This semester, for the second year in a row, I did not gain admission into any “Life Worth Living” section. The class, which uses both religious and nonreligious texts to explore what makes a life well-lived, seeks to actively engage students in discussions of morality and purpose. Although disappointed, I am even more frustrated by the lack of courses offered by Yale on similar topics. When so many students seem to feel directionless and are looking to explore questions of happiness and meaning, why are there caps and applications for the few classes that delve into these topics?
During my time at Yale, I have found myself questioning many of the things that brought me fulfilment in high school, namely my tendency to base my well-being and self-worth on my academic and athletic achievements. Like my cohorts, I spent most of my time and effort in high school focused on college admission. It was only once I got here that I realized the path to a fulfilling life was much less clear and was something I would need to define on my own terms.
I know that many Yalies experience something similar, which is encouraging. College is a time when many are confronted with new and conflicting ideas, but it is also the perfect time to ask life’s bigger questions. We have a valuable opportunity to take a step back from society, explore what is important to us, and actively decide how we will best pursue it, instead of primarily acting on external validation. However, this journey is made so much more fruitful with the discussion and direction of a more rigorous academic setting, as opposed to informal, late-night conversations in suite common rooms.
As we can see this semester, undergraduates at Yale no doubt share my thinking: With over 1200 students, “Psychology and the Good Life” is the most popular class in the history of Yale College. The class examines what makes us happy through psychological studies. Certainly, some of the interest in the class is because students expect it to be a gut, but I believe a good part is because other classes, like Life Worth Living, are in short supply. Similarly, a class on modern spirituality and life fulfillment, “Spiritual But Not Religious,” saw course demand almost double, from 43 students last year to 81 this year. No matter the approach to examining the question of happiness, the topic seems at the forefront of many Yalies’ minds.
Many students who are fortunate enough to gain entry into these classes find them rewarding, but these classes are seldom offered consistently, if at all. All of the reviews of Life Worth Living rate the class as either very good or excellent. A friend who took David Brooks’ seminar on the importance of commitment last spring found it to be the most formative class she has taken at Yale. His course isn’t being offered this semester. “Psychology and the Good Life” is only being offered once.
Why are there not more classes on living well, and why are the ones that are offered only available to successful applicants? As Yalies, we’ve already pushed ourselves to clear the entrance barrier to this school, so why for a class about finding purpose do we have to compete with other students and friends, competition which is ironically not good for our collective well-being? It is problematic that only some students are deemed “qualified” enough to learn about finding meaning in life. Furthermore, it disadvantages students who are just beginning to think about these questions and may be unable to articulate an outstanding application. That’s a shame because I believe these students have the most to contribute and gain from these courses. Classes on fulfillment, meaning and good living are critical for a thorough education and should be available to all Yale students, without the need to jump through the hoops of an arbitrary application committee.
Although my time at Yale is almost over, I hope all future students will have the opportunity to ponder fulfillment, meaning and the art of good living. I don’t think it’s too much to ask from this incredible university we call home.
Cameron Stanish is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .