Yale University’s most popular class ever — Psyc 157: Psychology and the Good Life, which draws roughly 1,200 undergraduate students each spring term and is approaching half a million online enrollees — now has a podcast version.
“The Happiness Lab With Dr. Laurie Santos” wrapped up its first 10-episode season in November. The podcast weaves together stories told by experts and celebrities (Olympic medal-winning ice skater Michelle Kwan, the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, among others) and generally gets you psyched to improve your daily grind.
“I think that these stories of well-being can be incredibly powerful, and the podcast is an awesome way to put some narrative to the stuff that I’m teaching,” said Santos, a psychology professor at Yale. “It’s a way for me to explain what you’re supposed to do through these stories of people who are actually doing it.”
Santos’ interest in well-being began when she became the head of Silliman College, a residential college for first-year students, and witnessed the darker side of student life.
“I was really worried about the kind of mental health dysfunction I was seeing on campus,” she said.
That’s not just a Yale problem; according to a November study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, severe depression and suicidal thinking more than doubled among U.S. college students from 2007 to 2018.
“This is a thing that’s happening nationally, where 40 percent of college students report being too depressed to function and over 60 percent report feeling overwhelmingly anxious and lonely,” Santos said. “These statistics are really scary.”
The Good Life course started as an attempt to teach better coping strategies to undergraduates. Its popularity led to an online version that 450,000 people have enrolled in, she estimates.
People expressed interest in a shorter, more compact way to absorb the material. The podcast, Santos said, offers “a different way to get content across than I normally do in my teaching. And it’s been so fun to meet all these people and hear their stories and hear how they’re putting these practices into effect in their own lives.”
Season 2 will come out in April. One technique she will be focusing on then is empathy.
“There’s lots of research showing that feeling connected with other people can be really important for our well-being,” Santos said.