A Yale professor with the most popular class in the Ivy League university’s history is coming to Ketchum to instill her wisdom on the keys to happiness. The lecture will be free and open to the public.

Laurie Santos will speak on “What Makes Humans Happy: Psychology and the Good Life,” as part of the St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation’s Speaker Series presentation focused on current health and well-being issues. According to a press release from St. Luke’s, Santos’ class was first offered in spring 2018 at Yale, and since then has become the most popular class at the university since its founding in 1701, with roughly a quarter of the student body enrolled in its first semester. Santos said that enthusiasm and popularity can be boiled down to a simple explanation.

“We’re feeling like happiness is elusive,” Santos said in an interview.

Santos, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University, said the idea for the class came as she increasingly saw “seeds of sadness” growing in her undergraduate students. Since 2009, Santos says depression in college students has nearly doubled. In fact, depression is on the rise not only in college students, but adolescents under the age of 18 as well.

According to the American Psychology Association—an organization composed of doctoral-level psychologists, the rate of people reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last year increased 52 percent in adolescents from 2005 to 2017. “This is the loneliness crisis,” Santos said.

Those statistics were seen on a daily basis in her students, with levels of mental health issues skyrocketing over the years. Her class, which is now available for free via Coursera—an online venue that offers free classes from universities across the country—gives simple tips that can be used daily to begin improving happiness.

Some of Santos’ tips for improving mental health include social connection, simple acts of kindness, plenty of exercise and sleep, and practicing mindfulness and gratitude. She said social connection is often the most forgotten ingredient.

“You have to put the work in to maintain social context,” she said.

For those suffering from severe social anxiety, Santos suggests taking baby steps, such as grabbing coffee with a close friend, rather than trying to be the life of the party at the next social gathering. While exercise and sufficient sleep have been linked to overall better physical health, Santos said, they are also vital to mental health, as is making time to take care of one’s body’s needs. Finally, Santos encourages people to take time out of their day for mindfulness and gratitude, whether that be a loving kindness meditation, or simply closing one’s eyes and being present in the moment.

Santos is scheduled to present more details on the psychology of creating “the good life,” on Tuesday at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum at 5:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m., and additional information can be found at slwrf.org.

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