I run when I need to clear my mind. The pandemic has been good to me in only one way—it has increased my running and, with it, my time alone for uninterrupted thinking. Left to its own devices, though, my brain can run itself ragged hopping down one unproductive rabbit hole of worry after another. To help, I’ve been filling my runs with podcasts that make me happy, or at least help me think about things differently.
I started this journey with Jill Lepore’s The Last Archive. Lepore is an archivists’ dream—she is a lover of facts, of records, and of uncovering and telling good stories. “Who killed truth?” is the premise of The Last Archive. Spoiler alert—there is plenty of blame to go around, but the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Oveta Culp Hobby, deserves a good deal of credit for creating one of today’s biggest messes—wide-scale resistance to government mandated vaccinations. If you want to know more about Hobby (and grow to resent her as much as I do), try searching for her in OneSearch.
The Last Archive is distributed by Pushkin Industries. Leaving aside wide-scale Polar Bear resentment of Malcolm Gladwell—some of us still haven’t forgiven him for his “Food Fight” podcast that took aim at Bowdoin Dining—I do appreciate Pushkin, which Gladwell co-founded. They seem to have an uncanny ability to produce and distribute podcasts that fit the bill for me—digestible, accessible, smart, and inspiring.
My go-to podcast throughout the pandemic has been Dr. Laurie Santos’s The Happiness Lab. Santos is a Yale professor of Psychology whose class “Psychology and the Good Life” and its adaptation “The Science of Well-Being” for Coursera have smashed enrollment records, and “changed the lives of thousands of people.” Santos unpacks the science around happiness, and, through personal stories and cutting-edge scientific research, helps her listeners understand we might be looking for happiness in all the wrong places. As a habitual glass-half-empty-er, I’m not sure listening to her podcast has actually made me happier. However, what I can say is that its lessons about reframing challenges have proved indispensable for navigating the pandemic and all the chaos it has wrought. Whenever my running brain wanders to sad places these days, I pull up Santos’s series on Happiness Lessons of the Ancients to listen one more time to the stories of Buddha’s second arrow and of the Stoic gods who are challenging us all.