The science of happiness

A woman in red waves from a porch with balloons.
Rosemary Nevils waves from the porch of her St. Paul, Minn., home as cars of friends and family drive past wishing her a happy birthday on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News

For Mental Health Awareness Month in May, and MPR's "Call to Mind" initiative:

A program about "The Science of Happiness" from the Commonwealth Club of California.

Two psychologists discuss how adults and children can deal with negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it is difficult to cultivate happiness in face of societal structural problems, Dacher Keltner says it’s important to “experience awe.” Awe is everywhere around us, he says. “It’s part of our everyday life and we need to return to it.”

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Out social connection is our “defining human characteristic,” and social connections are greatly challenged right now. But they are more important than ever, he says.

Moderator Marina Tolou-Shams added, “we need physical distance, not social distance.”

Mindfulness and calm breathing can actually help your immune system, Keltner said.

Spiritual practice is important for a lot of people, he added. Spirituality and religion are an additional source of connection.

  • Dr. Dacher Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

  • Dr. Marina Tolou-Shams is a licensed clinical psychologist and a psychiatry professor at the University of California San Francisco.

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.