Can you buy happiness? Learn it online, says ISB

Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on January 23, 2018

Raj Raghunathan

Six-week MOOC programme on Coursera sees nearly 60,000 enrolments

So, you want to be happy all the time? Buying that new car or new gadget hasn’t delighted you?

You could sign on then, like 57,000 others around the world have, for Raj Raghunathan’s six-week online course on happiness, available free on Coursera.

The course, based on a class offered both at the Indian School of Business and at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, developed by Prof Raghunathan (aka ‘Dr Happy-smarts’ — he says he lucked out in the happy department and ranks himself 8 on a happiness scale of 10!), draws content from a variety of fields, including psychology, neuroscience and behavioural decision theory, to “offer a tested and practical recipe for leading a life of happiness and fulfilment.”

Launched in June, the six-week MOOC (massive open online course) has already seen 80,147 visitors on the website and 57,019 enrolments. Raghunathan expects 10 per cent of those enrolled to finish the course every week.

So, evidently, there are a lot of unhappy people out there searching for the holy grail of happiness.

For joy in life

BusinessLine caught up with Raghunathan in his room at ISB, and asked him about the joyful sizzle on Coursera. “Yes, it’s gratifying to see it’s struck a chord,” said the happy prof, clad in shorts and a half-sleeved shirt.

The action plan

“A very big reason is that there are a lot of people in the world who know it as a matter of personally experienced truth — as opposed to knowing at a conceptual level — that wealth, status and other external symbols don’t necessarily add up to a fulfilling, happy life. In India, if you posed this question 30 years ago, people would say, ‘let me get there first’. But now that many people have money and status, they realise it really can’t buy happiness.”

The course, he said, is a light-hearted approach to happiness, though very vigorous.

“There’s a whole field of positive psychology, where there have been thousands of papers. I have synthesised a lot of material for this course,” he added.

The course will feature guest appearances by several well-known thought leaders, including Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational and the soon to be released Irrationally Yours), Ed Diener (a researcher often referred to as ‘Dr Happiness’), Barbara Fredrickson (author of Positivity and Love 2.0), Marshall Goldsmith (author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and Triggers) and Srikumar Rao (author of Are you ready to succeed? and Happiness at Work), among others.

Time frame

The course can be finished in two days, said Raghunathan. However, he recommends six weeks, as it takes that long to absorb the learnings.

“My focus is a very practical objective: give a good conceptual understanding of what it takes to lead a happy life and what are the common pitfalls or traps one can fall into and how they can avoid them; and give people a chance to develop their own action plan for a life of happiness and fulfilment.

“If people can form the habits recommended, and are diligent with lectures and exercises, then what I call ‘sins’ can be mitigated.

“And if that happens, you can have a deeper understanding of the science of happiness and be a happier person,” elaborated the prof.

(Can happiness be taught? Watch a video of Raj Raghunathan at

Published on August 14, 2015

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