PSYC 4541 Special Topics in Psychology – Social Science: Psychology of Happiness

Instructor Contact:

Dr. Amanda L Mahaffey


Course Description:

This course explores the scientific study of happiness, wellbeing, flourishing, and positive psychology. We will cover the major theories in the field of positive psychology, innovative contemporary research, and evidence-based happiness techniques. Please note that while this class will certainly have personal applications, it is not a self-help class, but best suited for those wanting to research or practice positive psychology.

Course Overview:

In this course, we explore the vast body of evidence built in recent decades around human happiness. What we have learned is that most happy people are born happy.  Then why study happiness if it’s predetermined at birth? Because we have roughly forty percent of variability to work with in creating our own happiness. And our own happiness can be a catalyst in building collective happiness. We will study ways to build happiness and flourishing, which include positive emotion, mindfulness, meditation, gratitude, community building, time in nature, savoring, awe, jen ratio, and others.  We will review research evidence, explore evidence-based techniques, analyze and apply evidence to real-world examples. We will read easy-to-digest popular books on happiness, dissect media representation of happiness, listen to podcasts,  and review new evidence as it comes out. We will finish the semester with proposals of concrete solutions to building collective wellbeing.


Prerequisites for this class are PSYC 1001 and PSYC 2111 or 3111.

Course Objectives:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of psychological processes, as they apply to positive emotion and behavioral change
  2. Understand the basic assumptions, principles and concepts of positive psychology
  3. Investigate positive psychology phenomena in everyday life
  4. Critically evaluate positive psychology theory and research
  5. Apply positive psychology approaches to help others individually and collectively
  6. Practice the ability to reason critically and scientifically about psychological research findings from an empirical orientation, citing original theory and evidence
  7. Apply scientific evidence to build a social change plan to improve collective wellbeing and present it to the class

Required Reading/Watching/Listening:

  1. Keltner, Dacher (2009). Born to Be Good. W.W. Norton & Co (ISBN-13: 978-0393337136). This book is available in hardcover, paperback, kindle, and audiobook.
  2. Lyubomirsky, Sonja (2008). The How of Happiness. Penguin (ISBN-13: 978-0143114956). This book is available in hardcover, paperback, kindle, and audiobook.
  3. Ted Talks (Links to an external site.)
  4. The Greater Good Science Center Website (Links to an external site.)
  5. The Science of Happiness Podcast (Links to an external site.)
  6. Popular media articles, news reports, videos, empirical journal articles, etc., to be assigned by me or shared by fellow students on an ad-hoc basis.


Discussion Participation in Module 1   25%

Discussion Participation in Module 2   25%

Discussion Participation in Module 3   25%

Discussion Participation in Module 4   25%

Total     100%




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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado