Surbhi Bharadwaj

Attend a campus tour and you will inevitably learn that Yalies love to do it all: They dance and sing, hack and build, travel and compete. You probably won’t learn, however, that Yale students love to stress out, too.

Last week, psychology professor Laurie Santos joked about giving students D’s during a meeting of “Psychology and the Good Life” — the class about living happily in which almost a quarter of Yale undergraduates are currently enrolled. The comment followed a lesson about how higher grades do not correlate with more happiness, a phenomenon backed by scientific studies. However, much to her surprise, later that day Santos received multiple emails and phone calls from concerned parents, students and college deans.

“There seems to be some confusion about the joke I made in class today, so I wanted to clarify,” Santos said later that day in an email to the class, which was soon converted into a Facebook meme. “It’s worth noting [that] what I thought was a simple joke about grades resulted in me receiving multiple emails from worried students, several concerned calls from student residential college deans, and a few very upset calls from parents. None of these calls were worried about what you were learning in class. They were just really, really worried about the possibility that you might receive a bad grade.”

As part of the joke she made in lecture, which referenced a “Matrix” meme on the Yale meme page on Facebook, Santos said she was running a big experiment on her students and would give them all D’s to determine whether receiving a bad grade would actually affect their happiness.

Although the comment prompted paranoia among many enrolled in the class, students interviewed by the News said that the joke was consistent with Santos’ usual jovial tone.

Harry Westbrook ’21, said he recognized that the comment was a joke, especially given that Santos’ slides usually include memes and comics.

Ayla Khan ’21, another student in the class, said the response to the joke shows just how important Santos’ class is in “a high-pressure environment …  where even jokes related to grades produce such intense anxiety.”

Santos told the News that the initial reaction to her joke may not seem out of place at an academically rigorous institution like Yale, where students strive to obtain perfect grades.

“However, as we have seen in class, good grades at the college level don’t lead to the kind of happiness or success that students predict,” she said.

Santos said there is a lot of work to be done before students realize that grades are not as important as they think. She hopes to ultimately show students that they don’t have to be as overworked and stressed about their report cards as they tend to be.

Perhaps after the class, some students will realize that “there is a different path,” Santos said. And that path, which involves focusing more on learning and growth rather than just fixating on grades, may lead to just as much success — and certainly more happiness.

For now, however, Yalies seem likely to stick to dancing, singing, hacking, building, traveling, competing and, of course, stressing.

A total of 1,147 students are currently enrolled in “Psychology and the Good Life,” making it the most popular course in Yale’s history.

Lorenzo Arvanitis |