The most popular course in Yale University‘s 317-year history has come to a close.
About 1,200 undergraduates registered for Yale’s course, titled Psychology and the Good Life, which taught students how to lead a happier and more satisfying life.
Laurie Santos, a psychology professor, first designed the class when she realized that many students on campus were stressed out and unhappy. “They feel they’re in this crazy rat race, they’re working so hard they can’t take a single hour off—that’s awful,” Santos told Susan Svrluga at Washington Post.
The course took a liberal arts approach to happiness. Students learned, explored, and gained insight into themselves and the world. And each week, students practiced a healthy habit, such as exercise, meditation, or a gratitude journal.
The course’s lessons are deceptively simple, writes Svrluga. Many of us know that exercising is good for our mental and physical health—but carving out the time for a jog is no easy feat. “It’s very easy to say, ‘I don’t have time,'” explains one sophomore in the course.
It’s this combination of positive psychology and behavioral change that may make it the “hardest class at Yale” because students have to hold themselves accountable to rewire their behavior, says Santos.
Not every habit sticks. But students who found an exercise they enjoy report results. “I feel different physically and mentally—I don’t feel so weighted down by things,” says Lakshmi Rivera Amin, a first-year student, who says she’s started playing piano again after taking the course.
The course offers no instant fixes. “It’s something you have to work on every day…. If I keep using these skills, they’ll, over time, help me develop better habits and be happier,” Rivera Amin says. “I hope they’ll stay with me the rest of my life.”
Santos’ course was so popular that the university doesn’t plan to offer it again. “Large courses can be amazing every once in a while,” but they are difficult to sustain with departmental resources, says Woo-Kyoung Ahn, director of undergraduate studies in psychology at Yale.
Instead, Santos is creating a center for the good life at Silliman College, the residential college she leads at Yale. The center already has volunteers to help teach students stress-management skills, writes Svrluga. And for those of us who couldn’t sit in on this historic class, a seminar-style series on the course material is now available on Coursera (Svrluga, Washington Post, 5/16).