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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2005

T C 301 • Living on the Bright Side: The Psychology of Hope and Virtue—W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
41050 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
CRD 007A

Course Description

Look at the psychology section of any major bookstore and you will find two kinds of books; one set of academic books that focus on psychological problems and largely ignore healthy people, and another set of psychology books that purport to tell people how to achieve happiness and success. Unfortunately, while the latter sell much better than the former, they rarely incorporate the wisdom of academic psychology, relying instead on anecdote and common sense. Today, a new area of academic psychology, positive psychology, is emerging to look seriously at the ways in which people lead fulfilling lives. For the first time, psychology gives substantive information about how to live well. In the past ten years, this movement has developed within the discipline to look at the positive side of life, asking what goes right with people, why, and how to optimize it. What factors really affect the experience of happiness? How much of positive emotionality is genetically pre-disposed? How does the brain process, and how is it changed by, the positive affect states? How does a person’s perception of a situation interact with the actual situation to influence her reactions? Why is there a discontinuity between activities that we claim to like and activities that we demonstrably enjoy? Beyond its intrinsic value, however, there is an added dimension to this work in its clear applied value, indicating ways in which people can elect to live their lives that will make them happier, healthier and more successful. Probably the best-known example comes from the research on learned optimism, which has demonstrated that it is possible to deliberately develop an optimistic attributional frame that will lead to better physical and mental health and greater experienced happiness. Similarly, the work on the application of virtue has found that when people programmatically practice virtues such as forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude, they reap enormous positive psychological benefits.

About the Professor Wendy Domjan has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition. In recent years, she has developed a new specialty in psychology and religion, teaching courses in both the psychology of religion and the psychology of fundamentalism. She has been teaching for Plan II since 1999, and has previously taught the SS301 in psychology and a Junior Seminar in psychology of religion. She is this year’s recipient of the Plan II Chad Oliver Teaching Award and last year won the College Of Liberal Arts Harry Ransom Teaching Award. She is a community activist, a passionate reader of nearly everything, and a devoted fan of all science fiction.

Grading Policy

This course contains the substantial writing component. Course requirements will consist of four short reaction (5-page) papers, a presentation, and a final exam. For each paper the student will choose one of several questions, relating to the on-going class material, to address. Each student will present one of these papers to the class as a basis for discussion of that question. The final exam, which will have a take-home format, will consist of several essays over the course material, with a particular focus on the readings. There is the possibility of small assignments as well, in which the students will make use of some of the techniques developed in a particular psychological area, involving attitude assessment and change or the applied practice of virtuous behavior, to assess the psychological outcomes. Grades will be broken down as follows: Final exam: 40% Four Papers: 10% each Presentation: 10% Class participation: 10%


NB: Texts TBA, so this is a tentative list: M. Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1991) M.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness (2002) C. Keyes & Jonathan Haidt (eds), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived


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