Bristol happiness course ‘improves student well-being’

Review of UK’s first university course on happiness reveals ‘positive impact’, even during Covid-19

March 24, 2021
Smiley faces drawn on toes
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Students who completed a university course on happiness were found to have “markedly better mental health” than their peers who did not take the programme, according to a study.

In 2018, the University of Bristol became the first UK higher education institution to launch a course in happiness, designed to teach students science-based strategies for a more fulfilling life.

The first results from the initiative suggest that the 10-week programme paid off: three cohorts of students who took the Science of Happiness course had significantly increased well-being compared with control groups, suggesting that learning about happiness might be a good way of achieving it. The course even had a positive impact on students’ mental health during the pandemic.

The optional course, which has been taken by almost 1,000 students, was created in response to a rise in student mental health problems across the UK and was inspired by Yale University’s Psychology and the Good Life class, which quickly became the most popular course in the US college’s history.

Bristol’s version sought to combine research with practical advice, using the latest peer-reviewed studies in psychology and neuroscience to educate students about what is scientifically proven to make us happier.

THE Campus resource: Boosting student resilience and well-being

Bruce Hood, professor of developmental psychology in society at Bristol, who runs the course and co-authored the paper, said he “knew the students would enjoy the lectures as the content is so fascinating, but I was truly astounded to discover the positive impact on their mental well-being”.

“Initially, I thought all the benefits of the course would be washed away by the stress of the pandemic and the lack of social interaction. This definitely happened to other students, but those who took the online version of the course still benefited even though the lectures and happiness hubs were virtual,” he said.

“This study proves that learning about happiness can improve your mental well-being.”

The programme is the only Bristol course that gives credits towards a student’s degree but does not involve any exams or coursework. Instead, students gain credit for their engagement in weekly activities and “happiness hubs” led by senior student mentors. They must also complete a final group project.

Sarah Purdy, Bristol’s pro vice-chancellor for student experience, said offering students a course that was not examined or graded was “a recognition that equipping students with the skills they need to stay mentally resilient is at least as important as giving them the knowledge they need for their future careers”.

“It’s hugely gratifying to see that this approach has worked. Not only are students feeling better while at university, but they will take what they have learned with them on the next step in their journeys,” she said.

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