(Photography by Barn Images, CC0 1.0)

How can you be happier?

Philosophy professor Candace Vogler is on the case.

What role does happiness play in human life?

Is humility a worthwhile virtue? Or is it a form of weakness?

How can we even think about—let alone achieve—virtue, happiness, or meaning while leading frantic work and personal lives?

Over the next two years, Candace Vogler, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Philosophy, will try to answer these questions. Vogler and Jennifer A. Frey of the University of South Carolina will lead a team of philosophers, psychologists, and religious thinkers on a quest to understand what life is really about.

Their project, Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life was launched on Humanities Day to a full house at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Last month, the project received a $2.1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Vogler and Frey do not consider virtue, happiness, and the meaning of life to be the same thing—but do consider them related.

They will present their findings through various academic channels, including two new courses taught by visiting scholars in spring 2016 and spring 2017.

However, as Vogler said, “We want this to stay in touch with ordinary human beings” and not just academics. With that in mind, here are four ideas from her Humanities Day lecture—some of which admittedly may not be news—about leading a meaningful life:

1. Go for the greater good. Vogler said self-transcendence, “the need to be connected to something bigger,” as opposed to focusing on individual success, is crucial to finding meaning and happiness. The project hopes to develop tools to actually measure this quality.

2. Thomas Aquinas: not just for Catholics anymore. Most philosophical studies of happiness and virtue begin with Aristotle. But Vogler and Frey take the 13th-century theologian as their foundational philosopher. They point out that scholars of all—or no—faiths consider Aquinas “a serious moral philosopher,” and that Aquinas had a less elitist idea about who could lead virtuous lives. “It’s not just Athenian generals,” Vogler said.

3. Surprise! Money can’t buy happiness, says one early entry on the project’s Virtue Blog.

4. Spoiler alert: it’ll probably take more than two years. The project’s main goal is to seed future research and to get in the conversation, in both an academic and broadly cultural sense. “Ideas matter,” Frey said.


Principal investigators Candace Vogler and Jennifer A. Frey present Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life: A Collaboration at Humanities Day 2015.