The Path to Happiness:
What Chinese Philosophy Teaches us about the Good Life
Course taught by Michael Puett, Professor of Chinese and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University, with discussions led by Paul Friedman, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus at the U. of Kansas and popular Sedona OLLI facilitator.
This 8-week course will meet weekly on Zoom, on Friday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:30, beginning April 9 through May 28, 2021.
An underlying principle of UU is that viewpoints from people around the globe can contribute to our understanding of life. This course will explore a set of ideas from several extraordinary philosophers (such as Confucius and LaoTzu) living in ancient China (from the fifth through third centuries BCE), who are still considered to be among the wisest and most influential in human history.
Many of these ideas inspired UU thinkers, like Emerson and Thoreau, in the 19th century, but are little known or misunderstood today. The perspective of these ancient Chinese philosophers challenge many modern Western assumptions about the best path to living a happy, fulfilled life. This course brings these voices from the past into modern contexts to explore what it takes for us to flourish.
This class will involve a series of 5-10 minute mini-lectures, presented by award-winning Harvard University professor Michael Puett, adapted from his very popular class there, each followed by an informal discussion among the UU participants on Zoom facilitated by Paul Friedman, UU member.
No prior knowledge of Chinese philosophy or history is necessary. (This class is offered on the web platform EdX.com. It can be previewed or taken completely on your own there.)
This option is presented as a small adjunct program to supplement the opportunities we make available to UU members. Enrollment will be limited to 12 members — people who want to think and discuss more deeply than the Sunday meeting allows about philosophy from another world culture that underlies the kinds of issues raised in our sermons. It is being offered as a way to engage a segment of our diverse SUUF community while we can’t meet in person and as food for thought, certainly not as an effort to change people’s thinking.
The ideas are thought-provoking and presented in a very accessible way, so the class should appeal to people interested in philosophy or alternative world views. UU folks are invited to attend the first session to see if it appeals to them, and to continue attending if it does, or to simply drop out if it doesn’t.
What You Will Learn
- Understanding ancient Chinese philosophy to live a better life
- Tools for self-awareness, the power of ritual, and sensing the world around you
- How personal actions and counteractions change the world
- The philosophical theories of Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi
Ideas and discussions in this class will question much of what Westerners are told about how to lead a good life. Its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place—just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently.
Some of the counterintuitive ideas we will explore include: Transformation comes less from looking within for a true self, than from creating conditions that produce new possibilities. Good relationships come less from being sincere and authentic, than from the “rituals” we perform within them. A good life emerges less from planning it out, and more through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Influence comes less from wielding power, than from holding back. Excellence comes more from what we choose to do, than from our natural abilities.
Units of Study
- Who am I, and how should I act in the world?
- How does the world change the way I should act?
- Action and Counteraction – How do my actions change the world I live in?
- How do I live a joyful life?
- How do I improve myself?
- How do I improve the world?
For further information, or to sign up for this course, please contact Paul Friedman (firstname.lastname@example.org).