University of Bristol to offer happiness lessons that count towards degrees after spate of suicides

Students will practise sleeping more and meditating as part of course 

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 10 May 2019 15:31 BST
Complaints: the university has been criticised for inaction
Complaints: the university has been criticised for inaction

A university which came under fire following a spate of suicides will offer students lessons in happiness that will count towards their degrees.

The University of Bristol is offering the 12-week course to students from all university disciplines from next year, which will count towards 20 of their 120 credit points for their first year.

It comes after 12 students at the Russell Group university died over the past three years, a number of which have been confirmed as suicides.

The course, to be taught by Professor Bruce Hood, a psychologist who researches how the brain works and how humans think, will explore what happiness is and how to achieve it.

Last year 400 students signed up to a pilot happiness course at the university, which did not result in academic credit, as part of the university’s efforts to improving wellbeing and pastoral care.

Professor Hood said: “We’re really excited that the university has got behind the Science of Happiness course.

“We’re anticipating hundreds of students taking it, right across the spectrum from not just psychology but every area of interest – engineering, chemistry, medicine and so on.”

He added: “This course will be built and established on what we’ve already learnt in the first year but of course we’re going to monitor the students much more closely because it’s for credit. They can’t take an easy option – they’ve really got to put in the effort and engage.”

The voluntary course was originally introduced amid growing concerns about student mental health.

Last year, Bristol students demonstrated to call for more support and services for young people with mental health issues at the university.

Under the new course starting in September, students will attend a one-hour lecture each week as well as attending a “happiness hub” with their peers.

Lectures will address a series of issues, including whether happiness is in the genes and if it can really be changed, how our minds distort happiness and the role of culture in happiness.

Students will be asked to select one of seven happiness exercises to practise for a week, then assess the effect it has on them. This will be discussed at the weekly happiness hub meetings.

The exercises include sleeping more, meditating, taking time to savour enjoyment, expressing gratitude for people and things, and practising random acts of kindness.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

The move follows Yale University’s Psychology and the Good Life classes – which one in four students signed up for. An online version of the course has been accessed by tens of thousands.

Professor Laurie Santos, who taught the Yale classes, said: “The anecdotal reports were amazing.

“I get emails from students saying the class changed their life or changed their trajectory – for example, they took a different job after college because of what they learned.”

Professor Hood and Professor Santos are due to give a free public lecture in Bristol called Science of Happiness and The Good Life on Friday evening.

”When you commit to making yourself happier, when you put these practices into place, it can really change your life,” Professor Santos said.

Additional reporting by PA

Support from the Samaritans is available 24/7 by calling 116 123, or via

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in