Yale’s Popular Happiness Class Gains an Online Following Among the Socially Distanced

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One fallout of being stuck at home during a catastrophic pandemic is time to ponder life, which in turn apparently leads people to ask serious questions about happiness. In particular: How do I get there?

For many — more than 2.2 million — the question has brought them to Yale professor Laurie Santos, the queen of an increasingly crowded discipline familiarly known as “happiness studies.”

Since April 1, more than half a million people enrolled in Santos’ online class “The Science of Well-Being,” which she has taught for two years to her students at Yale and recently made available on Coursera, an online learning platform. (The course is free for outsiders to audit, but Coursera’s certificate of completion costs $49.)

That surge pushed the number of auditors for the 10-week class past the 2 million mark, which was already wildly popular among undergraduates at Yale.

On Tuesday (April 28) Santos will take questions as part of Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” event. Season 2 of her “The Happiness Lab” podcast launched Monday. Recently, she added a member-only Facebook page for those who have enrolled.

“The tools I teach are some of many that can be used to improve well-being during this tough time,” said Santos, a cognitive psychologist, in an email.

Many universities, including Harvard and Stanford, have been offering classes in happiness for years; the University of Pennsylvania has a graduate-degree program in positive psychology, led by Martin Seligman, a founder in the field.

Now many of the insights of happiness studies are filtering down to the masses, with an explosion of books, apps and podcasts. While Gretchen Rubin, whose 2009 book “The Happiness Project” is still a top seller, has recently become synonymous with the pop pursuit of positivity, she was preceded on the bestseller list by Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis,” which cited the teachings of “ancient wisdom,” though the original happiness bible may be the Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness,” published in 1998.

It was in that year Seligman, the American Psychological Association’s new president, gave a speech recognizing the field of “positive psychology.” It arose from a concern that traditional psychology focused too much on easing suffering and not enough on well-being and flourishing. Positive psychologists develop precise scientific techniques and interventions to measure, assess and document the human condition and advance the dream of improving it.

Much of their work has been to debunk conventional wisdom about what makes us happy: a good job, lots of money, true love or the perfect body. The scientific literature suggests we think again.

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Source: Religion News Service