With 2020 unfolding as it did, 2021 couldn’t arrive quickly enough. Over the past year, the pandemic has dominated our lives, lifestyles, media, social media, and conversations. All the uncertainty and fear of this novel coronavirus has certainly compromised our happiness and wellbeing.
It’s a new year, so let’s scrap that and focus on how we can create happiness and foster wellbeing, which is “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” Happiness is something most of us hope to attain and over the course of the past year, it seems even more difficult to achieve.
“Stress, loneliness and burnout were exploding pre-pandemic and a stronger focus on mental wellness has been part of a cultural mega-shift for the last few years,” says a spokesperson at Miami, FL-based Global Wellness Institute. People have been awakening to the importance of integrative solutions including meditation and sleep and brain health.
Happiness on demand
During Spring 2020, when the Covid-19 crisis was at its peak, I enrolled in Coursera’s free online course, The Science of Well-Being, which is led by Dr. Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman Residential College at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Immersed in the study of what makes the human mind unique, Dr. Santos also hosts The Happiness Lab podcast and is the director of Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center at Yale.
During the course, Dr. Santos highlights aspects of our lives that we believe will make us happy (Think: a lofty salary, luxury car, or posh house with an Instagram-worthy pool) yet don’t as well as acts of kindness and feelings of gratitude, which do create feelings of satisfaction.
The course was adapted from Yale’s Psyc 157, Psychology and the Good Life class, which is taught by Dr. Santos. Recognized as the most popular class in Yale’s history, in its inaugural year, nearly one-quarter of all undergraduates enrolled in the class.
“The Science of Well-Being increased its numbers by 2.5 million learners during the pandemic and now has more than 3 million students. We are the third-largest class at Coursera,” reveals Dr. Laurie Santos.
After taking the course, enrollees reported positive changes. According to Coursera, 26% of them started a new career; 25% received a tangible career benefit; and 10% were granted a pay boost or promotion.
The Science of Well-Being has students engage in a series of challenges that are designed to boost their own happiness and build productive habits. The course helps enrollees cultivate gratitude, happiness, and the act of savoring. It also encourages people to set aside some time for meditation.
Let’s take a crash course on the art of savoring, which is the simple act of stepping outside of an experience to review it and take time to appreciate it. When we savor the things we love whether it’s a walk along the beach or an ice cream cone, positive emotions emerge.
Experiencing gratitude can elevate a person’s mood, diminish stress, strengthen the immune system, and lower blood pressure. It also creates stronger social connections, which also come with a host of positive benefits. During the course, Dr. Santos asks that enrollees complete a gratitude worksheet that highlights what they’re grateful for.
In The Science of Well-Being, Dr. Santos also addresses some common misconceptions about happiness. She refers to them as “annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do and the research that can help us change.”
She illustrates the illusion of some of these misconceptions such as the notion that having a dream home, new Cadillac, or the latest iPhone would make us happy. In fact, the truth is that being materialistic takes a toll on happiness levels. It’s experiences such as that last vacation to Iceland that stick with us and continue to deliver happiness and excitement well after our luggage has been unpacked.
Misconceptions aside, happiness does, in fact, come from being kind, connecting with others, getting more sleep, exercising, and meditating. Some of these activities such as catching some Z’s and working out require having ample time.
Rather than focusing on wealth affluence and nabbing those flashy Louboutins, we should focus on how we can achieve time affluence – the idea that we have enough time to do what we want to do whether its working out, engaging in a hobby, or spending time with family and friends.
The Science of Well-Being received a 4.9 rating on Coursera. It also inspired more than 9,000 people to post reviews. A retired psychotherapist posted that the course was extraordinarily helpful because although she has her health, a loving family, and more money than she needs, life can be difficult.
“The course has helped me re-center and to feel that there are things that I can do to enjoy living without perseverating about the negatives. I have become an advocate of the course, sharing details with friends I hope will take it,” she says.
Another fan learned to shift into a more positive and productive mindset after completing the course while another satisfied student posted, “The course helped me think of new ways to think and new ways to reach certain goals that I would have not thought about.”
Dr. Santos certainly practices what she preaches. Although she’s inundated with inquiries, questions from students, podcast listeners, the press, and people interested in speaking requests, she’s trying her own personal wellbeing experiment: to reduce the amount of time spent on email.
“I’m sorry to disappoint, but I also want to be a role model for my students by forming better, happier personal habits,” concludes Dr. Santos.
The online course, which is offered free through Coursera, enables enrollees to earn a certificate upon completion. Students can learn at their own pace and establish their own schedules. Deadlines are flexible and can be reset to allow for shifting schedules. The course, which takes approximately 19 hours to complete, may just have the capacity to change your perspective, foster happiness, and set you on a lifelong path to wellbeing.