What does it mean to be happy during troubled times? Upcoming symposium explores some possible answers

- October 26, 2021

MacKay Symposium takes place online this Friday. (Provided photo)
MacKay Symposium takes place online this Friday. (Provided photo)

Two years after “Happiness in Troubled Times” was chosen as the theme for the MacKay Symposium at Dal, the annual Faculty of Social Sciences lecture series is finally set to happen online this Friday (1-5:30 p.m. Atlantic time).  

Originally planned for the fall 2020 term, the series was postponed for a year due to the pandemic — a delay organizer Martha Radice says has only added extra gravity to the topic.

“In many ways, the pandemic has shown us just how important it is to consider what generates happiness in troubled times,” says Dr. Radice, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology.

Different perspectives on common questions

What makes this week’s symposium on happiness unique from the many others touching on the same topic, is that it brings together scholars from fields less well-known for their focus on the theme.

“Psychologists and economists have been investigating wellbeing for quite a while now, but scholars in the arts, humanities and social sciences are well placed to explore happiness too,” says Dr. Radice.

She says disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences have a great deal to contribute to conversations on happiness and a strong awareness that happiness is shaped by its social, cultural, and historical context — not just something that is achieved individually.

Experts in the arts and social sciences explore how happiness is facilitated or hindered by big patterns of social organization and institutions and how it is valued or achieved in particular cultural and social contexts, among other approaches.

“We can think about the meanings of happiness and related emotional states within or across languages and we can create or interrogate artistic expressions of these sentiments,” she says. “We can study the shifts in meanings of happiness over time and the uneven distribution of resources that are correlated with happiness.”

Featured speakers and presentations at this year’s MacKay series include:

Unequal Hopes and Lives in the U.S.A.: Insights for Research and for Policy from the New Science of Well-Being
Dr Carol Graham, The Brookings Institution  

Troubling Joy: Learning from Activists for Racial Justice in the Festival Archive

Dr Helen A. Regis, Louisiana State University

Got Happy?
Dr Joel Faflak, Western University

Little Joys and Agonies of the Intimate Space
Dr Francisco Cruces Villalobos, UNED  

The annual MacKay Lecture Series typically features up to four lectures —free and open to all — given by internationally renowned speakers, addressing subjects related to the liberal and performing arts. This year’s series will be presented via an afternoon online symposium.

Dr. Radice and Jennifer Bain, Dal's (acting) associate vice president research, decided to shift the series online this year given uncertainty about how the pandemic would affect travel rules. Dr. Radice adds that the pandemic has given people more experience with online events, which also multiplies the opportunities for people in different locations to attend.

“We thought a one-day symposium would be more intellectually stimulating, since it confronts several different perspectives and approaches at once and allows us to build a dialogue of ideas over the course of the symposium,” she says. “We also thought it would be more practical because people don't have to commit to several shorter time slots but can instead focus their attention on one full, exciting afternoon.”

Dr. Radice notes that the participating speakers will each bring a unique perspective on happiness from their own research but are also keen to hear about each other’s work.

“We have a fantastic combination of large-scale quantitative analysis, fine-grained ethnographic fieldwork, historical perspectives, documentary film, work on the everyday, and work on exceptional events (like festivals, or pandemics),” she says.

She adds that she is looking forward to the discussions about the talks that will take place as part of the symposium and hearing questions and comments from the audience, who could be tuning in from anywhere in the world.

To learn more about the symposium and to register for this free, online public event, visit www.happinessintroubledtimes.ca.

The annual MacKay Lecture Series is funded by the generous endowment of Mrs. Gladys MacKay in appreciation of the education her husband, Reverend Malcolm Ross MacKay (B.A., 1927), received in the liberal arts at Dalhousie University.


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