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Beginning in my freshman year at Bryn Mawr College I have met with Professor Anne Dalke of the English Department on a regular basis to discuss life, academics, and the future. Anne has watched me grow from an unsure scared freshman to an unsure (but slightly less scared) senior. Like many other college students today, I have suffered from depression throughout my life. During the fall of 2009 I felt lost, hopeless, and very far away from the ever elusive concept of “happiness.” When I have a problem, my solution is to read until I find an answer and so, at the start of the new year I embarked on an exploration of happiness. I read happiness best sellers like “Eat Pray Love” and “The Happiness Project,” I applied the lessons those authors learned to my own life, I watched uplifting movies, I drew happiness connections to my coursework, and I began to seriously explore my spirituality for the first time since I was seven. Surprising both myself and those around me, by exploring happiness I actually became happier. By the time I met with Anne for our talk in the spring of 2010, my own happiness project had not only become a huge part of my life, but had changed my life. Although I don’t remember all the details, somehow this exploration of happiness became a plan for an independent study during the spring of 2011, my last semester at Bryn Mawr.

The study, titled simply: Happiness under course registration, will center around eight works that address the topic of happiness from different disciplines and viewpoints (see the Resources page). As well as reading about happiness, I will also be conducting an ethnography project where I will interview others about happiness. Finally, Anne and I will hold each other accountable when it comes to our own happiness; we will attempt to measure the effect of this study on our own lives. Each of us will have a page on this blog to record “moments of feeling” that we experience throughout the semester. The main blog page will be a place for Anne and I to record our thoughts and draw connections as we move through each of the chosen books and discuss the interviews I conduct over the course of the semester.

I am Alexandra Funk, a Bryn Mawr College senior computer science major and happiness enthusiast. My partner in exploration is Anne Dalke, a professor in the Bryn Mawr English Department.

I’m Anne Dalke, very “happy” (oh: yet another word problematized!) that Alex has invited me to join her in this project –a finale, of sorts, to our four years of talking together– a project of holding ourselves and one another accountable for our own happiness. I think my teaching is always about helping my students towards their future (see, for example, this semester’s class on The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories), but I don’t know that I’ve ever shared a project w/ a student that so explicitly aims @ self-renovation–not just hers, but mine as well. I’m very much looking forward to seeing just where this exploration takes us.

I should probably say something about my own “setpoints” coming into this conversation. I think I’m set @ happiness: I come from a family of extroverts: outgoing, interested in others and what’s around them (and The Economist reports that extroverts tend to be happier). So my orientation on the world, and my expectations for each day, generally center around a sense of possibilities. The downside to that is that, of course, I get disappointed — a lot! — and like Alex I have struggled w/ serious depression. I’ve taken medication, and done a good five year’s worth of therapy. All that was situational, though, and — with lots of work and time — I seem to have re-calibrated, re-set the set point.