Is it possible for us to learn how to be happy? In a time of Coronavirus lockdown, that question is more intriguing than ever. Luckily, Yale University’s hugely popular happiness course has returned to help us figure out some stuff. The course, titled The Science of Wellbeing, starts today and for free at Coursera, the e-learning platform.
The Science of Wellbeing is run by Yale’s Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos, an expert on human cognition. Back in 2018, Professor Santos taught a class called Psychology and the Good Life, in response to concerning levels of student depression, anxiety and stress. It became Yale’s most popular class, and now you can take an iteration of it too, designed by the professor herself, blending positive psychology with the real-life applications of behavioral science.
The class begins with Professor Santos addressing why the things we think we want in life won’t actually make us happy. These ‘miswantings’, as Santos calls them, often lead us to ‘mispredicting’ how much we’ll enjoy something in the future. Then when we finally get whatever it is we’ve been fixating on, and we don’t feel the surge of happiness we expected to feel, we’re left feeling deflated and wondering why. These are mostly materialistic goals that, argues Santos, make little to no lasting impact on our overall life satisfaction.
According to Santos’s teachings, we can boost our happiness by:
- Making time for friends and family
- Using self-care practices like meditation
- Practicing gratitude
- Sleeping better
During the course, Professor Santos asks students to keep a gratitude journal for seven days, which is a proven wellbeing technique for helping us see how much we already have to be grateful for, and to help us escape an 'I want' mindset. Students are also are tasked with getting at least seven hours of sleep for three days in a row, with Santos explaining why this is a good wellbeing habit to develop.
Professor Santos’ happiness course has become a phenomenon, with up over 2.2 million people already having signed up. Students learn what happiness means to them, and why it’s healthy to let go of expectations. The course is delivered through a mix of video lectures, optional readings, and daily ‘rewirement’ exercises to build happiness habits. A final assignment on personal happiness completes the course.
In a recent interview for the World Economic Forum’s podcast, Professor Santos said about The Science of Wellbeing: “Everyone's feeling anxious and uncertain and kind of scared, and people just really want things they can do to feel better,” she said. “I think the class really gives that: evidence-based tips you can put into practice today, that research suggests will improve your wellbeing.” It could be especially useful for those of you wondering how to protect your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The research behind the course suggests that if you do Professor Santos’ rewirement exercises as prescribed, you should get a noticeable boost in your mood and overall wellbeing, and develop healthy habits that nurture your happiness long-term.
The Science of Wellbeing curriculum at Coursera is as follows:
- Week 1 – Introduction
- Week 2 – Misconceptions about happiness
- Week 3 – Why our expectations are so bad
- Week 4 – How can we overcome our biases
- Week 5 – Stuff that really makes us happy
- Week 6 – Putting strategies into practice
- Weeks 7-9 – Start your rewirement challenge
- Week 10 – Submit your final assignment
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