Don't listen to people who tell you they've found the one true path to happiness — but do listen to people who seem seriously in search of it. One such person, Yale psychology and cognitive science professor Laurie Santos, teaches a whole course on the subject: Psych 157, also known as "Psychology and the Good Life." And even though college students are living the best time of their lives — or so the culture keeps insisting to them — enough of them desire its insights to make it the most popular class at the university, with more than 1,180 students currently enrolled.
"The course focuses both on positive psychology — the characteristics that allow humans to flourish, according to Dr. Santos — and behavioral change, or how to live by those lessons in real life," writes The New York Times' David Shimer. "Students must take quizzes, complete a midterm exam and, as their final assessment, conduct what Dr. Santos calls a 'Hack Yo’Self Project,' a personal self-improvement project." The body of knowledge underlying it all is hardly obvious: "Scientists didn’t realize this in the same way 10 or so years ago, that our intuitions about what will make us happy, like winning the lottery and getting a good grade — are totally wrong," the article quotes Santos as saying.
So what, according to the up-to-date research of Santos and others, does make us happy? Now, you don't need to go Yale to find out: you can simply take "The Science of Well-Being," the new online version of Santos' course, on Coursera. "The first half of the course reveals misconceptions we have about happiness and the annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do," says its description. "The second half of the course focuses on activities that have been proven to increase happiness along with strategies to build better habits."
Now open for enrollment, "The Science of Well-Being" officially starts in March (and will be offered on a frequent basis thereafter), and its number of students certainly won't be limited by the capacity of Woolsey Hall. If you'd like to get a sense of the learning experience on offer, have a look at the course's trailer above, in which Santos explains the origin and development of the course, which began in her own home and now, with a potentially worldwide audience, uses not just the latest science but a specially developed app to help its students develop the elements of their own good life. Will you finish the course perfectly happy? She doesn't promise that, but nobody ever lost their way to happiness by knowing a bit about it.
Enroll in "The Science of Well-Being" here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.