Science of the Good Life

Science of the Good Life


Academic Team:
David McCormick (
First-Year Experience Seminar Instructor
Sorayah Alvarez (
FIG Assistant

9 credits
UGST 109 First-Year Experience Seminar - 1 credit
Good Life Schedule 1: 
UGST 109 First Year Experience Seminar – 1 Credit 

CRN: 16276: W: 2:00 – 2:50 PM, UNTH 264 

BI 170 Happiness: a Neuroscience and Psychology Perspective – 4 credits 

CRN: 10761: MW: 12:00 – 1:20 PM, 156 STB, +LAB CRN: 10774: F: 10:00 – 10:50 AM, UNTH 207 

PSY 201Z Introduction to Psychology I – 4 credits 

CRN: 14678: TR: 12:00 – 1:20 PM, STB 156 

Good Life Schedule 2: 

UGST 109 First Year Experience Seminar – 1 Credit 

CRN: 16322: W: 2:00 – 2:50 PM, UNTH 264 

BI 170 Happiness: a Neuroscience and Psychology Perspective – 4 credits 

CRN: 10761: MW: 12:00 – 1:20 PM, 156 STB, +LAB CRN: 10774: F: 10:00 – 10:50 AM, UNTH 207 

PSY 202Z Introduction to Psychology II – 4 credits 

CRN: 14679: TR: 10:00 – 11:50 AM, STB 156, +LAB CRN: F: 12:00 – 12:50 PM, FEN 117 

About the FIG:

This FIG requires high participation in class and occasional time commitments outside of the scheduled class time. 

The goal of this FIG is to give you the tools you need to lead a more fulfilling and satisfying life, as evidenced by research in Neuroscience, Psychology, Philosophy, and good ole fashion wisdom. We will use the "Head, Hearts, Hands" model of learning. Heads refers to intellectual knowledge, Heart is emotional intelligence and development, and finally Hands is putting the principles we learn into action.   

In BI 170 (Happiness: a Neuroscience and Psychology Perspective), FIG members will learn the latest neuroscience research revealing how negative (e.g. stress, anxiety) and positive (e.g. empathy, compassion) emotional states are generated in the brain. They will also explore what new results in psychological science teach us about how to be happier, how to feel less stressed, and how to flourish. This course is supplemented by taking either PSY 201: Mind and Brain or PSY 202: Mind and Society, in which the FIG members will learn how the brain generates our mind, our personalities, perceptions, and biases.  

 In this FIG, in addition to modern scientific studies, we will also examine ancient wisdom on the purpose and meaning of "a well-lived life". We will discuss emotional intelligence and development, and how behavior results from an interaction of knowledge of facts and principles (intellectual understanding) with emotional state. The weekly seminar portion of the FIG will emphasize putting the principles learned in Happiness class (BI 170) into practice (the "Hands" component of active learning). Each week we will briefly discuss the principles taught about how to practice a well lived life, and then perform activities that put those principles into action. Such as learning to meditate on a regular basis, exercising by taking a hike to a nearby park and garden, watching a movie, such as "Buck - the horse whisperer" which emphasizes compassion, discussing the role of relationships in long term happiness and developing effective interpersonal communication skills. Through this FIG, you will learn not only the science of a well-lived life, but also how to put that science and knowledge to everyday use. Through this knowledge and practice, you will become a happier, more connected, and less stressed student who is better equipped to contribute to positive change in the world. Join us and learn to be connected, grounded, and happy! 

Deep-Dive FIG:
This FIG includes multiple field trips and hands-on events.

BI 170 Happiness: a Neuroscience and Psychology Perspective - CoreEd or major satisfying course

Welcome to happiness: a neuroscience and psychology perspective! This course examines research in positive psychology and neuroscience that reveal the behavioral activities and mindsets that promote positive life engagement and the neural circuits that influence this. The course will examine the evidence that happiness is significantly influenced by genetics and mindset, with only a small component arising from life circumstances. Studies in positive psychology that reveal important factors in mental mindset, such as quality of interpersonal relationships, biases, resilience, growth vs. fixed mindset, self-esteem formation, etc. will be critically evaluated and discussed. The neural pathways underlying the fight/flight/freeze response, stress/anxiety, attention, reward/pleasure/addiction, conditioned fear, learning and memory, parent/child and romantic relationship bonding, compassion/empathy, and habit formation will be reviewed and critically evaluated. Methods for altering these neural pathways and their associated cognitive states, such as pharmacological, behavioral, meditative, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, will be demonstrated and discussed. The course will encourage students to critically evaluate and assess their assumptions about positive life engagement in their own situations and to explore, through critical discussion and final projects/papers, mechanisms that may facilitate their own understanding of the psychological/neuroscience factors involved in their unique situation and how to put practices into place that provide positive growth potential.

Intro to Psychology I - CoreEd or major satisfying course

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Our ability to think, feel, and act emerges from the interrelated activity of neural networks in our brain. Thus, a full understanding on how the mind works requires close consideration of its biological foundations. Psychologists rely on empirical means - systematic observation and experimentation - to learn about how the human brain enables basic cognitive processes such as learning, memory and attention. This course, combined with its companion, Psychology 202Z, provides a broad introduction to the key areas of psychology.

The primary goal of this course is to introduce students to basic concepts about core mental functions such as learning, memory and attention, and how the brain enables these functions. Across a variety of domains, this course examines the core principles that govern how our mind functions, as well as how these principles arise from the underlying neural substrate.

Some of the topics covered in this course are:

Brain basics: How does experience and thought emerge from interacting neurons? How can we find out what different areas in the brain do? How do these areas work together to produce goal-directed action?

Perception: How is it that our brain/mind can construct from physical properties (e.g., wave length in case of vision) the rich and meaningful content of our conscious awareness?

Learning: Humans, along with many animals, are immensely flexible, due to the ability to learn about changing environmental regularities. What are the basic laws of learning that underlie this flexibility?

Memory: Without our mind's ability to travel back in time to past events, there would be no planful consideration of the future, no sense of self. However, what exactly is a memory and how are memories represented in the brain?

An important goal is to convey a solid understanding of the experimental and neuroscience approach to understanding the mind. To this end, the course incorporates classroom demonstrations of critical experimental methods and frequently features examples from recently published empirical studies

Intro to Psychology II - CoreEd or major satisfying course

Psychology is the systematic study of experience and behavior -- how we think, feel, and act. This course introduces psychology by considering many of the sources of influence that produce the variations and commonalities we see in human psychology. The scope includes topics relevant both to the understanding of "normal" human functioning and to mental illness. Mental illness is an important part of psychology, but many of the influences on the mind that produce mental illness are at play in mentally healthy minds too. Topics covered in this course include:

Development - Over time, how do the physical and cognitive changes that occur in humans affect their abilities, activities, and emotions, and how are these changes similar or different to those that occur in other species? Events and influences at one point in time can predict outcomes later in life.

Personality - Our behavior often reflects stable and enduring traits that make us uniquely us. Some of these traits we are born with, others are encouraged by our environments, and some reflect the interplay of both nature and nurture.

Social influence - Human behavior rarely occurs in isolation. Much of what we do everyday involves coordination and communication with the rest of the "pack," concern about how other people regard us, and a desire to influence others' behavior.

The course takes a research-based approach to psychology, considering at every step along the way how psychologists can best empirically test their theories and add new knowledge about human behavior. Students are given a chance to hone their own observation skills, to develop and test hypotheses, and to become critical consumers of research findings.

Meet your FIG Assistant and Instructor!