Happiness class — free online — is most popular at Yale, especially during pandemic

National

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Yale psychology professor Dr. Laurie Santos expected about 40 students to sign up in 2018 for her in-person class on how to be happy. Over 1,000 students signed up, or 1 in every 4 Yale students.

She was humbled to know that the class, called Psychology and the Good Life, had become the most popular in the university’s history.

A free online version called The Science of Well-Being was then released, which quickly attracted 1 million participants.

During the pandemic, more people signed up. Santos said a lot of people are interested in how they can flourish a little bit more and also protect their mental health in these times.

“Just during the time of COVID, we’ve had a huge increase in the number of people who’ve signed up, so over 2 million people have signed up, just in the last couple months,” said Santos.

She said those millions are in more than 200 countries. Results have shown the class has an impact on the happiness level of its participants.

“We have preliminary data that on a 10-point happiness scale, people go up about a whole point when they take the class, and that’s amazing that we’re making millions of people just a little bit happier,” she said.

Santos said the classes are short videos of herself and some Yale students. She said many people think their circumstances promote happiness, but she said the data shows something different. People can re-wire their brains by taking simple actions.

“It’s really our own behaviors. It’s our own mindsets, things that we can control, that really do improve our well-being. Things like increasing social connections, doing nice things for others, prioritizing healthy habits like exercise and sleep,” said Santos.

The course can be taken at your own pace. There is homework, but it does not involve essays. It is taking practical action such as making a new social connection, doing a random act of kindness, or during a meal, being present and savoring the experience.

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