University launches happiness course for students

The University of Bristol has become the first to launch a happiness course for students in the UK, teaching strategies for a more fulfilling life.

The optional 10-week course, which starts on World Mental Health Day, draws on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience.

It explores what happiness is, how to achieve it and teaches tangible practices for students to apply in their everyday lives, the university says.

The science of happiness course comes amid growing concerns around the mental health and well-being of students.

Recently 94% of universities have experienced a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services.

The University of Bristol points out that the course is one part of the institution’s approaches to improving well-being and pastoral care.

Thousands of students have signed up to an opt-in scheme, agreeing for university staff to inform a designated parent, guardian or friend if there are serious concerns about their well-being.

Professor Judith Squires, pro vice-chancellor at the university, said: “We’re really excited to launch this new course, which is pioneering in the UK.

“We hope it will be hugely beneficial to our students, not just during their time at university but throughout their lives.

“It’s an example of how our own research can directly benefit the well-being of our community, equipping them with the personal skills to thrive and grow in an increasingly complex world.”

The course was inspired by Yale University’s successful psychology and good life course, which one in four students enrolled on.

It will be led by Professor Bruce Hood, who has carried out world-leading research into how the brain works.

Science of happiness begins by asking students to measure their own happiness levels and discover personal strengths, which will be developed and reflected throughout the course.

Classes will address a series of core issues such as whether happiness is in the genes and can really be changed, how our minds distort happiness and the role of culture in happiness.

Students will also consider how to pursue experience rather than possessions and learn how to reset their happiness levels.

They will be asked to select an exercise to put into practice for one week, then discuss the effect it has.

These exercises are: taking time to savour enjoyment, expressing gratitude for people and things, practising random acts of kindness, making social connections, increasing physical activity, sleeping more or meditating.

Prof Hood said: “We’re living in a climate where there are challenges to mental well-being, especially among younger generations.

“Most people think that the path to happiness is success in jobs, salaries, material possessions and relationships.

“While these goals are associated with happiness, they do not necessarily guarantee happiness and indeed, 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.

“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 amongst the student body will equip students to pre-empt and improve the mental health of themselves and others.”

University, HealthWeb editor