Bristol professor creates ten-week course to show how science can make you happier

‘I wanted to tackle the problem before it starts to reach crisis levels’

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The University of Bristol is initiating a new course, open to all students, exploring the idea that science can help you become happier.

Beginning on World Mental Health Day (10/10/2018), The Science of Happiness will run every Wednesday afternoon for ten weeks. Students are able to register for the course through Blackboard.

Coordinated by Professor Bruce Hood, the course aims to inform participants about "what psychological science teaches us about how to be happier, how to feel less stressed, and how to flourish more."

We conducted a Q&A with Professor Hood to find out what the course really entails.

The course will run on every Wednesday for ten weeks

What do you hope students can take away from the course?

"Students will learn that being happy not only feels good but is good – for well-being, health, productivity, relationships, success, and society at large."

"They will also learn that what they think will make them happy may not deliver what they anticipate. Finally, they will discover why happiness can be so difficult to achieve."

"But this is more than just a lecture course. There are exercises, homework and regular meet-ups to put these ideas into practice."

Students have already taken to the streets demanding better wellbeing services at the university

Why is the introduction of this course necessary at this moment in time?
The transition to university has long been problematic for students. Before they even arrive at Bristol, students are registering high levels of mental health issues, indicating that the problem starts much earlier."

"In my opinion, the obsession with outcome performance measures has created a system that generates anxiety, helplessness and unrealistic expectations in students transitioning to the independent learning environment of higher education."

"When you compound that problem with student debt, societal pressures and feelings of inadequacy, amplified by social media, then is it any wonder why people are experiencing unhappiness?"

Society's obsession with outcome performance has contributed to students' experiences with stress

Whilst this course may be very worth while, is there not a risk that it will be perceived as a PR stunt on the part of the university- an attempt to look like they are taking steps for mental health when actually they could be investing heavily into this area?

"The recent tragedies at Bristol have upset everyone at the university. I felt I had to do something because it was all that my colleagues and I were talking about. So this was my initiative and I assure you that it’s not a stunt."

"I was inspired by a former student of mine, Laurie Santos who introduced a similar course at Yale which has become a phenomenon. Twenty-five per cent of their first years signed up for the course making it the most popular in the history of Yale."

"As you are probably aware, the University has invested heavily in student wellbeing in the last year but from my perspective, I wanted to tackle the problem before it starts to reach crisis levels."

The course was influenced by a similar scheme introduced at Yale

"This raises two important points. The problem is international and not restricted to Bristol. Second, these US students shoulder much larger levels of debt compared to the UK so it can’t simply be student debt that is causing the problem."

"You may not realise this but most students with mental health problems don’t seek help so it is not clear how to solve the problem by throwing more money at it."

"But if we can change perceptions, change expectations, communicate the idea that we are a community, then I hope we can make a difference together."

"Call me an optimist but as someone teaching the science of happiness, I have good reason to be so."