Course Notes: The “science” of Well-being

I completed half the course in a day in an onset of curiosity and impatience (my worst but most fruitful personality traits) – it’s a great overview, providing what it should: a gateway, guidance and a thorough overview of the field. I did recommend it to many of my friends, as a solid crash course on well-being, but I do have some issues with it.

For one thing, not acknowledging the US-based cultural approach, which I feel is obligatory in an international course. As an example, random acts of kindness are presented are a good way to hone compassion, or chatting with a stranger as a way to feel any social connection. For my cultural enviroment, and yes this is just anecdotal but it is my lived experience, this is untrue – we are fulfilled by solid and healthy in-depth close relationships with friends and the like, while superficial connection makes us feel more isolated. Plus, many young people (target group of the course) these days suffer from social anxiety, which makes both recommendations impossibly stressful. Purposeful help in the immediate community is also important, while random acts of kindness may be seen as ultimately self-serving. Both are known cultural divergence between Europe and the US. But no Studies or Research about this are presented (maybe I will look some up and add them if I find the time).

How much can we really control and gamify? I was frustrated with the book “Reality is Broken” when I read it ages ago for the same reasons (the message was “enable social connection by babying people with gamified frameworks” rather than “empower people to develop better social skills”) because in my experience – and this may also be a cultural difference – a real emotional connection cannot be gamified, and to some extent shouldn’t. I’m not sure that chatting up strangers on a subway or doing random acts of kindness, especially if not heartfelt, is the right way to go.

I am stricken by how many aspects of “good practice” such as gratitude, meditation, taking breaks etc. are a core part of many religions – an interesting side note, yes, but speaking of religion: I disagree with the approach of science-is-an-absolute dogmas in the course – or in any case, the way certain things are presented as absolutes, such as cosmetic surgery or weight loss as having no impact on overall happiness, which from personal experience I can say does hugely on many counts, and am again sure there would be research to prove it.

Bottom line is, if you’re going to make a course for *everyone*, especially about well-being and personal health concerns, you absolutely have to acknowledge not only cultural, but also personal differences and needs. Just presenting things critically would have been enough – even though the rest of the lectures later address these topics (hedonic adaptation, miswanting, poor self-assestment, resilience), I would still have liked short “keep in mind though…”s.