SOC 352: The Sociology of Happiness

Kay Hinton

Course Description

This course introduces students to the study and pursuit of happiness, integrating findings from positive psychology, psychiatry, behavioral genetics, neuroscience, economics, and sociology. Most famously formulated in the American Declaration of Independence as an unalienable right, “the pursuit of happiness” theme is an ancient and enduring ideal grounded in various Eastern, Hebrew, Greco-Roman, and Christian sources. This course seeks to introduce students to the new science of happiness through the engagement and connection of it to these ancient and enduring ideals embodied in the institutions of politics, policy, education, law, and religion.  

Faculty CV

Corey Keyes is Winship Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology in the Emory College Department of Sociology. His research focuses on positive mental health. Keyes is the author of more than one hundred peer-reviewed journal articles on flourishing, well-being, and mental health. He’s also a frequent speaker at gatherings around the world regarding his teaching and research on happiness, culture, and quality of life.

Keyes says he was initially reluctant to teach a course (which typically fills up within thirty minutes of registration) on happiness, but developing the course has shifted his teaching philosophy and career. “I want students to learn about this in a way that they can use it,” he explains. “I have them write personal questions that relate to that week’s classes. It is a contemplative concept in which they experience the class then write up that experience in a way that draws on what they learned. It is a challenge to teach things that can actually have an impact on their lives. For me, it has been personally restorative.”

Today's Lecture

In an open forum, Keyes and the students discussed the pursuit of happiness through curiosity, creativity, and play. Keyes opened the class by asking for a show of hands of those in the class who consider themselves creative. When very few students raised their hands, he responded, “Everyone should have their hands up. We were all born artists and creative.” Students who had pursued different artistic, musical, or athletic pursuits when they were younger expressed remorse that the structure and competitiveness of artistic or athletic pursuits exclude those who don’t excel at the highest levels.

Quotes to Note

“Students have come of age in a time where society has started to think of them as students and potential employees instead of individuals—if you can’t make a living at something, you have to put it away. Capitalism has killed creativity a little bit. If it won’t sell, if it doesn’t fit into a category, if it doesn’t fit a mold, it isn’t of value.”

“I hope you choose a path that in and of itself is enjoyable to you, without regard to outcome. I’d rather you fail at something you love than succeed at something you don’t love.”—Corey Keyes

Students Say

“The great thing about this is that the conversations we have in class bleed over into my life after class. If I find something interesting, I talk about it with my friends and it leads to new viewpoints. A lot of classes I take are very focused on learning something, then you take the test and that’s it. This class helps me analyze my life.”—Neal Bhatia Jr., neuroscience and religion major

“This class has made me realize how we put something like happiness on the back burner. When we got into the content of this class, I realized that I never thought being happy was really a goal. Do you think about being happy? It is not something that people focus on.”—Lauren McNaughton, sociology major—M.M.L.

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