New UM Course Delves into Art and Science of Happiness

November 15, 2019

UM News Service

MISSOULA – This spring the University of Montana College of Education will offer a new course titled The Art and Science of Happiness, helping students learn about myths and truths of well-lived lives so they can develop a better map for finding happiness.

Counseling Professor John Sommers-Flanagan and Professor Emerita Rita Sommers-Flanagan developed the course, which is modeled loosely after other successful happiness classes offered at Yale, Harvard, Duke and other universities. The UM class takes into account the unique challenges to well-being and happiness that Montanans face.

At Yale, a similar course quickly became the most popular class on campus, with over 1,200 students enrolled.

“Along with life and liberty, the Declaration of Independence endorses the right to pursue happiness, but this right doesn’t come with a map or even a definition,” said John Sommers-Flanagan. “It’s not like we can program our phone’s GPS to lead us to happiness. In fact, if we focus too much on happiness, we can end up feeling sad.

“As odd as it may sound, from a psychological perspective, the Declaration of Independence may contribute to people feeling they’ve failed at achieving happiness. That’s partly because the roads to happiness aren’t necessarily solo adventures. Many factors come into play, including genetics, social relationships, economic status, culture and meaning.”

Each week, the course will focus on core research studies and how students can apply that insight to real life.

 “This class won’t just be lecture after lecture,” said Rita Sommers-Flanagan. “On most Thursdays students break into small ‘Happiness Labs’ where they can engage in activities designed to stimulate happiness, well-being and positive mental health.”

“As is true with the Declaration of Independence and life itself, the University of Montana happiness course offers no guarantees for a happier life,” John Sommers-Flanagan said. “However, full engagement in the curriculum will provide intellectual stimulation, as well as information on distinctions between happiness, joy, fulfillment and psychological well-being.”

He said he hopes there will be some side effects associated with the course, including increased laughter, more time spent savoring the good things in life and a greater awareness of how to define and pursue a well-lived life.

The three-credit course will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. during spring semester 2020. The course number is COUN195, and registration is open on CyberBear at

For more information on the class, call Sommers-Flanagan at 406-243-5252 or email


Contact: John Sommers-Flanagan, professor, Department of Counseling, UM Phyllis J. Washington College of Education, 406-243-5252,