New Research Reveals That Happiness Can Be Learned

Happy Smiley Face Paper

A groundbreaking study from the University of Bristol has revealed that while it is possible to learn how to be happier through courses like the ‘Science of Happiness’, the improved well-being observed in students is only sustained with the ongoing practice of the learned habits, such as gratitude and meditation. The study, which is the first to track the long-term well-being of participants in a happiness course, emphasizes the need for continuous effort in applying positive psychology interventions.

A groundbreaking study has shown that while we can learn how to be happy, lasting benefits are only achieved through consistent practice.

The team behind the University of Bristol’s ‘Science of Happiness’ course had already discovered that teaching students the latest scientific studies on happiness created a marked improvement in their wellbeing.

But their latest study found that these wellbeing boosts are short-lived unless the evidence-informed habits learned on the course – such as gratitude, exercise, meditation, or journaling – are kept up over the long term.

Bruce Hood

Prof Bruce Hood. Credit: Prof Bruce Hood

Continuous Effort for Sustained Wellbeing

Senior author Prof Bruce Hood said: “It’s like going to the gym – we can’t expect to do one class and be fit forever. Just as with physical health, we have to continuously work on our mental health, otherwise, the improvements are temporary.”

Launched in 2018, the University of Bristol’s Science of Happiness course was the first of its kind in the UK. It involves no exams or coursework and teaches students what the latest peer-reviewed studies in psychology and neuroscience say really makes us happy.

Maintaining Wellbeing Post-Course

Students who took the course reported a 10 to 15% improvement in well-being. But only those who continued implementing the course learnings maintained that improved well-being when they were surveyed again two years on.

Published in the journal Higher Education, is the first to track the well-being of students on a happiness course long after they have left the course.

Prof Hood said: “This study shows that just doing a course – be that at the gym, a meditation retreat, or on an evidence-based happiness course like ours – is just the start: you must commit to using what you learn on a regular basis.

“Much of what we teach revolves around positive psychology interventions that divert your attention away from yourself, by helping others, being with friends, gratitude, or meditating.

“This is the opposite of the current ‘self-care’ doctrine, but countless studies have shown that getting out of our own heads helps gets us away from negative ruminations which can be the basis of so many mental health problems.”

Reference: “Long-term analysis of a psychoeducational course on university students’ mental well-being” by Catherine Hobbs, Sarah Jelbert, Laurie R. Santos and Bruce Hood, 8 March 2024, Higher Education.
DOI: 10.1007/s10734-024-01202-4

Prof Hood has distilled the Science of Happiness course into a new book, ‘The Science of Happiness: Seven Lessons for Living Well’ which reveals an evidence-informed roadmap to better wellbeing.

The other paper authors are fellow University of Bristol academics Catherine Hobbs and Sarah Jelbert, and Laurie R Santos, a Yale academic whose course inspired Bristol’s Science of Happiness course.

2 Comments on "New Research Reveals That Happiness Can Be Learned"

  1. Toby D Bowling | March 14, 2024 at 6:37 am | Reply

    You could tell the students that popping their toe knuckles will make them happier and achieve the same results. This is not science.

  2. Wynand V Staden | March 16, 2024 at 6:22 pm | Reply

    How do we know these people are actually happy and not just saying so? Like if I say and practice to be a living God every day, eventually I will believe I am a God. But I am not actually a God.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.