Idea Trek

The Good Life (an interdisciplinary, student-driven course)

The proposed course has precedents in the wildly popular "happiness" psychology courses at Yale and Harvard, the "Design Your Life" course at Stanford's D-School, and Davidson's own "Living the Liberal Arts" course. Unlike the Yale and Harvard happiness courses, this new course would be interdisciplinary, and unlike Stanford's Design Your Life course, it would have a strong grounding in academic research and writing. The Davidson version of "The Good Life" will be intellectually and ethically rigorous, based on reading and research across disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, religion, literature, history, anthropology, and economics. Students will put forth hypotheses about what they think constitutes a good life, then consult experts and scholars from relevant disciplines to verify whether their assumptions are valid, as well as to identify and practice strategies for achieving their life goals. Definitions of "the good life" may involve ethical, social, political, environmental, economic, career, family, relationship, and/or lifestyle choices. Students will synthesize their findings in writing, producing some form of a "Good Life" guidebook or set of evidence-based practices and principles.


This student-driven course is designed to be scalable, suitable for as few as a seminar of 12 students and one faculty member, up to a team of faculty working with hundreds of students. Faculty would facilitate the course, organizing guest lectures, facilitating discussions and workshops, offering small group tutorials, mentoring, and helping students to articulate and clarify their visions and identify goals and experts. The course might begin with a single book such as Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis, Tal Ben Shahar's Being Happy, or Adam Grant's Give and Take, or with a set of core readings from several disciplines. Building upon common readings and discussions, students will identify their individual visions of the good life and form small group investigations with peers who have related goals. For example, a group of aspiring physicians might investigate whether its possible to balance a medical career with their ideals of motherhood; another group might investigate what careers might generate sufficient, stable income to support an extended family; and yet another might explore ways to reduce their carbon footprints or work toward greater social equity.


Ideally, the course would be Pass/Fail, with some common course readings and requirements, while students would also be given agency to direct their own learning, set benchmarks for achievement, and self-assess their ability to meet these self-established benchmarks.

Does your idea have funding? (this will not influence decisions to support/not support the idea) No

What might prevent this idea from working?

Students refer to the Davidson experience as the "stress olympics." They rush from one task, assignment, or course to another, trying to do as much as possible, complete requirements, and get good grades, without reflecting on what they're doing or how and why they're doing it. Students don't have sufficient time, space, or opportunity to reflect holistically, set goals, prioritize commitments, plan strategically, and develop practices geared toward wellbeing, happiness, and mental health. Many students experience a lack of intentionality or disconnect between their coursework at Davidson and their core values and life goals, and anxiety, depression, and other wellness concerns appear to be on the rise across campus.

How might this idea solve it?

An academic investigation of "The Good Life" would provide students an opportunity to connect their academic pursuits to their immediate and long-term life goals, as well as to identify strategies that could help them achieve those goals. This course would be most effective if students had the agency to direct their own research, drive their own learning, choose their own self-care practices, and set their own benchmarks for success.

Who would benefit from this idea? Who are your stakeholders?

Students would be the primary stakeholders, driven to determine for themselves what constitutes the good life and how to achieve it. Faculty and staff would also be stakeholders, as we are committed to educating students for "good lives" of leadership and service. Suzanne Churchill, Jakob Kubala, Sharon Green, Annie Merrill, and others have expressed interest in such a course, and Lauren Stutts wants to develop a psychology course on happiness that this interdisciplinary course might complement.

How does this idea achieve your goals for a great senior experience?

Logistics, pass/fail concerns, funding.



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Idea No. 54