If the pre-covid-19 mental health scenario worldwide was already a cause for grave concern, the collective grief, anxiety and isolation of covid presages a serious mental health disaster. Even as we ask why education has not fortified our mental well-being, and why it doesn’t feature in any education curriculum, we can derive important, life-defining lessons from world-renowned psychologists and thinkers to unscramble the meaning of life. All these top-notch courses, provided by reputed Ivy League colleges, are either free or on audit (auditing allows a student to take a class without a grade or credit), via online learning platforms. Dive in.
The Science of Well-Being, Yale University via Coursera Help
Taught by: Professor Laurie Santos
A cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University, Santos is also director of Yale’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory, while her podcast, The Happiness Lab, has been downloaded 35 million times.
The most comprehensive of all the courses available online for free, it has a wealth of information on experiments and research from the world over gleaned from studies by leading psychologists to decode the science of well-being. Santos started this course after seeing a sense of discontentment and stress Yale students were experiencing, and has become the most popular course in Yale’s history—over 3 million people have signed up for it.
Weekly exercises and daily activities create a road map to declutter what we think we know and use strategies to create positive affirmative behaviour. Santos teaches gratitude, savouring, social connections, and time affluence to help one identify goals and rewire years of negative actions.
Free, English, 10 weeks, average class of two hours or more or do it at your own pace. Paid certificate available.
The Path to Happiness: What Chinese Philosophy Teaches us about the Good Life, Harvard University via EDx
Taught by: Michael Puett
The Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Anthropology at Harvard University, Puett teaches lessons we can imbibe from Chinese philosophies and apply them in contemporary living. In this 13-week programme, adapted from one of the most popular classes at Harvard, Puett takes a deep dive into tools of self-awareness and understanding the power of ritual. The course makes you understand philosophical precepts, and how they fit into your world, thinking and eventually “your doing.” The biggest lesson comes from “a reflection diary,” a personal notebook that helps one document each thought and action, week after week.
Free online course (audit), English, 13 weeks, 1-2 hours a week or self-paced. Paid certificate available.
Managing Emotions in Times of Uncertainty & Stress, Yale University via Coursera Help
Taught by: Marc Brackett
The founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University, Brackett teaches one to grade emotions, step away, observe, and realise their origins. This course, which has lessons specifically designed for the post-pandemic world, explores SEL (social and emotional learning), why emotions matter and how they can help and hinder attention, decision-making, relationships, health and performance. The first half of the course is designed to support a more advanced emotional vocabulary, and health and wellness through evidence-based strategies.
Free online course (audit), English, 8 weeks with 9 hours’ worth of material. Paid certificate available.
Buddhism and Modern Psychology, Princeton University via Coursera Help
Taught by: Robert Wright
Wright, a visiting professor of religion, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Meaningoflife.tv, teaches how Buddhist thought intersects with modern psychology. For those interested in unscrambling the meaning of life and the self, this course answers many questions, such as ‘can meditation make us not just happier, but better people?’ Wright speaks of experimental evidence that “the thing we think of as the self or the conscious me, the thing that we think as the one running the show, may not be running as much of the show. We may be attributing more power to it than it really deserves.” You may need to gently wrap your head around these principles, which have shaped evolutionary psychology, moral psychology and neuroscience.
Free online course (audit), English, 6 weeks, 15 hours’ worth of material
Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera Help
Taught by: Connie Scanga
Scanga, a professor of nursing, is on point when she takes you through vital signs to understand what the body might be telling you, be it through your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, respiration rate, or pain. The premise of the six-part course is to help one understand the body and its signs, which lead to a deeper understanding of both physical and mental health. Each week, the course takes students through one vital sign through pre-recorded videos, discussing normal ranges, normal variants, and the mechanisms that underlie changes in the objective measurement of vital signs.
Free online course, English, 6 weeks with approximately 14 hours’ worth of material. Certificate available.
Health Behavior Change: From Evidence to Action, Yale University via Coursera Help
Taught by: Marney White
White, Associate Professor of Public Health at the Yale School of Public Health, is a clinical psychologist specialising in eating and weight disorders.
Humans often fail to make rational decisions which affect health. To increase the understanding of the social and behavioural factors that contribute to health decisions and behaviours, the ultimate goal is to improve public health. Originally a full graduate school course, it has now been designed for the short format. Giving you an insight into behaviourism, prompting and stimulus control, you begin to understand human response. Prof White highlights how to boost positive behaviour, especially in children, like a token system, or the Premack principle in one class.
Through a set of experiential learning exercises, students learn to apply the science of health behaviour to change their lives. The course offers insights into importance of physical activity and its benefits, and how to increase and retain physical activity levels or the need for intervention in case of physical inactivity. The strategies offered can help teachers, parents and individuals. A session on nutrition and mental health helps one be proactive in setting goals.
Free online course (Audit), English, 8 weeks long, 15 hours worth material. Paid Certificate Available
Positive Psychology Specialization Project: Design Your Life for Well-being, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera Help
Taught by: Martin E.P. Seligman
Seligman is credited as the father of positive psychology and its efforts to scientifically explore human potential. What if you were to apply your behaviour to a set of personal strengths? Wouldn’t that be a game changer to achieving your goals? This course teaches you through examples, research-based strategies and affirmative action. How does one break patterns to create lasting change in one’s life? The first step, Dr Martin EP Seligman says, is to identify the areas in life that need more work.
There are four earlier courses on the Foundations of Positive Psychology specialisation that are suggested before this course, however, this one brings all the key concepts. Practice as you develop and test a new positive intervention for an audience of your choice. The idea is to identify opportunities in life to increase wellbeing by using this knowledge.
Dr Seligman’s Authentic Happiness.org, which he established, expounds his teaching, with initiatives on positive psychology. Dr Seligman offers tools to evaluate the efficacy of a positive intervention based on subjective and objective measures. You can compare how empirical and non-empirically based positive interventions can be applied to influence a person's life. Yes, some of us are better at some things, is the key message.
Free online course (Audit), English, Four weeks long, 12 hours’ worth of material. Paid Certificate Available
Most courses start in July, and can be signed up even after, and done at your own pace
Go to Coursera or EDx, link to Audit the course on individual course pages.
Some courses include assessment items (but no certificate) for free. Simply sign up for a full course, no certificate.
Some courses offer certificates for a minimal cost. Click on certificate to enhance the learning.