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Cali Owings, Published September 10 2013

Concordia symposium focuses on happiness

MOORHEAD – Students, faculty and the public will take a multidisciplinary approach to happiness at Concordia College this week.

Throughout a two-day symposium at Concordia College, psychologists, philosophers, theologians and biologists will dissect the topic that many can relate to, but few understand.

Sessions today will feature noted scholars Sonja Lyubomirsky, a best-selling author and psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and Mark Chekola, a former philosophy professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead who is now a researcher at the World Database of Happiness at Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

The speakers are part of the Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium the college hosts every fall. Each year the campus hones in on a different subject. Last year’s topic was genocide, so Kirsten Theye, who headed the committee in charge of planning the event, said the lighter topic is fitting, but still complex.

“This is a really complicated topic,” Theye said. “It’s so controversial what happiness means and whether we can measure it and whether we should be pursuing it.”

Valerie Tiberius, a University of Minnesota philosophy professor, opened the symposium with a talk Tuesday night about theories of well-being.

With the abundance of people interested in the topic – from philosophers and psychologists to government officials and policy think tanks – it’s important to define what we’re talking about, she said.

The theory she uses to talk about the subject separates the psychological phenomenon known as happiness from well-being, or “the good for a person.”

While happiness is probably part of well-being, she said it is more than a good mood.

Her approach to well-being focuses on an individual’s value-fulfillment. If a person succeeds in terms of what he or she values, that person will have a fulfilling or “good” life. The theory is subjective and based on an individual’s psychology, but does not hinge on fleeting emotional responses.

One of the biggest challenges comes then when individuals try to improve the well-being of others, Tiberius said before her presentation.

“People often try to help other people without appreciating how difficult it is to be someone else,” she said.

Her next book will focus on well-being and approaches to improving the lives of others, such as relationships between friends, therapists and clients, and the state and its residents.

“These questions of well-being are interesting and incredibly complex,” Tiberius said.

After Tiberius’ opening talk Tuesday night, other researchers and scholars with delve into the happiness topic during sessions throughout the day Wednesday titled “Into the Wild: Natural Environments, Stress and Happiness” and “A Study of Holiday Letters, Authenticity, and Happiness.”

If you go

What: The 2013 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium – “Happiness: Living the Good Life.”

When: All day today

Where: Memorial Auditorium

Info: Starting at 9 a.m. today, Concordia will host sessions on happiness until 5 p.m. For a detailed schedule of today’s sessions, download the guidebook for “Happiness: Living the Good Life.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599