10 online courses that teach you how to be happier — most are free and taught by Ivy League universities

10 online courses that teach you how to be happier — most are free and taught by Ivy League universities

September 24, 2020

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  • Positive psychology is the study of happiness and meaning, and there are several courses you can take online to learn more about the topic.
  • Below, I've compiled a list of 10 courses from popular online learning platforms that are free or affordable to enroll in.
  • They teach students how to be happier using a blend of abstract and concrete ideas and research-backed habit building. Many of the courses are taught by Ivy League universities.
  • See more: Yale's most popular class ever is available free online — and the topic is how to be happier in your daily life

Positive psychology, or the study of meaning and happiness, is a unifying topic for humans at any point in the year. 

But, at present, while the world has shuttered to a standstill and millions of individuals have retreated into a separate but shared isolation, the pursuit of life satisfaction has become a greater point of interest than usual. For instance, an article I wrote last year about Laurie Santos' free course on "The Science of Well-Being" has, in the matter of a few weeks, been viewed millions of times and, according to YaleNews, seen about 600,000 new students. 

Below, you can find that exact course, and more affordable options like it, that will bring positive psychology to wherever you are in the world. 

Many of them come from top schools like Yale, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania, and are designed to turn abstract and concrete topics into actions you can take every day. And, since the field is relatively young, it's taught by some of its leading minds. Martin Seligman, who is "often regarded as the godfather of positive psychology" per Psychology Today, is an instructor of one of the courses. Laurie Santos, the professor who designed Yale's most popular course ever and The Science of Well-Being for online learning platform Coursera, has coined and conceptualized some of the most contemporary research in the field.

Most of the courses are free to audit, which typically means you'll have access to course materials but won't get your work graded or a certificate of completion. If you'd rather pay for the certificate or the full experience, prices range from $15 to $200 depending on the course and the learning platform.

10 affordable online classes that teach you how to be happier:

The Science of Happiness

Available on edX, free to audit

The Science of Happiness was reportedly the first massive open online course (known as a MOOC) to teach positive psychology.

Created by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, the class emphasizes the notion in positive psychology that happiness is linked to strong social connections and contributing to the greater good. Students will consider cross-disciplinary research supporting this view — from psychology and neuroscience to evolutionary biology and more. It will also include practical strategies and activities for boosting their own well-being.

The Science of Well-Being

Available on Coursera, free to audit

Professor Laurie Santos designed the course Psychology and the Good Life in response to concerning levels of student depression, anxiety, and stress in 2018. It became Yale's most popular class ever.

Santos turned it into an online course, called The Science of Well-Being, in order to share the subject with a wider audience. In it, Santos utilizes positive psychology and the real-life applications of behavioral science. The course debunks myths about what makes people happy and offers a series of challenges that are designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive daily habits. 

Foundations of Positive Psychology Specialization

Available on Coursera, included in 7-day free trial, $79 per month after trial

This is a specialization with five courses that introduce students to the foundations of positive psychology and key theories.

The courses include:

  • Martin E.P. Seligman's Visionary Science
  • Applications and Interventions with Dr. James Pawelski
  • Character, Grit and Research Methods with Dr. Angela Duckworth and Dr. Claire Robertson-Kraft
  • Resilience Skills with Dr. Karen Reivich
  • Positive Psychology Specialization Project

Positive Psychology Specialization Project: Design Your Life for Well-being

Available on Coursera, included in 7-day free trial, $79 per month after trial

This is a follow-up course to the first four in the "Foundations of Positive Psychology Specialization," that's led by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman. It's encouraged that you take the foundations course (the previous slide) first so you can build on its principles in this one.

In this specialization project, students will apply the key concepts learned in the first four courses, identify opportunities to apply them in their daily life, and evaluate the efficacy of your actions based on subjective and objective measures. 

Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills

Available on Coursera, included in 7-day free trial, $79 per month after trial

This positive psychology course revolves around resilience skills in your personal and professional life. Dr. Karen Reivich incorporates foundational research — including protective factors like mental agility and optimism — as well as different kinds of resilience interventions, like cognitive strategies and strategies to manage anxiety and increase positive emotions like gratitude. Students will also hear examples of individuals using resilience skills in their own lives.

The course has a few suggested prerequisites which you can find here.

Positive Psychology

Available on Coursera, free to audit

This course discusses key research findings in the positive psychology field and includes practical applications of the science to make daily life more meaningful. The syllabus includes topics like "Positive Emotions: The Tiny Engines of Positive Psychology" and "The Delicate Art of Pursuing Happiness." 

Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health

Available on Coursera, free to audit

In this course, students explore positive psychology's dual approach to mental health, building "strengths, supports, and healthy lifestyles as well as treating illness and distress."

Students will learn about different aspects of "good mental health" as well as an overview of mental disorders, their scientific causes, treatments, and how to seek help and support — ranging from exercise and relaxation techniques to psychiatric medications, psychotherapies, and the role of love and "good" types of work.

The course relies upon Australian experts in psychiatry, psychology, and mental health research as well as "lived experience experts" who have lived with mental illness and share their personal stories.

A Daily Success Routine: Transform Your Life 1 Day At A Time

Available on Skillshare, included in premium membership (first two months are $1)

This course focuses on a daily routine that's designed to connect your actions with how you perceive yourself and who you want to be. It's meant to be highly visual and come with printable "life maps" with main takeaways and actions to take, focusing on things like expressing gratitude and mastering reactions.

Positive Psychology Certification: Live Well and Work Well

Available on Udemy, $129.99

This course focuses on understanding character strengths, using tools to become happier and healthier, setting goals aimed at happiness, improving relationships, mindfulness, optimism, and overall well-being.

Read more: 6 places to take free and affordable classes online, on everything from programming to photography

The Foundations of Happiness at Work

Available on edX, free to audit

This course focuses on the personal, social, and professional advantages of happiness at work. Faculty from UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center (Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., and Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D.) take the fundamentals from their popular The Science of Happiness EdX class and tailor them to the modern workforce. 

Students will learn practical, research-backed strategies to boost happiness at work, how to identify barriers and pitfalls, and how to evaluate levels of happiness within an organization.

*This course is currently unavailable until February 1, 2021.

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