'How to Be Happy' course attracts 25% of PhD students at Yale University, Jan. 2018

Happiness students attend Prof. Laurie Santos’ class at Yale University. NYT photo.

 Yale University PhD students who say they are “anxious, stressed, unhappy and numb” get seven points of daily advice (below) from Positive-Psychology  professor Laurie Santos’ How to Be Happy course. In an interview (New York Times, 26/01/2018) she says they have been seeking mental health counselling at near crisis-level.  “They became that way in order to focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”

Professor Laurie Santos' course in How to Be Happy attracted one-quarter of the students taking PhDs at Yale University in January, 2018

Professor Laurie Santos, Yale University photo

Her course advises:

1. Meditate for 10 minutes a day

2. Get eight hours of sleep

3. Do something calm

4. Think of five things you are grateful for

5. Perform an act of kindness

6. Form new social connections

7. Don’t procrastinate

  • “The students want to change, be happier themselves and change the culture here on campus,” Santos says. “It is not easy. It is the hardest class at Yale. To see real change in their life habits, students have to hold themselves accountable each day. It takes practise but it lasts forever.
  • “Three things students usually equate with life satisfaction (high grades, prestigious internship, good job) don’t increase happiness at all. Intuitions about what will make us happy are totally wrong (e.g. winning a
  • “If they take the advice to heart it will change our culture in a big way. If we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.
  • “In high school they had to deprioritize happiness to gain admission, and adopt harmful life habits that have led to the mental health crisis we’re seeing at places like Yale. They had to do things that made themselves really unhappy in order to get there.”
  • The Field of Positive Psychology & Behavioral Change does not focus on what goes wrong but on the characteristics that make human beings flourish. To critics who say it is just an easy A, she points out:

1. The course is relaxed, low pressure

2. Social pressure attached to taking it with friends pushes students to work hard without provoking anxiety about grades

3. She encourages them to take it pass/fail so they won’t be anxious. She doesn’t monitor assignments

4. The course ends with a discussion of treatment efficacy. Did the therapy actually work? Every student must complete a Hack Yo’self Project.

5. It is not easy. It is the hardest class at Yale. It takes practise but it lasts

6. To see real change in their life habits, students have to hold themselves accountable each day.

Happiness courses began at ivy league colleges after Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, a seminal work in the field of positive psychology, in 1990. People were “happiest,” he found, when they were able to spend their work or their leisure — ideally both — fully engaged in what they were doing, to the extent that they actually lost track of time, or forgot to eat. Whatever people did that gave them the best sense of happiness usually involved being challenged enough to stretch their skills, keep them totally engaged, and unaware of the rest of the world.

The How to Be Happy course will not be offered next Fall because the classes of other professors have emptied and they are unhappy.

What do you think of this course? The comment box below is for you to use. The blog post is just a start so we can talk about what hits  you.

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