Philosophy of HappinessSummer Course

Philosophy of Happiness
Summer Study Tour
French Riviera
Major Discipline(s)
Literature, Philosophy, Religious Studies
Location: Copenhagen
Session 3

From cradle to grave, we all encounter trials and opportunities for growth. But do we seize upon these openings to evaluate life at its core? Through the lens of Danish and French philosophy, this course examines the pressing, age-old question of human existence: “What is a happy life?” Dispelling the illusion that “happiness” is self-evident, in this course, we engage thinkers, writers, and works of art that prioritize questions about how we ought to live, and how to promote a truly happy existence for ourselves and others.

We all seek happiness, but how do we go about finding it? Our course takes us into the minds of 19th and 20th-century European thinkers, writers, and artists, like Kierkegaard, Beauvoir, Camus, and Nietzsche, who were deeply troubled by the existential conditions of despair, anxiety, and meaninglessness, but who also saw these trials as occasions to examine how we live. They also all, in their own ways, turned away from human social life and towards nature and wilderness in order to clear their minds and better contemplate the societal issues surrounding them.

With these thinkers as our guides, we turn our thoughts towards our relationships, activities, commitments, and thoughts and examine them to find out what truly drives happiness. Also, as did they, we will step out into nature and contemplate the importance of the natural world in our 21st century lives. How does our experience of nature, with our current threat of climate change and new perspectives on sustainability, differ from theirs and how is it still a similar refuge from stifling urban life? Does joy come from an absence of hardship, or through overcoming it? How important are our senses of personal agency, responsibility, and engagement with the world around us? There may be no single key to happiness found at the end of this course, but in searching for it, we follow in the philosophical and literal footsteps of those who came before us and also sought to understand the mystery behind what makes for a happy life.


Nan Gerdes

DIS Summer Faculty

Ph.D. (Comparative Literature, University of Copenhagen, 2017). Postdoc (w. diploma in educational theory and practice) and lecturer, University of Copenhagen, 2010-2018. Research stay at UC Berkeley, 2011-2012. Emphasis in research on relations – past and present – between literature, philosophy, politics, gender, and the making of identity and community. With DIS since 2018.