Yale’s most popular class ever on Happiness- “The Science Of Well being” got over a million subscribers just in the last four weeks of Covid pandemic. Dr. Laurie Santos is the person behind the blockbuster Happiness course. Her research shows that just as there is post-traumatic stress, there will be post traumatic growth -all this in an exclusive interview with Namrata Kohli
In a nutshell, in your own words -what is the science of well being? What is the secret towards unlocking happiness in life?
The science of well being is a course on evidence based practices that can help anyone figure out what makes you feel happier. It’s not usually what we think- money, accolades and success -but it’s taking time for more social connections, changing our habits like including exercise and sleep and even changing our mindset. Being a little more grateful, a little more present are things that really matter for happiness generally, especially so during this time of Covid 19.
Its interesting you mention social connections and relationships as being the root cause of becoming a happier person. When there is a lockdown you are not allowed to socialize. What does one do when you are not allowed to go out there and engage with people?
I think it becomes even more important to engage with people during this time of social distancing. Social distancing does not necessarily mean a time to turn lonely. We have wonderful technologies where we can connect with people. You and I are far away and still we are talking on video chat platform. We could even just pick up the good old phone or even the landline to talk to people. We need to be intentional about it.
Ever since you launched the course in 2018 it was lapped up by everyone and became extremely popular. But do you find a sudden spike in registration during the Covid pandemic in particular?
We have had the class around for two years and in that time, we’ve had half a million learners, which is incredible. In just the last four weeks we have tripled that number and now have over 2 million learners. People want tips that they can use to protect their mental health during this time. We all know we need to protect our physical health – we need to wash our hands, stay fit. But people want similar evidence-based interventions they can use to protect their mental health to feel better, less uncertain, experience less pain.
One sees Ivy League colleges institutionalizing online learning through their portals and most of them give free access to content. Yale’s famous programme has also been rolled out free. What is the key motivation behind universities such as yours to offer courses free of cost on online learning platforms?
Yale sees its mission as trying to share its knowledge as broadly as possible. Before the internet we had to do that on campus because that was the greatest number of people professors could teach. But now that we have this technology, which allows us to share this knowledge – Yale is committed to digital learning worldwide. To be effecting change in two million people across the globe is incredible.
What is your message to people out there who have been reeling under stress – whether their jobs are still around, whether they will face a massive salary cut. There are industries which will see a greater slowdown than the rest such as aviation, hospitality, luxury sector. How do they negotiate with the problems at hand and yet self-enrich during lockdown?
My first piece of advice is to validate everything you said. Yes, this is an incredibly scary time, especially so, if you are in an industry which will shut down. It can be stressful and challenging time even if your health is vulnerable. That said, what the research shows is just as there is post traumatic stress, there is post traumatic growth. There is a real opportunity for all of us, no matter what our situation is, to come through this crisis feeling more resilient and learning about the things that really matter in life.
Lockdown is also pointing people to think about existential questions of life and death, and look at the bigger picture as they say. Do you see philosophy and psychology which were so far so underrated in our society, as becoming subjects of greater importance in the post Covid era?
We often prioritize things like making money and finances but research suggests that those things are not the real things. What is important is what gives us purpose in life, imbues it with meaning, that really makes life worth living. We need to ask ourselves what are the things we are on this planet for. No one on their deathbed is going to say- I wish I made a few more dollars at work, or spent a few more hours at work. We need philosophical approaches and social sciences and behavioural sciences help us to live life meaningfully.
This journey towards self discovery can be an incredibly isolated lonely journey. What is your view?
This crisis may seem incredibly lonely but in some way, it is fantastically connecting. We are all in it together and literally everyone on the planet is going through the same panic.
Is there anything that we should thank corona for?
Yes, because of post traumatic stress, we all have a chance to come out stronger, feeling more resilient. We will start recognizing simple things which we were taking so much for granted. Even simple things like going to a coffee shop and grabbing a coffee. For me, my mom lives far away – just being able to see her and give her a hug will be a moment to cherish now. I wasn’t as grateful as I should have been, when I was able to do these things before. Once we get out of this crisis, we will appreciate much more those simple things that we took so much for granted before. We will experience tremendous joy when we come out of this crisis.