Modern society tells us that the more we have—the more money, the more goods, the more territory—the happier we’ll be. Yet, over the last fifty years as our standard of living has improved, our happiness has not. What, then, makes for a good life? A life full of meaning and purpose? Understandably, many of us don’t figure this out until we are well into our lives. While recognizing what brings us joy and contentment can be a lifelong process, many teachers are deciding to bring this question into the classroom at a high-school or college level.
Below you can find some powerful resources that teachers have shared with us. Incorporate a few into your own classroom, or use the comment section to tell us about the materials you use to discuss meaningful living in your own class!
- Explore unconventional lives with the books Into the Wild and The Happiest Man in the World and discuss the philosophy of a good life.
- Analyze the poetry of Walt Whitman (“Song at Sunset”) and Alfred Tennyson (“Ulysses”). The two poets offer contrasting approaches to the realization that they are dying. With these texts, examine whether life is more valuable through great adventure and accomplishment, or whether simple appreciation is enough
- The novel Feed is a wild read that takes place in a dystopian America in which Americans have the internet infused into their minds. Chaos and consumerism ensue.
- In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle cautions us about the social and personal cost of technology addiction.
- Deep Economy by Bill McKibben promotes the notion living closely in tight knit communities. McKibben describes "deep economy" as an economy that that "cares less about quantity than about quality; that takes as its goal the production of human satisfaction as much as surplus material."
- In Born to Be Good, Dacher Keltner examines the seeming contradiction that humans are hardwired to lead lives that are “nasty, brutish, and short,” but yet evolved with pro-social emotions like gratitude and compassion.
- Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope reveals how yoga can help us build more meaningful lives and communities.
FILM & MEDIA
- Read the film script of Good Will Hunting and explore the choices that the main character makes.
- Watch the Canadian independent film One Week and have your students write about what they would do if they had one year left to live.
- Examine how media affects our perception of ourselves. Look at advertisements, the classic “Disney and gender stereotypes” connection, and examine how films like Tangled portray men and women.