9 podcasts that may actually help you feel better about life
If you're feeling anxious and helpless, these podcasts just might rejuvenate and inspire you.
It is the great conundrum of our modern era that most of us feel, more than ever, both anxious about how much is going wrong and helpless about how to respond. We are inundated with bad news and an increasingly bleak picture of the future, but at a loss over how exactly to operate within the frightening chaos.
Within this context, the podcasts we listen to often broadly fall into one of two categories: informative ones that often only worsen this feeling of dread, or light-hearted shows meant to serve as escapism from the outside world. But there are also plenty of shows that can both inform and empower — from podcasts that gives us actionable ways to understand and fight climate change, to those that teach us about the science of our brain and give us tools to cultivate happiness, and the ones that remind us through simple-yet-powerful stories of what it means to connect as humans. The 9 podcasts ahead won’t cure all of your woes, but they are filled with stories and conversations meant to rejuvenate, inspire, and better you as a person.
If you’ve found your emotional and mental well-being increasingly encumbered by the latent dread of the ongoing climate crisis, a.k.a. eco-anxiety, How to Save a Planet is for you. It’s one of the rare places you can go to learn about what’s happening to the planet and feel more than just a flattening wave of anxiety. The podcast relies on climate scientists and experts to tell us inspiring and informative stories, while giving us the low-down on actionable ways to actually respond to climate change.
The brilliance and achievement of Heavyweight is in its smallness. The show is based around a simple premise: Its host, Jonathan Goldstein, helps people confront and correct various issues in their lives or past. Every episode tracks a different situation, and many start out remarkably banal — a man wants to figure out why the pretty girl asked him to prom 15 years ago; a woman wants to know why her family doesn’t involve her in their small outings. The process, though, of making amends and finding closure is often astoundingly affecting, each tale a reminder of the fragility and tenderness of human connection.
Gretchen Rubin calls herself a “moral essayist” whose life work has been dedicated to helping others find happiness. She pushes back on the labeling of her best-selling books as “self-help” and openly acknowledges that there are no simple, universal solutions to achieving happiness. Happier, which she co-hosts with her sister, is about sharing the practices, insights, and stories she’s found helpful in finding and maintaining happiness.
If something like Happier with Gretchen Rubin feels too woo-woo, don’t be scared off by this similarly named podcast. The Happiness Lab is deliberately oppositional to the qualities one might associate with self-help content. This podcast, hosted by cognitive scientist and Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos (and adapted from her highly influential course at Yale), focuses on the “science of happiness.” In the show, Santos unpacks studies, research, and stories about how our brain and human behavior can improve — and inhibit — our emotional health. For those who have taken her course and listened to her podcast, the data about the changes in their happiness levels is rather remarkable.
On Being, hosted by journalist, author, and National Humanities Medal recipient Krista Tippett, explores a wide range of topics, from spirituality to science to art. The Peabody Award-winning podcast features a Tippett speaks with a different guest each week in conversations that probe the larger questions of the human experience. Past guests have included Jane Goodall, Maya Angelou, and the Dalai Lama.
This relatively new podcast hosted by The Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan threads together numerous big questions in life, all of which fall under its sweeping title. Episodes explore difficult situations, like how to make a big career change, what it means to save (or not save) a marriage, and the difficulties of making new friendships in adulthood. The encouraging and thoughtful episodes can help guide you toward changing and becoming better, when such a notion never felt possible in the first place.
Renowned researcher and author Brené Brown first entered the mainstream with her highly popular Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” (currently sitting at some 59 million views on the site), from 2010. The focus of her podcast is deeply related to the theme of that influential talk and provides inspiring lessons on connection through her trademark mix of scholarly expertise (Brown has a doctorate in social work) and Southern warmth.
The TED Talk brand is synonymous with thought-provoking lectures, but this podcast adaptation provides more accessible bite-sized segments that pack a similar punch. Most episodes — which air every weekday — are barely over 10 minutes and cover a sweeping range of topics. The show offers a reprieve from the bleakness of daily news, while providing an informative and often energizing look into the future of the world and the way we live our lives.
The driving force behind the Good Life Project is a dauntingly broad question: What does it mean to live a good life? Guests representing a variety of disciplines and industries, from chefs and doctors to scientists and famous rock stars, visit the show each week for intimate conversations and moving life lessons. Like its central question, the show’s scope is expansive, but always offers meaningful insights into how you can engage in a purposeful existence.