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University of Bristol first in UK to launch ‘Science of Happiness’ course

The University of Bristol has become the first UK university to launch a ‘Science of Happiness’ course, designed to teach students a set of science-based strategies for living a more fulfilling life.

Starting today, on World Mental Health Day [10 October], the course draws on the latest results in psychology and neuroscience to get to the root of what happiness is and how to achieve it, as well as teaching tangible practices which students can apply in their everyday lives.

It comes amid growing concerns around the mental health and wellbeing of students, with 94 per cent of universities experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services (IPPR Report – Sept 2017). The course is one part of Bristol’s wider approach to improving wellbeing and pastoral care across the University.

Bristol’s new course was inspired by Yale University’s highly-successful ‘Psychology and Good Life’ course – the most popular in its history, with one in four students enrolling.

Science of Happiness is a 10-week optional course which starts by asking students to measure their own happiness levels and discover personal strengths which will then be developed and reflected upon as the course plays out.

It’s being led by eminent psychologist Professor Bruce Hood, who has carried out world-leading research into how the brain works and how human’s think. Professor Hood previously gave the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, “Meet Your Brain” and promises to deliver an engaging and interactive course

He said: “We’re living in a climate where there are challenges to mental wellbeing, 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 wellbeing.

“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.”

Classes address a series of core issues such as whether happiness is in the genes and can really be changed, how our minds distort happiness, the role of culture in happiness, pursuing experience rather than possessions and how to reset happiness levels.

Alongside the theory, students will also learn a variety of exercises to practice and reflect on how these effect happiness-levels through weekly Happiness Hubs.

Students will be asked to select an exercise to put into practice for a whole week, choosing from: 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.

Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Judith Squires 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 wellbeing of our community, equipping them with the personal skills to thrive and grow in an increasingly complex world.

“This course is linked to our Bristol Futures initiative, which offers a range of courses and events to support our students’ wellbeing.

“We look forward to hearing students’ feedback on the course and to working in partnership with our students to develop it further in future years to help them flourish.”

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