you should check out This is the official website for the book. All of the scales that are contained in the book can be taken online, which has the benefit of automatic scoring, and of comparing your scores to people of your sex, age, region of the country, etc. Register yourself on the site. You should take the “optimism” test, which is the beginning of Seligman’s chapter 6 anyway.

The readings for this week are about happiness: how to think about it (Nozick, a philosopher); what causes it (Buss, Haidt), and what you can do to increase it over the long term (Lyubomirsky, Seligman). Here are a few questions. Please come to class prepared to answer any of them, I’ll call on people at random, so you might want to sketch out brief answers to them

1)What kind of life is a truly satisfying life? What SHOULD we want? What do YOU want, and why?

2)Suppose you faced this choice: if you choose option A, then tomorrow your life would become wonderful, full of happiness until you are 80, at which point you have 1 year of misery, feeling that your life was a mistake and a failure, and then you die unhappy. If you choose option B, you become miserable tomorrow, and until you are 80 you feel like a wretched failure. Then, at 80, you achieve a kind of epiphany, find meaning, and feel that your whole life was deeply worthwhile. Then, after a year of great happiness, you die. Whichever option you choose, your memory of choosing is wiped out, and you just live out the life that you chose without knowing why it is happening. Which option would you choose? Why?
Haidt, HH-ch.5; and Buss:

3)From an evolutionary point of view, what is the role of happiness and unhappiness? Why is it so hard for people to be happy?

4) Think of one event or change in your life that made you lastingly happier (at least for 6 months). Think of one that made you lastingly unhappier (for 6 months). If you can think of such events, why didn’t you fully adapt to them? If you can’t think of such events, think of ones that should have changed you, and explain why exactly they did not.

5) Do you follow Buddha in rejecting all attachments? If not, then define the difference between a good attachment and a bad attachment. What attachments are good for you?

Lyubomirsky et al; and also Seligman & Steen:

Both of these readings discuss the issue of sustainable change: how can we get around the S in the happiness formula, and raise H for more than a few days?

6) Why exactly do these interventions work, when most don’t? What are the “secret ingredients”?

7) Can these approaches be applied to self-change beyond happiness? What is a daily practice that you can do for your own project?

To Do: you should hand in a piece of paper with a proposal of what you are going to work on for your final project, what method you will use, and what kind of evaluation or measurement you will use. This will be only lightly graded. (If you get below a 4, you can revise it the following week). It’s just to get you started on the project. Be sure to read the final paper guidelines on our web carefully. If you want my feedback after class, or by email, then email me your proposal by tuesday morning. If you don't know what you want to do, just list some possibilities, some things you'd like to change or develop. Then be sure to come talk with me by next Thursday’s office hours.
Our next class is on ways of calming and improving consciousness. We’ve already covered cognitive therapy. Now we do the other two proven methods: meditation and prozac.
Start with Buddha and his characterization of our mental life. You’ll notice many similarities to Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. You’ll also notice that Buddha strongly emphasizes the importance of regular practice – meditation – as the way to improve our mental life. Mark any passages that particularly move or inspire you, or that you can recognize as true psychological insights. What is Buddha’s ideal way of living? How does it compare to Nozick’s analysis of happiness?
The Shapiro review article suggests that meditation is a magic tonic. It seems to improve most aspects of human functioning, including several that people in the class are working on: spirituality, happiness, anxiety, self-esteem, empathy, gratitude, acceptance, letting-go, forgiveness... It appears to be one of the most powerful non-pharmacological methods known for changing the self. Why? What is the “active ingredient” behind so many positive changes?
The Nolen-Hoeksema article is on two ways of responding to setbacks and losses: rumination and distraction. Distraction is good, rumination seems to be destructive, to dig people deeper into their holes. Figure out your own style. Try to catch yourself ruminating. What can you do to break out? Can you find a way to distract, or does trying to distract just call attention to the thought?
The Kramer chapter from “Listening to Prozac” presents the case of Tess, whom Kramer treated for depression, but whose personality changed and blossomed in the process. She becomes “better than well.” What does Prozac and the changes it causes tell us about the mind? (That’s what Kramer means by “listening to Prozac”). Should “cosmetic psychopharmacology” become an important and freely available tool to help people flourish? Should it be available to anyone who wants to try it, even if they have no diagnosable mental illness? Please come to class with at least a preliminary opinion, or a list of questions that you would need resolved before you could reach an opinion.
Finally, I have loaded a short chapter from Seligman’s book What you can change and what you can’t. This is not assigned, but you might find it helpful to find out what the research says is changeable, and what things seem very resistant to change by any known method. Seligman categorizes things by the “depth of change” that is needed.
* * * * * *
The reading for next week is light because the “do” assignment is really important. It is to meditate at least 3 times before class, for a minimum of 10 minutes each time. It’s best to do it at a set time each day. Most people do it in the morning, before breakfast, or in the evening, as a way of clearing the mind of the day’s concerns. Twice a day is recommended. I have uploaded several MP3 files that will guide you through 10 minute meditations. It is a good idea to start by using these guided meditations, but then eventually you should learn to meditate on your own.
For the most basic, easy to follow directions for beginning meditation, go here:
or here:

This site has pages on Loving Kindness meditation too.

The important thing is just to get started. Just try calming the mind, and focusing on a single thing for 10 minutes. The most widely recommended thing is to focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your nose. Sit with your spine straight, but you don’t need to do any fancy lotus positions. I can’t bend my knees too far, so when I meditate I just sit on the front edge of a chair, so that my spine is balanced over my hips. I use a timer on my palm pilot to tell me when 12 minutes have gone by.
* * * * * * * * * * *
For those of you who want more information, or who will be using meditation in your projects, you might go here:

This page has a lot of information about different types of meditation. But the place to start is on the right side of the screen, “Four elements basic to traditional meditation”, and then lower down “simple meditation.”

Here is a page on loving kindness meditation, a form of meditation that aims to make people more loving and compassionate towards others, and towards themselves.
You can click on “loving-kindness instruction” on the left side, and you can then get an overview of the practice, either to read or to listen to as a realaudio file. Or you can click on “loving-kindness instruction” on the original screen and read more about it, particularly in “part I”, then “beginning practice of loving kindness.”

The topic for class this weak is pleasure, broadly construed, and its relationship to happiness. There are so many pleasures. How can we understand them, manage them, and improve our lives with them? Start with the short Gibran reading, and compare what Gibran says about pleasure to what Nozick says about happiness.
The three academic papers are:
1)Dan Kahneman, a recent nobel prize winner in economics (though he’s a psychologist), gets us started by framing it as an economist would: what exactly is it that we are trying to maximize? Happiness researcher Ed Diener has called for a “national well-being index”. Kahneman suggests that it’s not just people’s overall reports of SWB, but rather their happiness at each moment, summed over moments. This method often yield’s a different answer when compared to people’s conscious, overall reports. Why is that? What do you think we should try to maximize? Does the “satisfaction treadmill” get us off the “hedonic treadmill”?
2) Wrzniewski, Rozin & Bennett then take us into three of the major domains in which people find pleasure: work, leisure, and food. They begin by linking to Rich Ryan and Ed Deci on intrinsic motivation, which is particularly important for understanding why some people love their jobs. (Ryan and Deci have an important theory, in which the three great human psychological needs are competence, autonomy, and relatedness). They suggest that the greatest happiness comes from approaching work as a calling, from having passions in leisure, and from savoring food the way the French do. But can one do all three? When work is a calling, it tends to produce very long workweeks, which can crowd out other sources of pleasure. Is one of your top goals in life to find a job that is a calling? Might that have some negative ramifications?
3) Kubovy then takes us on a guided tour of “higher” pleasures, the pleasures of the mind. He suggests that pleasures are defined more by the pattern of emotions than by any one emotion itself. Is there a way to use his approach to make ordinary activities into pleasures of the mind?
We’ll start class by discussing Gibran and then the Kahneman paper and the hedonic treadmill. Then we’ll work through the other two. For all three of the academic papers, make a list of what you can take away and apply to your own life. Are there ways you can arrange your life to get more pleasure? More fulfillment? More happiness? Are there specific things you can do? How do these papers modify the idea of a set-point for human happiness? Can they help you get off the treadmill?
TO HAND IN at class: Please hand in a sheet of paper with the following information on it:

1) How many times you meditated in the last week, and for how long each time (on avg). (I’m hoping this will total at least 40 minutes.)

2) What problems you had that made it hard for you to meditate (if any)

3) What benefits you found from meditation (if any)

4) From the readings for this week, design at least 2 intentional activities that might raise your happiness level, or that might turn ordinary activities into pleasures of the mind.


c7.being nice

[expand this. Watching amelie in a group worked really well. Give more specific instructions for other readings. ]

The topic for today is the constant injunctions we get from the sages to be nice, kind, forgiving, etc. Why do so many sages tell us to be this way, to NOT follow our instincts to vengeance, tit-for-tat? I don’t mean to equate Dale Carnegie and Jesus Christ, but look at how they both urge us to treat other people, and think about the mechanisms behind their advice. There are similarities and differences – what are they? What are the BENEFITS promised to you for being nice to others? Make a list (you won’t hand this in). Which benefits rely on psychological mechanisms (rather than divine action)?

Then we’ll get into the academic readings; we’ll start with the Fredrickson reading on the “broaden and build” model of positive emotions, which is one of the most important ideas in all of positive psychology. How are positive emotions different from negative emotions? How can you trigger positive emotions strategically, in yourself and in other people, to make your relationships work better? Then we’ll look at two strengths that are virtues in many religions, particularly Christianity: gratitude and forgiveness. If these really are strengths that make your life and relationships go better, what are the mechanisms? Do these three academic readings illuminate or explain the advice from Christ and Carnegie?

To Do: Watch Amelie. As you watch Amelie, catch connections to topics we've already covered in the course. Think about what makes Amelie happy, and what Amelie does to make other people happy. Why is niceness contagious? Why does being nice work for her? Also, notice any effects that the movie has on you, particularly in the hour afterwards. What do you want to do after watching Amelie?

********************************************************* and social support
The Sage reading and the five scientist readings this week are all about the crucial importance of relationships for human flourishing. In fact, Reiss & Gable suggest that relationships are by far the most important single factor in human well-being. So the questions for this week are why, how, and what can you do about it. More specifically, please come to class prepared to answer the following questions. (Please write out your answers, and try to draw on multiple readings for each. You won’t hand them in, but I will call on people). I note that there is clearly too much reading for this week, so please just do the first 5 pages of the Taylor article. Then the Taylor and Baumeister are both quite short.
1) What kinds of relationships matter? Gibran’s portrayals of passionate love and friendship seem so entirely different. What does Gibran say that each one does for us? List at least 3 other kinds of relationships and write out what each one does, what role each kind of relationship plays in flourishing.
2) What are the mechanisms by which relationships affect mental AND physical health? What are the positive and negative processes? (See especially Reis, and Taylor).
3) What are the different kinds of love? What role does passionate love play in flourishing? Is it just intensely positive emotional experience?
4) What can you do to improve your own odds of having good relationships? Be sure to make a list of all the advice you can extract from these articles, either for yourself, or for people in general.
In fact, Question #4 is a question that you should try to answer in every single week. The second half of your final paper will be on your ideal future self, and how to get there, and it must be based heavily on the readings from the course. So it’s probably a good idea to be maintaining a long list of ideas as we go through the course.

And remember that the Baumeister article is only the first 7 pages of it, although you are welcome to read more. There is also a long article by Sternberg as an optional reading, which discusses his triangular theory of love. I recommend it to you, although we won’t be discussing it.

*********************************************************** and engagement
It is often pointed out that sharks have to keep swimming to stay alive. That's the only way they can get enough oxygen into their gills. It sometimes seems that humans are similar – we must be constantly pursuing goals to be happy or fulfilled. All of the readings this week are about how people pursue goals, and how a sense of meaning and other benefits accrue to us as we pursue goals. The big ideas are that flow, engagement, and vitality result when we have the right fit with a task, and when we become part of something larger.
Here’s what you should do for next class. (All the readings are fairly short)
1) Read the Gibran passage on work. Bear in mind his famous phrase “work is love made visible”. Think of a time when you have worked with love, and a time when you didn’t.

2) Read the seligman chapter, and think about the differences between pleasures and gratifications. What are the pleasures and gratifications of being a college student? What would you like to have in your future work?

3) Read the Emmons chapter on personal goals. MAKE A LIST OF YOUR OWN STRIVINGS AND GOALS, and then code them using his system.

4) Read the Nakamura/Czikszentmihalyi chapter. This chapter is very subtle, and you should take your time on it. Don’t skim any part. Be sure you understand how meaning emerges in the extended relationship between person and object. Try to apply this article to yourself. Do you have vital engagement with anything in your life? Many of you do not…. yet.

****[on syllabus I assigned Ryan and Deci 2000 article; forgot to mention it here!]

5) Read the Ryan chapter on vitality. What exactly is the relationship between work and vitality? Think about your own fluctuations in vitality. What causes your levels to rise and fall? How can you plan your day to get more vitality, drawing on physiological and psychological interventions?

–Note: I have uploaded 2 pages of quotes from my quote file on work; these illustrate many of the themes for today, but this reading is optional.
The biggest idea of all, I think, is in the Nakamura chapter: that meaning emerges gradually out of a sustained relationship with a domain. If you throw yourself into an activity (a job, family, church....) and become fully engaged with it, over the course of years, and are engaged socially, materially, and intellectually, then a sense of meaning in life somehow comes into being. Much of our discussion will be about understanding this way of living, and how you might attain it in your own life.
To Do: just make the list of your own goals after reading the Emmons chapter, and code them. And then think if pursuing any of these goals might lead you to a state of vital engagement. Do you think your work will ever be "love made visible?" You won’t have to hand anything in, because your papers are due.


C10: Growth by adversity

[Change the writing assignment for 07: do straight pennebaker, 4 days, don’t have to hand it in, can write on any sig event you are dealing with, or dealt with in last few years, does not need to be traumatic. 3 students had lingering negative feelings in class, from digging up painful memories from the past. Also, these questions are too close to what I say in HH ch.7.]

One of the great truths is the “adversity hypothesis”, stated most succinctly by Nietszche: What does not destroy me makes me stronger. The readings for today present the scientific research on this hypothesis. Why do people often emerge from tragedy and failure claiming to be better people, sometimes even being grateful for these bad events. In its strongest form, the adversity hypothesis says that we cannot truly flourish without a strong dose of adversity. You should do the readings in this order. Be sure to finish the Pennebaker reading by Monday afternoon at latest, so that you can do the “do” assignment on Monday eve and again on Tuesday.
–Haidt, HH Ch.7

–Pennebaker, J. (2003). Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions. New York: Guilford. Read Chapter 3.

--Ryff & Singer: Flourishing under fire. [Flourishing, Ch.1]

--go to and look around; read the “commencement speech.”

--Updegraff, J. A., & Taylor, S. E. (2000). From vulnerability to growth: Positive and negative effects of stressful life events. In J. Harvey and E. Miller.(eds.) Loss and trauma: General and close relationship perspectives. Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge. 3-28.[ONLY PRINT OUT 1ST 5 PAGES, (pgs 3-11 of the article)]
As you do the readings, think about the role adversity has played in your life.

1)Think of three specific setbacks or difficulties that led to growth, or to a positive turning point. What are the specific mechanisms by which you grew? How did the adversity help (or hurt) you?

2)The readings invite us to take a “narrative” view of our lives, and of the way we retrospectively make a story (perhaps not a “true” story, but it becomes our story). Suppose you were designing the ideal life for your child, to help him or her flourish as an adult. When, and what kinds of setbacks and traumas would you want him or her to experience? What personality traits, “personal resources”, or demographic traits would influence your decisions?

3)Can you make positive turning points more likely for yourself in your future? What can you do to maximize your own growth from the adversity that surely lies in your future?

4)How can writing about adversity help? By what mechanism?
To Do: After reading the Happiness Hypothesis chapter, and the Pennebaker chapter, Write a “turning point” or “growth” narrative for yourself. Pick a time when you faced some setback, problem, trauma or failure. Write out the story of the event, how you responded, and how you grew or changed as a result. Just keep writing for at least 15 minutes, as Pennebaker says. Don’t worry about what you say in your first draft, just keep going. You won’t hand this in. Then, the next day, write it out again, from scratch, only this time try to make it a more coherent story. You will hand in this second draft to me. (You can edit out any embarrassing or too-personal details). I may note any extreme cases of either extraordinary work, or of seemingly lazy work, but otherwise it will just be credit/no-credit.

(If you absolutely can’t think of a setback or turning point, you may try to write out a narrative of your time here at UVA: just write about who you were when you arrived, and how you have changed. Write two drafts, as above, and turn in the 2nd draft).

11/2) C11: Growth by awe and beauty (and conversion experiences)

Sage: Emerson: “Ode to Beauty”, and a selection on beauty from the essay “Nature.”

Scientists: Haidt, HH Ch. 9

–Maslow: Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, appendix A.

–Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.

--William James, Varieties of Religious Experience (chapter on saintliness). Optional. First third is recommended.

Do:. Watch Harold and Maude. [No, change this; was not popular in 06]

This week’s topic is an area of the emotional realm that has hardly been touched by experimental psychology, but it has been written about for millennia by mystics, philosophers, and poets: the heights of emotional and spiritual experience that sometimes come over us as we witness certain things, particularly things that are beautiful. But there are many forms of beauty, or of excellence more generally: excellence in skills, talents, performance; excellence in shape or form; excellence in virtue. And there are many emotions here; awe, elevation, admiration, aesthetic rapture, peak experience. Let’s try to get them straight, and understand their role in moral and spiritual growth.

1) If ever there was a topic that the poets can explain better than the scientists, it is beauty. Start by reading the 2 short selections from Emerson: Ode to Beauty, and a section on beauty from the essay “Nature.” Underline all of his psychological claims, especially his phenomenological claims (that is, claims about what it feels like, claims about the experience of beauty). In particular, note his claim that a sunrise gives “emotions which an angel might share.” This is the key phrase for the day: what on earth (or rather, what in heaven) can this mean?

2) Next, read Ch. 9 of the happiness hypothesis. This is my attempt to explain two of these emotions that the angels might share: moral elevation, and awe. As you read this chapter, think about specific times you have felt these emotions in your own life. Do they change you in any way? Do they really make you better, or is that always just a temporary feeling? Is the experience of these emotions different for those who believe in God, compared to those who don’t? (We’ll have to figure this out in discussion)

3) Next, read the appendix from Maslow’s book Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. This is Maslow’s list of 25 common features of peak experiences. Have you ever had such an experience? Check off the things on his list that you have felt. Have you ever had a powerful experience of positive emotions that was, in some way, a turning point or growth point in your life? How exactly did you grow? What were the lasting effects?

4) Read the article by Keltner and Haidt, on awe. Think about our proposed taxonomy of experiences. We are trying to explain why these emotions form a family (based on overlapping appraisals), and what exactly are the traits of each family member. Are there any emotions that we have missed? Try to think of a variant of awe, admiration, or elevation that is not well-handled by our taxonomy.

5) The selection from William James, on “Saintliness,” goes further into the emotional reactions we have to good deeds. This reading is optional, but highly recommended. You need only read the first third. William James was one of the first positive psychologists. What does he have to say about the possibilities for sudden growth and transformation? Why are such experiences religious experiences?
TO DO: Watch Harold and Maude. How does Maude transform Harold? What role does beauty play in the transformation? Think back to Amelie. How are Maude and Amelie similar? What are the similarities and differences in how the two movies affected you, emotionally? [Also, continue your Pennebaker writing, and hand in something, anything that reports on your experience, if you have not done so already.] [Don’t assign Harold and Maude in the future: it’s too dated, students didn’t get it]


C12: Virtue and the meaning of life

Two questions have been with us throughout the course: 1)What are the causes of human happiness and flourishing? 2)How can you become the best person you can be? In this final week of readings, we try to answer these two questions at the same time. I didn’t realize this when I started writing The Happiness Hypothesis, but the conclusion of the book is that we can only find happiness by understanding how we human beings were designed for a life of passionate commitments to people and projects beyond ourselves. The virtues are cultivated skills (lessons learned by the rider AND the elephant) that allow us to engage with those people and projects in the right way.

1) First read Ch. 8 of the Happiness Hypothesis, which reviews the ways the ancients thought about virtue, and how we moderns got “off track” in limiting our definition of morality. Can we really embrace ancient notions of virtue (or even that of Franklin) in our modern age? Have you become a more “moral” person in the last 4 years, according to Kant, or according to Bentham? Have you become a more virtuous person, using the broader view of the ancients, and of Franklin? Which of the three approaches will make you into the best person? Which will lead to the greatest happiness? (And how will you work these ideas into Part II of your final paper?)
2) Read Chapters 8-10 of Authentic Happiness. These are very short, and half of these pages are the VIA strengths test. Revisit the question of your signature strengths. If you never took the full VIA questionnaire, on Seligman’s web site (, now would be a good time to do it, and to get a much more accurate list than you got on the first day. What are your signature strengths? How can you arrange your future to employ them more fully? (If so, be sure to add this to Part II of your final paper.)
3) Read the chapter by Robert Solomon, “The Passionate Life.” We began this course with a reading by Marcus Aurelius, and we have also read and talked about the non-attachment of Buddhism. Solomon rejects these approaches and endorses passion. What do you think? What are the best ideas on both sides? Might one side be better at certain ages, or in certain contexts of your life? (Again, work this into Part II of your paper)
4) Read Ch. 10 of the Happiness Hypothesis (and the very short conclusion at the end of the chapter). In this chapter I propose that there is no good scientific answer to the question of the purpose OF life (see your own religion for that). However I suggest that just as important is the question of purpose WITHIN life, and I suggest that this is, really, the central question of positive psychology. I also give a specific answer to the question. Does this answer resonate for you? I think I may have found an answer that can work both for atheists and for those who are religious. I wanted to explain the profound importance of religion for human happiness and meaning. Most of you are religious Christians. How does this chapter fit with your religious beliefs and experiences? Is it compatible? Challenging? Threatening? (You folks are the first people with whom I’ll be discussing this chapter – I wrote it just before the publishers deadline, so I never got much feedback on it).
DO: Outline your whole final paper. Be sure you know what material you will cover in each section. You might want to start listing specific ideas for Part II. You don’t need to hand this in, but if you do hand it in, I’ll get you feedback within 8 days.

Activity for Class ... possibly to do along with Virtue: Pleasurable vs. Philanthropic Activities - Which Brings More Happiness?

Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania

Description: Have students brainstorm and write down what activities they have participated in during the last week that were pleasurable and philanthropic. Have them reflect on how those activities differ, how each type of activity made them feel afterward and how long those feelings lasted. After the discussion, instruct students to notice when they participate in activities that are pleasurable and/or philanthropic over the next 3 to 5 days. They should address the following questions in their papers:
 What were the specific differences in each type of activity?

 What type of emotions did you feel during each type of activity?

 How long did the generally positive emotions experienced during each type of activity remain with you afterward?
Note: Some students may not feel as though they participate in philanthropic activities. Although likely to be false, this belief may hinder students from completing this activity successfully. Some have argued that assigning philanthropy tends to neutralize the altruistic qualities of the activity, so it may be necessary to assign or suggest some simple philanthropic activities to students who have trouble with the concept. Some suggestions may include:

 Helping someone younger with homework

 Paying someone's toll

 Holding the door open for someone behind you

 Letting someone in front of you in line at a restaurant or store

 Doing chores around the house that are not normally yours or that you weren't asked to do

 Serving in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter

These are only suggestions and might help students more accurately recognize philanthropic activities in their lives.

Assignment [from Jon]: Over the next week, including spring break, notice the activities that you do that are philanthropic (charitable, helpful), and those that are pleasurable. Be on the lookout for opportunities to do each kind. Be sure to take at least one opportunity of each type, and notice what happens as you do it, and afterwards. Write up a 1-2 pg (double spaced) reflection on the questions Seligman gives above. (You might find connections to this week's readings, or back to the hedonics readings.) Hand in for next class. You can start with just a short description of what you did for each activity, and then write a commentary.

C13: Strengths, Choice, Wisdom
For our last class with readings, we finish up by doing three separate important topics.
1)Strengths. We started the course with this topic, and we end with it too. Read Seligman chapters 8-9. Some of this is just a paper version of the Strengths inventory, which you can skip..

--take the VIA strengths test on the web (on the authentic happiness page). Write down the 5 strengths it tells you are your signature strengths. HAND IN TO ME: a piece of paper that lists those 5 strengths from the web survey, and the top 5 or so that you picked on our first day, from the short questionnaire version. Is there a difference? Which list rings truer to you? What is the best way to assess strengths?

–Read Seligman Ch. 10, on using the strengths at work. If you have a specific career plan, assess its potential for employing your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses. List 3 alternative career paths that seem most likely to use your strengths.
2) Choice. We take it as an axiom in America that more choice is good. Schwartz agrees that some choice is usually better than no choice, but he argues that once we have a few choices, the addition of more choices becomes bad for us. Yet we don’t realize this, and we choose to put ourselves into situations with too much choice. Furthermore, there is a personality trait such that “maximizers” are at high risk of suffering in choice situations, while minimizers are somewhat protectected.(You can skim many of the details of the studies, but be sure to understand what each study shows).

Are you a maximizer or a satisficer? (Score yourself on his scale: read the items and mark your score on each from 1-7, reversing the appropriate ones)

What changes can you make to improve your environment, or the way you approach choice, to make yourself happier?
3) Wisdom: Aristotle and others (including Barry Schwartz) say that wisdom is the “master virtue.” If you don’t have it, you can’t be virtuous. If you have it, you have most of virtue.

–How does Sternberg say that wisdom develops? How can you link this story to our discussion of virtues and moral development in childhood?

–Let’s end our discussions on a grand note: On Sternberg’s account, has your time at UVA made you any wiser? Jefferson and the faculty would like to think so. But Springsteen says “we learned more from a three minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.” Staying close to Sternberg’s account, what aspects of classes and experience outside of classes contributed to your wisdom?

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