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.