Santos study highlights the benefits of virtual wellness classes

A recent study co-authored by Laurie Santos and University of Bristol professors examined the benefits of the online Science of Happiness course.

staff reporter

Zoe Berg, photo editor

Online psychoeducational courses can support student well-being during the pandemic and beyond, according to a recent study by psychology professor Laurie Santos and other experts.

The recent study, conducted by Santos and three University of Bristol contributors – Catherine Hobbs, Sarah Jelbert and Bruce Hood – found that taking creditable online happiness courses can have a protective effect on students’ mental health. The study, published on February 16, looked at the impact of the virtual Science of Happiness course on University of Bristol students compared to a waitlisted control group. The online course was modeled after Santos’ popular Psychology and the Good Life course offered at Yale. Using various self-reports – including well-being, perceptions of academic achievement, positive expectations and interest, engagement, feedback, and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – the researchers examined the benefits and limitations of their online happiness course.

“​​As a result of taking the course, students were able to maintain their mental well-being during lockdown compared to a game control group who experienced a significant decline in mental well-being as well as increased anxiety,” Bruce Hood, University of Bristol Professor of Developmental Psychology in society, wrote to the News. “This suggests that the course can build resilience during tough times.”

Due to the pandemic, interest in online courses has increased significantly.

The study is considered by its authors to be one of the first to test the effectiveness of online courses in improving well-being in a university-level academic course setting.

“There is now a real interest in whether you see the same benefits of online courses compared to face-to-face courses,” said Sarah Jelbert, lecturer at the University of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science.

Researchers wanted to investigate whether online courses are capable of meeting the goals of existing in-person options.

The article explained that many universities use a “reactive, individualized approach” to mental health treatment, which typically takes the form of mental health services and treatments. However, courses such as The Science of Happiness online program are designed to provide students with tools to better understand their own mental health and take steps to prevent it from deteriorating.

“The goal of such classes is to teach students strategies to improve their well-being,” Santos wrote to the News. “Courses like this are not intended to be a substitute for therapy or mental health counseling, but are complementary in the sense that they provide students with concrete, evidence-based skills they can use to improve their resilience and thrive that can help them Students manage the stress of college life.”

Santos also recently appeared in The New York Times Magazine to talk about her work, drawing in particular on her students’ understanding of happiness and their experiences with “psychology and the good life.”

In addition to her course, which has become very popular at Yale, Santos also has a podcast called The Happiness Lab, which currently has over 35 million downloads.

“It’s humbling that so many people have resonated with the course I developed here at Yale and the resulting podcast,” Santos wrote. “It has also been amazing to see so many universities around the world starting to teach similar courses to their students, especially as we are beginning to see evidence that courses like these can actually improve student resilience.”

Given the positive reception to the work of Santos and her co-authors at the University of Bristol, the researchers have expressed an interest in continuing to explore ways to improve courses and to identify the factors that make students most likely to benefit from the course.

Staff have also expressed an interest in expanding the course offering beyond Yale and the University of Bristol.

“What we really want to do is take these findings and apply them to get more universities onboard with this idea of ​​embedding teaching about happiness in the curriculum,” Jelbert said.

As of February 9, a total of 477 Yale College students were enrolled in Santos’ Psychology and the Good Life.


Gavin Guerrette reports on faculty grants and breakthroughs. He is a freshman at Branford College with a liberal arts major.

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