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Happiness Class One of Yale University's Most Popular Ever


01 April, 2018

The search for one of life's greatest goals, happiness, is what brings almost 1,200 students to one of Yale University's most popular classes ever.

The class is called "Psychology and the Good Life." Psychology professor Laurie Santos teaches the class.

One in four Yale undergraduate students has registered to take it. It has the largest class registration size in Yale's 317-year history.

FILE PHOTO -- Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut November 12, 2015.
FILE PHOTO -- Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut November 12, 2015.

So, why do so many students want this class? Santos says it is the hope that science can help students find peace among all the stresses and difficulties they face at college.

"Students report being more depressed than they have ever been in history at college," she said.

Social science research has led to many new understandings of how people find happiness, Santos says.

"They really want to learn those insights in an empirical, science-driven way," she said of the students taking her happiness class.

Yale was founded in 1701. It is the third-oldest university in the United States. It has had many famous individuals as students, including presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and actors Paul Newman and Meryl Streep.

Healthy body healthy mind

Santos said feelings of happiness are created through several things. Among them are socialization, exercise, meditation and plenty of sleep. She added that while many people may see money and possessions as goals in life, those things are not usually what make people most happy.

"Very happy people spend time with others, they prioritize time with their friends, time with their family." Happy people even make time to talk to people who work at coffee shops, Santos added.

Santos also notes the psychological happening of "mis-wanting," which leads people to work towards the wrong goals in life.

"We work really hard to get a great salary or to buy this huge house," she said. "Those things are not going to make us as happy as we think."

School work for the happiness class, also known as Psyc 157, include showing more gratitude, performing acts of kindness and increasing social connections.

Because of the popularity of the class, it has been made publicly available -- for free – on the website Coursera.

The class is already helping Yale students like senior Rebekah Siliezar. She describes her mindset before taking the class.

"What's most pressing on our minds is grades, it's the next job, it's a potential salary after graduation," said Siliezar. Now, she said tries more to "focus on the present moment and the people around me."

I'm Phil Dierking.

This story was originally reported by Reuters News Agency. Phil Dierking adapted it using other media. Phil Dierking adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

What do you think is important for being happy? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

empirical - adj. based on testing or experience

gratitude - n. a feeling of appreciation or thanks

potential - n. capable of becoming real

prioritize - v. to organize (things) so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first

meditation - n. the act or process of spending time in quiet thought

salary - n. an amount of money that an employee is paid each year

undergraduate - n. a student at a college or university who has not yet earned a degree

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