A housebound world finds solace in Yale’s ‘Science of Well Being’ course

In just the past month, over 600,000 people have signed up for the online version of Yale’s most popular course — about what makes us (and how to be) happy.
Laurie Santos teaches “The Science of Wellbeing” at Woolsey Hall in 2018.

Laurie Santos teaches “Psychology and the Good Life,” the precursor to her popular Coursera course, at Woolsey Hall in 2018.

In just the past month, more than 600,000 people in an increasingly housebound world have signed up for Yale’s free online course “The Science of Well Being,” originally taught on campus in the spring of 2018 by Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos.

The most popular course in the more than three-century history of Yale, “The Science of Well Being” highlights research that reveals misconceptions about what makes us happy — and the concrete steps we can take to live a more fulfilling life.

In the past week, news and social media rediscovered the course, and many recommended it as a way to reconnect with essential lessons of life as people worldwide entered an anxiety-ridden time of seclusion.

The public response was overwhelming.

Total enrollment for the class from March 20 of 2018 to March 19, 2019 stood at 539,000, making it the most popular online course in Yale history. By the end of the day on March 24, 2020 enrollment stood at 1,153,744, with 631,980 people enrolling in March alone. In addition, 10.5 million people have visited the site recently.

Santos’ own podcast, The Happiness Lab, also had a half-million downloads last week, and she recorded a podcast devoted to COVID-19.

The interest in the class in just the last few days has been incredible and a bit surreal,” Santos said. “I think that just as people are focused on evidenced-based ways for staying physically healthy during this COVID-19 crisis, so too people are looking for evidence-based ways of improving their mental health.” 

Video: Students reflect on ‘Psychology and the Good Life’ 


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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19