The Pursuit of Happiness in the French Riviera

Becoming who you are usually involves getting over who you think you are.

John Kaag

This quote perfectly summarizes my Session 2 course, “The Good Life”. This course is philosophy-based, but also touches on psychology, literature, ethical theory, and religion; all to explore the purpose of human existence and what true happiness means.

We have focused on these questions through various philosophers, including Kierkegaard, Beauvoir, Camus, and Nietzsche. All these great thinkers struggled with existential questions about the human experience, and how we can find happiness through despair, tragedy, and the trials of life.

A large part of the course compares our philosophical questions to both society and nature. We sought to find joy, beauty, and meaning through deep dialogues, striking art, and thought-provoking literature.

We began our first week with Denmark’s most famous philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, and followed his life and work both in the classroom, and as a Field Study walking tour through Copenhagen old town. We continued at the Glyptoteket art museum, where we admired art that exemplified ideas we discussed in class, such as loss, facing death, and the joys of paradise both in this life and the next. 

Journey to the French Riviera

The highlight of the course is definitely the Study Tour. We spent the past week in the French Riviera, following the footsteps of philosophers Camus, Nietzsche, and Beauvoir through nature. Each day we were able to explore a new village or site in France, and then hike on the very same trails these philosophers took when they wrote some of their greatest works.

We began our journey in Nice, France, exploring the contemporary art of Marc Chagall, and admiring his interpretations of religious texts and the human experience. We then explored the city, and experienced the unique mixture of cultures in Nice, all next to the Mediterranean ocean.

We continued our journey to the village of Lourmarin, where we learned about the life and legacy of philosopher Albert Camus. Here, we were able to experience the quiet, peaceful countryside that Camus found both grief and happiness in. We ended the evening by enjoying the views from the Chateau de Lourmarin, where Camus took residency and is a favorite spot for artists and writers to gain inspiration.

The next day was a big hiking in the remote Grotto of Sainte Baume in the Bouche-du-Rhône, where Simone de Beauvoir hiked and discovered her life’s purpose and true joy. The top of the hike is a breathtaking active monastery and sanctuary built into the mountain. This trek helped us connect with finding human purpose and unfiltered connections through nature. We even found a fountain with the same name as our professor, Nan! By far, my most peaceful moment was sitting in the poppy field at the base of the mountain, submerged in the tranquility of nature.

Our last day was by far the most eventful. We traveled to the village of Èze, a 14th century mountain-perched village with stunning views overlooking the Mediterranean. After exploring, we took our downward hike from Èze to Èze-sur-mer, the very same hike philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche trekked and that inspired his famous work ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. I was a sweaty mess by the end, but was very proud of my ability to complete the difficult hike.

During each hike and walking tour, we participated in discussion sessions based on the philosophy and literature written in that location. These discussions helped us connect to both the course work and our lives. We emphasized having these discussions out in nature in order to cultivate our curiosity and contemplation about ourselves and our surroundings, all to find the meaning of our existence and purpose.

My biggest takeaways

As a philosophy student, I am quite comfortable with existential questions and the deep analysis that occurs in this work. I am a firm believer in the idea that contemplating your existence is one of the best ways to grow and develop yourself. This class has certainly caused me to rethink a lot of my life, both past and future.

To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and utterly unique an experience that it’s hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody

Simone de Beauvoir – The Prime of life

As someone who has struggled with mental health, my self image affects every aspect of my life. When I look back, I was often reluctant to be alone, because I never wanted to truly sit with myself, and did everything possible to avoid the inevitable time I would need to accept myself fully.

Although I have been working on that for a long time now, this class has helped me solidify my path to self-acceptance. As I walked amongst these philosophers, all of whom struggled with themselves and their own existence, I found a reassurance in their words and the clarity nature often provides.

Anyone formed by anxiety is shaped by possibility, and only the person shaped by possibility is cultivated according to his infinitude.

Søren Kierkegaard- the concept of anxiety

I’ve learned that we never stop growing throughout our lives, and things I used to view as faults, such as my depression and anxiety, are actually strength. These strengths help me experience life through a unique lens, and make my path extraordinarily my own. I feel the extremes of my emotions, and I embrace them all equally because they make my life memorable.

I will forever remember this class and hold a special place in my heart for both Copenhagen and the French Riviera, now places where I have made many self discoveries. Although I am certainly changing as a person, I aim to continue creating my own “Good Life” and discover my purpose well after this course and my time in Denmark.

Leave a Reply