Understanding happiness and the American Dream in an age of inequality

Photo by Julia Mach

After giving her presentation, Dr. Liesen asks for questions and comments from students and faculty.


As part of the "happiness" themed Arts and Ideas series, Dr. Liesen of the political science department spoke about pursing happiness and the American Dream in the age of inequality on Wednesday, Nov. 8. Throughout her presentation, Dr. Liesen talked about what makes people happy and how to acquire happiness while trying to pursue the American Dream in an environment of increasing inequality.


“Happiness, in terms of our development, is a lifelong pursuit literally in that we are sensitive to our environment, those around us and how we develop into the world,” said Dr. Liesen. “There is not just one reproductive strategy and a lot of it is based on our environmental cues…We cannot be too quick to call out others for the decisions they make because they are making decisions based on experiences and the cues that they receive in their lifetime.”


Students who went to the event were fascinated by the struggle that seems to occur between defining happiness in terms of men and women and how that definition differs in the overall pursuit for happiness. While Dr. Liesen took more of a scientific and political approach, some students and faculty thought it was interesting to relate her ideas back to conservative and liberal responses defining happiness. Other students responded with amazement in the ideas that one’s physical body can still be easily manipulated by an environment.


“The presentation was really eye-opening to me,” says sophomore aviation flight major Heidi Trego. “It was really interesting to me because I did not know that we still had that in-depth instinct to take in account the main purposes of [our bodies] such as to have kids.”


After the presentation, students talked with each other about how they are unsure if the American Dream is still worth pursuing and if happiness was so strongly connected to creating life as Dr. Liesen talked about in her presentation. This event not only caused students and faculty members to reflect on how to pursue happiness and the American Dream, but it also caused them to consider its importance in their own lives.


“I wish our student’s lives were a bit more leisurely in terms of taking the time to learn as much as you can, meet as many people as you can, and being able to take advantage of all the resources, intellectual and social capital, because they will be useful to them going forward,” says Dr. Liesen. “Not just in terms of them getting a good job, but in building a good life for oneself.”


The next Arts and Ideas presentation is called “The Happiness Hypothesis” and will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 28 from 2 to 3 p.m., where Dr. Wallace Ross, an English studies professor, will be talking about where happiness comes from and the meaning of life.



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