Christine Whelan

ASHLAND — It’s difficult, Christine Whelan admitted, to be “the happiness professor in a pandemic.”

But, she said, a pandemic might just be the “perfect time to figure out your purpose.”

And that is, in part, the message Whelan will bring to the Ashland University community on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m., when she delivers the 2021 McKnight Life Calling Lecture, “Do the Next Right Thing: Purpose in Times of Uncertainty.”

The lecture, which will be offered in a virtual format, is presented by the AU Dauch College of Business and Economics

To RSVP and receive a link to the presentation, go to by Jan. 25. For questions or more information, email

The McKnight Lecture Series is made possible through the generous gift of AU graduates Paul and Lani McKnight, who established the McKnight Family Endowment to support the lecture series, as well as resources for the Occupational Life Calling courses.

Whelan, author of “The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Purpose in Your Life”, is a professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the director of MORE: Money, Relationships and Equality.

She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of Oxford and has held teaching positions at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Iowa and Princeton University.

What Whelan is most concerned about, she said, is how people find happiness, wellbeing and purpose.

And “I’m passionate,” she said, “about taking research and applying it to people’s lives.” Her doctoral dissertation was on the self-help industry, which she said often gives people a few simple steps to happiness.

It isn’t that simple. “We’re all an experiment of one,” said Whelan, and all too often questions about life purpose are considered appropriate for someone 40 or older.

In the meantime, she said, “this generation has been told what to do, what hoops to jump through,” with little consideration of developing their own purpose.

“I’m really trying to be a champion for this twentysomething generation,” Whelan said, even as it struggles through social isolation during the pandemic while at times facing blame from older generations for being the group that contributed to the spread of the virus. Still, she said, “anytime you’re trying to pursue your purpose you’re going to have hard times. … Your ‘why’ needs to be bigger than your ‘how’.”

A question-and-answer session with Whelan will follow her presentation.

The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.

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