Podcast of the week: The Science of Happiness

You’ll be glad you took the time to listen to this helpful and interesting podcast

I usually avoid self-improvement or self-help podcasts, partially because I’m a bit cynical, and partially because I find listening to people rhapsodise about unlocking the secrets of a better life quite difficult.

However, this week I decided to give a few episodes of The Science of Happiness a shot. A new year implies a great deal of cultural pressure to resolve to better yourself somehow, and somehow in keeping with this, I listened to four episodes of this podcast on New Year's Day. I'm glad I did: not because I feel it equipped me to improve myself in any capacity, more because it gave me some perspective on how to be slightly more gentle with myself, how to observe the world a bit differently. Most episodes are delightfully short: my favourite kind of podcast is one that takes between 15 and 20 minutes to listen to. The Science of Happiness is concise in this way – it is structured very neatly.

Wholeheartedly recommend

Every episode begins with a short introduction to the scientific theory or happiness the episode will explore – for example, Three Good Things or Three Funny Things, which are the two episodes I wholeheartedly recommend. Next, an interview and some documentary from a “guinea pig” who will undertake an experiment in happiness. These are personal narratives, but they’re also very practical, showing clearly how these experiments work and are applicable in people’s day-to-day lives. At the end of the episodes, there is a brief exploration of the research that supports the worth of the exercise. The show doesn’t get muddled with pseudoscientific jargon, everything presented is done so in a way that feels authentic and sincere.

Nobody is suggesting that any of the mindfulness exercises or meditations towards more positive thinking are going to permanently cure depression, which comes as a relief. The doctors and psychiatrists involved in making the show are very respectful with regards to how they talk about happiness: almost tentatively, in fact.


Happy creatures

There is no expectation here that we are organically happy creatures and that to not be happy is in some capacity a failure. The host, Dacher Keltner, is effectively presenting research-based suggestions for the listener – and the guests, the guinea pigs, range from army psychiatrists to novelists to actors. I found Daniel Wu’s episode about connecting to your body particularly interesting, and really helpful.

So here, at the beginning of 2019, I would recommend listening to the very first episode: Three Good Things. The premise is simple: the episode explores the practicality of taking time every single day to take written note of three good things, in as much detail as you can. It broke through my cynicism quite quickly: it is such a frank, clear exploration of this exercise. Tonally, The Science of Happiness hits exactly the right note, and I'm really glad I took the time to listen to it, and to reframe how I see my place in the world a little bit. It feels like a good place to start a new year.