When you’re too busy hustling to make ends meet, happiness might be quite low on your list of priorities. Personal fulfillment isn’t exactly your most pressing concern when you don’t even know where your next meal is coming from.
Dizzying economic and political upheavals the world over, along with societal pressure to be married with children while being a successful multi-hyphenate with 354,689,478,973,287 followers on social media (okay, I may have made that last one up, but you get the picture) before the age of 30 can make us all too fixated on making a living that we forget to make a life.
How to Be Happy: The Seminar
Enter Laurie Santos. The 42 year-old psychology professor from Yale University recently launched a course called “Psychology and the Good Life” on the campus, and get this, it supposedly teaches its participants how to be happy. 1,200 students, or about a quarter of the Ivy League School’s undergraduate population, enrolled when it first came out, and it has received several glowing reviews since.
Due to the overwhelming demand for the course, Santos launched a free online version rebranded as “The Science of Well-Being” on Coursera last month.
But can an online course really help you live a happier life?
What Exactly Do Humans Need to Be Happy?
While the initial class involved weekly “rewirement” assignments, such as performing random acts of kindness and forming new social connections, as well as a final exam-cum-personal-self-improvement-project cheekily called “Hack Yo’ Self,” the main focus is on something called positive psychology.
Much of psychology is abnormal psychology, which focuses on what’s wrong with people. Positive psychology, in contrast, studies how happy, well-adjusted people operate, and most importantly, how other people can emulate such to get the same results.
Apparently, much of the course’s content was based on a book authored by one of positive psychology’s proponents. “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (imagine having to say that out loud during an oral exam) asserted that people experience the best sense of happiness when six factors are present in an activity:
Merging action and awareness;
Loss of reflective self-consciousness;
A feeling of control over the situation;
An altered sense of time;
Feelings of self-fulfillment all throughout.
This state is apparently called “flow,” and it typically occurs when a person is being challenged enough to remain completely focused on doing something they’re quite good at. For instance, if you were a pro tennis player in a match against an amateur, you’d probably have an easy time, but you’d also be bored. However, if you were an amateur playing against a coach bent on pushing your current skills to the next level, you’re more likely to achieve “flow.”
Thus, the more things you do that lead to a state of “flow,” the happier you’ll become.
So, Do I Need to Sign Up Now?
The concept of “flow” is, of course, easier said than done. Having a basic understanding of it helps, and if you’re already aware about what sort of activities get you in the zone, so to speak, you probably don’t need Professor Santos’ course to get started.
On the other hand, if you would like to learn more about specific guiding principles and obtain a more defined structure for, well, your own personal journey towards self-fulfillment, then jump right in.
Come on, it’s a free course on finding happiness. What have you got to lose?