In any case, here is a class I am planning to teach in the Spring of 2011, at the University at Albany. But maybe you want to take the class here, on-line.
Even though the class is brand new, students who've heard about it are already coming up to me and saying a) they can't wait to take the class or b) they wished they'd had a class like this available when they were undergrads.
So, I thought maybe I should make the class available to everybody, on line. Or at least, I could let the Universe carry the syllabus wherever it will go.
If the reading list looks daunting, don't sweat it. This class isn't your typical class. You have all time in the world to complete the reading :). And you get as much time as you need, i.e., years if necessary, to complete the writing assignments.
And you grade yourself. :) Or you don't.
So, here you go. Here is the syllabus for"Reading & Writing the 'Happier Self.'"
Class begins here on the blog, as soon as you're ready.
ERDG 491-Z (Class # 9903/9904) University at Albany, SUNY
Spring 2011 M,W, F 1:40-2:35 p.m. SS 131 & Wednesdays, 4:30-6 p.m. HU112
Professor Claudia Ricci, Ph.D. 442-5189 EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Office Hours: M, W, F 10:30 – Noon; 2:45-3:15 p.m. and by appointment
"Reading and Writing the ‘Happier’ Self"
This upper level seminar, based loosely on a very successful class at Harvard University, will use theoretical, literary and practical readings from a variety of disciplines to help students focus their critical thinking skills on the concept of happiness, and how to use cognitive skills to help achieve a more peaceful and fulfilling life. Reading and writing transform the way we think, and how we see ourselves in the world. Neurological research now shows that changing the way we think can produce positive physiological changes in the brain. At a time when an epidemic of mental health issues plagues our nation, and threatens to paralyze students in the academy, this class presents a set of cognitive tools and practical skills that will help students refine and enhance their educational goals while examining a broad range of life issues. Beginning with philosophical ideas set forth by Aristotle, the class will rely on texts from psychology, neuroscience, literature and narrative theory, to open up discussions about the patterns of human behavior and thinking that tend to produce lasting fulfillment and deep reward. In keeping with research by psychologist James Pennebaker and others who have demonstrated the value of expressive writing, students will engage in extensive journaling and other self-reflective writing assignments as they seek to define what it means, and what it takes, to find happiness.
STUDENTS WILL WRITE SHORT WEEKLY PAPERS EXPLORING TOPICS RELATED TO THE READING; I will offer feedback that can be used in revising the writing. ALL ESSAYS AND CREATIVE ASSIGNMENTS will be revised. Part of the work in the classroom will be to help students identify their individual “signature strengths” that can produce what positive psychologist Martin Seligman defines as “authentic happiness and abundant gratification.” In addition to classroom work, a special weekly laboratory session, with attendant readings and writing exercises, will be required each week. Students will work on exercises in mindfulness, meditation, yoga, spirituality and stress reduction, and will document how these techniques can help the student better cope with the inherently stressful nature of University life. PLEASE NOTE: This class is a disciplined academic exploration of a newly-emerging field of study that will require extensive reading and writing; it is not an opportunity for group or individual therapy in the classroom or in my office. INSTRUCTOR APPROVAL IS NEEDED TO ENROLL.
**Aristotle, excerpts from Nichomachean Ethics
Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman
Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach, Sonja Lyubomirsky
Opening Up, James Pennebaker
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, Sharon Begley
**Happier, Tal Ben Shahar
**This I Believe, NPR essays, “Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day”
**“Pursuing Happiness,” by John Lanchester (handout)
**“Everybody Have Fun," by Elizabeth Kolbert (handout)
The Stranger, Albert Camus
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Island, Aldous Huxley (optional?)
The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus, on line at http://theliterarylink.com/sisyphus.html
Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
**Walden, excerpt, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” Henry David Thoreau
**Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (excerpts)
**“The Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka
** “Getting Closer,” Steven Millhauser
** “The Fix,” Percival Everett
** “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” Sherman Alexie
** “There’s A Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella,”
** “The Magic Chalk,” Kobo Abe
The Happiness Class Blog: http://www.Happinessclass.blogspot.com
VOX POP http://www.wamc.org: “ATTAINING HAPPINESS,” Clinical psychologist Michael Lipson, Great Barrington, MA
YOU TUBE VIDEO: Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, is a proponent of the emerging field of “Contemplative Neuroscience.” Davidson is one of those suggesting that our mental activity, including mindfulness and meditation, can induce physical changes in the brain. Davidson’s cutting-edge work is influenced by the emerging fields of neuroplasticity and epigenetics: the first is that the brain is a flexible organism. The second idea, epigenetics, suggests that genes are regulated by the environment in which they reside; Davidson says the notion that our genetic structures are inalterable blueprints is “antiquated and Newtonian.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tRdDqXgsJ0
Davidson’s research center: www.InvestigatingHealthyMinds.org
Mind & Life Institute: organization promoting research linking modern neuroscience and the world’s contemplative traditions. http://www.mindandlife.org/initiatives_section.html
Erica Goode, New York Times writer, discussing suicide on NPR (her father committed suicide Oct. 30, 1960, when she was seven years old):
Treatment for Depression among Latinos: stigma keeps people from getting help – Huffington Post, December 20, 2010
Jan. 19 (W) INTRODUCTION. Expectations and outline for this class. In class, write yourself a letter, talking very specifically about something (or things) that make(s) you happy. Talk about your goals for this class and for your life. Save a copy, as we will do a letter on the last day of class and compare them. Ground rules for discussions in class.
NO MINDFULNESS CLASS THIS WEEK!
Jan. 21 (F) Read “Getting Closer,” by Steven Millhauser and handouts: Chapter One from Happier by Tal Ben Shahar, New Yorker articles by Lanchester and Kolbert;Write a journal entry reacting to the topic(s) that MOST interest you in the reading! Type up a one-page letter to Jimmy giving him advice from Happier or one of the other handouts! Make sure to include quotes and specifics! BRING TWO COPIES TO CLASS!
Jan. 24 (M) Read “The Fix” by Percival Everett AND excerpts from Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” -- Book One, Chapters 1, 7, 9, 12; Book Three, Chapter 5, and Book Nine, Chapters 9 and 10.
1/24 RESPONSE PAPER #1: “Fixing Ourselves,” or “Getting Closer,” or “Getting Happy,” (or whatever other title YOU choose!) Write two typed and thoughtful pages about what you want “fixed” OR your experience of “getting closer” or trying to get happy. Start with a short anecdote? Due in class on Jan. 24th.
NOTE: NO LATE PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED.
Jan. 26th (W) Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness, pages 1-61 AND the first chapter of Camus’ The Stranger; write two pages in your journal in the style of Seligman’s Chapter Two. Are you convinced that you can increase your positive emotions? How do YOU define happiness?
****4:30 – 6 p.m. class: Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are
Jan. 28th (F) Read pages 62-121 in Seligman AND more of Camus’ The Stranger. In your journal, discuss how Seligman might describe Meursault? What is lacking in Meursault’s life? Does he have any advantages? Be prepared to discuss in class.
Jan. 31st (M) Finish The Stranger and read handout from NPR’s essay collection, This I Believe: “Tomorrow Will Be A Better Day.” Write two pages in your journal about what Meursault OR the NPR essayist can teach us.
1/31 RESPONSE PAPER #2: “What Can Meursault (OR ANOTHER WRITER) Teach us?” Find a focus that suits you, reflect in detail on one of the readings. Write 2-3 typed pages using SPECIFICS. Due in class on Jan. 31st. NO LATE PAPERS ACCEPTED.
Feb. 2nd (W) Read Seligman, 133-161, define your “highest personal strengths,” p. 140, at http://www.authentichappiness.org
****4:30 class: Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are
Feb. 4th (F) Read “The Myth of Sisyphus,” on-line at http://theliterarylink.com/sisyphus.html Make sure to focus carefully on the ending. How is it that Sisyphus finds happiness? Also read the short story “There’s A Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella,” by Fernando Sorrentino (hand-out). Do you see a connection?
NOTE Please take time EACH DAY DURING THIS NEXT WEEK to follow the Pennebaker model, writing in your journal about both troublesome events, and the emotions associated with those events.
2/7 (M): Happier, pages 83-110 and Pennebaker, pages 1-42. JOURNALING!! Write about your feelings toward family, and your education. Are you enjoying the process? What gets in the way? Is your family situation helping or hurting? HOW?
2/7 RESPONSE PAPER #3: How do you fight the notion of futility (or depression) in daily life? Are you encouraged by what is suggested by “The Myth of Sisyphus” as well as by Seligman and Tal Ben Shahar?? Why or why not? What gives your life meaning/purpose? Due in class on Feb. 7th -- NO LATE PAPERS ACCEPTED.
Feb. 9 (W) Read Happier, pages 111-133 and Pennebaker, pages 43-72. Do two journal entries, one on the kind of work that you think will make you happy, and the second on love and relationships. Be specific, use details!
****4:30 class: Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are
Feb. 11 (F) Read Pennebaker, pages 73-103; Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
As you read Hurston’s novel, please write in your journal about Janie’s search for happiness, and how each of her husbands meets or fails to meet her needs. Write about your own search for love and affection too!
Feb. 14 (M) Their Eyes Were Watching God
2/14 RESPONSE PAPER #4: Reread the section of Their Eyes where Janie Starks sits under the pear tree in Hurston’s novel. Discuss Starks’ thoughts about moment-by-moment joy, about relationships. How does her thinking compare to YOURS? Be specific! Start with an anecdote story? Due in class on Feb. 14th.
NO LATE PAPERS ACCEPTED.
Feb. 16 (W) Their Eyes Were Watching God
****4:30 class: Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are
Feb. 18 (F) Their Eyes Were Watching God
MARCH 2nd: RESPONSE PAPER # 5: In a paper of approximately pages, discuss how your thinking and/or behavior are changing as a result of this class. Select a focus, and FIVE readings that have affected you and discuss IN DETAIL what aspects of the readings (use quotes!) are changing you. USE PERSONAL ANECDOTES FROM YOUR LIFE TO ENRICH YOUR DISCUSSION. This paper will be due on Wednesday, March 2nd.
WEEK SIX -- Winter Break – Read more of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are and also, Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness;
Feb. 28 (M) Read Begley, pages 3-72, and write about this rather new and radical idea that “we can teach old brains new tricks!” ALSO: Please watch You Tube video lecture by Dr. Richard Davidson, U. of Wisconsin, as he discusses his work on mind over brain.
March 2 (W) Begley, pages 73-130 RESPONSE PAPER # 5 DUE TODAY!
****4:30 class: Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, pages 199 - 218.
March 4 (F) Begley, pages 131 – 182
3/11 RESPONSE PAPER # 6: Focus your discussion paper on Begley’s book AND how the practice of mindfulness has affected you.
DUE IN CLASS Friday, MARCH 11th.
WEEK EIGHT It is now OFFICIALLY MID-TERM !!
March 7 (M) Begley, 183 - 254
March 9 (W) Flow, 1-42.
March 11 (F) Flow, 165-207 and handout, “The Magic Chalk”
3/11 RESPONSE PAPER # 7: At this point in the semester, we are going to experiment with the idea of “Flipping the Scripts” in our lives. Writing will focus on incorporating material that emerges from journaling into narratives that can then be transformed in some way, helping us (perhaps) to move through emotional deadlocks and crises.
March 14 (M) Read short fiction: “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” Sherman Alexie, and Louise Erdrich’s “The Years of My Birth.” (Both are handouts.)
3/14 FICTION (RESPONSE PAPER #8) For Wednesday, 3/16, please write a 3-5 page narrative that reflects a situation or condition discussed in your journal. AT NO POINT IN THIS PROCESS WILL YOU BE ASKED TO REVEAL THE FACTS. We will assume everything that is written is FICTION. Further instructions to be supplied. PLEASE BRING TWO COPIES TO CLASS ON WEDNESDAY, March 16th.
March 16 (W) Small group workshops of narratives.
March 18 (F) “First Person Plural,” Atlantic magazine, Yale University’s Paul Bloom discusses his notion of a “plurality of selves” as the concept relates to the pursuit of happiness, on-line at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/first-person-plural/7055/ PLEASE JOURNAL ON THESE QUESTIONS: Can we change our “selves” through narrative?? Can we make ourselves happier via our stories? Consider how you might transform your narrative – the point of view, for example, or the ending, or by adding another character or two. How can you make the story more redemptive?
THIS WEEK, WE WILL TRY THREE SEPARATE REVISIONS OF OUR NARRATIVES, changing some aspect of the story. Please do one due each day and bring them in.
March 21 (M) “The Metamorphosis” Kafka – revision one of your narrative
March 23 (W) “The Metamorphosis” Kafka – revision two of your narrative
March 25 (F) Revision three, please hand in your FINAL script today
3/25 RESPONSE PAPER #9: - HAND IN YOUR FINAL, revised narrative today or with Reponse Paper # 10 on Mon., 3/28.
3/28 RESPONSE PAPER # 10: Please write 2-3 pages REFLECTING ON the exercises we did to transform/revise our personal stories. IF it was useful, say HOW? (be very specific!) Did it change your thoughts or feelings; if so, HOW? Is it satisfying to forgive someone, or to write a new more redemptive ending to a “true” life story? Why or why not? Due Monday, 3/28 with your final script.
March 28 (M) Leaves of Grass, and the literature of personality and the self
March 30 (W) Leaves of Grass, and the literature of personality and the self
April 1st (F) Critics scoffed at Whitman, saying that he was consumed with himself; his poetry was faulted for being obscure and formless. The poet countered that he was supplying material for others to write poems. Experiment with your own version of Whitman’s poetry, striving for words that inspire you. RESPONSE PAPER 9 DUE!
4/4 RESPONSE PAPER #9: Your 2-3 page response paper this week will be a prelude to YOUR CLASS PRESENTATION. The next two-three weeks of class will be devoted to small group (no more than 3 students) presentations on subjects of the students’ choosing (directly related to the course topic AND YOUR PARTICULAR INTERESTS) Find some aspect of the class that you want to delve into. You must bring in at least two texts (literary or discursive) that we haven’t already read in class. Please consult me on these texts. DUE no later than April 8th (before that if you are going next week!)
April 4th (M) Class presentations
April 6th (W) Class presentations
April 8th (F) Class presentations
April 11th (M) Class presentations
April 13th (W) Class presentations
April 15th (F) Class presentations
WEEK FOURTEEN – SPRING BREAK
April 25th (M) NO CLASS
April 27th (W) Short Fiction
April 29th (F) Short Fiction
May 2nd (M) Last day of class
1) Attendance and Participation: Students are required to participate actively in this class. No more than three absences are allowed. At five absences, a warning will be given and automatic failure may result after that. STUDENTS ARE REQUIRED TO ATTEND A WEEKLY LAB, from 4:30 – 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, during which time they will be instructed in mindfulness exercises. Attendance and participation will count for 15 percent of the final grade.
2) All students will be required to keep a journal to document the evolution and of their thinking as the class proceeds. Periodically, journal entries will be assigned and collected for grading. Journals will count for 10 percent of the class.
3) WEEKLY RESPONSE papers of 2-3 typed pages each will be submitted for grading on a check, check plus, check minus basis. Topics will be assigned, however, students are free to come up with their own ideas for the papers, with prior instructor approval. A total of 10 papers will be submitted and subject to revision. These papers will count for 50 percent of the grade. A mid-term grade will be supplied after Response Paper # 5, which will be graded A-E.
4) Class presentations (see April 4th Response Paper #9.) These presentations will count for 10 percent of the grade.
5) A FINAL PROJECT will compile and expand on lessons that the student identifies as important during the semester. This paper will be an amalgam of personal writing, reflection and research into a topic of the student’s choosing in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience or narrative theory. The final project will count for 15 percent of the grade.
SUGGESTED JOURNAL EXERCISES – PLEASE SUGGEST OTHERS!
1) In your journal, record all of the negative thoughts that you have over a two-day period. Number each one of them. Then, address each one of the thoughts, writing in the voice of a close friend or loving family member who can tell you why those negative thoughts don’t make sense, or, why they are counterproductive.
2) Make a list of activities that give you pleasure on a day-to-day basis, and rate them 1-5, five being the thing that gives you the most pleasure.
3) Make a list of the material things that you think would make you happy. Under each item, list something SIMILAR that you ALREADY own or have access to. Talk about both items; why will the NEW ITEM make you happier than the one you already own? How much happier? Is it really worth spending the money?
Example: I’d really like a SONY AM/FM Clock Radio with iPod/iPhone Speaker Dock - SONICFCS10IPBLK for my kitchen.
BUT, I already have a radio that works, and I have an iPod and a stereo system in the den. I can live without the kitchen radio for now and still listen to my music.
4) Make a list of goals that you would like to achieve in your life over the next few months. Then carefully review the list and think about