Psychology professor Laurie Santos created Yale University’s most popular course. Now she’s bringing the science of happiness to a wider audience, thanks to an addictive new podcast.
Santos is the woman behind Yale’s most popular course of all time; Psychology and the Good Life. Around a quarter of students enrolled for the seminar last year, setting a new record for the Ivy League college.
The flood of entrants also verified Santos’ observation that feelings of anxiety and depression were at an all-time high among students on campus.
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Earlier this year, Santos threw open her learnings on happiness to a wider audience with the launch of an online course available in 200 countries – and now she’s elevating her reach further via the podcast.
“My more specific hope is that listeners will be people that don’t have the time to take a full online class but want to learn some bite-size tips about how to live better,” the academic tells Yale Daily News.
The Happiness Lab is a free series that aims to unpick the science of happiness, as seen by Santos and other leading experts in the field.
Santos aims to demonstrate that happiness is not some innate quality, but instead a skill that can be learnt by anyone – no matter what their genetic disposition, personality or upbringing.
But as she points out in the first episode, the practise of it is not always easy; not least because there’s a major disconnect between the things we believe to constitute happiness and what actually facilitates those feelings of contentment and satisfaction in daily life.
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We’re conditioned to chase values such as wealth and career success – but such qualities have little bearing on happiness outcomes that are rooted in years of research on the topic. The Happiness Lab breaks down common misconceptions episode by episode, with the aim of rewiring our thinking around what happiness really means.
“We have these strong intuitions that certain things will bring us joy (more money, better grades, even more options and choices) but by and large these intuitions are just wrong,” Santos explains. “Each podcast episode picks one ‘lie of the mind’ and explains where we go wrong and how we can do better.”
The first episode of The Happiness Lab delves into an obvious example of this happiness contraction. Every year, says Santos, students celebrate getting into Yale. Acceptance into one of the best universities in America often marks the happiest, most euphoric moment of their lives to date.
Yet, fast-forward to actually being at college and many of the same students are beset by a crippling sense of anxiety. They worry about making the grades, getting their first job, affording loans: and generally do anything but relish the present moment. What they thought would make them happy is doing anything but.
The first episode also features a letter from a man who tried Santos’ happiness course. He was in a very dark place at the time, as his message to her recalls, and he was sceptical about whether the course would have any real impact. But by altering his mindset about what happiness means, he was able to turn his life around.
Santos is joined by a series of guests in The Happiness Lab, from world-leading scientists to figures such as trans rights activist and former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck, who share their own inspiring stories on the pursuit of happiness. Give it a listen right here.
Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.