Yale University is an Ivy League school located in Connecticut, USA. Coursera is an online platform providing university courses and degrees. When you put these two together, you get Yale’s most popular wellbeing class anytime, anywhere, free of charge (or a one-time payment for a certificate).

And when you combine my love of learning and self-improvement with a dismal first half of the year (Covid, anyone?), you get a desire to take a widely sought after class about wellbeing.

The course utilised many studies, research and guest interviews to deliver the information. I enjoyed learning about wellbeing in what felt like a university-level course (because it is!).

Without giving away everything I learnt in the course (because it’s much better you learn directly from the pro, Lauren Santos!), here are five things I particularly enjoyed learning in this most popular wellbeing class.

1. The Things You Think Make You Happy Actually Don’t

I can’t stress enough how most of us inherently ‘know’ these things but hearing it out loud with science-backed information brings a whole new level of understanding to our wellbeing. First and foremost, that shiny new car and the perfect corporate job does not bring you as much joy as a meaningful conversation with someone or helping someone lost in the city with directions.

As an example, in American professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (2008), a study on people’s salaries found that people earning $30,000, perceived that they needed $50,000. Although this sounds reasonable, they also found that people earning $100,000 felt they needed $250,000 per year to survive. We often want, and think we need, more. And as we get more, we continue to want more than that.

It’s ok to want these things, but living a life with expectations takes away from the invaluable joy we get from things that may not seem as fulfilling. Though, when we experience such things (like paying for someone’s coffee when they lost their card) immensely positive emotions are generated. We don’t do enough of it to remember how good it feels.

Furthermore, a study by von Soest et al. (2012) followed women for over 13 years. They found that those who got cosmetic surgery did not end up being happier than those that did not. These findings don’t mean you can’t get cosmetic surgery, but having the awareness about why you want it, may alter your decisions. For example, unfollowing models on Instagram could increase your body positivity.

2. Minds Judge Relative to Reference Points

A reference point is a point to which you compare information. This process is continually happening. Often, these reference points aren’t reasonable. Like the cosmetic surgery example above, Instagram models may make you wish you looked a certain way. Even though we know Instagram is a highlight reel, or that these people workout in the gym every day, and have jobs to pay for their holidays, we don’t necessarily respond to that information.

All you see is a good body in Greece, and you want it. Our mind doesn’t always rationalise. If all your friends get married by 25, you may think you need to as well, or wonder why you are still single. These are not healthy reference points, but our minds will reference anything and everything!

Medvec et al. (1995) analysed the emotional reactions of medalists at the 1992 Olympics. They found that bronze medalists were overall happier than silver medalists. This is attributed to the fact that silver medalists were just short of gold (their reference point), whereas bronze medalists were just happy to have made it onto the podium, as they were almost not in the top 3 at all.

Other reference points include TV (like watching rich family reality shows), job satisfaction, the salaries of others, classmates’ grades etc.

3. You Get Used To Things

Another reason why we want a more generous salary is that we get used to things. We get accustomed to the level of income we have and thus want more. And when we’ve adapted to having more (such as buying more luxury items), we then think we need more.

You adapt to our circumstances. You adapt to your dream job, your dream university, and your dream relationship. The initial ‘high’ when you get what you want, eventually fades. As a university student, I enjoyed the example made in this course about getting accepted into your dream school. You’d think if it was your dream school that you worked so hard to get into, that three years into your degree you should still be waking up every morning SO excited to attend! Alas, we’ve probably skipped a bunch of lectures up to this point (guilty!). It is no longer as exciting as it once was. Our reference points have reset.

READ MORE: When I Found Positivity – A Personal Essay

Similar examples include when couples go on date nights each week or do something spontaneous (like buying roses) for their partner. As much as we love our significant other, these date nights and spontaneity are necessary. They keep us engaged and excited, essentially stopping us becoming accustomed to the same daily stimulus.

At work, things like ‘Employee of the Month’ or ‘Pizza Fridays’, are ways to keep the workplace exciting, by being exposed to different stimulus every now and then.

4. You Are More Resilient Than You Think

The good news is, getting used to stuff isn’t always a bad thing. It might not always feel like it, but we are resilient beings! We tend to overestimate the emotional impact of things. That if you fail this exam, it’s the end of the world. That you feel like you will never get over your high-school boyfriend the day after he broke up with you. Although these things feel bad in the moment, we don’t give ourself enough credit (or aren’t aware) of how strong we are.

For example, after a break-up, when you’re crying for days, then journaling, going out with friends even with the break-up on your mind, these are ALL mechanisms you’re using to adapt and overcome. We also rationalise and create meaning, such as thinking he’s not good enough for you anyway. Or, in regards to a job you didn’t get, considering how they missed out on a great candidate. These are coping mechanisms that half the time we don’t even realise we are utilising!

5. Simply Expressing Gratitude Goes A Long Way For Your Own Health & Happiness

The Science of Wellbeing course teaches multiple strategies you can do to start becoming happier on the right path. I won’t spoil the most popular wellbeing class for you (if I do say so myself), so I’ll mention the simplest one of all (in my opinion) – daily gratitude.

Whether it is writing 3-5 things you are grateful for in the morning, at night, or different intervals in the day, simply being aware of the good things in your life will contribute to your wellbeing. This exercise helps us see the good in each day, have a chance to appreciate it and slow down.

All too often our days are either neutral or focused on the stressful project due, the annoying customer, the late train etc. What was ignored is our resilience, the deep breaths we took to calm down, our safe journey home. There is always calm in the storm; you just have to look for it. If there’s only one thing you retain from this course, I recommend it be this.

Closing Thoughts On Yale’s Most Popular Wellbeing Class

As stated at the beginning, this list is non-exhaustive. I don’t want to spoil the most popular wellbeing class for you! The Science of Wellbeing Course provides many examples, studies, and strategies. The final 4 weeks will see you implementing just one healthy habit to your daily routine. It’s a great foundation to becoming more knowledgeable and intentional about what to do.

References

Lyubomirsky (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York, NY: Penguin Books. Page 44.

Medvec et al. (1995). When less is more: Counterfactual thinking and satisfaction among Olympic medalists. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 603–610.

von Soest et al. (2012). Predictors of cosmetic surgery and its effects on psychological factors and mental health: a population-based follow-up study among Norwegian females. Psychological Medicine, 42(3), 617-626.