Yale's hardest—and most popular—course in 316 years

The most popular course in Yale University's 316-year history aims to teach students the secrets of happiness.

About 1,200 undergraduates have registered for Yale's course, titled Psychology and the Good Life, which teaches students how to lead a happier and more satisfying life, David Shimer writes for the New York Times.

To accommodate the course's record-breaking enrollment size, the psychology department has hired 24 teaching fellows and moved the lectures to Woolsey Hall, a space typically used for symphony performances, Shimer writes.

Students may be drawn to the course because they have developed "harmful life habits" to succeed in highly competitive environments, speculates Laurie Santos, the psychology professor teaching the course. The overwhelming interest signals how students feel "anxious [and] stressed" on campus, adds Alanna Maynez, a first-year student enrolled in the course.

Students at Yale aren't the only ones feeling the pressure. The rate of undergraduates reporting "overwhelming anxiety" increased from 50% in 2011 to 62% in 2016. And anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason students seek counseling services.

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Santos hopes her course will teach students that high grades and good-paying jobs may not actually increase their happiness, Santos says. And she encourages students to take her course on a pass-fail basis to avoid grade anxiety, Shimer writes.

Santos' course is unique in its combination of positive psychology and behavioral change, he adds. This combination may make it the "hardest class at Yale" because students have to hold themselves accountable to rewire their behavior, says Santos.

Santos' course is so popular that the university doesn't plan to offer it again. "Large courses can be amazing every once in a while," but they are difficult to sustain with departmental resources, says Woo-Kyoung Ahn, director of undergraduate studies in psychology at Yale.

For those of us who can't sit in on this historic class, Santos says a seminar-style series on the course material will soon be available on Coursera (Shimer, New York Times, 1/29).

Also see: What success means to your students, in their own words


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