This Stanford-led online course teaches you science-backed ways to live your best life for $29

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  • “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” is a popular four-hour CreativeLive class.
  • Experts and Stanford instructors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans use design theory to teach you how to build an enjoyable life.
  • I took the course, and it’s more like an interactive TED talk than an academic course, with thoughtful questions and exercises that made me feel less anxious about the future. 

How do we build a life that we genuinely enjoy living? How do we look into the opaque and immense future — with its seemingly limitless options — and decide where we should go next, especially in the middle of a pandemic? 

According to Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, two design theory experts from Stanford, these are questions that everyone asks at every age and stage of life. And they don’t go away.  

Accepting that we never stop building the road while we’re driving on it is one of the main takeaways from the duo’s bestselling CreativeLive online course, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (based on their popular book of the same name). As Evans explains in the course, we make a life decision — be it around kids, career, relationships — and we live in that “chunk” of our life for a bit, before moving on to another.

But how do we decide where to go? How do we make sure that, after all this, we feel happy with our choices? And how do we transfer what we know about ourselves into worthwhile career trajectories, opportunities, and values? 

Burnett, Executive Director of Stanford’s Design Program, and Dave Evans, co-founder of both Electric Arts and the Stanford Life Design Lab, propose that we use design theory to figure our lives out. Design theory, a methodology that takes a human-centered, psychology-focused approach to designing products and services,  can help us build a life that works for us individually. We just need the tools (and to ditch our unhelpful assumptions about ourselves).

There are short, built-in exercises to the videos that allow you to apply the concepts you’re learning to your own life. You’ll see some of the audience discussing their findings.CreativeLiveThis feels much less like a full-fledged course and more like a small-scale TED talk. The way the class is structured into short videos make the concepts more memorable and the pace feels effortless; I always wanted to keep watching.

It also does a good job of combining introducing new concepts and giving you actionable ways to apply them to your life ASAP.

It reminded me of other useful, life-building courses I’ve taken. “Designing Your Life ” utilizes positive psychology, so a lot of the concepts show up in Professor Laurie Santos’ bestselling course on happiness, The Science of Well-Being — like naming and deconstructing “dysfunctional beliefs” about our happiness and replacing them with science-backed habits. 

The cons

Design thinking is action-biased, which is why this recorded class is interactive. But, you won’t be able to participate as actively or pose your own questions as the live audience did.

However, that can also be a boon; there’s a lower barrier of entry to a course that you get to be a fly-on-the-wall for. You can get the experience of learning from a community without being put on the spot yourself. 

You can also work on it with others — roommates, friends, family — by streaming it together or via Zoom. 

The bottom line

Evans and Burnett are, unsurprisingly, engaging speakers. The class feels fast-paced, and there were rarely moments where I wished they’d trimmed more fat for the sake of time. 

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life helped me build some direction for the next “chunk” of my life — but, more importantly, it gave me tools that I can use to address the next time I find myself feeling stuck in life. Plus, it challenged and entertained me, and was shorter than other courses I’ve enjoyed in the past.

All in all, it was a highly impactful use of four hours of my life. It’s hard to contemplate something like the future if you believe it to be an insurmountable problem that you have no clue where to begin in solving. This course allowed me to face the next five years without the shame or existential dread that can impede upon the process, simply because I respected and thereby trusted the methodology. 

I’d recommend it to anyone looking for tools to answer the daunting, neverending question of: What next? 

Taught by two Stanford design theory experts, this four-hour course addresses how a person can build an enjoyable, meaningful life using design theory. Students listen to a recorded live lecture, participate in thoughtful prompts, and gain scientifically backed tools to address their future.

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