Centre News

Sociology professor Beau Weston’s research explores the art of happiness

July 18, 2013 By Mariel Smith        
Centre College, Van Winkle Professor of Sociology Beau Weston, happiness research Meaningful relationships are, according to Weston, one of the most
important elements of enduring happiness.

Centre College, Van Winkle Professor of Sociology Beau Weston, happiness research, theory camp Weston, shown here leading his annual Theory Camp, will
continue exploring various elements of happiness during this
year's camp, July 23 to August 10.

While current events often have people thinking the worst about the state of modern society, Van Winkle Professor of Sociology Beau Weston challenges this stereotype with a disarmingly simple assertion: the world is getting better.

This idea might seem naïve or simplistic to the hardened cynics of the world, but it originates from Weston's long history of studying and thinking about happiness.

"I have long promoted an active approach to seeing the good in the world and working toward making things better," says Weston. "In 2011, I spent my sabbatical studying happiness—I started with the rich philosophical literature that grows out of Aristotle's argument, in the Nicomachean Ethics, that happiness is the end of life. I then read most of the foundational works of the sub-discipline of 'positive psychology' and the recent flurry of works on the economics of happiness."

Weston's initial research led to a National Endowment for the Humanities "Enduring Questions" grant to create a course on happiness that debuted in the fall 2012 term and was a very popular choice for students.

"The class combined practical things you can do in your own life with philosophical 'enduring questions,' in works by Aristotle, Tocqueville and Durkheim," Weston explains. "We also looked at larger empirical studies about how violence is declining and social life is, in general, getting better."

Weston has lectured on his research in numerous venues, including the Danville Community Arts Center's Pecha Kucha night; to alumni at Centre Homecoming; to Centre Bonner Scholars; at Georgetown College and Viterbo University; and most recently at a Centre College Staff Congress meeting. During Family Weekend this fall, Weston will be lecturing on his research as well.

Weston stresses that he has not completed any original research on happiness as of yet.

"My original contribution, I suppose, has been to combine research from other fields, especially psychology (on the small scale) and economics (on the large scale), with the concerns of sociology," he says.

His basic conclusions are that happy people are above all grateful for who and what they have in their lives. In addition, helping other people is one of the biggest sources of personal happiness, as is seeing other people helping others. Weston argues that meaningful work, strong relationships and community involvement are essential in making and keeping people happy.

Currently, Weston is exploring how having children tends to make people less happy with their marriages but happier about the meaningfulness of their lives. In the coming weeks, he will be discussing this and other findings on happiness and society during his annual Theory Camp, which meets July 29 to August 10. The main text for the camp is Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

For more information on Weston's research or Theory Camp, contact him at beau.weston@centre.edu.

Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.

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