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The Eternal Pursuit of Happiness

How do science and technologies shape our quest for the good life? And to what extent is our modern, Western, affluent society – driven by a combination of hedonistic consumerism and individual self-actualisation – a fertile ground for this pursuit?

In this course, we will take an interdisciplinary look at the eternal pursuit of happiness based on four themes: (1) modern self; (2) modern society; (3) East and West; and (4) meaning. The focus of the course will be on developments in the 20th and 21st centuries, as they relate most directly to current issues about happiness and wellbeing.   

First, we will dive into the history of the modern self and modern society. When did we begin to consider ourselves unique individuals? Where did our quest for authenticity and self-actualisation start? How to understand well-being as both an ethical concept and practice? What is the impact of technology on our behaviour and wellbeing? How do our modern political and economic systems influence our well-being and our ideas of well-being?

Then, we will compare Eastern and Western approaches to alleviate our suffering. Eastern philosophies and religions claim to have many ways to improve happiness and well-being. Western psychologists and psychiatrists have developed different therapies to treat psychopathology. In the last decades, East and West have found common ground in the Western world: meditation and mindfulness have conquered psychotherapy and are even part of the toolkit of the modern HR manager.

Finally, we will look at meaning as it is one of the most fundamental compasses in life. We will analyse the role work has been playing historically in the life of many people to create meaning, purpose and fulfilment. And we will reflect on the challenges of writing a personal, meaningful narrative in modern society.

Read more on the setup of the course, the personal search for happiness, the influence of digital media and the coronavirus on happiness, and the role of happiness in the bigger picture.


Mr Ties van de Werff.


You can find the timetable on Datanose.

Entry requirements

Open to second-year and third-year UvA Bachelor’s students and Master's students, as well as 'bijvak' students from other Dutch higher education institutions and contract students.


Update 23 June: Registration for this course as an UvA student is closed as the maximum number of participants has been reached. However, you can be put on the waiting list by enroling for the course in SIS.

Other interested parties can register as a bijvak student or contract student by completing the online registration form. If you have any trouble while registering, please contact us at


Prices can be found on the IIS website.

More Information

SDGs in education

The IIS strives to reflect current societal issues and challenges in our elective courses, honours modules and degree programmes, and attempts to integrate the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this course. For more information about these goals, please visit the SDGs website.

Facts & Figures
Mode Short-term
Credits 6 ECTS,
Language of instruction English
Starts in October