Disclosure: Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Course Review: The Science of Happiness, offered by Berkeley on edX

“The Science of Happiness” teaches both the science and the practices to being a happier human & happens to be the first-offered MOOC in the field of positive psychology.

Review by Lura Sanborn. Took the course? Write your own review here.

I humbly bow to the awesome level of this course.


My husband tells me I am well-educated.  I would say mid-educated, with an undergrad from a state university (with a single year spent at one of the 7 sisters) and a masters from a small college that happens to rank as one of the best in class for my particular degree program (library science).  Other educational stuff?  A post-masters, for-credit course and a small handful of MOOCs (plus bushels of online training/webinars).

This course?  Blows then all out of the water.  The best I’ve ever had?  True story. 


Great design and great content.

Personal bias?

I hanker after psychology.  After finishing my masters and getting a real job, I took all the psych classes my local community college offered, just for fun.  (This was 10 years ago, in the time before MOOCs).  If you don’t share a need for that flavor, this may not be ‘it’ for you.


Short lectures by the two lead Profs both intro and conclude each week’s material.  The two leads also cover/explain some of the course content.  I grew to expect to see Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas 4-5 times a week (combined).  Perhaps even more exciting was the video content featuring thought leaders in the field, discussing their specific area of expertise (meditation, gratitude, vegus nerve, empathy, mindfulness).  Never before have I taken a course where the creators of primary source content, driving the field, were integrated into the course.  And there were so many experts!  My past experience has mostly consisted of reading content written by the field’s associated thought leaders, with an intro/explanation by my prof and likely class discussion about the article/content.  To have the thought-leaders themselves present their own content, in their own voice is something truly special (another argument for the unique power of digital education).

To have the thought-leaders themselves present their own content, in their own voice is something truly special  


Content was presented in an understandable way, with supporting documents handily listed/suggested.  Content was science based and then broken down into practical applications should students wish to implement ‘happiness practices’ into one’s daily life.

Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas

Science of Happiness

If this had been a small, in person class, I would have felt comfortable approaching either of them if/when needed. 

Both Dacher and Emilina have impressive educational and research backgrounds (finer details below).  In terms of teacher qualities, on screen they come across as knowledgeable and likable. If this had been a small, in person class, I would have felt comfortable approaching either of them if/when needed.  Several times over the years I have heard the phrase “Take professors, not classes.”  I would sign up for a class taught by both/either of these two instructors, should they chose to offer another course in the future.  Do they have the expertise?

Dacher Keltner, PhD, is the founder of the Greater Good Science Center, where he is currently co-director, and is a psychology Prof at UC Berkeley.  Much of his psychological research focuses on human emotion.  He has written multiple articles for the field as well as the book, Born to Be Good.   Want a taste?  Here is Dacher at TEDxBerkeley discussing emotion, status and morals.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, is the science director at the Greater Good Science Center, and the former Associate Director/Senior Scientist at Stanford’s counterpoint, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research.  Emiliana is known for work in the field of positive psychology including compassion and gratitude.

What is this Greater Good Science Center?  The Greater Good Science Center is located at UC Berkeley.  From their “about” page: “…we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.”  The Science of Happiness course is a class-based representation of this research and practical happiness application.

Workload and Assessment

The first iteration of this class (the version I took, Fall 2014) was spaced out over 10 weeks. This included 8 weeks worth of content. Mid-way a ‘free’ week (with no new content) held just the mid-term. The concluding week 10, was a brief wrap-up video/email as well as the final. The current version of the course, running Dec. 1, 2014 through May 31, 2015, is entirely self-paced. All work must be completed by the May 31st deadline. (Maybe I’ll see you there? I liked the course so much I’ve volunteered to be a ‘community TA’ in the discussion forums, Feb. 2015-May 2015). What is the workload? To watch all the weekly videos, complete the weekly quizzes, try the week’s happiness practice and skim a few of the suggested readings, I would plan on reserving 5-7 hours per week for the course. Depending on how much you want to review, weeks with exams (mid-term and a final) may require fewer hours. Beyond voluntary participation in the discussion boards, there is no writing, or other formal project.

Did it change your life?

Impactful?  Yes!  Certainly it changed my daily routines 

Impactful?  Yes!  Certainly it changed my daily routines.  My family now mediates each evening.  I try to remember to pull from my brain several times a day something I am grateful for, or take a moment to savor something I feel gratitude for (mint tea, hot shower, sunshine, electricity, my phone, not having a cold) and also try to gently ask my first-grade son, at the end of his day, what existed today that he feels gratitude for.  I also try to practice self-compassion, and again, encourage self-compassion in my son.  (Could it really be more important then self-esteem?  Science feels it.)  Did it make me a happier person?  I don’t have any scientific measures to demonstrate this.  My happiness baseline is generally on the comparatively high side (my colleagues have more then once referred to me as Pollyanna).  Anecdotally, my husband has said I seem a bit less tweaked about delivering high performance at work since beginning the nightly meditations two months ago.  More happy, is my guess, with a side of reduced tension.

Any complaints?

I didn’t find the discussion boards useful.  Comments on the boards were usually self-reflective and brief.  Also, there were so many comments! I would open a thread, read those 5 top-most comments, then close out the board and run away, too overwhelmed to read further.  Perhaps that’s why I didn’t type even one comment myself?

One other thing.  There seemed to be a bit of what felt like plugging of content.  Like on YouTube, when the channel owner now has their own makeup/clothing/fitness beverage line?  What was plugged?  Books by the lecturers, seminars affiliated with the science center that produced the course, workshops affiliated with the center and guest lecturers.  It wasn’t overt or distracting from the course, but I did get the feeling that I was being sold to, a bit.  There was a helpful plug (in the course wind-up email) for a course on a different platform being offered by one of the guest lecturers.  This plug worked.  I have signed up for Postive Psychology over on Coursera and am looking forward to the start of class in early February.

If the zombies erased your memory of the course content but not your overall sense of the experience of the course, would you take it again?

Absolutely!  I’d sign up today.


Comments 2

  1. Vimal Chopra

    When is the next course being offered and its duration. Course dates for 2016 ?

  2. Lucia

    Is this course not offered for self paced? When is the next one?


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. All comments go through moderation, so your comment won't display immediately.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Browse our catalog

Discover thousands of free online courses from top universities around the world like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard.

Browse all subjects