Psyc 157, Psychology and the Good Life… This is the name of a class offered at Yale University this spring semester that focuses on teaching students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life. A few days after registration opened, the course had 300 students signed up for the class. Three days later, the number of enrollees doubled. Three days after that, the number nearly doubled again to 1,182, which represents nearly one out of four Yale undergraduates and makes it the most popular course in Yale’s 316-year history.
With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.
– Dr. Laurie Santos
The course is being taught by Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology professor and the head of one of Yale’s residential colleges. Dr. Santos credits the classes popularity to the shared high school experience of many students at Yale. That is, during high school, many Yale undergraduates deprioritized happiness to gain admission to the prestigious university. Deprioritization manifested itself in harmful habits and mental health issues.
So what do the intellectual curiosities of Yale students have to do with employee wellness? For starters, these individuals (and many of the ones preceding them and currently working for employers across the country) represent a shifting dynamic that employers need to understand about their workforce. Happiness, both professionally and personally, is clearly a point of interest for younger generations in a way that is less apparent for older generations. Perhaps it is a result of the increasing number of individuals below the age of 40 with poor mental health. Regardless of why, employers looking to attract, retain, and empower these employees must create employee experiences that consider happiness and overall well-being into the equation. Similar to the Yale course, the solution starts with providing resources to help employees live happier lives. As a result, the workplace culture will improve similar to the way Dr. Santos expects Yale’s culture will.
Another observation worth noting is that three-fourths of the students at Yale and many students across the country will not benefit from this class but will still be subjected to the internal and external pressures to succeed. Although individuals want happiness, this desire often does not prevent them from deprioritizing a healthy lifestyle to get into a good school or secure a good job. This is why employers who seek high performing employees that want rather than need to come to work must invest in resources similar to the Yale course. They must provide employees with the tools to achieve happiness. If ignored, employee retention will be impacted as individuals search for companies that can meet their needs, and the employees that do stay will not deliver their best work. The culture also becomes toxic, making it harder for new employees (and the company) to succeed.