Mental health has been shown to be an issue with America’s young. 47% of college students have overwhelming anxiety; 30% are too depressed to function. Research suggest the majority of anxiety is about grades and time to complete assignments. This belies the fact that the things that are the source of anxiety has no impact on happiness. Even though today’s youth grew up with much more affluence, contemporary young adults face much more depression, loneliness, and social disorders than Baby Boomers.
In 2017, Harvard offered a course on “Happiness” that was its most popular class to that date. In 2018, Yale offered a course on “Happiness/Psychology and the Good Life”, which has become its’ most popular class in its 317 year history. Even though there were hundreds of other courses that conflict with the course in happiness, 1200 students were enrolled. No classrooms were big enough, so they had to move the course to the stadium used for concerts. 1 in 4 students at Yale took the course that will be given only the one time.
Dr. Laurie Santos, the instructor and author of the course, is hoping that this high percentage of the population will act as a seed to help to change the culture of the college campus. She said that students want the culture to change. Yes, they realize it’s a privilege to get into Yale, but at what cost.
She started by researching who is really happy and looking at their lives. Several practices are associated with happier people and make these the foci of the course:
- Take time for yourself, prioritize your own time
- Take time to be mindful and grateful
- Do good things for others (keeping things for ourselves doesn’t make us happier, but giving does)
The course emphasizes behavioral change. She stresses that you can’t just hear about the findings to be happier (what she calls “GI Joe mentality”), you must put in the work.
While others might see easy credits, Dr. Santos refers to her course as the “hardest class at Yale”: To see real change in their life habits, students have to hold themselves accountable each day, she said. You must form new habits.
She uses “Rewirement Assignments” or behaviors for the weekly or course long assignments. For example, each day they must log what they are grateful for today, meditate, and sleep for 8 hours, and “be kind”. They introduced a new app to log their random acts of kindness. For their semester research project, each student must set up an experiment on themselves about what makes them happy.
In the class on “Time Affluence”, which occurred during midterms, she gave the students the hour off (no class) to do anything that supported their well-being; the only rule being that they could not study. Some of the students began to cry and others hugged her, saying this was the only “free hour” they had during the entire semester.
Her expertise in Evolutionary Psychology brings light to this subject by realizing our species was built for cooperation and our minds, especially things coming from our primate brains, lie to us. It is important that many of the things we think will make us happy, won’t make us happy. Santos brought out a great term invented by Tim Wilson at the University of Virginia and Dan Gilbert at Harvard called “miswanting,” the process by which our brain tells us that if we could just have X we’d be happy.
She also warned about our natural inclination to compare ourselves to others which has become especially extreme in the digital age, and it’s the main reason social media addicts report higher levels of stress, depression, and isolation, and lower levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction.
If you are looking for a meditation technique that is extremely simple, focuses on gratitude, love, and compassion, and can be practiced anytime, anywhere, by anybody, check out our Free Live Introductory Talk Schedule link here: Directory of Teachers (scroll to lower portion of page). The event is live and interactive and will give you an opportunity to hear about The Art of Ascension, how it works to rewire the mind/body/brain, plus ask any questions you may have.