3. Happiness (Part 3): What is happiness anyway?!


Remind the students that they are thinking about what happiness actually is and reflecting on whether the pursuit of happiness is all that it is cracked up to be!

Having discussed possible ways of being happy in the first two sessions of this unit this final session is designed to help students consider how we use the word ‘happiness’ and whether pursuing happiness is actually a good idea anyway!


Begin this session by asking each of the students to create a ‘Happiness Matrix’ like this:

Then ask them to fill it in as per the example below. In this example, the student has identified ‘Eating sweets’ as a source of ‘Short term’ and ‘Shallow’ happiness whereas ‘Getting married’ has been identified as a source of ‘Long term’ and ‘Deep’ happiness. It is vital that the students do this ON THEIR OWN because they are going to discuss their findings later on in the session.

Once the students have filled in their matrices ask them a series of questions about their choices, such as:

  • Was this an easy activity? Why or why not?
  • Is there anything you all agree about?
  • Why do you think you have different opinions about some of these issues?
  • Is there really a difference between these different ‘types’ of happiness?


These questions should help the students to really delve deeply into the philosophy of happiness. As the discussion begins to peter out ask them to reflect on the following quote by John Stuart Mill:

‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.’

Encourage the students to reflect on this quotation and to offer some thoughts on it.

It is crucial that the students understand that John Stuart Mill meant that pursuing shallow and short term happiness was only suitable for animals and fools. As such, if they are struggling to identify what Mill meant then it is appropriate to ask them the following questions:

  • Do you agree with his view that it is better to be clever but unhappy than ignorant but happy?
  • What do you think is more important – the search for happiness or the search for truth?

After this discussion has finished ask the students what they think of this quote from the philosopher Albert Camus:

‘You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.’


Once you have shown them this quote finish the session with a plenary discussion drawing on Camus’ quote but getting them to think more deeply about all the thoughts they have uncovered during the past three sessions. The following questions might help to stimulate the discussion:

  • What do you think Albert Camus meant by this quote?
  • Do you agree with his thoughts?
  • How do you think John Stuart Mill might have reacted to Camus?
  • Do you think looking for happiness is a good idea or is it better just to get on with your life without thinking too deeply about it?
  • Have these sessions made you more or less likely to actively search for happiness?

1.  Happiness Part 1: status anxiety
2.  Happiness Part 2: religion and happiness
3.  Happiness Part 3: what is happiness?
4.  Morality Part 1: what is morality?
5.  Morality Part 2: should we live by ‘moral laws’?
6.  Morality Part 3: where does our sense of morality come from?
7.  Are You Religious?
8.  What Is a Religion and what is a Cult?
9.  What does it Mean to be Religious Today?
10. Religion in Numbers Part 1: how many people on Earth?
11. Religion in Numbers Part 2: how many people are ‘religious’?
12. Religion in Numbers Part 3: how did believers got to where they are?
13. Are All Religions Equal?
14. Transactional Analysis: learning how to feel equal
15. Bloom’s Taxonomy
16. Harry Potter and God
17. Without Fear or Favour Part 1
18. Without Fear or Favour Part 2
19. It’s Not Fair
20. Mind, Memory and Justice
21. Karma, Memory, Freedom and Justice
22. The Religion of Ordinary Life Part 1: Religion Without God
23. The Religion of Ordinary Life Part 2: God and Morality
24. The Religion of Ordinary Life Part 3: Is Life Beautiful?
25. Can Atheists learn anything from Religion?
26. What do Buddhists Believe about God?
27. Is Seeing Believing?
28. Are We Being Hypnotised?
29. Sex and Relationships
30. Truth, Proof and Evidence
31. How should we deal with the range of different opinions in today’s world?
32. Is Religion a Force for Evil or Good?
33. Do Religious Experiences Prove God?
34. What Is Evil?
35. God and Evil
36. Can we verify Religious Experiences?
37. How Spiritual are You?
38. What is Philosphy?
39. The Power of Words
40. Art and Beauty

A printable (pdf) version of this session can be found here

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