On the Good life

The essays should be grounded in the required texts; your arguments supported at each point with citations; your work edited for syntax and grammar. There is not a fixed length, though a satisfactory answer to each question will be AT LEAST one page (250 words). Have 6 questions, so each question writes one page. Also I uploaded the texts you may need to use.

1. In The Human Condition Hannah Arendt famously makes the case that the politically-inclined ancient Greeks of the classical period have something to teach us moderns about happiness (eudaimonia) and the good life. For those who like absolute certainty and eternally fixed structures Arendt’s account of the “fragile” “intangible web” of human relations is likely to be disappointing, if not unnerving. Read (and reread) sections 24-29 (pp. 175-212) and present an account of the upsides and downsides (delightful and distressing features) of Arendt’s presentation of ancient Greek freedom, that is, of a public life of words and deeds among equals. What does it lead you to think about our own modern times? Does her account of the ancient Greek experience completely jive with contemporary positive psychology? Be sure to quote the text with proper page numbers.

2. More than a few esteemed twentieth-century scholars have judged the speech of Diotima/Socrates in Plato’s Symposium to be a horrifically disembodied and unworldly account of the experience of love, as if the world and the beloved, as well as one’s own incarnate existence have been completely and hatefully obliterated in the transcendent experiences that culminate communion with the idea of the Beautiful. Do you agree or do you find the speech a more compelling account of the human condition, of human motivations, drives and instincts? For example, are the metaphors of the ladder of love, spiritual pregnancy and the quest for immortality meaningful counters to the charge that Plato is a body-hating, unworldly Platonist? Be sure to support your interpretation/argument at each point with citations from our translation. Please use the Stephanus line numbers, e.g. (208d1-3). (Stephanus was a medieval monk who wrote out editions of Plato and we use his page numbers by custom.)

3. Socrates’ elaborate Second Speech in Plato’s Phaedrus is presented as a pious recantation of his earlier, First Speech, which impiously represented the god Eros as a pernicious force of Necessity. What do you think Socrates’ aim is in this remarkable Second Speech and how would you explain the various different elements/modes of the “argument?” Do you find the speech surprising, compelling? What do you think of the use euphemistic myths in the explanation of the phenomena related to love and sexuality? Do you think familiarity with such “philosophy” makes any difference to our happiness and/or possible experience of the good life?

4. Jason is a 35-year-old married man with a 5-year-old daughter. He lives with his daughter and wife in a safe (but low socioeconomic status) area. Three years ago he received a promotion at work. He now works full-time as an internet technology supervisor at a large financial firm. Recently, Jason has felt burnt out on his job, dissatisfied with his marriage, and generally lacks any enthusiasm for a life he once seemed to love so much. Everywhere he looks, he seems to see others thriving and flourishing. Imagine you are a positive psychologist tasked with helping Jason. Describe how hedonic adaptation may be taking its toll on Jason’s life. Using the psychology texts assigned in this course, create an evidence-based plan for Jason to help him regain happiness and meaning in his life (the two main psychological components to a good life, according to Laura King and colleagues). An evidence-based plan means that it is a plan situated in the scientific psychological research base. Be sure to draw on empirical research presented in Lyubomirsky’s “Work and Money” chapters and in Jacobs Bao and Lyubomirsky’s article on combating hedonic adaptation in relationships. Feel free to also incorporate research from other psychology articles assigned earlier in the course. Please include page numbers when citing or discussing these works.

5. Watch the following talk by Elizabeth Dunn, positive psychologist and professor from the University of British Columbia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwmWHV79vTQ (or do a google search for Elizabeth Dunn Money and Happiness).
She argues spending money on others (acts of kindness) is better for happiness than spending money on ourselves and that the accumulation of money dampens our ability to savor life’s small pleasures. Describe two times in your life when you a) spent money on someone else and b) spent money on yourself. Compare and contrast the intensity and duration of the resulting feelings. Discuss whether or not these two situations influenced your own happiness in different ways. Write about what other effects these two examples had on your life. Be sure to incorporate research and ideas from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s chapter on work and money and Elizabeth Dunn’s talk. Discuss whether or not your experience seems to match with the scientific findings. Why or why not?

6. Discuss the pros and cons of striving, expectations, and aspirations in relationships and work. At a minimum, discuss research from the Lyubomirsky Work and Money chapter and from the Jacobs Bao and Lyubomirsky relationship article. Feel free to incorporate other readings from the course and/or articles you have found on your own (cite them and list page numbers).


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