Can You Teach Someone to Be Happy? Yale does…

Recently the New York Times ran an article titled Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever Teaches Students How to be Happy. More than 25% of undergrads have signed up for the class this semester.

From the article:

The course focuses both on positive psychology – the characteristics that allow humans to flourish… and behavioral change, or how to live by those lessons in real life. 

It teaches habits such as procrastinating less and being grateful. Titled Psychology and the Good Life, this course has me wondering: Isn’t this really a course in “self-management?”

What is Self-Management?

Self-management is the capacity and ability to assess and manage one’s reaction to situations and people.  It is very akin to EQ or Emotional Intelligence.  Self-management leads to higher levels of overall happiness (in both personal and business life) and less anxiety, stress and depression – all things that this Yale course purports to teach.

In 1999 Peter Drucker wrote an extensive Harvard Business Review article titled Managing Oneself. He saw self-management as critical to success at work. In the article he asks the reader to consider questions such as What are my values? What are my strengths? How do I prefer to work?

There is no magical formula for happiness – as I presume the Yale students are looking for – but rather a process for managing how one approaches life and its events. Can the process be taught? I think so. It’s part of our Thinking Curriculum in a big way. It starts with self-assessments in order to gain insight in to the things that Drucker spoke of. Once someone has an objective self-awareness they can begin to build skills in the types of things that lead to better self-management, such as communication skills, appreciating differences, accepting feedback and more. Better self-management then leads to better relationships, more confidence, and leadership ability.

It’s an Important Topic 

The structure of organizations has changed dramatically in the last few decades. The ratio of manager-to-worker has shrunk, virtual workers exist in fields you wouldn’t even think possible, and individual autonomy has increased.  It is predicted that these changes will continue and that more “organizational” decisions will be made by teams (rather than top-down) and that “leadership” will be an expectation of everyone – which means self-management skills will be critical in all roles in an organization.

Call it happiness, the good life, or self-management – it’s a necessary skill that all businesspeople must possess.