NEW BEDFORD — The creator of the psychology course that topped the all-time enrollment list at Yale University returned Tuesday to the city where she was NBHS valedictorian and preached a little happiness to an overflow crowd at the Whaling Museum.

About 500 people packed into the auditorium and Jacobs Gallery to hear Dr. Laurie Santos present an abbreviated version of some of the highlights into her research into what makes people happy.

“I am going to give you things that you can do starting tonight,” she said.

She was introduced by a New Bedford High School classmate, Dr. Mike Rocha, as part of his New Bedford Wellness Initiative.

Santos said that when the course enrollment numbers came in, “it was a little surreal.” By now well over 100,000 students have taken her course in classrooms and online.

The concept for the course emerged when she took some time to walk the Yale campus and get a feeling what life is like for students. It is very different from seeing them in the classrooms, she said.

What she discovered was a troubling fact of life. That spurred her to “change the culture of stress at Yale,” a topic that has launched her in the public eye, with feature stories in major newspapers and television, in many different languages.

Santos took note of how hard students work and how stressed they are by the chance for admission. “The work doesn’t stop when you get there,” she said. The pressure, she said, is overwhelming. “That’s why I decided to teach a new course, positive psychology, and basing it on the science," which is where she sees hope.

“It’s the science of behavioral change, a totally new course for students at Yale.” She called it the “practice of the good life.” It requires a change of mindset, but it is possible to improve happiness more than people think, she said.

A large part of what she recommended in a 10-point presentation had to do with opening up time to spend with other people; connecting to people; and offering gratitude, even in the form of a hand-delivered written letter.

Money, said Santos, is far less likely to make a person happy than social interactions and human contact; those with social connections are much more likely to be happy.

An important component of boosting happiness is making sure to get enough sleep, no matter everything else going on in life, she emphasized.

A lot of that felt familiar with members of the audience.

Elizabeth Louro of Dartmouth said that many of the recommendations sound like common sense things that people know already.

Grace Folco of New Bedford said that while some of the suggestions are familiar, “Sometimes you have to hear it.”

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT