When I think of classes at Yale University, I imagine things like organic chemistry and 19th-century literature. I don’t picture Happiness 101.
As it turns out, the class Psychology and the Good Life, colloquially dubbed Happiness 101, is Yale’s most popular course offering — ever. Approximately 1 in 4 undergrads enrolled in the class for spring semester. That’s nearly 1,200 students — the largest enrollment reported for a single class in Yale’s 317-year history.
Spring on the Yale campus. Photo via Christopher Capozzielo/Getty Images.
Psychology professor Laurie Santos offers the twice-weekly lecture to teach students how to live more fulfilling, satisfying lives. The class focuses on positive psychology, exploring the characteristics that help people flourish. It also taps into behavior — the habits and actions that lead to real happiness.
Students take quizzes on all of this, including a midterm exam. As a final assessment, they have to complete a self-improvement project, that Santos refers to as a “Hack Yo’Self Project.”
It may sound simple, and some students undoubtedly take the class because they think it’ll be easy credits. But according to The New York Times, Santos calls her course the “hardest class at Yale.” Success in the class means a real life change in habits, which requires a great deal of personal accountability, she says.
Santos even encourages students to take the class as a pass-fail to avoid the tendency to place too much importance on grades, which she says is not conducive to happiness.
Students at prestigious schools often put their personal happiness on hold. Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images.
College students report struggling with mental health at unprecedented rates.
One might assume that kids in the prime of their lives, who've been accepted into one of the world’s most prestigious colleges wouldn’t struggle so much with happiness. But Santos says many driven, successful students put their personal happiness on hold, often adopting habits that are detrimental to their mental well-being in the long run.
College students in general are reporting record levels of anxiety and depression. And a 2013 report from the Yale College Council found that half of undergraduate students at Yale seek help with mental health.
Those numbers are actually good, if you ask me. Far too many people suffer in silence, so I'm happy to see that students at Yale aren’t afraid to ask for help.
Photo via Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.
The popularity of a college class on happiness speaks to a larger quest most of us find ourselves on at some point.
It’s the eternal human question, isn’t it? How do we live a happy and fulfilled life? For decades, self-help gurus have written book after book about the subject, but somehow a class at Yale feels way more legit, doesn’t it? We’re talking actual scientific research and evidence-based recommendations.
I mean, if Yale can’t teach us to be happy, who can? (Harvard, maybe... )
The best news is that we can all access this course online — for free. The course is called "The Science of Well-Being" on Coursera, which anyone with internet can access. Here’s a description of the course:
“The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice. The first half of the course reveals misconceptions we have about happiness and the annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do. The second half of the course focuses on activities that have been proven to increase happiness along with strategies to build better habits.”
Photo via Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.
The free Coursera option does not include all class assignments and materials, but you can access the lectures. And there is an option to pay for the full class and earn a certificate if you wish.
Bottom line: Yale is offering the scientific keys to happiness for free. What a time to be alive.