Project Wake

In Pursuit of…Happiness?

Wake Forest has a long tradition of engaging in a summer academic project on an issue of intellectual and social importance.  The tradition includes setting aside time during New Deac Week for students to engage with a faculty or staff member on this issue.  It is a favorite New Deac Week activity.  For 2019, the Project Wake theme is “In Pursuit of … Happiness?”

Any transition is filled with challenges. In this transition to college, you will sometimes feel happy and sometimes feel unhappy.  That’s normal!  Join your fellow incoming students in Project Wake 2019, an opportunity to thoughtfully examine, through literature, what happiness is, what makes people happy or unhappy, and how different cultures value happiness among life’s goals.

Americans seem to put a lot of emphasis on happiness, both personal and communal. In fact, the Declaration of Independence states that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. It seems we almost feel it’s an entitlement that we be able to prioritize personal happiness.

Is the emphasis on happiness — and pursuit of happiness —  particularly American, or  universal? How do people define happiness, and is it the same for everyone? How do these views change over a lifespan? What’s the relationship between personal happiness and knowing oneself? What does happiness have to do with friendship and community?  Is it problematic to place such a high value on personal happiness?  Do people in America (and at Wake Forest) have equal opportunity and permission to claim their unalienable right?

In Project Wake you will have the opportunity to explore these and other questions about happiness through a work of literature that interests you.  The questions of what happiness is, how we find it, and whether it is as important as it seems are very relevant to the decisions you will make as you embark on this college journey.

Choices of books are available from many different genres and disciplines so that you can select a group that is most interesting to you. These conversations have proven to be an exciting and meaningful way to make new friends and discuss issues that matter.


Phone: 336.758.3320
Fax: 336.758.4548

P.O. Box 7225, Winston-Salem, NC 27109


Sunday, August 25

1:30 – 3 p.m.


More About Project Wake

Book Titles

Please click on the title below to read its description, and learn about the discussion leader. Click here to register today!

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Christy Buchanan

    Just-MercyA Harvard law grad spends his life working for the poor and falsely accused on death row or imprisoned for life.  He tells the stories of these people, as well as his work toward equitable justice.  The book illuminates who gets to pursue happiness in America, the value and meaning of happiness as a primary pursuit, and what might bring happiness and meaning to life.

    I am a Professor of Psychology. More specifically, I am a developmental psychologist who studies adolescent and young adult development, with a special focus on family influences and civic development.


  • The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Polly Black

    The-Happiness-of-PursuitWhen he set out to visit all of the planet’s countries by age thirty-five, compulsive goal seeker Chris Guillebeau never imagined that his journey’s biggest revelation would be how many people like himself exist–each pursuing a challenging quest. These quests are as diverse as humanity itself. Some involve exploration; others the pursuit of athletic or artistic excellence; still others a battle against injustice or poverty or threats to the environment.  This book examines the direct link between questing and long-term happiness–how going after something in a methodical way enriches our lives.

    I am an Asst. Teaching Professor in Communication. I teach integrated marketing communications and communication strategy.  This book’s message of empowerment and possibility appealed to me.  I look forward to hearing your take on it.  What will be your quest?

  • Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

    Discussion Leader:  Professor Melissa Jenkins

    Designing-Your-LifeChoosing a college: one of the hardest decisions you had to make in the last year.  Now that you’re “in” (Welcome to Wake!) the need to make crucial decisions, sometimes at the drop of a hat, only intensifies.  Designing Your Life, a bestseller by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, proposes a new way to think about approaching college and life decisions with intention. This book is not a guide for what decisions to make, nor does it dictate what a “joyful life” must contain.  Instead, it offers one model for being strategic – and creative – in approaching big and small choices in college and beyond. I look forward to discussing “design thinking” with you!

    I am a faculty fellow in Collins Residence Hall and an alum of Wake Forest.  I have been teaching in Wake Forest’s English department since 2008. My twin sister teaches architecture and computer design at a different east coast university, and my older brother is an instructional technologist at a west coast university. I’m the only kid in my house who didn’t catch the engineering bug from our dad, but I’m very happy with my “swerve” into the humanities.

  • How to Be a Friend: An Ancient Guide to True Friendship by Cicero

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Michael Lamb

    How-to-be-a-friendIn a 75-year study, researchers at Harvard found that the single most important influence on our health and happiness is the quality of our relationships. These psychologists confirm what philosophers have long held: that we become who we are, in part, because of our friends. Making friends is an especially important part of college, yet we rarely stop to think about how to develop and maintain meaningful relationships in our increasingly technological age. How do we choose our friends? How do we make new friends while maintaining relationships with older friends? How do we relate to a friend who has done something wrong? How do we develop friendships that improve our character rather than corrupt it? These questions animate How to Be a Friend, one of history’s most famous meditations on friendship. Written for one of his own friends, Cicero’s brief dialogue offers fundamental insights on friendship, virtue, and happiness that are as relevant today as they were in ancient Rome.

    I am an Assistant Professor of Politics, Ethics, and Interdisciplinary Humanities and Director of the Program for Leadership and Character. I teach a First-Year Seminar entitled “Commencing Character: How Should We Live?” and frequently lead discussions about friendship’s relationship to leadership and character. I’m eager to think more with you and Cicero about how we can build meaningful friendships at Wake Forest.


  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    Discussion Leader:  Ms. Ann Phelps

    The-Poisonwood-BibleYou might have arrived at Wake Forest happy: eager to learn, but fairly certain there are certain things you can be certain of. But then you meet your roommate, or take that philosophy class, or see the landscape around you, and you wonder…

    “The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.” (

    While the natural deconstruction that comes from encountering difference can lead to self-doubt, senses of loss, and unhappiness, exploring how to navigate these experiences in community can lead to a strength of character and fulfillment that transcend the blissful certainty of childhood. I look forward to hearing stories of faith, fragmentation, and formation from the Price women as well as from all of you as we begin our journey at Wake Forest together.

    I am the incoming Director of Programming for Leadership and Character. Whether in the classroom or out in the “real world,” I love to engage in conversations about what happens when our faith encounters new ideas and cultures, and to do so using academic discourse, creative expression, and interpersonal dialogue. I am thrilled to begin my time at Wake Forest connecting with a group of students who are eager to consider how The Poisonwood Bible might shape the way we pursue happiness in relationship with those who differ from us, challenge us, and ultimately teach us.

  • Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

    Discussion Leaders:  Hu Womack and Mary Dalton

    Turtles-All-the-Way-Down-CoverDid you read The Fault in our Stars or Paper Towns in high school? Are you a John Green fan? Like all Green’s books, his latest work Turtles All The Way Down uses wit and compassion to cast light on serious topics, in this case, the multiple anxiety disorders of our protagonist, Aza, and how this all influences how she ultimately defines and finds happiness. That would be enough for most authors, but Green also addresses issues of class, privilege and character.

    I’m Hu Womack, an Instruction and Outreach Librarian in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library and “double deac”. I graduated from Wake Forest University in 1990 with a BA in English and Studio Art. I received my MBA from Wake Forest in 2000 and completed my MLIS degree at UNC-Greensboro in 2008. I’m also a huge John Green fan and can’t wait to talk about this book and the author!

    I’m Mary M. Dalton, a professor in the Department of Communication where I teach courses in critical media studies. I graduated from Wake Forest with  BA in Communication and earned my MA and PhD from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


  • The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Sam Gladding

    The-Book-of-JoyThe Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu offer us reflections on their lives and how they have been able to discover a level of peace, courage, and joy to which we can all aspire. Through this book we get to listen as they explore the Nature of True Joy and confront each of the Obstacles of Joy—from fear, stress, and anger to grief, illness, and death. They then offer us Eight Pillars of Joy, which provide the foundation for lasting happiness. Throughout, they include stories, wisdom, and science and share the daily Joy Practices that anchor their emotional and spiritual lives.

    I am a professor in the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest where I have been teaching since 1990. I am a past president of the American Counseling Association but more importantly I am a faculty fellow in Luter Residence Hall. My favorite course to teach is a first year seminar on creativity.

  • The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Jessica Richard


    This short philosophical novel published in England in 1759 and set in what we now call Ethiopia follows a group of young people and their mentor as they explore whether there is a choice of life that leads to happiness.  They interview citizens, thinkers, and leaders as they ponder the roles that beliefs, relationships, wealth, and chance events play in our human quest for happiness.  They interrogate definitions of happiness (as we will in our conversation about the book) and the metaphor of “pursuit.”  What obstacles block the pursuit of happiness?  Is it possible to choose a life path that leads to happiness?  At one point a character laments that “Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.”  Is this true, and if so, what should we do?  You’ll find this novel beautifully written (Johnson was famous for his elegant sentences), wise, and timeless.

    I am Associate Professor and Chair of English; I teach and write about eighteenth-century British fiction from Robinson Crusoe to Jane Austen.  I have taught First-Year Seminars on “pursuits of happiness” in past years at Wake Forest. I love fostering students’ encounters with novels such as this one as they discover the richness that earlier writers can bring to the human questions that will always haunt us.

  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

    Discussion Leaders: Dr. Jake Ruddiman & Maisie Howland ’20


    Franklin’s amazing Autobiography is part history, part self-help text, part philosophical treatment of our obligations to ourselves and to society.  His pursuit of happiness was a pursuit of usefulness and improvement. Come read how Franklin creates himself as a young man — through his education, his relationships, his constant efforts at self-improvement, and his humble self-assessments. It all mixes together into a compelling story that people have taken as a touchstone for two centuries. I love teaching this book in my Colonial America class in the History Department and I’m eager to hear what you think of it!

    Rising senior Maisie Howland (History & Politics) will join our discussion! Here are her thoughts on the book:

    “The Autobiography is one of my favorite books I have read during my time at Wake Forest.  Franklin’s words are incredibly inspiring.  It is very easy to become a slave to the circumstances we are placed in and to become complacent, but Franklin never let his circumstances hold him back. Instead, Franklin allowed his ambition to drive him steadily forward, undertaking the formidable task of reaching “moral perfection.”  He did this by creating a chart of 13 virtues, marking when he did not comply with them each week. Soon, Franklin came to the conclusion that he could never reach this moral perfection, but decided he had learned from the experience and had made some important strides in understanding virtue. He went about all aspects of life in this same manner, fervently seeking to improve everything he set his eyes on. Franklin implemented a street cleaning system, a police department, a fire department, and much more.  Most importantly for his career he asserted himself in the newspaper business from a young age, not allowing setbacks to stymie him. All of this to say, Benjamin Franklin provided me with an incredible example and role model of how to conduct my life for the betterment of others and the world around us!”

    I told you this book might just change your life…Read and come join us.

  • Everbody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Al Rives

    Everybody Lies

    Everybody Lies is a Behavioral Economics book that explores how creative use of big data (or, really, any data) can give all sorts of insights into how the world works….both the good and the bad.

    I teach in the Chemistry department; I’m not an Economist (though I do tend to Behave), but that’s OK, since a book like this gives valuable examples of creative thinking that can impact any endeavor.  This sort of challenge is particularly valuable for anyone beginning a new intellectual journey….such as starting college.


  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

    Discussion Leader: Betsy Chapman

    The AlchemistThe Alchemist is a worldwide bestseller. It is a short-but-sweet fable that tells the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy from Spain who travels the world in search of a great treasure. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the search for happiness, how to listen to your heart, how to read the omens that life presents us, and the importance of following our dreams.

    I am a Wake Forest alumna (‘92 double major English and French, and MA ‘94 in English) and work in the Office of Family Engagement. My job is primarily in parent & family relations and communications, and I write the Daily Deac blog, which gives families (and any interested students!) a snapshot of life on campus, tips and advice, and more. I am also in graduate school, pursuing a PhD in higher education.


  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

    Discussion Leaders: Steph Trilling and Dana Lopez

    Eleanor and Park

    Set over one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.  This New York Times Bestseller leaves us wondering if “happily ever after” is a destination or a journey and if true love is the same as true happiness.

    Dana Lopez is the AD of Campus Recreation and Steph Trilling is the AD of the Safe Office.  Both are hopeless romantics, one is good at sports.

  • Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life by Edith Hall

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Michele Gillespie


    What does it mean to pursue happiness?  How can we live a rich and joyful life? It turns out that the ancient philosopher Aristotle has excellent advice for us all, and scholar Edith Hall is a wonderful guide to it.  Aristotle was the ultimate interdisciplinary thinker. The man who invented literary theory also offers us a pragmatic lens on everything from the power of community to smart decision-making.  

    In her beautiful book, Hall shows us how we can use his thought to address the many dilemmas of our modern life, from dealing with depression and anxiety to preparing for difficult challenges to pursuing equity, all in vibrant, page-turning prose. I invite you to read this fascinating survey of Aristotle’s thought with me; it covers everything from virtue, work and friendship to the natural world and God.  We will learn more about Aristotle’s life and personal reflections along the way, Ultimately, reading and discussing this book invites you to think about how you want to craft your own virtuous, happy life as you begin this exciting new chapter that is college.

    I am Michele Gillespie.  I teach American history and am also Dean of the College.  I am eager to help my students see how studying the past can help us make sense of the present. I believe that history, literature and philosophy help us ask powerful, important, and exciting questions about how we can best lead fulfilling lives of meaning and purpose today.

  • Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

    Discussion Leader: Meghan Webb


    What does the pursuit of happiness look like when we are directly confronted with the challenge of monitoring and assessing our own mental state? Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me is an unflinchingly honest memoir about confronting mental illness and self-acceptance. Ellen Forney (author and cartoonist) presents her personal experience with bipolar disorder in this graphic memoir, examining the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity and her own relationship between mental illness and art. Forney’s struggle of coming to terms with oneself, (a challenge that everyone must undergo) demonstrates that happiness involves a willingness to learn and grow– and sometimes it involves discomfort. Additional themes of self-discovery, balance, self-care, and seeking treatment from mental health providers are presented.

    My name is Meghan Webb and I am an Instruction and Outreach Librarian at the ZSR Library. In addition to teaching LIB 100: Academic Research & Information Issues, I develop and lead library programs related to student engagement and instruction. Among these, I facilitate the library’s Graphic Novel Book Club and serve as a faculty adviser for the ZSR Library Ambassadors.

  • Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg

    Discussion Leader: Tim Auman

    Real Happiness

    Early adulthood is filled with intense emotions and insecurity.  What if I can’t find a group of friends?  What if I can’t find a major I’m passionate about?  I miss home.  I miss my close friends.  I get lost in the noise of how I think I should be living and worry about wasting what everyone says are the best years of my life.

     Real Happiness shares mindfulness practices to help you learn to identify and accept your feelings and respond – not react – to painful and powerful stimuli without pushing them away or getting lost in them.  This is not about fixing yourself or getting “better.”  You are already fine just the way you are.  Sharon Salzberg offers expert guidance on beginning a meditation practice and explores how to bring that practice to your Wake Forest experience.

    Hi!  I am the University Chaplain at Wake Forest and the director of MindfulWake (the campus-wide meditation initiative).  Real Happiness is definitely the book for you if you’re interested in opening your mind and managing your stress.

  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Nikki Elston

    Us Against YouWe put a lot of energy into being happy, don’t we? So what happens when the one thing that brought you the most happiness no longer works? What happens when the relationships and people who brought you joy are gone or far away?  Do friendship and loyalty bring you happiness or something else?  As you embark of your Wake Forest journey, where will you find happiness? How will you find your happiness here, when it might not feel like home?  This book tells the story of a town, a hockey team, and a community that is rattled by a terrible event, and how people learn to find happiness in the face of tradegy and disappointment.  It’s not all sad and it’s not all about sports!  It’s just an honest story, with complex characters, exploring the search for happiness when everything has changed.

    Hello! I am an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Counseling.  I teach classes in the health and human services minor and the master’s in counseling program.  In addition to teaching I am also lucky to  serve as an undergraduate advisor.  I am particularly excited and invested in working with college students as they transition into their first year.

  • The High Price of Materialism by Professor Tim Kasser

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Sarah Raynor

    The High Price of MaterialismHow much material wealth do you need to be happy?  In this book, Dr. Kasser examines the question of whether being driven by material concerns affects your happiness–and he finds that it does.  In fact, he finds that if your values center on wealth and possessions then you are at higher risk of several mental health issues and your happiness is likely to be negatively impacted.  Take this opportunity to learn about the science behind materialism and (un)happiness, and to think about how you can change your values to improve your chance of long term happiness!

    I am the chair of the department of mathematics and statistics, and I have worked at Wake for 15 years.  I love the chance to get to know incoming students, and discuss with y’all my interests beyond math!

  • All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

    Discussion Leaders: Prof. T. H. M. Gellar-Goad and Chyanne Thompson-Quartey ’20

    All About Love CoverHow can we be happy in a society so afflicted by lovelessness?  What if love-as-romance is thinking about it all wrong? In this book, renowned scholar and intersectional feminist bell hooks starts from the idea that “‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet…we would all love better if we used it as a verb.”  She offers a proactive new ethic for people faced with society’s failure to provide a model for learning to love. Replacing the cultural paradigm that the ideal love is infused with sex and desire, she provides a new path to love that is redemptive and healing for the individuals and for a nation.

    I am an Assistant Professor of Classics, the Zachary T. Smith Fellow at Wake Forest University and a Faculty Fellow in Angelou Hall. Every fall I teach a first-year seminar living-learning community titled “Beware the Ides, Beware the Hemlock: Roleplaying Crisis in Ancient Greece & Rome.”  I specialize in ancient Roman poetry, especially the funny stuff: comedy, satire, erotic elegy, and — if you believe me —  the allegedly philosophical poet Lucretius.

    I am Chyanne Thompson-Quartey, a rising senior majoring in Politics & International Affairs.

  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

    Discussion Leaders: Jessica Telligman, JD & Mikayla Thomas

    Lab GirlThis book is not about science. I have no affinity to science and I loved this book. It’s a book about a famous academic scientist, Hope Jahren, and why she became a student of nature. It’s about she and her best friend and lab partner trying to make inroads with sometimes wayward college students. The book reveals how the author finds happiness and a sanctuary in science, amongst the trials of every day life including depression and running out of money. It’s full of truths she finds along the way, including, “my lab is like a church because it is where I figure out what I believe.”

    I am Jessica Telligman, the Assistant Director of the Title IX Office for Wake Forest University and Wake Forest School of Medicine. The Title IX Office is responsible for responding to reports of sexual misconduct involving students and employees. I graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2004, and have been practicing law and/or mothering in some form in Winston-Salem since that time.

    I am Mikayla Thomas, an undergraduate student from rural North Carolina majoring in Sociology.

  • Into the Wild by John Krakauer

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Matt Clifford

    Into the WildJourney. Expedition. Odyssey. The pursuit of happiness is as much about traveling along a pathway as it is about the destination. Into the Wild is the story of an individual’s pursuit of happiness in the form of a travel memoir. After graduating from Emory University in 1991, freethinker Christopher McCandless embarks on a personal, spiritual, and harrowing trek through the Alaska wilderness to invent a new life for himself. In his nomadic journey and ultimate death, McCandless details the seeking, yearning voice of a traveler in search of something more than the world can offer him.

    I am the Interim Dean for Residence Life and Housing. I fell in love with travel memoirs after a class at Davidson College during my senior year. This is one of my favorite books ever and I’m delighted to read it with you!


  • The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Brian Warren

    The AntidoteDoes positivity ever get you down, seem hollow, or feel like a scam? If so, this book may be for you. But it is so much more than a self-help guide for sceptics, cynics, and contrarians. Burkeman argues that by trying to be happy, we often make ourselves miserable. He sees modern culture’s approach to happiness as misconceived and counterproductive, and explores ancient theories of the human condition that allow him to offer a thoughtful critique of today’s pervasive ideology of optimism.

    I am an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Classics and the Program for Interdisciplinary Humanities, and a Faculty Fellow in Johnson Residence Hall. I teach courses in Greek, Latin, and ancient history, as well as a First-Year Seminar called Tragic Love Stories: Ancient and Modern.

  • The Pursuit of Happiness by Richard Dresser

    Discussion Leader: Dr. J.K. Curry

    The Pursuit of HappinessWhy would a parent engage in cheating during the college admissions process? Why would a high achieving teenager seriously consider not going to college? What’s the point of a college education anyway? This comic play examines the college admissions pressures placed on a high school student and also takes a closer look at the adults in her life who have lost their way in their pursuit of happiness. 

    I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance. I regularly teach courses about dramatic literature and theatre history and, not surprisingly, I enjoy talking about plays.

  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

    Discussion Leader: Prof. Brian Calhoun

    The Happiness ProjectWhat if the most simple changes in your life could bring you additional happiness…would you do it? Yes, of course you would. The author examines little changes that she makes during a twelve month period of her life as part of a happiness project. Time is an important commodity, and that should be spent wisely. I think your time will be well spent reading this book during the summer.

    I teach in the Department of Education, and serve as a faculty fellow in Luter Residence Hall. I am an alum of Wake Forest, and I know how meaningful the first year on campus can be. I appreciate the opportunity to work with you and help with your transition to college.

  • Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Rowie Kirby-Straker

    Happiness for No ReasonFinding lasting happiness might be simpler than we think and well within our reach. Through inspiring stories and techniques like thought-modification and relationship-building, you can gain insight into what it means to be happy despite challenging circumstances that will inevitably come your way.

    I am an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Communication and enjoy interacting with students, including those who take the Public Speaking course or serve in the Wake Speaks Speaking Center. My uncle, one of the happiest people I know, recommended this book; I can’t wait to discuss it with you.

    Hi, I’m Zariah, and I am a rising junior. I am a Communication major with a concentration in Integrated Communication Strategies, and a double minor in Statistics and Politics & International Affairs. I enjoy bringing people from all different backgrounds together.

  • Chemistry by Weike Wang

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Amanda Jones

    Chemistry CoverIn Chemistry by Weike Wang, we meet a narrator midway through her PhD in Chemistry, who has become completely disconnected from her ability to experience joy. Distanced from her life and her former passions, she has become stuck, unable to move forward, trapped between the inability to meet the expectations of others and the inability to articulate what she truly wants for herself. So instead of addressing the question of what the pursuit of happiness looks like, I’ve chosen this book as a place to examine what happens when we become unmoored from our ability to pursue happiness.

    I teach Organic Chemistry and this was a difficult book for me. Weike Wang’s writing is magical and she manages to capture some of the wondrous quirks of being a chemist, but she has put it in this distressing context of a person who can no longer find joy in it.  I hope that through our discussion we can explore the roots of happiness in pursuing passions for their own sake, while recognizing that no one can tell us what that looks like, that we must find it for ourselves, that sometimes those passions change, and that we must open ourselves up to whatever path that pursuit leads us down. (While we’re at it, I hope I can also share a bit of the happier side of Chemistry!)

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

    Discussion Leader: Kenneth Townsend

    Sing Unburied Sing CoverTwo-time National Book Award Winner and MacArthur genius award recipient, Jesmyn Ward has distinguished herself as one of the greatest living American writers.  Informed by her experience growing up as a black woman in Mississippi, her most recent novel Sing, Unburied, Sing engages perennial issues in Southern culture and literature, including the relationship between past and present, black and white, living and dead.  The novel is at once a reflection on the elusiveness of happiness for those on the margins of society as well as a hopeful story regarding the power of human connection to forge happiness in the face of suffering.

    Kenneth Townsend is the new Scholar Residence at the Wake Forest University School of Law and Director of Leadership and Character in the Professional Schools.  A native of Mississippi and an undergraduate English major, he has an abiding passion for literature and is excited to share with first-year students his love of Jesmyn Ward.

  • Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain--and How to Fight Back by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever

    Discussion Leader: Rosalind Tedford

    Your Happiness was Hacked

    A growing body of research is indicating that in addition to making some aspects of our lives better, technology is also the source of a great deal of unhappiness and stress. Cell phones, dating apps, social media, FOMO, fake news, and more can combine to increase our stress and anxiety and can result in lower levels of happiness and joy. This book delves into the connections between technology and our brains and looks engagingly at how technology and tech companies leverage our own psychological tendencies and biases to keep us connected. But it also provides real-world ways to limit that stress without throwing your phone off a bridge. Learning to manage your relationship with technology will be critical to your success and happiness in college and beyond, so let’s all learn together how to do better.

    Rosalind is the Director for Research and Instruction in the ZSR Library. She has two degrees from Wake Forest and has worked at ZSR for 25 years. In addition to supporting the students and faculty in the Politics and English departments, she currently teaches classes on misinformation and disinformation on the Internet and loves to discuss the impact of technology on our lives.

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Megan Rudock

    Madame Bovary CoverPublished in 1856, Madame Bovary was the debut novel of Gustave Flaubert and is to this day considered on of the most influential literary works in history.  Emma Bovary is the original “Desperate Housewife”. This book tells the story of a woman bored in her marriage and tired of small town life. Motivated by the primal, idealized, and vain; Emma Bovary chooses to pursue happiness no matter the cost.  I chose this book, because it feels so relevant.  Given the current popularity of social media and the ideal facade of our online friends, I felt it would be worthwhile to evaluate our own pursuit of happiness.  What is the cost of happiness? How can we find contentment and happiness in what we have, setting attainable goals rather than reaching for the false ideals we see on social media?

    I teach in the Chemistry department.  I’ve been wanting to read Madame Bovary for a while, and I’m so glad I did.  I think it’s so interesting to see how relevant this books still is. Emma would have fit right in with the desperate housewives and been an entertaining TV personality if she lived today.  I’m so excited to discuss this book with you.


  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Simone Caron

    Pachinko Cover

    This novel, published in 2017, is the second book by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. The story follows four generations of Koreans who search for peace and happiness from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century. The family experiences colonization by Japan, World War I, World War II and their move to Japan. Once in Japan, they experience job and housing discrimination and find themselves living in a poor, segregated part of the city. This novel is a unique look at Korean-Japanese interactions, and offers a lens to discuss race, gender, and class. The New York Times rated this book one of the best ten novels of 2017.

    I joined the history faculty in 1991 and chaired the department from 2005 to 2013. I am currently chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. My research interests span from 1830 to the present and include American medical history, reproductive issues, midwifery, alcoholic women, unwed mothers, and infanticide. My teaching interests center on gender and medical history, the Great Depression, the long decade of the Sixties, and American political, social, economic and cultural history since 1865.  

  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Erica Still

    An American Marriage CoverMarriage is supposed to be the beginning of “happily ever after.” So what do we do when it’s not? This novel is about a marriage pressured by injustice (when the husband is wrongfully arrested), loneliness (when the wife is left to carry on without him), and desire (when the wife turns to the husband’s best friend for comfort). An American Marriage invites us to reimagine the idea of happily ever after–indeed, of happiness itself. (Being married is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book, I promise!)

    I love a good story, and I’m excited for you as you begin the next chapter of your own life. As a professor in the English Department, I teach first-year writing, introductory literature, and upper-level African American literature courses. As an Associate Dean of the College, I focus on supporting diversity and inclusion at Wake Forest. I’m always interested in thinking and talking about what makes for a great story, whether on the page or in the “real” world, so I hope you’ll join me in exploring ideas about love and happiness through this deeply moving story.

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Michael Shuman

    A Man Called Ove CoverWhat do you and a bitter Swedish curmudgeon have in common? A lot more than you think! This hilarious, well-written, and bestselling novel (beautifully translated from Swedish) explores how transitions and interactions with others – including an annoying stray cat – shape our lives in unexpected ways. I’m really looking forward to an entertaining discussion about how relationships, community, and new experiences can influence our own personal happiness.

    My name is Michael Shuman, and I am the Director of the Learning Assistance Center and Disability Services. My office is committed to providing opportunities for all students to achieve academic success, and we coordinate many of the academic support services, including peer tutoring and academic coaching, that new students find invaluable, as they navigate their college experience at WFU. I also teach a course in the Psychology department aimed at teaching students the skills and approaches that are associated with success in college.


  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

    Discussion Leaders: Dr. Carrie Johnston and Chloe Rothstein ‘20

    Becoming CoverHow can the pursuit of happiness motivate and drive us to succeed? Do privilege and material circumstances determine or define our ability to pursue happiness? These central questions are at the heart of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which she explores through the lens of growing up in the South Side of Chicago, pursuing degrees at Princeton and Harvard, developing a successful career in law and hospital administration, and becoming the First Lady of the United States. Of all the many career “hats” she has worn, Obama’s book shows that she grounds her ambition in her family values, which overall are central to her happiness.

    Hi, I’m Chloe! I am a rising senior (scary!) from Greenville, South Carolina. Becoming is such a powerful and graceful account of Michelle Obama’s life. Reading this book truly inspired me to be a better person and most definitely impacted the way I think about happiness, ambition, and my goals for the future. I would love for you to join our discussion!

    I am Carrie Johnston, the Digital Humanities Research Designer in ZSR Library and a part-time instructor in the English department. I’m so excited to co-facilitate the discussion on Becoming with Chloe Rothstein, a former student in my Handmaids and Heroines in American Literature course.


  • The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

    The Happiness Hypothesis CoverDiscussion Leaders: Betsy Barre and Dr. Carole Gibson

    As its title suggests, this is a book about happiness. More specifically, it is a book that asks us to rethink famous views of happiness in light of recent scientific research. But it is also about more than happiness. We are asked to think through 9 additional “Great Ideas” that famous philosophers and religious figures have considered important for living a “good” or “meaningful” life. This book will appeal to new students who are interested in the history of ideas, religion, and/or recent research in psychology. Those who love asking hard questions and debating ideas are also welcome, as this is a book that makes for lively discussions!

    I am Betsy Barre, the Executive Director of the Teaching & Learning Collaborative and also teach in the Department for the Study of Religions. In my current role, I bring together Wake Forest faculty to talk about their teaching and help them to create exceptional learning experiences for you, their students! I love teaching and have taught introductory ethics and religion courses; specialized seminars on sexual ethics and the First Amendment; and, most recently, a course on disagreement and democratic deliberation.

    I am Carole Gibson, a Professor of Biology and the Director of Health Professions Advising. I have been at Wake Forest for more than thirty years. I teach a variety of biology courses, as well as a first year seminar called Biology of the Mind, and a bioethics course called “Doing the Right Thing: Ethical Decision-making in Biology and Medicine. I am generally a very happy person!


  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

    Discussion Leader: Dr. William Fleeson

    The-Year-of-Living-DanishlyThe Danish people come out in study after study as the happiest people in the world. How can this be? Is it really true? What do people who live in a small, cold country and eat so much pickled herring know or do that works so well? Is there anything we can learn from them? Helen Russell spent a year in Denmark living among the Danish in an attempt to figure it out. What did she find? I am very excited to discuss her ideas and experiences with you.

    I am a Professor of Psychology, and my specific interests are in personality and how to live a good life. I picked this book to find out what the Danish do, and see if I can learn anything.

  • The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Eranda Jayawickreme

    The Myths of Happiness CoverSonja is one of the leading figures in the science of happiness. This book applies empirical research to correct common misconceptions on the causes of happiness that are widely accepted in today’s culture. Here’s the blurb for the book:

    “In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky isolates the major turning points of adult life, looking to both successes (marriage, children, wealth) and challenges (divorce, financial ruin, illness) to reveal that our misconceptions about the impact of such events is perhaps the greatest threat to our long-term well-being.

    Lyubomirsky argues that we have been given false promises—myths that assure us that lifelong happiness will be attained once we hit the culturally confirmed markers of adult success. This restricted view of happiness works to discourage us from recognizing the upside of any negative life turn and blocks us from recognizing our own growth potential. Our outsized expectations transform natural rites of passage into emotional land mines and steer us to make toxic decisions, as The Myths of Happiness reveals.

    Because we expect the best (or the worst) from life’s turning points, we shortsightedly place too much weight on our initial emotional responses. The Myths of Happiness empowers readers to look beyond their first response, sharing scientific evidence that often it is our mindset—not our circumstances—that matters. Central to these findings is the notion of hedonic adaptation, the fact that people are far more adaptable than they think. Even after a major life change—good or bad—we tend to return to our initial happiness level, forgetting what once made us elated or why we felt that life was so unbearable. The Myths of Happiness offers the perspective we need to make wiser choices, sharing how to slow the effects of this adaptation after a positive turn and find the way forward in a time of darkness.

    In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky turns an empirical eye to the biggest, messiest moments, providing readers with the clear-eyed vision they need to build the healthiest, most satisfying life. A corrective course on happiness and a call to regard life’s twists and turns with a more open mind, The Myths of Happiness shares practical lessons with life-changing potential.

    I’m an associate professor of psychology here at WFU, and study happiness, growth following adversity, character and personality.