Where are All the Happy Stories? The Role of Positive Stories in Teaching and Curriculum Design

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Sociological Focus






As a discipline, sociology focuses more on pathology than success. Happiness was a key component of early theorists’ work yet dropped out of mainstream sociology as C. Wright Mills’ understanding of the sociological imagination took hold. It is time to rebalance our curriculum by adding courses that focus on social successes instead of social pathologies and adding stories to our traditional curriculum that show real examples of positive social movements and highlight social organizations that improve society. Yet simply making curricular changes is not sufficient to prepare students to make significant changes in society. Through pedagogical techniques, we can create a positive classroom where positive emotions within and among students are fostered. The development of positive emotions builds lasting, cognitive, social and physical resources students can use to tackle tough social issues.

Ever since Martin Seligman brought positive psychology to the forefront, psychologists, business leaders, and others have paid more attention to the role that positivity plays in our work and personal lives and the ways in which it increases resilience, creativity, and mental health. Positive psychology challenged psychologists to not only study the problems of individuals but also to analyze their successes. Sociology also has a history of studying social problems. Our curriculum is full of courses that focus on social pathologies. We need to balance our curriculum by intentionally adding positive content to the core curriculum. All of us who teach need to develop a positive pedagogy. I believe that making these curricular and pedagogical changes will energize rather than overwhelm our students. There are many important social issues that will be better addressed by enthusiastic, creative, hopeful students who experience this shift in our discipline.