Yale’s most popular class is now available online for free

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The course materials begin with a beautiful promise. 

Skills you will gain: gratitude, happiness, meditation, savoring. 

Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos became a breakout education star after she began teaching her real-world class, Psychology and the Good Life, in the spring of 2018. It was her attempt to address what she observed to be alarming levels of student depression and anxiety on campus. To her happy surprise, it became the most popular course in Yale’s history.

The free online version, now available through Coursera, promises the same mashup of breakthrough psychological research and behavioral science—personalized via fascinating personality assessments that can help you measure your level of happiness and elements of your character.

“We actually have lots of insights into the kinds of things that make us happier, that make us laugh, that make our life more fulfilling,” Santos says in her introduction. But that’s not enough. “One of the things we’re going to learn is that knowing about what makes you happy isn’t enough to actually make you happy. You actually have to put those things into practice.” Americans, in particular, are deeply unhappy people, with recent college graduates among the unhappiest cohorts of all. “[American doctors] prescribe antidepressants at 400x the rate we did 20 years ago,” she says in the course.

While focusing on personal happiness sounds like a welcome distraction during a challenging time like a pandemic, the science behind it is also good fodder for any aspirational leader.

Smart science combined with prompts to encourage healthy behavior, known in the field as “nudges,” is increasingly being applied to public policy with promising results. And a behavioral focus is beneficial in the workplace, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the chief talent scientist at ]Manpower Group, and a professor at University College London and Columbia University. In this Bloomberg opinion piece, he encourages organizations to worry less about people’s hearts, minds, or hidden biases, and more on incentivizing the interactions they value. “Organizations should focus less on extinguishing their employees’ unconscious thoughts, and more on nurturing ethical, benevolent, and inclusive behaviors,” he writes.

Santos also has a popular podcast called The Happiness Lab, which has fresh or repurposed episodes that directly address well-being and anxiety during the coronavirus epidemic with evidence-based science.

But with uncertainty now camped on my doorstep, I’m heading back to school to “rewire” my habits for happiness. (There’s even an app to help you apply what you learn in the course in your daily life—check out ReWi on iOS or ReWi on Android.)

Enrollment on Coursera begins today! Meet me there? I’m sitting in the front row and saving a seat for you.

Ellen McGirt

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