A pocket collection for your wellness journey, curated by the team behind “The Science of Happiness” podcast
Want to live a more fulfilling life? The internet is full of advice. But finding research-backed advice can get tricky.
It’s there that The Science of Happiness podcast comes in. Co-produced by PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the popular podcast explores science-based strategies for cultivating a happier life. His new series, Happiness Breakguides listeners through a practice they can follow for a few minutes during their day.
Podcast host and psychologist Dacher Keltner curates pocket playlists in hopes of encouraging listeners to dig deeper into topics like fear of failure, gratitude and optimism. We talked to him about what motivated the Happiness Breakwhy he thinks wellness audio content has become so popular and how he’s making time for his own playlist.
For people unfamiliar with your award-winning podcast, The Science of Happiness, Can you tell us a bit about your work and how you got into the audio space?
In education The Science of Happinesse in college and other settings for 25 years, it has become very clear to us here at UC Berkeley just how hungry people are for actionable knowledge about meaningful living. One of the best ways to dive into this knowledge is through conversation. This is how people have learned happiness for millennia – simply by telling stories, listening, and being with other people. And so The Science of Happiness the podcast was born out of that sense – which is if we bring really interesting and diverse voices to our show who are of different ages and have different perspectives, and they experience a practice supported by the research, and that we supplement this with the latest scientific data – listeners will be really interested.
How the new series Happiness Break come into being and how does it differ from The science of happiness? Can you give a quick overview of what listeners can expect?
I was brought to teach The Science of Happinesss to resident doctors at a hospital, where there is usually a lot of stress due to the pandemic. This young resident said to me, “You know, I love it, but I only have a few minutes a day. I’d like something that I could just hear on my phone as I walk to my next patient.
This idea kept coming back to the producers of The Science of Happiness and myself. People are on the move. They have these little moments in the day: maybe they’re waiting to pick up their kids, or waiting for someone for a meeting, or just sitting outside. They would like this content, but they would like it to be quick or brief. So we decided to create the Happiness Break, [which guides listeners to] practice for a few minutes. It’s tailor-made for our busy lives, and it delivers what we’ve been offering for The Science of Happiness podcast in a quick and usable form.
There’s a great list of guest hosts in this new series! With so many fantastic wellness experts and strategists, how did you select them?
We certainly have our list of trusted voices – people like Kristin Neff, who pioneered the literature on self-compassion – but what’s true of The Science of Happiness podcast, have we really tried to diversify our offerings to include other cultural traditions [relevant to more meaningful living]. We also draw on practices and insights on how we find optimistic pathways in the climate crisis. We hope to broaden the appreciation of listeners’ happiness in this way.
Wellness-focused podcasts and audio apps have become hugely popular in recent years. Why do you think there is such an appetite for audio advice around wellness?
Some of the oldest questions you find in written records, in spiritual and ethical traditions, in novels, paintings and music are: What does it mean to be alive? How can I find meaning? How can I find happiness? It is a deep human interest, to find happiness.
The audio space, applications, podcasts and courses are based on this human tendency. They are adapted in many ways to our specific cultural moment. There may be a young person exercising and wanting to listen to something, or commuting, or looking for 20 minutes during a lunch break to get out and find some meaning. The podcasts, apps, and courses you find really match those interests. I also think they have been helpful to people during the pandemic and these difficult times.
There’s a lot of background research and preparation that goes into producing each episode, and you’ve included articles you and your team have read in the Pocket collection you’ve created for Happiness break. What kind of insights can listeners expect from this collection?
One of the things we hope to cultivate is a deeper search for knowledge about the topics we cover, such as gratitude, fear, kindness, and stress management. So we’ve curated little pockets of information that guide our listeners on this journey.
So if we cover immersion in nature, they will learn more from the articles on the benefits of being in nature. And then there are links to other podcasts we respect and personal stories from people who show listeners what we built our podcast on. We are convinced, like great predecessors like William James, that personal stories can say as much about a phenomenon like happiness as any scientific discovery.
With happy break, listeners have the opportunity to be guided through research-based strategies for a happier, more meaningful life. As a psychologist, why do you think it’s important to explain the science and research behind why these practices actually work?
I think there are several reasons for this. The first reason is that people love science and they love finding interesting studies and twists on how one might study something like forgiveness or apologies.
The second reason is related to trust. There’s a lot about wellness and a lot of it is of mixed utility, so science is one way to trust things, at least to some listeners in our world.
The third reason is that the right kind of science informs you about the process of a phenomenon. For example, when you discover the science related to how immersion in nature affects your physiology, you will know that it has a direct effect on your vagus nerve and certain activation patterns in your cortex. This discovery helps give you insight, like, “Wow, when I was walking around the Rose Garden, the sights, colors, sounds, and scents just made me feel better about the world.” Science gives you a lens to understand this.
What articles and videos are in your pocket waiting to be read/watched right now?
I catch up on long reads [mentioned] in the podcasts that move me. There will be half an hour of like, “I really want to read what’s happening in the January 6 hearings,” and half an hour of my reading of what I like. The New Yorker is interesting because even the detective and political stories, they’re so well written, it’s a treat.
At Pocket, we help people find time and space to dig into the stories that matter. Where and when do you catch up on long reads and podcast episodes that interest you?
I think one of the interesting things for listeners to think about is, “How can we fit these elements into our busy lives and into the rhythms of our day?” I check things in the morning, as my coffee starts to take effect, and before I’m ready to work hard on writing or research. And then I also do it at night, before I go to sleep. I really encourage our listeners to find a few times in the day when it becomes a regular part of the rhythm of their day.
10 years of fascinating reading
From the best article of each year to how Pocket readers predicted the future, these collections are sure to pique your interest.