Several years ago Yale started offering a class on how to be happier. It quickly became the university’s most popular course ever and then a viral sensation online. Which goes to show people's incredible, pent up desire to live happier, more fulfilling lives.
But if you want to do that, you probably shouldn’t stop at Yale’s class (which has since been made available free to the public). You should probably check out NYU’s most popular course ever too.
It’s taught by psychiatrists Megan Poe and Francesco Ferrari and it’s so popular that it tripled in size in just two years, becoming a university phenomenon. It’s called "Love Actually" and, you guessed it, it’s about all aspects of human love.
At first that might sound like just a nice way to improve your romantic relationships or take a break from organic chemistry. But according to Poe and a whole lot of research, love, in all its forms, is way more fundamental to our lives than we sometimes care to admit.
After all, when Harvard scientists tracked 268 grads for more than 75 years to figure out the essential ingredients of a good life, they came back with reams of data and plenty of suggestions, but only one essential conclusion. In the words of the study’s founder: "Happiness is love. Full stop."
But don’t get the idea that this all comes back to partnering up and getting married. A successful marriage is a huge happiness (and success) booster for many people, but Poe and her fellow lecturers hve a much broader definition of "love" in mind.
In the class "we look at parent-infant love; friendship; self-love; love of things (our passions); love between a mentor and a student or the kind of love that can exist in therapy - a kind of loving, holding environment that allows the person to self-actualise," she tells the UK Guardian. "A big part of the class is expanding students’ ideas of what love is."
"Love is an art."
Besides this message that there are many forms of love and they’re all powerful, holding together not just couples but communities, societies, and even your own sense of self, what’s the biggest takeaway from the class? Simply that love is not just something you feel, but something you practice, something you do.
The class "presents this idea that love is an art and that like any art form you can practice getting better at it over time. It sort of debunks the romantic idea of love as something we acquire and shows it instead as a faculty we can develop - as a verb rather than a noun," Poe explains.
She’s not the only expert making the point that our view of love as some lightning bolt from the universe (or our hormones) can be restricting and unhelpful. Divorce lawyers who’ve had a front row view of which couples make it and which don’t for decades make the same point: love is a verb, a daily practice of choosing how you view situations and handle other people. You get better at it with thought and effort. Also, as a happy side effect, you’ll probably also become happier and more effective in your life too.
4 books to read
How do you get better at love? Taking Poe’s course would be a good place to start, but sadly as of yet you have to be an NYU student to do that. All we have so far is a list of books related to love Poe mentions she assigns in the course. It’s a start:
Or , for a deeper dive into her thinking, checking out the in-depth presentation she gave on the course below: