Curriculum Lectionary


GilgameshGenesisBiblical prophetsGospelsQur'anRumi and Kabir
Bhagavad GitaUpanishadsDhammapadaHeart and Lotus SutrasTao Te ChingAnalects


Session 1
Darkness within Darkness: The Mystery of the Tao
Session 2
Daring Not to Be Ahead: The Tao and Ethical Leadership
Session 3
A Fit Person: The Tao and Happiness

Leader Notes

This final session on the Tao focuses on happiness and contentment. Participants will compare and contrast the Tao’s take on happiness with the findings of modern psychological research on this topic. Even if you are personally more drawn to one approach than the other, you should be sure to treat them even-handedly, so participants get a non-biased introduction to both.

You may want to take a moment at the beginning to summarize the first two sessions as a way of orienting participants to this final phase.

We will be using the Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation (Vintage Books, 1972.) The complete text of this translation is available online at http://www.thebigview.com/download.

  • To understand the Tao’s conception of fulfillment and contentment
  • To consider the differences between the Tao’s perspective on contentment and the perspective of the modern positive psychology movement
  • To look their own attitudes toward happiness from the perspective of spiritual growth
  • Print copies of the readings for this session from Leader Resource 2, if necessary.
  • Read the description of happiness research in the positive psychology movement from Leader Resource 5.
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Leader Resource 5: Happiness research -
  • Chalice with candle and matches
  • Tingshas or a bell
  • A large writing surface like a whiteboard or easel pad, and something to write with
  • Dr. Michael Fordyce’s booklet “The Psychology of Happiness: A Brief Version of the Fourteen Fundamentals,” downloadable from http://www.gethappy.net/booklet-intro.htm
  • The complete text of the Tao Te Ching
If You Only Have One Hour
  • Skip Activity 2, briefly introduce the happiness research from the positive psychology movement, and then use the completed table from Leader Resource 5 to drive the discussion for Activity 3.

Chalice lighting and opening meditation (5 minutes)

Activity 1: Reading and discussion (20 minutes)

Activity 2: Pursuits of happiness (30 minutes)

Activity 3: Personal inventory of happiness and fulfillment (30 minutes)

Chalice extinguishing and closing meditation (5 minutes)

Chalice Lighting

Ask a participant to light the chalice as you read the quotations below. Set the purpose for this class session by inviting participants to spend a few moments in silent meditation on their differing definitions of happiness.


Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more painful?
He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44


         Happiness…lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

                  Franklin Roosevelt


         Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.

                  Albert Schweitzer

Activity One

Reading and Discussion

Have participants read aloud the following chapters from the Tao that deal with contentment or fulfillment: 7, 20, 22, and 52. (The readings for session 3 can be found in Leader Resource 1). Read a chapter and then work through some or all of the questions before moving on to the next chapter.

Discussion Questions
Chapter 7

  • Why does the author talk about the origins of heaven and earth at the same time as a discussion of selfless action?

Chapter 20

  • “Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.” That is a very bold statement; do you think that it is true? Why or why not?
  • The author says that he is dark and dull, like an idiot, aimless as the wind. On the surface these characteristics do not sound very appealing. What do you think that the author is trying to convey? What do you make of the last two lines of the chapter?

Chapter 22

  • We talked a lot about paradox in Session 1, and here we are confronted with it again. Is the advice given here good practical advice?
  • Is it good advice from a spiritual point of view?
  • And if you gave different answers for those two questions, which do you think is more important?

Chapter 52

  • Does busyness really lead to hopelessness? What does the evidence from your own life suggest?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 2: Readings -
Activity Two

Pursuits of Happiness

     List creation – 15 minutes
     Discussion Questions – 15 minutes

List creation
Modern Western society focuses a great deal on happiness; indeed, the pursuit of happiness is listed as an inalienable right in the United States Declaration of Independence. How does this idea relate to the Tao Te Ching? Is following the Tao likely to lead a person to happiness?

In this exercise we will compare the vision of happiness and fulfillment as presented by the Tao on the one hand and modern research into happiness on the other. 

On a whiteboard or large piece of paper, have all participants work together to fill in a table, like the one shown below, to list the Tao’s advice about characteristics necessary for finding contentment, and the advice given in Fordyce’s “Fourteen Fundamentals.” Have a copy of Fordyce’s booklet and a copy of the Tao Te Ching handy for their use. You might want to assign part of the group to work on the Tao portion, and the other part to work on the Fordyce portion. If participants get stuck, utilize the completed table in Leader Resource 5 to make suggestions.


The Tao

Positive Psychology Research

Activity/ Busyness Level



Social Life



Attitude toward Work



Expectations/ Ambitions



Optimism Level



Time Orientation



Attitude toward the Self



Attitude toward Relationships



Top Priority



Discussion Questions
It is not necessary that the table be 100% completed; when several points of comparison have been listed, work through the following questions:

  • Are the two paths mostly similar, or mostly different?
  • Which do you believe will lead to more fulfillment?
  • Which provides more emotional stability and is less likely to be changed based solely on emotion?
  • Which of these pursuits will lead to more engagement with social justice issues?
  • Which of these perspectives will lead to more spiritual growth?
  • Do one or both call to you? Why or why not?
Leader Resources
Leader Resource 5: Happiness research -
Activity Three

Personal Inventory of Happiness and Fulfillment

Small group discussion – 20 minutes
Full group discussion – 10 minutes

Small group discussion:
Working in groups of two or three, have participants discuss the degree to which they exhibit the traits suggested by the Tao and those suggested by modern happiness research, noting ways the areas that are leading them to spiritual growth and the areas that are hindering them.

Ask them to examine an area of hindrance and determine whether making a change in accordance with a Taoist perspective or a positive psychology perspective might be effective in encouraging them to spiritual growth. If so, have them write down or draw an affirmation of the change they will seek.

Full group discussion:
Discuss the experience of looking at the self from this perspective. What emerged that was surprising?

Chalice Extinguishing

Ask a participant to extinguish the chalice. Read the following translation of chapter 25 of the Tao as it appears in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition:

Before creation a presence existed, self-contained, complete, formless, voiceless, mateless, changeless, which yet pervaded itself with unending motherhood.
Though there can be no name for it, I have called it the “way of life.”
Perhaps I should have called it “the fullness of life,” since fullness implies widening into space, implies still further widening, implies widening until the circle is whole.
In this sense, the way of life is fulfilled, heaven is fulfilled, earth is fulfilled, and a fit person is also fulfilled.
There are four amplitudes of the universe and a fit person is one of them:
People rounding the way of earth, earth rounding the way of heaven, heaven rounding the way of life, till the circle is full.