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PWR 1HO: Rhetorics of Money and Happiness

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Catalog Number: PWR 1HO

Instructor: Agnes Hong

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Ask a young child what makes the world go round, and you’re more likely to get ferris wheels than money.  As children, most of us did not spend much time thinking about whether money brought happiness to our lives.  We only knew that playing, laughing, and even getting into trouble were what brought us joy.  Yet, as we grow older and become more exposed to the workings of the world and the expectations of society, many of us begin to accept the idea (whether it’s true or not) that the more money we have, the happier we would be.  

It’s easy to see how we buy into this narrative when influential thinkers like Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton argue that a rise in income correlates with an increased sense of well-being, and social media bombards us with people living their best consumption-driven lives made possible by money.  However, the pursuit of material wealth often requires sacrifices regarding time, health, and relationships, which most of us consider valuable.

As we explore the connection between money and happiness, we’ll read a variety of sources from academic articles to online musings, exploring how culture shapes how we think about money and the ways that different communities offer contrasting definitions of happiness. Through our class discussions and your own research projects, we will add our voices to this conversation, with the goal of bringing a wealth of information from our varied backgrounds and unique perspectives to the debate.

Examples of Research Topics

Drawing on your own interests and experiences, you will develop a research project investigating a specific question about the connections and tensions between money and happiness.  Sample possible research topics might include: an analysis of how acquiring wealth and satisfying basic needs serve as independent determinants of happiness; when spending habits act as sources of discontent in a relationship or partnership; job satisfaction and family happiness; how low-income communities can maintain a high quality of life; or how the fervent use of social media (Instagram, Tiktok) influences the desire for money to gain social capital. 

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence                                                                      

Rhetorical Analysis 

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages):  This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a text of your choice that makes an argument about the relationship between money and happiness.  Possible texts may include blogs, podcasts, tweets, academic articles, excerpts from self-discovery books, or threads from discussion forums such as reddit.

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): This assignment marks the beginning of your research project.  Here, you will research and investigate the larger research question you’d like to explore relating to the topic.  You’ll analyze how different sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your  topic.

Research-Based Argument 

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages):  Your Research-Based Argument is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation.  Here is where you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the Texts in Conversation assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument as it relates to your topic.