A survey by the American College Health Association in 2009 reported that 47% of all students have anxiety and 84% are generally overwhelmed. The Yale College Council in 2013 reported that more than half of the undergraduates seek mental health services during their studies.
Chock full of academics and personal issues, student life at Yale is far from perfect.
More than a quarter of Yale’s undergraduates have signed up for a single course. What is this course, and why is it so popular? ‘Psychology and the Good Life’ is a twice-a-week class taught by psychology professor Laurie Santos, PhD.
The Happiness Course:
Dr Santos is teaching undergraduates how to tackle psychological issues by changing their behavior and erasing cognitive bias. The course uses science-backed techniques to help prepare students for a better living.
Alannah Maynez, a freshman student, explains it perfectly:
In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy and numb. The fact that a class like this has such a large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions — both positive and negative — so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.
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For this reason, Dr Santos does not check up on homework assignments. She instead sees to observe improvements in the behavior of students.
Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus. With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.
But Yale is not the only institution with psychological wellness courses. One in every six students at Stanford are enrolled in ‘Designing Your Life’, a course for developing meaningful careers. These undergraduates are learning to prioritize happiness over wealth and fame.
At McGill’s University, a course called ‘Lessons of Community and Compassion’ is breeding well-being and contentment.
This indicates that a revolution is at hand. Students across institutions are learning the timeless value of inner peace. Peter Salovey, the president of Yale, calls it “a search for meaning”.
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Inner Peace for You and I:
Dr Santos is teaching students to lead more satisfying lives. But her teachings don’t merely apply to Ivy League students.
She explains that the ability to become mentally drained under pressure is “a human problem”.
In the modern world, we are told that by building successful careers and earning big bucks, we will be able to find peace. Dr Santos dismisses the idea as false.
“Our intuitions about what to do to be happy are wrong.”
The drive for success should be based on meaningful connections with friends and family.
It should be built on the desire for a career of passion rather than power.
Inner peace comes from stability and building the strength to deal with difficult situations.
This is the crux of what Laurie Santos hopes to teach the world, and it is something we all could use.