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.