When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
- Yale’s most popular class in history teaches you science-backed steps to becoming happier.
- Professor Laurie Santos’ free online version, The Science of Well-Being, is also incredibly popular.
- I enrolled in the course and learned a lot of tips on how to improve my mood and stress levels.
How do we live a meaningful life?
Despite how slippery and subjective the answer may seem, Yale’s professor Laurie Santos, a leading expert in positive psychology, wants you to know that it doesn’t have to be. Using science-backed habits and tools, you can improve your well-being – and lead a fulfilling life – starting today.
Santos’ extremely popular free online course, The Science of Well-Being, is a version of the 2018 course, Psychology and the Good Life, that broke records. The class was designed to bust myths around what we think will make us happy (like the luxury Mercedes-Benz status symbol) while also providing a roadmap of science-backed habits to build a happy, fulfilling life.
Seemingly overnight, it became the university’s most popular class in its 319-year history. – so popular, in fact, that at one point, one in four Yale students were enrolled in it, and the university was pulling fellows from its other schools to help staff the class.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and stay-at-home orders rolled out across the world, a whopping 3.4 million people enrolled in her happiness course online.
You can take the course for free here, which takes an estimated 10 weeks (19 hours total) to complete. Or, keep reading for an overview of what to expect and a firsthand review of the online course.
What to expect from the course
- Misconceptions about happiness
- Why our expectations are so bad
- How we can overcome our biases
- Stuff that really makes us happy
- Putting strategies into practice
Each section includes video lectures, optional readings, and “rewirement” activities to do each day to build happier habits. Research suggests that if you do these rewirements as prescribed, you should experience a boost in your mood and overall well-being. After completing the five weeks above, students should commit to practicing one rewirement exercise for at least a month.
What I loved about the course
1. You can check to see if you’re actually getting happier.
In the beginning, you’re invited to respond to questionnaires that measure your baseline happiness. By the end of the course, you take them again to see whether your score increased. (Hopefully, your numbers rise!) To me, a before-and-after metric lent more concreteness to a typically abstract topic.
Surprisingly, I found the baseline happiness survey helpful for an unexpected reason: I was feeling fatigued, and the questions it posed helped me locate an overlooked source of dissatisfaction – I was continually rating one part of my life much lower than the others. It became clear what was wrong, and within the first lecture, I was able to use the framework to see my life more clearly.
2. The lectures are fun to watch – and lower pressure than an in-person class.
Santos’ lectures make for easy watching. To make the class warm and inviting, they were shot in Santos’ own home, with a handful of Yale students in the audience. They feel intimate – Santos’s tone is friendly and conversational, while still providing a great, in-depth exploration of the topic with an expert (most contemporary research was conceptualized and coined by Santos herself).
Once I sat down to play a lecture, I wanted to continue. I never felt like I was forcing myself to complete a task – I was satisfying my curiosity. Plus, I could easily rewind and rewatch lectures without asking Santos to repeat herself. And there was zero pressure to ask or answer questions!
3. The optional homework is actually fun.
While you can take the class at your own pace, you’re encouraged to implement the rewiring techniques on a weekly schedule. Research finds that improving your well-being takes daily, intentional effort over long periods – meaning this 10-week class is a great opportunity!
Overall, all the assignments are low-key and easy to implement. Since so many of us are so busy (and ironically may benefit the most from this course), there’s absolutely no required reading or grade penalty for a missed assignment deadline – so you don’t need to stress about suggested deadlines if you can’t meet them. All the information you need to know is summarized within the lecture. If you want to dive deeper, Santos provides links to complementary readings.
In a follow-up interview that I conducted with Professor Santos to discuss happiness in quarantine, this point – the importance of building these habits every day – remained paramount.
In other words, this class is about well-being – and it aims to practice what it preaches.
Is it worth it to get a certificate?
Maybe, but most likely not. You’ll have access to all the course materials and forums for this class without paying. But, if you want a certificate of completion or graded homework assignments, you can pay $49. You can also always upgrade any time during the course or afterward, so it’s probably worth it to test it out for free before committing to payment.
If you want but can’t afford the $49 certificate, apply for the course’s financial aid. Click on the “financial aid” link beneath the “enroll” button on the left. You’ll be prompted to complete an application and will be notified if you’re approved; applications take at least 15 days to be reviewed.
The bottom line
I should disclose that I enjoy online classes. In the character-strengths test that you’re invited to take at the course’s outset, “curiosity” was my most dominant trait out of the 20 possibilities.
But despite being a candidate of least resistance, I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed a few weeks in the course. The lessons felt immediately and concretely useful – most of the class legwork is completing daily “rewiring” tasks designed to build those research-backed happiness habits into your life. Beyond being an entertaining and fascinating class to take, it feels like the lessons it teaches will remain long after the course ends.
More online classes:
- 65 free online courses from the best colleges in the US – including Princeton, Harvard, and Yale
- These are the best e-learning platforms for free or affordable online classes, whether you want to switch careers or pick up a new hobby
- Over 2.7 million people have enrolled in this free online course that teaches you how to learn better