The “Psychology and the Good Life” professor and Good Life Center founder announced on Monday that she will take a one-year leave from Yale to address her own sense of overwork.
Laurie Santos is practicing what she preaches.
The head of Silliman College, whose tremendously popular course “Psychology and the Good Life” focuses on making decisions to meaningful feelings improve individual wellbeing, will take a one-year leave from Yale to address her own of burnout.
Santos will step away from her roles as psychology professor and Head of Silliman College on July 1, according to a Monday afternoon email she sent to the Silliman community. For the 2022-23 academic year, Arielle Baskin-Sommers, a Silliman faculty fellow, college adviser and a professor of psychology, will serve as acting Head of College.
“I teach my students about the importance of time affluence — feeling like you have some free time — and I simply wasn’t prioritizing that in my own life,” Santos told the News. “If one of my Sillimanders had told me that they were feeling as time famished as I have been these days, I would have demanded that they take something off their plate ASAP. It felt hypocritical not to follow the same advice myself, even though I know I’ll miss Silliman and all my students terribly while I’m away next year.”
Santos will continue serving as Head through the remainder of this academic year, and will return from her leave in May 2023 to celebrate the class of 2023’s commencement.
“Psychology and the Good Life” is the University’s most popular course in its over 300-year history. Santos also founded the Good Life Center in her time at Yale, a wellness space which she does not directly oversee and which will continue to operate in its Silliman College and Schwarzman Center locations.
Outside of Yale, Santos’ podcast, “The Happiness Lab,” has reached 65 million downloads, and she appeared last year in a campaign for Chanel.
In a Monday email to the Silliman community following Santos’ initial announcement, University President Peter Salovey and Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun wished Santos well on her leave and announced that Baskin-Sommers would step in as acting Head for the 2022-23 academic year .
“I am so excited about serving as the acting HoC in Silliman for the upcoming academic year,” Baskin-Sommers told the News. “I look forward to continuing the great work of HoC Santos and contributing to the vitality of the College.”
In a second email to Silliman students following the announcement that Baskin-Sommers would take over, Santos commended the choice, writing that she “honestly couldn’t imagine” someone better suited to take care of the Silliman community during her absence.
In the email announcing her departure, Santos explained that the biggest commitment she made to herself when she agreed to become Silliman head in 2016 was to serve as a role model for students in the Silliman community. Although Santos stressed the difficulty of her decision, she told the News that she knew the scientific signs of burnout too well not to recognize them in herself.
“Honestly, it’s a decision I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Santos said. “I actually approached President Salovey and Dean Chun at the end of the Fall 2019 semester about taking a leave during the following 2020-21 academic year. Which they approved at the time. But then March 2020 hit. And it no longer felt like the 2020-21 academic year was the right time to take a break from my responsibilities to the Silliman community.”
Now, Santos said, she feels ready to temporarily step away, emphasizing how important it is that she “practice what [she] preacher” as someone whose work focuses on the science of wellbeing.
The News spoke to five Silliman students, all of whom voiced their support for Santos’ decision.
“I was caught totally by surprise by the email, but I stand by her decision to do what she needs to do,” said Shandra Ahsan ’24, co-president of the Silliman Activities and Administration Council. “She spreads the message of self-care and self-compassion in her classes and her podcast, and she’s doing exactly what she tells her students and audience to do when they are feeling burnt out.”
Alex Williams ’25 also told the News that while he supported Santos’ decision, he would miss her during her time away.
Williams recalled how Santos greeted him by name the day he moved in, which immediately relieved his “inhibitions and anxieties” about leaving Tennessee for Connecticut.
“I do not think there is anything more honorable than knowing when the time has come to take a step back, delegate and then return when you are both ready and able to devote the necessary time and attention,” Williams said.
Francisco Gonzalez ’25, who is in Silliman and enrolled in Santos’ “Psychology and the Good Life” course this semester, told the News that it was “encouraging” to see Santos practice strategies she taught in class in her own life.
Gonzalez added that while he admired her decision, he felt sad that he would not be able to spend his sophomore year with Santos.
“Laurie Santos was definitely a big part of my Silliman experience — from the way she memorized all of our names for our move in day, to how accessible she made herself as we managed our first year,” Madelyn Dawson ’25 said. “But I think it is so admirable of her to prioritize her mental health and wellbeing and take the advice she constantly offered to us, and take the time she needs for herself. Silliman won’t be the same without her, but I am excited to get to know Dr. Arielle Baskin-Sommers.”
In her time away from Yale, Santos wrote in her email, she hopes to focus on the upcoming seasons of “The Happiness Lab,” continue to work on expanding the evidence-based wellbeing strategies she researches to low-income high school students and parents and launch a currently unannounced “media venture for promoting the science of happiness” on a larger scale.
While Santos intends to stay somewhat busy, she explained in her email that she hopes her projects while away from Yale will allow her enough free time for her to return to Yale revitalized in fall 2023.
“The science shows that taking a break from work when you need one can allow you to be more productive, more creative, and more available for the people you care about after you return,” Santos wrote in an email to the News. “I hope to bring all that renewed energy and creativity back into my role as Silliman HoC.”
Silliman Dean Leanna Barlow will stay on in her current position.