Free course: The Science of Happiness


Last fall I took a free online course, “The Science of Happiness,” facilitated and taught by leading authorities on positive psychology. I thought it would be enlightening and useful not only for work, but also for my life in general. I was not disappointed. It was an excellent course, well-conceived and clearly organized, with plenty of compelling content. I can recommend it enthusiastically to my readers.

After a successful rollout last fall, the course is now offered on a year-round basis through EdX. You may access it here.

The course is designed to “teach the ground-breaking science of positive psychology, which explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life.” The course intro further explains:

Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course will zero in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.

What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So students will learn many different research-tested practices that foster social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their happiness along the way.

The lead instructors for the course are Drs. Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas of the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley, and they appear frequently in short videos introducing segments of the course, summarizing material, and sharing their own expertise. They are very smart, down-to-earth, and likable. Short video lectures and articles from other experts are featured throughout the course. Quiz questions at the end of each unit, midterm and final exams, and optional homework exercises help to measure and expand your learning.

Although this is a non-credit course, it requires a fair amount of time each week, roughly 4-6 hours by my estimation. Although I finished the course and earned a certificate of completion, there were a few parts that I passed through rather quickly and am now returning to in order to get a more complete set of notes. However, it’s not necessary to complete the course in order to get something out of it; you can cherry pick your favorite units and leave it at that.

For a modest fee, you can earn a Verified Certificate that may enhance your resume. Health care professionals may be able to earn continuing education credits.

A note for skeptics: I would not have finished this course if it was all about superficial happy talk. This course gives us some tools for dealing with life’s ups and downs, and it is grounded in research and science. I found it to be a smart and insightful offering.


Related post

I wrote about a lesson I learned from the course in “Not-so-random acts of kindness for the non-saintly among us” (2015).

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