April 12, 2020

By: 
Rachel Strella

Three Takeaways from Yale’s Science of Well-Being Course

Science of Well-Being

There’s been a lot of talk about Yale’s free Science of Well-Being course. The timing is ideal as many of us are feeling the impact of COVID-19. Fortunately, I heard about the course in mid-January and enrolled immediately. And, now that I’ve completed it, I have the unique opportunity to share my insights about the program. You might be wondering… Is it worth the time? Does it really increase your happiness? And, if so, will you stay happy? Read on to find out!

Course commitment

The course – which you can access on Coursera – takes about two to three hours a week and it’s scheduled to last 10 weeks. It actually took me 13 weeks to complete it due to vacation, navigating the shifts from COVID-19* and overall busyness. (I am glad the class is flexible). But, I finished it! And, if there is anything I learned from the course, it’s that what really matters is progress – not perfection.

Top takeaways

I learned a lot from this course, but there are a few things I’ll always remember.

We aren’t doing the things that will make us happier. In the first few weeks, you’ll discover some pretty interesting facts about what we think will make us happy vs. what actually makes us happy. It turns out that we, as a society, have the notion of happiness all wrong. The instructor calls it ‘miswanting’ and it’s eye-opening. Overall, the things we yearn for – more money, the perfect body, and even true love – are ultimately not going to make us happy. And, this is not just hearsay. This is science-backed information uncovered from dozens of studies (one of the great things about a university-based course)!

Real change is hard. Ask anyone who has tried to fulfill a New Year’s resolution… lasting change takes time and commitment. However, the course is structured in a way that allows you to implement the changes through weekly assignments called ‘rewirements.’ In fact, the final four weeks are focused solely on the implementation of the materials learned in the first six weeks. This helps to make the practice a habit and enforce real-life changes.

Happiness is truly internal. At the beginning of the course, you’re asked to measure your happiness. I have to admit that I was surprised to see my scores. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m pretty miserable.’ I tried to justify my low score by stating that the questions they asked were very introspective and not indicative of ‘real happiness.’ Funny,  I didn’t even notice the introspective nature of those questions when I re-took the measurement in week 10. The moral of the story is no surprise: happiness lies within us. Obviously, I’ve heard that before, but I do not think I was aware of the full context of what constitutes real happiness until I took this course.

The bottom line – will you have more happiness as a result of this course?

I’ve always been a student, by nature, so the course appealed to my Type A personality. I was excited that there was a finite ‘end’ to the course, which would ultimately lead to greater happiness. What happened in reality was different than my expectations. It truly was a work in progress. Below are my results from the first week and the final week.

Science of Well-Being

Does it really increase your happiness? It’s a strong possibility, but it’s likely not going to make a drastic or fast change. Like anything in life, the goal is overall progress. Similarly, you will only continue to progress if you work at it. But, the course is definitely worth the time. In fact, I’m going to begin again by re-starting the course from Week 1! And, this time I am going to take the course alongside others because, as you’ll learn in the course, social connections are important to happiness!

*Please note… Some of the weekly requirements, such as making physical social connections, will be limited due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

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