Here’s My Happiness and Media Course Overview and Syllabus

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Happiness: Media versus Reality Course Overview and Syllabus

This semester I will be teaching Happiness: Media versus Reality, a 400-level special topics course.  In recent posts (see here and here), I’ve talked about my growing interest in happiness broadly, and the relationship between happiness and media use specifically. In this post, I will share the course description, course goals, and the class syllabus.

I hope that sharing this information inspires you to discuss happiness and media use in one of your classes or, perhaps, create your own happiness and media class.

Happiness: Media versus Reality Course Description

Here’s the course description as provided on the syllabus:

This course will explore the relationship between happiness and media use. It will also compare how happiness is portrayed in media with social scientific research on what does and does not make humans happy. The course will prepare students to critically analyze the role media plays in influencing happiness, to deconstruct persuasive messages about happiness in the media and American culture, to contrast media messaging and themes with evidence-based research, to evaluate their pre-existing perspectives regarding what contributes to happiness, and to apply what they learn to develop their perspectives and behavioral approaches when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. The course also seeks to prepare students to apply what they have learned to ethically approach the promotion of happiness in their future communication careers.

Happiness and Media Course Textbook

Okay, it’s not a textbook. But the book I assigned for my students to read is The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

I learned about this book from Dr. Sarah J. Tracy’s syllabus for her class COMM 452 Communication and the Art of Happiness at Arizona State University. A huge thank you to Dr. Tracy for sharing her class syllabus with me. It was a great inspiration for assignments and a wonderful tool for finding topic areas, readings, and more.

Happiness and Media Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes


This course:

  • Provides a survey of portrayals of happiness in the media, including in film, social media, advertising, and music.
  • Examines the relationship between happiness and media use.
  • Introduces students to social scientific research and cultural analysis of happiness (subjective well-being).
  • Explores how media portrayals of happiness compare to social scientific research on what makes humans happiness.
  • Encourages students to examine societal perceptions about happiness in light of course content and reading materials.

Assessment based on ability to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the impact and influence of the major forms of mass communication & new media on culture, society and the individual as it relates to the topic of well-being.
  • Discern between varying definitions of happiness and their cultural roots.
  • Critique claims about happiness, as found in the social scientific literature and in cultural analyses.
  • Identify historical and emerging trends in mass communication and technologies and how they may relate to happiness.
  • Apply knowledge gained from course material and evaluate its usefulness in one’s personal life.
  • Lead a discussion group about a topic of choice related to happiness and media use.
  • Collect, synthesize, analyze, and evaluate the relationship between happiness and media use and present these findings through various means, including in the form of a persuasive essay.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the writing, research, and documentation conventions in the field of communication.

Happiness and Media Course Syllabus

You can see the syllabus for Happiness: Media versus Reality below. A few of the assignments and participation challenges were inspired by Dr. Tracy’s COMM 452 Communications and the Art of Happiness class and Dr. Lori Santos’ Coursera course The Science of Well-being.

May you be happy.

– Matt



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