Editor’s Picks

This MOOC Teaches the Science and Practice of Happiness

By Henry Kronk
January 05, 2018

Manny learners enroll in a massive online open course (MOOC) to advance their career or sate a particularly pressing thirst for knowledge. But what about a course to make you happy?

“The Science of Happiness” offered by edX through UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center seeks to do just that.

While it is based significantly in psychology and neuroscience, this course by no means follow the group therapy model nor does it send learners into the weeds with inaccessible and advanced science.

Professors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas lead the course. Keltner founded the Greater Good Science Center and currently serves as its co-director. Simon-Thomas is also a professor at the center and has conducted extensive work in the field of positive psychology on the topics of altruism and compassion.

Enrollees will learn in a very directed way what makes you happy. According to the professors, three main factors contribute to one’s happiness: genetics, lifestyle, and daily circumstances. Based on a large body of research, MOOC’s professors estimate genetics contribute a full half of the equation of how happy a given human is. Circumstance, however, which is often cited as a major contributor to unhappiness, accounts for only 10% of what makes someone happy or sad. Daily activity, including diet, exercise, relationships, and outlook, contributes 40% of what makes us happy or unhappy.

Much of the course, therefore, is dedicated to this last category and how to optimize happiness through it.

The Practice of Happiness

“Imagine that scientists have created a happiness machine,” says Professor Keltner in a promotional video, “a machine that could make you as happy as you like with the push of a button. Would you use it? Would you push that button? I’ve asked that question to my students for years, and most of them say no. Most of them want to find true happiness on their own in a genuine way.”

In addition to the research-based curriculum, the MOOC will also direct students through weekly exercises intended to build a routine to keep learners happy and be able to continue beneficial practices throughout life.

The professors will be joined by guest lecturers such as Barbara Fredrickson, Paul Ekman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. While this course might appeal to professionals and students in any field, it can also count toward various health and science degrees.

The course is a true MOOC: it is free of charge and will progress synchronously over the course of eight weeks. The time to enroll is now—the next session begins on January 9th.

What Learners Say

The MOOC currently boasts a 4.5 out of 5 star rating based on 31 reviews on Class Central. One anonymous reviewer writes simply, “After I took this course, I became a different person. I learnt how to be mindful, accept myself. It really works. This is one of the best courses online.”

Answering with an alternative perspective, another reviewer writes, “this is definitely a ‘touchy-feely’ course that uses weekly happiness surveys and encourages keeping a journal to measure your own happiness.”

According to author and learner Lura Sanborn, who wrote an in-depth review of the course, each week includes several short lectures compared to hour-long sessions. The amount of expert guest lecturers is also a huge bonus: “My past experience [with MOOCs] has mostly consisted of reading content written by the field’s associated thought leaders, with an intro/explanation by my prof and likely class discussion about the article/content. To have the thought-leaders themselves present their own content, in their own voice is something truly special.”

Still not convinced? Check out Professor Keltner’s Tedx Talk: