Yale’s new edition of popular happiness class targets teens in ‘a stressful

NEW HAVEN — Within less than 48 hours of the launch, nearly 6,000 students enrolled in a new Yale University’s free online happiness class  geared toward high-schoolers.

“I think it’s a testament to the fact that students really need this,” Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos said of the enrollment number and the fact that the course was viewed nearly 150,000 times.

Santos, the class instructor, said she first designed the original in-person class “The Psychology and the Good Life” because she noticed that mental illnesses became more prominent among teenagers, especially college students.

“I got lots of feedback on the class when I offered it but people were saying this is great but we need this kind of course for younger learners, too,” Santos said. “We need to get the students these strategies even younger.”

More than 37 percent of high school students reported that they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic while 44 percent said they “persistently felt sad or hopeless” in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The six-week course focusing on high school students will include real-life examples that resonate with them more so than the adult version. For example, while the adult class talks about happiness that comes with work and salary, the newer class talks about happiness from grades.

“It’s really trying to frame the content in experiences that they have themselves,” Santos said.

According to the syllabus, students will learn misconceptions about happiness, biases that get in the way of happiness, behaviors, thoughts and feelings that lead to happiness, and achieving happiness goals.

Even though the class consists mostly of lectures, Santos said she likes to tell her students that “it’s kind of just like binge-watching a Netflix series, except you learn something.” 

The class also encourages students to do outside activities as homework, as well as as getting eight hours of sleep and making new social connections.

“Hopefully they’ll learn some cool psychology facts, but what I really want students to learn more is just strategies that they can use when they’re feeling depressed, when they’re feeling anxious, when they’re feeling stressed,” Santos said.

Besides living through the pandemic, Santos said kids these days are also living through “a stressful time” of “lots of political crises and climate change.” She hopes the class will provide more understanding of their stress without suppressing their emotions.

“It’s normal to feel depression and anxiety, all of us go through that at some point but we don’t have to” if they know these strategies, she said.

Santos implemented those strategies she taught herself by taking a yearlong sabbatical due to signs of burnout she noticed while working. Upon her return this fall, Santos announced she will also be stepping down from her role as head of Silliman College, citing her ability to perform well on the job with other new projects she took on, according to the Yale Daily News.

Yale’s well-being class has been a model for similar classes at other universities including the “Pursuit of Happiness” course at nearby Quinnipiac University


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