I recently heard Professor Laurie Santos, Yale University, speak on positive education. The statistics about college student wellness flew in the face of what she and most of us might think. Instead of being the happiest days of their lives, way too many students felt hopeless, depressed enough to seek help, and were overly stressed. The suicide rate, including students at Yale, was unprecedented. She decided to offer a course on the science of positive psychology and the science of behavioral change: Psychology and the Good Life.
Hoping the class would make, she was stunned as enrollment went from 100 (high enrollment for any class at Yale) to 1000 and eventually 25% of the student body! The only place large enough to hold the class was the concert hall. Clearly, there was a hunger for understanding and learning to be happy and healthy in today’s world. The good news: There is plenty of science to support what it takes to lead the good life as well as what practices will generate the good life. Here are the key lessons students learn in her class:
- We can control more of our happiness than we think. At least 40% of our happiness is determined by our thoughts, actions, and attitudes (all within our control).
- It takes work to become happier; it takes daily practice.
- Your mind is lying to you a lot of the time. What we think will make us happy, in fact, does not.
- Make time for social connections. Any meaningful connection improves wellbeing.
- Make time for gratitude every day. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal.
- Establish healthy practices: 30 minutes of exercise daily, 7-8 hours of sleep every night, eat a good nutritious diet.
- Be wealthy in time. Once basic needs are sufficiently met, more wealth doesn’t correlate with greater happiness.
This is the most popular class Yale has ever offered. Hungry for happiness yourself? Now you can take her course free online at Coursera: The Science of Wellbeing. You can also watch a series on Youtube: Part 1.
Start by taking the Authentic Happiness Inventory, a free online quiz. This will give you a baseline. Then take her course. Commit yourself to the practices and see how your happiness changes. One additional recommendation: Pay attention to the conversations you are having with others. Words will either enhance or deplete happiness. (See Conversations Worth Having).