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Happiness Expert Reveals How to Find Joy in All the Right Places


Psychologist Laurie Santos was inspired to teach a course on happiness at Yale University after becoming Head of College at one of the residential colleges because she was shocked to see so many depressed and anxious students on campus. “Psychology and the Good Life” is now the most popular class ever offered in the history of the university.

But not everyone can enroll in Santos’ class at Yale, so Santos is bringing her course into the mainstream by offering The Happiness Lab podcast in which she explores the science of what makes us happy and how to put effective happiness strategies into practice.

1. What is the Psychology and the Good Life course and why did you develop this as part of the Yale curriculum?

I decided to develop this new course soon after I became a Head of College at Yale. In this new role, I lived on campus with students and I started to learn more about the college student mental health crisis up close and personally. Nationally, our young people are really struggling right now. Over two-thirds of college students report feeling anxious. More than one in 10 students have seriously considered suicide in the last year. And rates of depression have doubled in just the last decade. I decided to develop the course to try to help my students. I wanted to teach students everything we knew about the science of well-being and to give students some structure to put that science into practice.

2. Were you surprised by the overwhelming response from students?

Definitely. I expected only about 40 or 50 students to take the class, so you can imagine my surprise when over 1000 students showed up and we had to teach the class in a concert hall.

3. Do you think most people look for happiness in the wrong places?

We all have strong intuitions about the kinds of things that will make us happy. The problem is that those intuitions tend to be wrong. As I tell my students, our minds lie to us about what makes us happy. We think happiness comes from our circumstances—how much money we have, what things we can buy, etc—but happiness really comes from our behaviors. I think the problem is that people put a lot of effort into seeking happiness but they’re doing it all wrong.

4. Tell us about your new podcast, The Happiness Lab. What is the storytelling style and how will you address the topic of happiness in each segment?

The Happiness Lab is a quick guide to the ways our minds lie to us about what makes us happy. Each episode tackles a different error we make when it comes to feeling happier and discusses scientifically-backed tips for what we can do better. But the podcast isn’t just a bunch of science. There are interviews with some of the most inspirational people I’ve met, people who are putting the science into practice. So it’s much lighter than you might expect for a podcast that’s really all about the science.

5. What will people learn about the subject after listening to the series?

Listeners get concrete tips for how they can improve their own well-being and how they can avoid falling prey to all these lies of the mind. You’ll also get to hear lots of cool stories from people who are doing it right.

For more information and to subscribe to The Happiness Lab, click here.

This piece was featured in the Oct. 13th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


Susan Pascal is editor of The Sunday Paper. She lives in Los Angeles with her two kids.