S2-EP15: Emiliana Simon-Thomas on the Science of Happiness in Times of Crisis

Apr 17, 2020


Debbie Weil and Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director of UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, talk about happiness and gratitude, resilience and connectedness, simplifying your day, and how to cope in this unprecedented time.



Debbie Weil talks to Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, PhD, the science director of UC-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. This was a conversation the two arranged many weeks before the pandemic. It turned out to be perfectly timed.

The center studies the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being and teaches skills to foster a resilient and compassionate society. Kind of what we need right now as millions of Americans grapple with the realities of life defined by social distancing and with the economic repercussions.

Emiliana is co-instructor, with Dacher Keltner, of the center’s The Science of Happiness course which has been taken by over half a million students. It’s an eight-week online program which explores the roots of a happy, meaningful life by studying positive psychology and by learning how to create stronger social ties and contribute to  something bigger than yourself. In other words, the greater good.

Debbie and Emiliana discuss happiness – what it means and what it is not. Hint: it is not pleasure or enjoyment. They talk about how happiness is different from gratitude and how we can cultivate a calm mind during a time of extreme uncertainty like the one we’re living in. Emiliana shares with us what she does to stay grounded (mindfulness during her daily shower is key). And offers practical tips for more compassionate communication either while Zooming for work or connecting remotely with family and friends.


What they talked about:

  • Simplifying your daily To Do list by reframing it into three categories (set a reachable goal, find joy, call a friend)
  • Tips on how to work, teach and learn remotely (the importance of eye contact and taking time to ensure that emails are not ambiguous)
  • Slowing down as a way to be more intentional
  • To gain a feeling of control: focus on small things that are certain and for which you have agency


Mentioned in the episode or useful


Support this podcast:


Connect with us:

Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."