‘Happiness’ on the Road

The Bicentennial Tour with President Kornfeld stops in Chicago.


For a spring break event in the Windy City, “happiness” was the presentation subject and also the outcome of an evening spent among fellow Kenyon people.

Professor Leah Dickens, President Julie Kornfeld and Professor Jay Corrigan.
Professor Leah Dickens, President Julie Kornfeld and Professor Jay Corrigan.

Faculty members Jay Corrigan and Leah Dickens tackled the cheery topic at the March 5 event from their respective disciplines of economics and psychology, following a reception in which guests tackled the snacks and drinks at a most Kenyon of venues: the American Writers Museum. 

Surrounded by quotes from the likes of John Green ’00 and display books by E.L. Doctorow ’52, alumni, parents, students and even an incoming member of the Class of 2028, had the opportunity to make connections and meet President Julie Kornfeld.

Jim Parker ’81 P’10, Kenyon trustee, introduced Kornfeld, who later joined the faculty members in conversation about their presentation. “It was a true pleasure to have the opportunity to meet more of Kenyon’s wonderful alumni while also hearing first-hand from our talented faculty,” Kornfeld said.

“My favorite part of the event was hearing one of my favorite professors talk about happiness; I felt like I was back in seminar,” said Delaney Gallagher ’23.

Corrigan kicked things off with a story about the way borrowing a friend’s mom’s Porsche temporarily changed the way he was perceived. “As we all know, the wisdom of the ages tells us that money cannot buy happiness. Somewhat inconveniently, though, the wisdom of the ages is not at all consistent with the data,” he said.

He went into research by economist Richard Easterlin who sought to compare levels of happiness across countries and further research which showed that, well, yes, to an extent money can buy happiness — but it’s far from the only determining factor.

From her perspective, Dickens shared a story from her positive psychology class in which students are challenged to interview three people about what they personally think makes for a meaningful life. Happily, money is rarely an answer, instead the students find that good relationships and work or service that gives a sense of purpose are key.

Their half-hour presentation went on to offer some suggestions for finding happiness including the more obvious (spend time in nature, avoid unemployment, pick the right partner) and less so (have a short commute). 

Corrigan called marrying his college girlfriend the “single best decision I have ever made” to make the point that there are a small number of decisions in life that are truly important. “We should do our best to get those decisions right, then try not to worry about the less important stuff,” he said.

Kornfeld helped take questions from the audience following the presentation.

Salvatore Macchione ’23 joked that the evening discourse was a nice change of pace from his day job as a middle school teacher. “It was very impressive, I regret not having them as professors. This was very applicable to young alumni in particular, it’s easy to start comparing yourself to recent graduates and see where you are, it’s important to put things into perspective.”

The Chicago stop is one of seven planned for the Bicentennial Tour in 2024, with the most recent occurring March 19 in Washington, D.C., at which professors Siobhan Fennessy from biology and Matthew Suazo from English discussed their respective work on wetlands. In a February stop in San Francisco Jodi Kovach from The Gund and Maddie Wade of physics presented. Future dates will be announced for New York, Boston, Cleveland and Columbus.

The tour is just one of many bicentennial events planned throughout the year. The next will be a virtual lecture by Wade, as part of the 200 Years of Learning in the Company of Friends series, on how AI can help us understand the densest objects in the universe. At all in-person College events, attendees have the opportunity to sign the Bicentennial Book, which will be housed in the College archives as a record of the year of celebration.

Celebrating Kenyon’s Bicentennial

As Kenyon College enters its third century, we reflect on all that has made us who we are and all that is to come. From special projects to memorable events and books, we'll be offering many ways for you to be part of this historic year.