The Science of Happiness and Well-Being – Yale

Published by: Julia

The Yale Happiness and Well-Being Coursera course is one of their most popular. The course teaches you about psychology as well as helping you to, reflect on, and reset your life.

This course ticks two important boxes. It is a great academic course, that includes a certificate if you want to pay for it.

It is also a truly excellent well-being course, that I believe will help you to learn about yourself and what makes you happy. As well as enable you to read people better.

Nearly 3 million happy students can´t be wrong.

Your Coursera teacher Professor Laurie Santos

Your teacher for this course is Laurie Santos. She is a Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman Residential College at Yale University. As well as being the host of The Happiness Lab podcast and the director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center at Yale.

Her teaching style is refreshing. She does not dumb things down and makes sure that the language she uses is accessible.

The course is littered with great real-life examples of how to apply what she is teaching. She also uses this approach to demonstrate why we act as we do.

What I thought of this Coursera course

I took this course, just as the coronavirus crisis started and genuinely feel that it has helped me. It made me look more closely at the way I think and become more aware of my emotional and mental health.

It is a fantastic course. So good in fact that I recommend that everyone takes it. Several of my friends and family have and they agree with me.

So, if you are yet to dive in and take a Coursera course – do it now – and make this well-being course your first step in a journey of discovery.

Here is a breakdown of the syllabus with a few notes to help you to better understand the type of things you are going to learn.

How long will it take to complete Coursera´s well-being course

The answer is as long as you like. You can move at any pace. Some people go through the course material in just a day.

I followed the syllabus and did one section each week. This is a good approach because it enables you to ask questions and interact with fellow students in real-time.

I was taking the course for my personal well-being. But, a lot of the students are doing it for academic reasons too. This mix makes for some interesting questions and discussions.

If you do take it at the same pace as the rest of your class, it will take you 10 weeks. But, if you want to you can move faster or slower.

However, my advice would be not to rush things. The point of taking this course is to take action to improve your well-being. To do that properly you need to complete the re-wiring exercises at the end of each section. That process takes time, you really do need the week between each stage to practice the techniques every day.

An overview of the syllabus

The main sections are:

Happiness can be learned

Changing the way you think is far easier than you realize. With the right guidance, you can become more aware of damaging thought patterns and take steps to change them. This section starts you on that journey.

  • How to use science to assess your current happiness levels
  • Uncovering your strengths and practicing them
  • Uncover your Baseline Happiness Using the PERMA Profiler and the Authentic Happiness Inventory
  • Tips to boost well-being during the COVID crisis
  • The GI Joe Fallacy – How the mind tricks us into ignoring our issues, leaving us constantly brushing things under the carpet instead of tackling them.

Things we think make us happy but don´t and why they don´t

We are raised to think that things like having a good job, money, the perfect body, good grades, and true love are all we need to make us happy. Society pushes us to attain those things. Yet many people who have all or most of those things are not happy at all.

I´ve only got to look around me to know that this is true. But I was still quite upset by being confronted with that truth. It put me off a bit, but I decided to carry on with the course anyway and am glad that I did.

Fortunately, Laurie looks at why we have these misconceptions and, more importantly, what we can do to address them. So that we can take a more balanced approach to how we pursue these things.

Why our life expectations are so bad

  • More information about how our mind tricks us and sends us in the wrong direction
  • The role kindness plays in making us and others happen
  • Why social connection matters – This was particularly relevant for me and not just because I was living under lockdown at the time

How to overcome our mental and social biases

  • How to thwart hedonic adaptation -getting quickly bored with the things we pursued and thought we really wanted
  • Resetting your reference points – this was especially helpful for me, I had not done this for decades.

What stuff really makes us happy?

This section is all about what Laurie calls “better wanting”. Getting used to actively pursuing the things that will make you happy. I can vouch for this working very well. Despite the COVID lockdown, I was still able to find ways to rebuild some of my social connections. Not only did it ease the isolation of not leaving the house for weeks, but it also helped me to feel more like myself than I have done for many years.

The videos on time affluence and mind control were interesting too. Don´t worry that last one is nowhere near as weird or farfetched as it sounds.

Putting happiness and well-being strategies in place

If you have been doing your homework you will have already been putting some of what you learn into action. That is good, but if you are anything like me, once you stop the course you will have a tendency to slip quickly back into your old ways.

This section of the course shows you how to put permanent well-being strategies into place. The goal-setting video is particularly useful.

Your final rewirement challenge

I am afraid to say that by week 7 the course was dragging a little. Laurie was repeating a fair amount of what she had already said. Perhaps the repetition was deliberate. Maybe she was using it as a way to cement what she had taught us. I am not sure, but I had to force myself to continue with the course, despite the fact I was clearly benefitting from following the advice.

The final rewirement challenge required a lot of reading and took place over 3 weeks. But, it was worth persevering and following through with it. So, if when you take the course, you struggle a bit at that point, don´t worry, it is worth it.

Final week – recap and peer-graded assignment

As you would expect, the last week was a recap. Plus, because it is Coursera, you get the chance to complete an assignment and have it reviewed by your peers. I did not do this because I did not want the completion certificate. Although I could have still done the assignment and submitted it if I had wanted to. It just would not have been reviewed by my peers.

I did, however, complete all of the quizzes. So ended up with a grade, something I found to be surprisingly motivating and pleasing. Even though even only I know about it.

The pros of the Yale happiness course

In my book, there are lots of pros. But, by far the biggest pro was the inclusion of the re-wirement activities. Doing those cemented what I had learned and enabled me to get the most out of this course. Here is a list of the 10 activities you will be doing:

  • Identify and practice your signature strengths
  • Keep a savouring & gratitude journal – this may sound dumb, but I promise you it makes a huge difference
  • Practice kindness & improve your social connection – again sounds daft, but actually works
  • Use exercise to improve your well-being
  • Getting enough good quality sleep
  • Meditation
  • Show gratitude to someone
  • An exercise in time affluence appreciation

You are encouraged to take action to improve your happiness. To help you do this you are provided with printable PDFs for each rewirement exercise and challenge. I found them to be particularly useful.

The cons of the Coursera well-being classes

There were honestly not many cons. It was well-presented. If I had a criticism it would be that it was a little repetitive in places.

The ReWi app

To make things even easier for yourself I suggest that you download and use the ReWi app that has been produced to go with the course. It is available for both Apple and Android devices.

It is a bit clunky in places. But, I highly recommend that you download and use it. I found it especially useful for completing the meditation exercises.

If you do use it, be sure to check out the FAQs. I found most of the answers I needed there. The Coursera forum is also a good place to get help.

They are clearly using some of the data from the App and the course quizzes to learn more about people´s mental well-being and psychology. But, don´t let that put you off Professor Laurie Santos was totally upfront about the fact they were learning a huge amount about modern psychology from the people taking the course. I personally, did not mind this at all.

If it does bother you, don´t worry, there is a chance to stay anonymous when you use it. Plus, you don´t need to use the app. At each stage, there is a chance to complete things without sharing everything. But, I think if you want to buy the certificate that proves you have completed the course, you will need to complete the quizzes and submit the assignments. In that situation, you will be sharing something.

Why do I recommend this psychology course

I can see why this is the most popular class ever taught at Yale University. The version you take on Coursera is a distilled version of the one taught at the university. But, it is nonetheless worthy of your attention.

Like thousands of other people, I took this course during the COVID 19 crisis. It was certainly highly relevant to what myself and my family were coping with.

To help people even more Professor Santos also shared a link to a recording of a FB Live FAQ session she did. If the link is still there when you take the course, I highly recommend that you click it and watch what you find there.

My final word

As you can see, I liked this course and got a lot out of it – so my final piece of advice is —- take this course. I promise you, you won´t regret it.

If you want to learn more about the Coursera platform and what it has to offer. Just click here. You can also read some of my individual Coursera reviews, like the one I wrote for the Coursera Python for Everyone. Doing this will give you a better understanding of what the platform has to offer.

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