Home » Blogs » Single at Heart » Yale’s Most Popular Course, Ever

Yale’s Most Popular Course, Ever

College students are stressed out these days.

People on campuses notice it and research confirms it. Recently, two college professors have gotten media attention for their attempts to help their students.

One of them, philosophy professor Kerry Cronin of Boston College, teaches a year-long course on great books. Her way of helping students deal with their anxiety and loneliness and what she saw as their cluelessness about romance was to add an extra credit assignment to the course. The assignment was to ask someone to go out on a date.

I think that’s appalling for all sorts of reasons, starting with the inappropriateness of positioning dating as worthy of academic credit — and in a great books course, no less.

The stigmatizing of people uninterested in dating is no small matter, either. What’s more, what this professor is doing may well be counterproductive. A study comparing single people who were or were not dating found that for the women, those who were dating were more stressed than those who were not.

At Yale, psychology professor Laurie Santos had a different idea. She drew from her expertise in the extensive, research-based field of happiness and meaningfulness, and created the course “Psychology and the Good Life.” With an enrollment of about 1,200 students, it is the largest course in Yale’s history. (Here’s why I’m not surprised that a psychology course would be the most popular course ever taught.)

Professor Santos did not just think to herself, “Hmm, I wonder what my students need. Maybe they should go on a date.” Instead, her lectures, discussions, and assignments were based on principles grounded in scientific research.

If you are a regular reader of the Psych Central blogs and other writings on the psychology of happiness and the good life, you can probably anticipate some of the course assignments. For example, in different weeks, students were assigned to:

  • Exercise regularly
  • For at least three of the days of the week, get at least seven hours of sleep
  • Reach out to a stranger (because “moods can improve from even a fleeting social interaction”)
  • Write letters of gratitude
  • Perform random acts of kindness

The positive psychology movement has been criticized, and sometimes appropriately so. But in college courses, it is far more appropriate to use evidenced-based approaches to helping your students lead happier, less-stressed, and more meaningful lives than to tell them to go on a date.

Photo by amelungc

Yale’s Most Popular Course, Ever

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2018). Yale’s Most Popular Course, Ever. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 1 Jun 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Jun 2018
Published on All rights reserved.