Dr. Laurie Santos Wants to Help Teens Be Happier


Dr. Laurie Santos — a psychology professor who teaches the most popular course in the history of Yale — has created a FREE course to help teenagers learn how to deal with stress and enjoy life.

by Lindsay López-Isa Lamken

Teen Mental Health

Do you ever feel really stressed out or overwhelmed? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a pretty common feeling, especially for teenagers in middle and high school; young people are reporting record levels of anxiety and depression.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a free and easy way that teens could learn ways to handle stress and be happier?  Well, now there IS!

Dr. Laurie Santos and The Science of Well-Being for Teens

Dr. Laurie Santos is a Professor of Psychology at Yale University who has dedicated her career to understanding what makes humans happy and how we can live more fulfilling lives. She is also the creator of “Psychology and the Good Life” — which is the most popular course in Yale’s history (!) — and hosts the podcast “The Happiness Lab.” Through her work, Dr. Santos has helped thousands of people improve their mental health and find greater happiness and well-being in their lives.

Now Dr. Santos has created a new version of her famous course specifically for teens. “The Science of Well-Being for Teens” is free on Coursera and focuses on the most common problems that teenagers face, like how to handle conflicts with family, deal with stress from school, and manage emotions. And it’s not just about feeling better in the moment; Dr. Santos believes that learning these strategies now can help you prevent mental health problems down the road when you’re in college or starting your career.

It’s like flossing for your mind!

And get this: Thousands of teens have already taken the course, and more are signing up every day. The best part is, again, it’s totally free and you can take it from anywhere. Plus, there are surveys throughout the course so you can tell Professor Santos and her team what you think and if the strategies are working for you.

How to Practice Good “Mental Hygiene”

We encourage you to sign up for “The Science of Well-Being for Teens” to get the full benefit of the course. In the meantime, here’s a quick overview of Dr. Santos’ top strategies for teen mental health.  In “The Science of Well-Being for Teens” course, you will learn how to:

 Get Ready to Roll with the Punches

  • Cherish happy moments and events that bring joy to your life
  • Use a “negative visualization” technique to be grateful for what you have

  Beware When You Compare

  • Follow a variety of social media accounts for more accurate reference points
  • Limit social comparisons by reducing screen time and focusing on your own growth

  Focus on What Matters

  • Keep your phone away when you need to concentrate on something important
  • Use phone settings that help you stay on track and avoid distractions
  • Use the “WWW” technique (what for, why now, and what else) when you pick up your phone

  Stay Connected

  • Talk to the people around you and invest time in maintaining your friendships
  • Join communities that align with your values and passions

  Spread Kindness

  • Give back by donating money, time, or possessions to those in need
  • Surprise others with random acts of kindness

  Find Your Flow

  • Challenge yourself with activities that require skill and get into a “flow” state
  • Ditch “fake fun” activities and focus on things that truly make you happy
  • Complete the “Fun Audit” to add more joy to your life

  Use Your Strengths

  • Apply your unique skills to your daily routine
  • Keep moving and get 20-30 minutes of exercise each day

  Healthy Habits for a Happier You

  • Make exercise fun by adding music or doing it with friends
  • Get 7+ hours of sleep each night to feel better and stay energized
  • Keep your phone away from your bed to promote better sleep hygiene

  Take Control of Your Time

  • Make time for things you enjoy by clearing your schedule
  • Use the “time confetti wish list” to find enjoyable things to do in short amounts of time

Appreciate What You Have

  • Find the good in tough situations and focus on the positive
  • Practice gratitude regularly by counting your blessings and saying thank you
  • Express your gratitude to the people who matter to you

  Be Mindful

  • Try out different meditation techniques and aim for 10 minutes each day
  • Savor the moment and be present in everything you do

  Silence Your Inner Critic

  • Be kind to yourself and treat yourself like you would a friend
  • Give yourself a mini-hug or use positive self-talk to build yourself up

  Gain Perspective

  • Use the second or third person when talking to yourself in high-pressure situations
  • Ask yourself “what would a wise person do?” when in doubt
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings to get a better understanding of what’s going on

  Change Your Mindset

  • Add the word “yet” to describe something you haven’t yet achieved to transform a fixed mindset into a growth mindset
  • Know that you can change for the better and build up positive traits

  Accept Your Emotions

  • Avoid suppressing negative feelings; accept and process them instead
  • Use the “R.A.I.N.” technique to help “Recognize, Accept, Investigate and Nurture” your emotions

  Keep Calm and Carry On:

  • Take care of your body and mind to avoid getting into hot emotional states
  • Make changes to your environment when you’re in a calm state to avoid bad decisions in the future

  Regulate Your Nervous System:

  • Practice deep breathing to calm your fight-or-flight response
  • Take 3 deep breaths in and out to soothe your nerves

Before You Go . . . Are You Interested in Psychology?

If you’re a teen (or know one!) who’s interested in psychology, take a minute and check out our free, searchable database of internships, programs, and competitions for middle and high school students, some of which are focused on psychology. In the search engine, just use the Focus filter and select “Psychology.” Happy hunting!