Bristol University's Science of Happiness course shown to improve students' mental health

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By Sophie Downes, News Reporter

A paper published last week has confirmed the success of the University's Science of Happiness course in bettering the mental wellbeing of the students who took it.

The Science of Happiness course was introduced by the University of Bristol in 2018 in response to concerns about student wellbeing.

The recent research paper tested whether the psychoeducational course improved well-being in three cohorts. The results have showed that three cohorts of students ended the course with markedly better mental health than control groups assessed.

The course is the only one offered by the University that gives credits toward a student’s degree but does not involve any exams or coursework. Instead, students gain credit for their engagement in a final group project as well as practical tasks such as talking to a stranger, exercising and performing an act of kindness.

Students are also expected to learn about the psychology and neuroscience behind happiness as well as keeping a weekly journal to reflect on their own wellbeing throughout the course.

Nearly 1,000 University of Bristol students have so far taken the Science of Happiness course.

Over three months, students are taught what studies show about their own brains, proving some things which might have always been suspected and overturning myths that hold people back from happiness.

‘If you are struggling or need a helping hand – please get in touch,’ says PVC Sarah Purdy

Sarah Purdy, the University of Bristol’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Student Experience, said: ‘Offering students a course that was not examined or graded was a new approach for us.

‘It was a recognition that equipping students with the skills they need to stay mentally resilient is at least as important as giving them the knowledge they need for their future careers.

‘It’s hugely gratifying to see that this approach has worked. Not only are students feeling better while at university, but they will take what they have learned with them on the next step in their journeys.

‘In addition to preventative approaches like the Science of Happiness, over the past five years the University has transformed its wellbeing services and now offers a wide array of services including counselling, self-help resources, face-to-face specialist support, therapeutic groups, online support communities and several student-led groups.’

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Professor Bruce Hood, who runs the course and co-authored the paper, said: ‘I knew the students would enjoy the lectures as the content is so fascinating, but I was truly astounded to discover the positive impact on their mental well-being.

‘Initially, I thought all the benefits of the course would be washed away by the stress of the pandemic and the lack of social interaction. This definitely happened to other students, but those who took the online version of the course still benefitted even though the lectures and happiness hubs were virtual.

‘This study proves that learning about happiness can improve your mental well-being.’

Last year, the Science of Happiness course was turned into a successful BBC podcast, the Happiness Half Hour.

Featured Image: Epigram / Imogen Horton


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