The Good Life: Global Perspectives on Wellbeing and Happiness

Thank you to those who joined us for this virtual workshop on July 24th, 2023. The workshop’s theme was “the good life” and explored related concepts from around the world. View some of the recorded sessions below to learn how different cultures define concepts such as “the good life,” wellbeing, or happiness, and how world events, appropriation, and the passage of time have shaped these shared definitions and practices. This workshop was designed for community college educators, and open to the public.

Scroll down for recorded sessions and resources for each talk. 

Recordings and Resources

  • Dr. Christine Whelan (UW-Madison) Keynote Speaker: “Defining and Redefining Happiness: A Brief History and Why It Matters Today”
  • Dr. Claus Elholm Andersen (UW-Madison): “Hygge and Happiness”
  • Dr. Katharina Richter (University of Bristol) and Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe (Harvard University) : “Good Living in Practice: The case of Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay in Ecuador”
  • Dr. David Kiefer (UW-Madison): “Ethnobotany and Integrative Health”
  • Unifier Dyer, PhD Candidate (UW-Madison): “Ubuntu And the Expansiveness of Relational Responsibilities”
  • Dr. Rumya Putcha (University of Georgia): “Orientalism and Wellness in the United States”

Dr. Christine Whelan

Dr. Christine Whelan (UW-Madison)

“Defining and Redefining Happiness: A Brief History and Why It Matters Today”

In his 2014 hit song, Pharrell William encouraged us to “clap along if you know what happiness is to you.” While we’ve all been clapping to that catchy tune for almost a decade, defining happiness on an individual, cultural and community level has evolved throughout history in surprising ways. In this talk UW-Madison’s “happiness professor,” Dr. Christine Whelan, will take us through a history of happiness, and how it has been defined and redefined by religion, governments, marketers and the self-help industry. Happiness is a socially constructed, and understanding the long lens of history gives us some key questions to ask before we buy into the latest wellness craze.

Dr. Katharina Richter & Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe


Dr. Katharina Richter
Dr. Katharina Richter
Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe
Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe

Dr. Katharina Richter (University of Bristol, England) | Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe

“Good Living in Practice: The case of Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay in Ecuador”

Buen Vivir/ sumak kawsay is an Andean-Amazonian conceptualisation of Good Living that originates in the indigenous world. It has been enshrined as the right to Good Living in the 2008 Ecuadorian constitution. Though contested by multiple actors, Buen Vivir/ sumak kawsay offers an alternative to growth-based development models by fostering cultural, economic and social diversity and emphasising relational, that is, communal and reciprocal interactions between people, nature and communities. This talk will explore a grassroots, decolonial interpretation of this Kichwa alternative to development. It will centre the lives and experiences of the main protagonists of Buen Vivir as a political project, that is, the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, and is based on a qualitative study of Buen Vivir/ sumak kawsay in Ecuador, carried out from January to March 2020. It will explore what Good Living means in practice when considering Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay as a territorial, political, and grassroots decolonial project.

Dr. Richter will be joined by Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe who will provide comments and participate in the Q&A session after the presentation. 

Dr. Katharina Richter is lecturer in Climate Change, Politics and Society at the University of Bristol. Her research interests are in decolonial environmental politics and equitable development in times of climate crises. Katharina specifically focusses her work on degrowth and Buen Vivir, two alternatives to growth-based development from the Global North and South respectively. She is active in the degrowth movement, and explores the environmental justice aspects of the Global North’s decarbonisation strategies and climate mitigation and adaptation projects. Recently, she co-led a research project for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that provided practical guidance on how to decolonise research, teaching and partnerships in humanitarian health.

Luis Gonzalez-Quizhpe is a Kichwa Saraguro current graduate student within the Human Development and Education Ed.M. Program at Harvard University. He currently studies education and community experiences of Latinx and transnational Kichwa communities within rural and diasporic spaces. He has a strong personal investment in the recovery of Indigenous cultures and languages, diasporic Indigenous identity development, the transmission of traditional cultural practices, and the well-being of youth and families. Luis is an alumnus of UW-Madison, holding a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Certificate in Chicano and Latino Studies, as well as recent graduate of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies MA Program, UW-Madison.

Dr. David Kiefer

Dr. David Kiefer (UW-Madison)

“Ethnobotany and Integrative Health”

In this discussion of the healing power of plants, the speaker will review concepts of integrative medicine in the context of culture, using herbal medicine examples. The focus will be on some well-known plants from Latin American healing traditions, which the speaker has had the honor of learning about from many healers (curanderos) and colleagues both locally and abroad.

Unifier Dyer

Unifier Dyer (UW-Madison)

“Ubuntu And the Expansiveness of Relational Responsibilities”

This workshop engages the expansiveness of our relations through the African indigenous philosophy of ubuntu and the responsibilities we have to those arounds us. We will position ubuntu within its worldview—as a metaphysical concept grounded in isintu (manner, ritual, decorum) and constantly requiring of abantu (people) that they tend to their relations to other abantu, land, animals, Ancestors, the unborn etc. Through journaling and dialogue we will explore the depth and breadth of interconnections with our close and more distant relations as a way of tending to these connections and acknowledging the disconnections brough about by systems of violence. Because ubuntu is not a universal approach to wellbeing, we will honor its teachings and those who practice it as a way of life from our relative socio-political positions.

Unifier Dyer is a healer (Maine/IzaNgoma), educator and racial justice practitioner. They are a doctoral candidate in the Department of African Cultural Studies at UW-Madison with research focused on the healer and healing in African and African Diasporic women’s postcolonial novels, biomythographies, and speculative fiction. Unifier Dyer is co-editor of Ubuntu and the Everyday (Africa World Press 2019) with James Ogude and has published on Afrofeminist contributions to Ubuntu.

Dr. Rumya Putcha

Dr. Rumya Putcha (University of Georgia)

“Orientalism and Wellness in the United States”

This presentation explores how consumer practices tether Orientalism to wellness. Relying on ethnographic research, I uncover how racialized expressions of gender are produced by and through performative, consumptive, and discursive practices of wellness. Such practices, which are also sometimes described as mindfulness techniques, encourage participants to understand wellness as a state of mind wherein if a person mirrors the behavior or speech of what qualifies as wellness, then they will also become well themselves. Bringing together work from critical consumer studies as well as critical race feminist theory, I argue that

Marilyn Monroe, 1952

contemporary wellness practices expose somatic, rather than simply literary forms of Orientalism.

Rumya S. Putcha is an associate professor in the Institute for Women’s Studies as well as in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. Her research interests center on colonial and anti-colonial thought, particularly around constructs of citizenship, race, gender, sexuality, the body, and the law. Her first book, The Dancer’s Voice: Performance and Womanhood in Transnational India (Duke University Press, 2023), develops a transnational feminist approach to Indian performance cultures. Her second book project, Namaste Nation: Orientalism and Wellness Cultures in the United States, extends her work on transnational performance cultures to critical analyses of capitalist fitness industries.

Schedule (all times are U.S./Chicago Central Standard Time)

Schedule subject to change

Time Session
10:00 – 10:10am Workshop Introduction
10:10-11:15am Keynote Address with Dr. Christine Whelan, “Defining and Redefining Happiness: A Brief History and Why It Matters Today”
11:15 – 12:15pm Dr. Claus Elholm Andersen, “Hygge and Happiness”
12:15-1:15pm Dr. Katharina Richter & Luis Gonzalez, “Good Living in Practice: The Case of Buen Vivir/sumark kawsay in Ecuador”
1:15-2:15pm David Kiefer, MD, “Ethnobotany and Integrative Health”
2:15-3:15pm Unifier Dyer, PhD Candidate, “Ubuntu and the Expansiveness of Relational Responsibilities”
3:15-4:15pm Dr. Rumya Putcha, “Orientalism and Wellness in the United States”
4:15-4:20pm Closing Remarks