Teaching Happiness: Yale preps students for a more positive future

Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale, has started a lecture course at the university entitled “Psychology and the Good Life” that aims to “teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life." (Ross Dunn/Flickr Creative Commons)

College students are stressed. There is no denying that. No matter where you go on this campus, or at any of the thousands of universities in America, on any given weekday you are bound to find stressed-out, caffeine-addicted, sleep-deprived 18 to 22 year olds struggling to get by. Contrast this to a weekend. Friday night through Sunday morning is where college students thrive. It’s the time to have fun, to relax after a tough week and to catch up on all the sleep you missed during the week.

For 99 percent of college students this pattern is true. We stress out for five days straight, just to feel a huge weight lifted off our chests when Friday evening rolls around, followed by only 48 hours to decompress before the cycle repeats itself. This pattern cannot be healthy. According to the American Psychological Association, a study completed in 2013 that surveyed university and college counseling centers reported that “seventy percent of directors believe that the number of students with severe psychological problems on their campus has increased in the past year." In addition, it found that the top three mental health concerns among students are anxiety, depression and relationship problems. While there are obviously many components that can lead to mental illness, the stressors involved with being a college student can definitely add unnecessary weight onto a student’s already busy shoulders.

With all of the extra pressure that we begin to face as we get older, especially during college, it is unsurprising that many people have trouble staying happy throughout their daily lives. However, one professor at Yale University is trying to change that. Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale, has started a lecture course at the university entitled “Psychology and the Good Life” that aims to “teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life."

The class has quickly become the most popular course that Yale has ever offered, enrolling 400 students within the first few days of registration, which soon turned into 1200 students that are currently enrolled in the course. This number makes up about one quarter of the university’s undergraduate population. While a class of this size is definitely a huge undertaking, and has required the Dr. Santos to reach out for help from other departments at Yale in order to accommodate the large class size, this also speaks to the importance of the subject matter to many of the students. “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb… The fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions,” Alannah Maynez, a freshman at Yale, explained.

Maynez is, of course, right about this fact. However, this phenomenon is not just present at Yale or other Ivy League universities. While the caliber of education at these top-ranked universities can definitely correlate to greater difficulties and higher levels of stress in students, the messages taught in this course are things that all students could benefit from.

The idea that students feel they cannot take a break, a phrase I use on an almost daily basis, is something that can be applied to everyone, whether they study at a community college or Ivy League institution. The truth of the matter is, while we are all getting these highly sought after educations, we are often lacking in a serious area: how to take care of ourselves. Ayla Khan, another student at Yale echoed this exact sentiment, saying that, “it’s very interesting that they created a class which could be an academic course but more about self-improvement and about living a healthier life.” While the class is only planned to run for this semester and it is still very early in the semester, it seems that the purpose on which the class was based has already left a lasting impression on many of the students involved.

While on the surface, a course teaching how to be happy may seem like a way to baby and coddle our students until graduation, it could have lasting effects on the strategies with which we deal with mental health for the rest of our lives. Yale’s course should set an example for other schools to follow, in educating their students that there are ways to remain healthy despite the stress that being in college can bring. The course may not be useful for everybody, but even just helping a small group of students navigate the brutal, sleepless, stressful time of college could make a course like this worthwhile.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.