Most popular class in Yale’s history teaches happiness

The most popular class in Yale's 316 history is teaching students how to live happier, more fulfilling lives.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Dr. Laurie Santos puts on a microphone and headset before standing on a stage in a concert hall and presenting her class to nearly 1,200 students at Yale University.

“Psychology and the Good Life” is the most popular class in the Ivy League school’s 316-year existence. One out of every four undergraduate students are enrolled.

Dr. Santos, a professor of psychology and Head of Silliman College, says the course was born out of a need.

“I was really worried about the kinds of patterns I was seeing on campus,” Santos told News 8. “American college students are much more anxious, depressed and overwhelmed and I wanted to develop a class that could help them.”

Santos is using research in the science of psychology to guide students into adopting better habits and behavior changes that rewire the mind.

“It’s really possible to become happier, but like most things, it takes work,” she continued.

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Gloria Castaneda is a senior at Yale University and will graduate in May with a degree in molecular and cellular biology.

“I saw the class was related to happiness and I thought it could be something important for me learn for myself and the people I care about,” Castaneda said.

She says mental health and wellness are extremely relevant topics and not just for college students, but for everyone.

“I have a number of friends I didn’t expect to become anxious – they developed formal diagnoses of anxiety or depression while in college,” Castaneda added.

Homework includes keeping a gratitude journal, random acts of kindness, turning off social media and fostering personal relationships.

“They are really simple things the science suggests, if you do them, you will feel happier,” Dr. Santos says.

Olivia Roth, a sophomore at Yale, transferred to the university last year after she says she spent of lot of time unhappy.

“This class is changing everything I thought I knew about what’s going to make me happy,” Roth said.

She says after her first day of Santos’ class, she changed her major.

For Roth, practicing gratitude after a family health scare has been the most rewarding part of her personal journey.

“To have just have that moment everyday where I think I’m so lucky. I know people here at Yale who don’t have both parents and the gratitude really helped with that,” Roth shared.

Santos says the re-wirements like practicing gratitude and meditating are activities anyone can do.

“All the research suggests if you do these techniques, you will be happier and you will increase your mood and your subjective well-being,” Santos says.

Dr. Santos says this class is anything but an easy A, saying it’s the most difficult class at Yale because behavior change is extremely difficult.

Students say Santos is changing the culture on Yale’s campus.

“The people I’ve talked to have noticed a difference,” Roth said.

She’s also making the lives of people around the world a bit happier.

“It’s not just a story about college students and the college mental health crisis – I think this is something we all need,” Santos said.  “You can change your level of happiness. You can increase your positive mood, you can increase your satisfaction with life.”

Web Extra: Olivia shares reactions from the Yale “Happiness Class”

Web Extra: Olivia shares how lucky she feels to have special moments with her parents

 

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