More than 2.2 million people, including more than 500,000 since April 1, have enrolled in Yale cognitive psychology professor Laurie Santos’ free 10-week online class, “The Science of Well-Being,” making it the most popular course in the university’s 316-year history. On-campus, the course is titled “Psychology and the Good Life,” aka “The Happiness Course.”
Santos found the demand for the class “a bit surreal,” but understandable, given that “people are looking for evidence-based ways of improving their mental health,” she said. Santos also hosts the “The Happiness Lab” podcast.
Santos’ class in “positive psychology” or “happiness studies” focuses on well-being rather than on easing suffering, which has received more emphasis from psychologists in the past.
The course questions conventional wisdom that one needs certain things in order to be happy: things such as a good job, plenty of money, a perfect love relationship, physical beauty, strength, skills, or possessions. Any of those things may give pleasure for a time, but it tends to be short-lived. Such measuring sticks can lead to comparing oneself to others, which may result in pride, envy, competitiveness, insecurity, and discontent.
Psalm 40:4, 7-9
Happy are those who make
the LORD their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods. …
Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O LORD. (For context, read 40:4-10.)
Santos encourages students to take time to evaluate what really contributes to happiness in life, assigning homework such as making a regular effort to connect in a meaningful way socially; savoring an experience, large or small; writing down five things for which they are grateful at the end of each day; expressing appreciation to people who have impacted them in big or small ways; performing a daily act of kindness, or paying attention to (being mindful of) the present moment.
“A gratitude letter is one of the most powerful tools for increasing happiness because it can forge social bonds and really change someone’s life,” Santos says.
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress. (For context, read 65:17-25.)
This passage depicts a time in the future when God’s joy merges with that of God’s people. God promises to create a new universe in which Jerusalem will be a joy and delight to God and to humanity (vv. 17-18).