This Sunday’s New York times featured a terrific article about an exciting and popular new class offered at Yale University, “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness.”
‘Psychology and the Good Life’ taught by Yale professor Laurie Santos, “tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life,” according to the article by David Shimer. The course was so well received, it had to be moved to a larger location to accommodate the crowds or registrants.
Santos fights the mischaracterization of what many assume will be a fluff course. She surmises that Yale students ‘reprioritized’ their own happiness in high school to attain ivy league acceptance. Hmmmm. And while that seems like a typical response to this millennial generation, she also thinks hers is the “hardest class at Yale.”
Really? Happiness is the toughest course at Yale?
She goes on to explain that the social pressures of taking a course with friends that calls students to be held accountable for their actions and their habits is truly unique and challenging.
My entire college experience was that course.
Though I studied music performance in my undergrad, I did so at a small, liberal arts college that encouraged proficiency across all aspects of academia. Music theory, performance studies, and aural skills may have been the focus of my degree, but the cornerstone of my education lay in the core curriculum and understanding of art, literature, religion and the sciences.
Though a liberal arts education isn’t for everyone, I found the value of my focused degree in the variable academia across campus. And, perhaps because it was a smaller college, my ‘general studies’ professors always encouraged my featured major in their individual concentrations.
I recall being in a literature course where my professor called me to study, in depth, the texts of the music I had been studying. Cracking into Voltaire as I studied Bernstein’s Candide, and discovering the text of Shubert’s Winterreise. But it went beyond these obvious illustrations.
During my sophomore year, my roommate was killed in a van accident. He was one of three friends who lost their lives while on our university choir tour. It was difficult for all of us, but I took it especially hard. My older, resident-director roommate had become a mentor to me, and I looked up to him.
With him gone, I expected I would be alone. I was wrong.
Instead, I found a campus (what seemed like an entire campus) that was now stepping in, ready to support me in my college career: professors, students, staff. The entire community was there to support me and help me cross the finish line– well.
Because of this tragedy, I assumed it was all for me. I assumed these fine people were investing in me because I had experienced some great tragedy. I am happy to say the was not the case.
My conversations with other graduates of my fine college tell a virtually identical story of their experience: professors inviting them to their homes for family dinners; one-on-one meetings to discuss life and all its complexities; and random phone calls to “check-in” on them. Apparently, our professors had collectively decided to ‘not give up’ on us.
Perhaps this happens at every college. Perhaps not.
My undergraduate experience was an eye-opening, challenging, stretching venture into the world of who I would become. I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the men and women who devoted their lives to their knowledge and skill and craft, and chose to invest in my life.
And, while I may have never taken a course entitled ‘Happiness,‘ I feel as if my undergraduate experience did provide such an experience.