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- Yale University is offering a free course online - The Science of Well-Being - that teaches you how to be happier.
- Professor Laurie Santos taught "Psychology and the Good Life" first in spring 2018 in response to concerning levels of student depression, anxiety, and stress. It became the most popular class in Yale's history and garnered national and international media attention.
- To share the class' contents with a wider audience, Santos created a Coursera course. You can audit it entirely for free, or opt for a $49 certificate of completion.
- I'm currently taking the class, and I've been surprised by how truly helpful it has been - it's interesting, but it also feels concretely useful.
In the spring of 2018, Yale Psychology Professor Laurie Santos unveiled a new course: "Psychology and the Good Life." The subject? Happiness.
Santos' course was a blend of abstract and concrete. It combined both positive psychology with the real-life application of behavioral science. It debunked the false notions of what makes people happy (like the luxury Mercedes-Benz status symbol) and helped students understand the habits they should build to lead truly happier, more fulfilled lives.
The course was launched in the US - home to supposedly the most unhappy population in the world - at one of the nation's most elite and high-pressure colleges.
The reaction was unprecedented.
"Psychology and the Good Life" became the most popular class ever taught in Yale University's 317-year history, and garnered both national and international media attention. The university reportedly had trouble staffing it - pulling fellows from the School of Public Health and law school to meet the demands. Santos told the New York Times that a stunning one in four Yale students were taking the course. For reference, while most large lectures at Yale never exceed 600 students, "Psychology and the Good Life" enrolled 1,182.
After waves of people began asking for access to the course, Santos designed an iteration for the online learning platform Coursera, The Science of Well-Being, available for free to non-Yale students. To see what it's like, I enrolled.
The course covers the following topics in weekly installments:
- Misconceptions about happiness
- Why our expectations are so bad
- How we can overcome our biases
- Stuff that really makes us happy
- Putting strategies into practice
Weekly installments include video lectures, optional readings, and "rewirement" activities to do each day to build happier habits. Research suggests that if you do these rewirements as prescribed, you should get a boost in your mood and overall well-being.
What to expect from the class
To make the class warm and inviting, it's shot in Santos' own home, with a handful of Yale students in the audience so you can see how the material lands with other people. It feels intimate, and Santos' tone is friendly and conversational. To me, it felt a lot like relief - watching a group of unguarded people gather en masse to commune over the shared topic of personal happiness, and how to use intellect and research to untangle it (some of the up-to-the-moment research was conceptualized and coined by Santos herself).
Thankfully, for the busy amongst us (who may feel especially drawn to this course), there's absolutely no required reading. All the information you need to know is summarized within the lecture. If you do want deeper context, Santos provides links to complementary readings. And there's also no grade penalty for a missed assignment deadline, so you can work at your own pace if you can't or don't want to meet the suggested deadlines. In other words, this class is about well-being - and necessarily operates against the grain of traditional academia in its quest.
Sign up here for free, or keep reading to learn about my experience.
My experience taking the class thus far
I should disclose that I enjoy online classes. In the Character Strengths Test you're invited to take at the course's outset, "Curiosity" was my most dominant trait out of twenty possibilities. But, despite being a candidate of least resistance, I was extremely surprised by how much I enjoyed these last couple weeks. It has felt immediately and concretely useful - an assertion backed up by the fact that most of the class legwork is daily "rewiring" tasks designed to build the research-backed scaffolding into your life that will make you happier post-course.
Here's what I liked:
- You can verify if you're actually getting happier. In the beginning, you'll be invited to respond to two questionnaires to measure your baseline happiness. At the end of the course, you'll take them again to see if your score was raised. Hopefully, your numbers will increase. This, for me, was essential. A before-and-after metric lends purpose and verification.
- There are unexpected benefits. Completely by surprise, I found the baseline happiness survey helpful for another reason entirely: I had been feeling fatigued recently, and the questions the survey posed helped me realize for the first time that I was continually rating one part of my life much lower than the others. It became clear what was wrong. Literally within the first lecture, the research gave me the tools to split through the daily white noise and see clearly where my dissatisfaction was coming from.
- The online format is low-pressure. You can rewind without asking her to repeat herself, rewatch lectures, and there's no pressure to ask or answer questions.
- It doesn't feel like homework. As mentioned, Santos' lectures make for easy watching. Once I sat down to play a lecture, I wanted to continue. I never felt like I was forcing myself to complete a task, but rather satisfying my curiosity.
The only thing to note is that, while you can take the class at your own pace, you're encouraged the implement the rewiring techniques on a weekly schedule, since research shows that increasing your own well-being takes daily, intentional effort over long periods of time - meaning this six-week class a perfect opportunity.
Should you get a certificate? What does it include?
If you choose to earn a certificate for the course ($49) when you enroll, then you'll get access to all course materials, including graded assignments. Upon completing the course, your electronic certificate will be added to your Accomplishments page and, from there, you can print your certificate or add it to your LinkedIn profile.
If you choose to audit the course, you'll still have access to all the course materials but you won't be able to submit assignments for feedback or a grade.
You can upgrade to a paid certificate at any time during or after your audit. Once you pay for a course certificate, you have 180 days from the day you paid to complete the course.
If you pay for a certificate in a course you've already taken, any grades you already earned will be saved, but you may need to complete more coursework that wasn't available in the audit version (if applicable).
If you can't afford the fee, apply for the course's financial aid. Click on the Financial Aid link beneath the "Enroll" button on the left. You'll be prompted to complete an application and will be notified if you're approved, but applications take at least 15 days to be reviewed.
Below, I walk you through what being in the class is actually like - formatting, resources, and commitments.
Weeks are broken up into videos, readings, and any other material assigned.
The course is broken up into weeks, and each week includes videos, readings, and "other" material.
Videos have a transcript beneath them that highlights the sentences Stanton is speaking in real-time, making it easy for you to catch up on the week's homework even if you have difficulty hearing or can't play the audio out loud.
You can create notes and annotations using the transcript Coursera provides.
An added benefit to having access to the transcript of the video you're watching is that you can create notes pinned to certain chunks of text, allowing you to annotate the class without taking handwritten notes yourself.
If you hit "discuss" on the same bar as "notes" you'll be taken to the course's discussion board. If you hit "download" you'll be able to download to your computer both the transcript of the video and the slides shown in the lecture (but not the video itself).
Videos may include short quizzes that you can complete or skip.
Course videos may include helpful mini quizzes to help you summarize the main ideas of the video portion you just watched. You can complete them or opt to skip.
You can see what's coming up with the course's overview.
The course's overview section is essentially a table of contents, letting you anticipate course material and even the estimated time it should take you to complete (though I've found I can typically do it far faster than the site's estimates).
You can also visualize how far along in the course you currently are on the week one, week two, and so on progress bar at the top. I found this helpful for an online course since it can feel nebulous.
Find the course's resources all in one spot.
Find all the course's resources, like links to all the assigned readings, in one place.
Talk with peers in the discussion boards.
If you'd like to mimic the collaboration of in-class discussions, head to the discussion boards to talk about the material.
The few threads with the label "Mentor Replied" denote where one of Coursera's "mentors" have engaged with the discussion. Mentors are learners who completed this course in the past and now help other learners through it. Coursera offered them the position (and a percentage take them up on it) because they passed with a good grade and active participation.
While you don't have to engage with discussion boards, they can be extremely interesting.
While I personally don't want to spend excess time in course discussion boards typically, it's true that collaboration and discussion of a shared material deepen and strengthen your learning experience. That has, so far, been true here.
You can find interesting comments that make you see the course differently, and engage with it more earnestly (as the above example did for me). You also have the added benefit of engaging with learners that belong to a global community rather than the local community you're used to engaging with - and which may be too similar to yourself to elicit any broadened perception.
Find all your grades filed into one spot.
You can find all your grades here.
If you choose to earn a certificate for the course ($49) when you enroll, then you'll get access to all course materials, including graded assignments.
If you choose to audit the course, you'll still have access to all the course materials for this course, but you won't be able to submit assignments for feedback or a grade.
Like the course? Coursera recommends others like it.
Coursera will recommend other popular courses that are similar to this one, in case you'd like to keep learning.