Yale’s most popular class is now available online for free

March 24, 2020, 8:36 PM UTC

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The course materials begin with a beautiful promise. 

Skills you will gain: gratitude, happiness, meditation, savoring. 

Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos became a breakout education star after she began teaching her real-world class, Psychology and the Good Life, in the spring of 2018. It was her attempt to address what she observed to be alarming levels of student depression and anxiety on campus. To her happy surprise, it became the most popular course in Yale’s history.

The free online version, now available through Coursera, promises the same mashup of breakthrough psychological research and behavioral science—personalized via fascinating personality assessments that can help you measure your level of happiness and elements of your character.

“We actually have lots of insights into the kinds of things that make us happier, that make us laugh, that make our life more fulfilling,” Santos says in her introduction. But that’s not enough. “One of the things we’re going to learn is that knowing about what makes you happy isn’t enough to actually make you happy. You actually have to put those things into practice.” Americans, in particular, are deeply unhappy people, with recent college graduates among the unhappiest cohorts of all. “[American doctors] prescribe antidepressants at 400x the rate we did 20 years ago,” she says in the course.

While focusing on personal happiness sounds like a welcome distraction during a challenging time like a pandemic, the science behind it is also good fodder for any aspirational leader.

Smart science combined with prompts to encourage healthy behavior, known in the field as “nudges,” is increasingly being applied to public policy with promising results. And a behavioral focus is beneficial in the workplace, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the chief talent scientist at ]Manpower Group, and a professor at University College London and Columbia University. In this Bloomberg opinion piece, he encourages organizations to worry less about people’s hearts, minds, or hidden biases, and more on incentivizing the interactions they value. “Organizations should focus less on extinguishing their employees’ unconscious thoughts, and more on nurturing ethical, benevolent, and inclusive behaviors,” he writes.

Santos also has a popular podcast called The Happiness Lab, which has fresh or repurposed episodes that directly address well-being and anxiety during the coronavirus epidemic with evidence-based science.

But with uncertainty now camped on my doorstep, I’m heading back to school to “rewire” my habits for happiness. (There’s even an app to help you apply what you learn in the course in your daily life—check out ReWi on iOS or ReWi on Android.)

Enrollment on Coursera begins today! Meet me there? I’m sitting in the front row and saving a seat for you.

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Coronavirus: Planning for the worst, hoping for the best Last week, my Broadsheet colleagues Kristen Bellstrom and Emma Hinchcliffe interviewed Margaret Arakawa, the CMO of Seattle-based tech startup Outreach. Arakawa and her family are as close to corona-ground zero as you can get: Her husband Brad Schmidt is a firefighter and paramedic in Everett, Wash., which saw the first coronavirus clusters, including the nursing home where some two-thirds of the residents contracted the disease. Life in a first responder family is tough. “We just had a talk as a family about what happens *when* my husband gets exposed and *when* he comes down with coronavirus,” she says. “We’ve come up with a plan. It’s not a great plan, but it’s a plan nonetheless.”

Rest in power Manu Dibango The saxophone legend, best known for his 1972 hit Soul Makossa, has become the first global artist to die from the coronavirus. “It is with deep sadness that we announce you the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove,” a statement on his official Facebook page read. The 86-year-old Cameroon native died in a Paris hospital. Dibango’s signature hook was has been sampled by Rihanna and other artists. Dibango sued Michael Jackson in 2009, accusing him of stealing a sample for two tracks on his Thriller album. His eclectic fusion style delighted fans for decades. "As you are African they expect you always to play African. Forget that,” he told the BBC in 2017. “You're not a musician because you're African. You're a musician because you are musician. Coming from Africa, but first, musician."

Racist attacks on Asian people continue The stories are horrific: Chinese-Americans are being harassed, yelled at, blamed, hit, even spit at. While everyone’s lives have been put into the spin cycle, Chinese-Americans, with plenty of other Asian-Americans lumped in, are particularly on edge. The president’s use of the term “Chinese virus” is not helping. “If they keep using these terms, the kids are going to pick it up,” Tony Du, an epidemiologist in Howard County, Md., tells the New York Times. "They are going to call my 8-year-old son a Chinese virus. It’s serious.”
New York Times

On Background

The ethics of health care rationing in the age of coronavirus This is a technical piece from a group of physicians about fairness in the face of scarce resources—but it’s worth flagging for several reasons. On a practical level, it describes in helpful detail the scope of the pandemic and what has happened in hot spots around the world thus far. Then, it goes into the importance of using evidence to model and forecast, even in the face of unknowns. (I can imagine a world in which ethical decision-making in times of scarcity will be a valuable skill.) And finally the four fundamental values of ethical rationing: maximizing the benefits produced by scarce resources, treating people equally, promoting and rewarding instrumental value, and giving priority to the worst off. “Consensus exists that an individual person’s wealth should not determine who lives or dies,” they write.
New England Journal of Medicine

My mother’s biryani Ruchika Tulshyan is a diversity and inclusion expert and a raceAhead treasure—you'll love her guest essay on why you need to diversify your social network. In this poignant personal reflection, she shares how she once looked down upon her mother’s homemaking and cooking life, a lifestyle anathema to her teenaged feminist sensibility. “Women who worked at home were answerable to the oppressive patriarchy,” she writes. “Instead, I would attend fancy colleges and make wads of money so I could have others cook for me! An ambitious woman doesn’t enter the kitchen!” In her rebellion, she ate out so often, she developed an insulin-related illness. In learning to cook, she learned to nurture herself and embrace the food, one recipe in particular, which symbolized the lifestyle she once tried to avoid.
The Establishment on Medium

What actually works in remedial education When a student (or perhaps intern or new hire) needs to brush up on their basics before they’re ready for college, they are typically directed to a remedial course in reading, writing, or math. Currently, some 60% of community college first-years and 40% of public college first-years take these classes. But the results tend to be mixed. But co-requisite remedial training, support that happens concurrently with college-level courses, works far better, argues Alexandra W. Logue is a research professor at City University of New York Graduate CenterThis post cites great data, perfect for folks who are contributing to corporate education initiatives. But Logue also identifies the main barrier to instituting better student effectiveness programs: faculty resistance.
Inside Higher Ed

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


"Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold. Blindly planning for it, envisioning things that weren't the case. This was the working of the will. This was what gave the world purpose and direction. Not what was there but what was not."

—Jhumpa Lahiri, author, The Lowland

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