The University of Bristol has become the first UK higher education institution to launch a course in happiness, designed to teach students science-based strategies for a more fulfilling life.
Bristol’s 10-week optional Science of Happiness programme 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 will draw on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience to help students get to the root of what happiness is and how to achieve it, as well as equipping them with practical techniques which they can apply in their everyday lives.
Classes will cover core issues such as whether happiness is in people’s genes and whether it can be changed; the role of culture in happiness; how to pursue experience rather than possessions; and how to “reset” happiness levels.
Students will also be asked to practise an exercise each week, which could include offering random acts of kindness, increasing physical activity, or sleeping and meditating more.
The course responds to concern over a fivefold increase in the proportion of UK students disclosing a mental health condition to their university, and specific concerns around student suicides at Bristol. In the past two years, 11 students at the institution are believed to have killed themselves.
Course leader Bruce Hood said that, while most people felt that “the path to happiness is success in jobs, salaries, material possessions, and relationships”, these goals did not necessarily guarantee happiness and “the relentless pursuit of these may actually contribute to unhappiness”.
“The course is aimed at all students and not just those who might identify as having challenges with their well-being,” he said.
“Ultimately, the aim of this course is to give students a greater understanding of what happiness is and how the human mind often sabotages happiness. Greater awareness among the student body will equip students to pre-empt and improve the mental health of themselves and others.”
Meanwhile, 94 per cent of students at Bristol have opted in to a new policy that allows staff to contact their parents or guardians if they are thought to be struggling.