Exercise 1

A. Listen. Circle the statement that Sam’s grandmother would agree with.

a   Don’t waste time on the small things in life.

b   Human beings are often cruel.

c   Spend your life traveling.

d   Focus on the good things in your life.

B. Listen again. Answer the questions.

 What was unusual about Sam’s grandmother’s attitude toward life?

 What did his grandmother never lose?

 What advice from his grandmother is Sam likely to use in the future?





1   She saw a lot of death and destruction, but she maintained a positive attitude toward life.

2   her compassion and her belief in the goodness of others

3   be grateful for every day of your life, follow your dreams, keep a positive attitude, savor the small things in life, look for something uplifting in every situation, have compassion for others


Ariya:   What’s wrong Sam? You look really down in the dumps.

Sam:   My grandmother passed away over the weekend.

Ariya:   Oh, Sam, that’s awful. I’m so sorry for your loss.

Sam:   Thanks. I’m really going to miss her. She was such a positive influence in my life.

Ariya:   Was it sudden?

Sam:   No, she had been sick for a while with a heart condition.

Ariya:   That’s terrible. It sounds like you were really close.

Sam:   Yes, we were. She had such a great attitude toward life. Even when she knew she was dying, she never felt sorry for herself. She was grateful for the life she had led and was always encouraging me to follow my dreams.

Ariya:   This must be so hard. She sounds like a really special person.

Sam:   She was. She always said that the secret to a happy life was living each day as if it were your last. And she really lived up to that philosophy. Even at the end when she was in pain, she maintained a positive attitude. She was often the one consoling us, rather than the other way around.

Ariya:   She sounds wonderful. What was her life like?

Sam:   Oh, it was full of adventure. She was a war reporter and traveled all over the world. She always said that’s what taught her to savor the small things in life.

Ariya:   Wow! That’s really interesting. You’d think that seeing all that death and destruction first hand would have affected her outlook on life.

Sam:   It did. But maybe not in the ways you’d expect. She could always find an uplifting story in the middle of the darkest situation. Despite her work, or maybe because of it, she never lost her compassion or her fundamental belief in the goodness of others.

Ariya:   It must be really hard for you, losing her.

Sam:   It definitely is, but not just for me. In the past few days we’ve heard from literally hundreds of people whose lives she touched in some way. It’s been so gratifying to hear all of their stories.

Ariya:   I can imagine. Well, please accept my condolences, and be sure to let me know if there’s anything I can do.

Sam:   Thanks, Ariya. I will.

Exercise 2

A. Listen. Which of the questions is answered in the podcast?

 Why do different people have different reactions to pain?

 Why is Titanic one of the saddest movies ever made?

 What is the connection between sadness and social bonding?

B. Listen again. Complete the questions that you hear.

 Host: So, Dr. Davis, one question I’ve had for a long time is __________________.

 Host: That’s interesting, but __________________ tolerance in the first place? __________________ the reasons we enjoy sad movies?

3   Host: Wait a minute—if participants reported a negative mood after watching the sad movie, __________________?

4   Host: Could this be related in some way __________________?

C. Listen again. Answer the questions in B.





1   why we seem to enjoy sad movies so much

2   why did they measure their pain

    What does that have to do with

3   doesn’t that mean they felt unhappy, not happy

4   to how we feel after a good cry


Possible answers:

1   Sadness appears to trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, which make us feel happy. It also increases our feelings of social connection, which is a positive feeling.

2   Because our brains release the same chemicals when we are happy and when we are in pain, measuring pain tolerance is an indirect way of measuring how happy someone is.

3   They might have felt bad temporarily, but the end result was a boost in positive feelings.

4   Yes, it is likely related to the same phenomenon that we experience when watching a sad movie.


A:   Good morning. Today on Exploring the Brain, we’re going to be discussing a very interesting topic, sadness. We’re fortunate to have with us Dr. Henrietta Davis, a neuroscientist who studies human emotions. Welcome, Dr. Davis!

B:   Thank you. Happy to be here.

A:   So, Dr. Davis, one question I’ve had for a long time is why we seem to enjoy sad movies so much. Take Titanic, for instance. There can’t be a sadder movie out there, but people love it—they watch it over and over again. Why?

B:   That’s a great question, and there has been some intriguing research into this topic. In one study, researchers showed one group of people a very sad movie about a homeless man, while another group watched two rather dull documentaries, one about a natural history museum and the other about archaeology. Scientists measured the participants’ tolerance for pain before and after watching the movies. The pain tolerance of those who watched the sad movie increased by about 13%, while the pain tolerance of those who watched the dull movies decreased by about four and a half percent.

A:   That’s interesting, but why did they measure their pain tolerance in the first place? What does that have to do with the reasons we enjoy sad movies?

B:   Well, you see, our tolerance for pain is linked to the release of chemicals called endorphins in our brains. Endorphins are released when we are happy, and they help to suppress pain. So, measuring pain tolerance is an indirect way of measuring how happy someone is.

A:   Couldn’t they just ask the participants how they felt?

B:   They did that, too, but the pain-tolerance test is one that is less subjective than just asking someone about their mood. In fact, as you might expect, those who watched the sad movie reported many more negative feelings overall than those who watched the other documentaries. However, something else very interesting happened. They also reported feeling much more connected to others with whom they had watched the movie. In other words, watching the sad movie seemed to increase the participants’ feelings of social connection, or bonding, with their fellow moviegoers.

A:   Wait a minute—if participants reported a negative mood after watching the sad movie, doesn’t that mean they felt unhappy, not happy?

B:   Perhaps, but the fact that their pain tolerance and feelings of social connectedness increased is a strong indication that while their mood might have been temporarily affected, the end result was a boost in positive feelings. It seems that sadness, similar to laughter, stimulates the release of pain-killing endorphins, and also enhances feelings of group solidarity. There is something about emotional tension, whether positive or negative, that leads to the release of these “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. Of course, these findings are just preliminary; it’s too early to make any definite conclusions.

A:   Could this be related in some way to how we feel after a good cry?

B:   Yes, exactly. Most of us have experienced the relief that crying can bring. It is likely related to the same phenomenon that we experience when watching a sad movie. However, I would like to emphasize that although the results of this study are quite intriguing, there hasn’t been enough research done to prove the hypothesis.

A:   Thank you Dr. Davis. This has been very illuminating.

B:   It was my pleasure.

Exercise 3

A. Listen. What have we learned from Daniel Gilbert’s research?

B. Listen again. Take notes in the chart.

Natural happiness

Synthetic happiness






C. What is the purpose of the talk?



Possible answer: The final section summarizes three take-home points from the talk: happiness is what you make it (i.e., you manufacture your own happiness); synthetic happiness is very real (we are programmed to manufacture our own happiness); although most of us prefer freedom of choice, we can be equally happy when our freedom is limited.


Natural happiness

Synthetic happiness

what we get when we get what we want, e.g., win the lottery, become rich


we miscalculate the effects of positive events and overestimate how happy we’ll be






what we get when we don’t get what we want, e.g., when we get a rejection letter and are OK with it


we have psychological immune system, acts as coping mechanism;


we manufacture own happiness in response to difficulties


free-choice paradigm: people rank items and are allowed to take their 3rd place choice home; they rank them again and often rank their 3rd place choice higher than they originally did


Possible answer: The purpose of the talk is to inform about a recent piece of research in psychology.


The Secret to Happiness

What’s the secret to happiness? Is it having piles of money? Or finding your one true love? Perhaps it’s raising a healthy family. Or maybe it involves trauma and suffering.

The last one sounds like a weird example, huh? Well, believe it or not, we’re naturally programmed to view the obstacles we face in life as positive. And this can result in strong feelings of happiness.

To understand why, we need to consider what happiness actually is. Harvard Professor and best-selling author, Daniel Gilbert says that there are two forms of happiness—natural happiness and synthetic happiness. According to Gilbert, “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we want.” When we win the lottery and become rich, we are naturally happy. Synthetic happiness is “what we get when we don’t get what we want.” For example, you get a rejection letter from a job application and you think, “Well, it’s good that that happened because the job wasn’t right for me anyway.”

But is synthetic happiness us just kidding ourselves? Well, not exactly. It turns out that we have a psychological immune system located in our pre-frontal lobes. This acts as a coping mechanism for dealing with negative experiences. The mechanism is like a “happiness generator.” It helps us to manufacture our own form of happiness in response to difficulties. And it’s powerful!

Here’s an example. Gilbert’s team conducted research into the happiness levels of two groups of people after life-changing events. Group 1 were recent lottery winners. Group 2 had recently become paraplegics. Participants ranked themselves on a happiness scale a year after their life-changing event. Surprisingly, both groups had the same average level of happiness. But you might ask “How can they be equally happy?”

It all comes down to our expectations. Take winning the lottery. I’m sure we’ve all imagined what life would be like if money were no object. The thing is, we tend to miscalculate the effects of positive events like this. Winning the lottery would be great, but we overestimate just how great, and that’s reflected in how happy we are after we win. On the other hand, imagine becoming a paraplegic. Life instantly has its restrictions, but our coping mechanism actually works best with restrictions. When faced with boundaries, we decide what makes us happy relative to our situation. For example, before becoming paraplegic, grocery shopping might have been a tedious weekly chore, but completing this task while confined to a wheelchair might now feel like an achievement.

Gilbert’s research has provided neurological evidence that supports past psychological findings. In particular, it helps explain the typical results seen in an experiment called the free-choice paradigm, first used by JW Brehm in the 1950s.

It goes like this. People are given six items, and they rank them in order of preference. They’re allowed to take home one of the items but they can only choose between preference three or four. Of course, most people choose three. A few weeks later they do the same ranking activity again, with the same objects. This time, people tend to rank the item they originally chose to take home, the third place item, higher than before. They also tend to rank the rejected item, the fourth place item, in a lower position. So, this kind of says, “You know, the item I took home was better than I thought. That one I rejected really wasn’t that good after all.” This is synthetic happiness in action. Amazing, huh?

Gilbert’s contribution to our understanding of happiness has taught us some important things. First, happiness is what you make it. Sometimes it’s negative experiences that show us that. Second, synthetic happiness is very real; we are programmed to manufacture our own happiness. Finally, and perhaps more surprisingly, although most of us prefer freedom of choice, we can be equally happy when our freedom is limited. That’s not necessarily what we’d like to hear, but I’m afraid that’s science.

Exercise 4

Listen to the article. Answer the questions, according to the article.

1   Why was Honnold’s feat so impressive, and how has it become so well-known?

2   How does Gilbert believe we can find happiness?

3   How did inventing the bicycle engine help Honda start his company?

1   Why was Honnold’s feat so impressive, and how has it become so well-known?

2   How does Gilbert believe we can find happiness?

3   How did inventing the bicycle engine help Honda start his company?


Possible answers:

1   Honnold’s feat was a world first. It was extremely challenging, involving some vertical climbing. It became an Oscar-winning documentary.

2   Through effort. We need to actively seek out happiness, strive for it, insist upon it, travel the world for it, etc.

3   His bicycle engine was successful so he felt encouraged to try something bigger.



What does happiness mean to you? Is it having new experiences, finding true love, being successful, or something different? Here are three stories about how people found happiness.

Reaching for happiness

In 2017, Alex Honnold achieved the greatest feat ever accomplished in free-soloing, a kind of climbing. He completed the first ever rope-free ascent of the famous El Capitan rock in Yosemite National Park. El Capitan is over 2,300 meters tall from its base and has sections that require almost vertical climbing. Honnold reached the peak in just under four hours without safety gear, using only his bare hands and tremendous willpower.

Most of us would panic at the thought of being stuck 450 meters up on a rockface, knowing that one slip could prove deadly. But not Honnold, who seeks out death-defying challenges like El Capitan for sheer happiness. Why? Honnold says that climbing gives him the most joy out of anything in life. These days, he’s pretty famous for it, too, after the story of his climb was made into an Oscar-winning documentary.

Traveling for happiness

Elizabeth Gilbert’s story of searching for happiness is also well-known. She is the author of the best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which documents a year of her life spent traveling the world in search of fulfilment. Prior to setting off on her travels, Gilbert had a home, a husband, and a successful writing career. However, she was unhappy in her marriage and decided to get a divorce. Facing a turning point in her life, she threw caution to the wind and headed out to see the world. She spent time eating delicious food in Italy, exploring spirituality in India, and eventually finding love again while in Bali, Indonesia.

Reflecting on her travels and search for happiness, Gilbert says finding joy isn’t about luck but it is a result of personal effort. “You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly.”

Working for happiness

A different type of journey to happiness involves one of the most famous businesses in the world. It is the rags-to-riches story of Soichiro Honda. Honda was born in the small village of Kyomo, Japan. He spent his early childhood helping his father with his bicycle repair business. At an early age, Honda developed a strong interest in cars.

Honda left home at age 15 and headed to Tokyo. He found work at a garage, where he was a mechanic for six years, before returning home. His first attempt at the personal motor business came in the mid-1940s when he invented a small bicycle engine. Encouraged by his success, he organized the Honda Motor Company™ in 1948. The company has since grown into one of the world’s largest automobile businesses.

Honda once stated, “My biggest thrill is when I plan something and it fails. My mind is then filled with ideas on how I can improve it.” He believed that “real happiness lies in the completion of work using your own brains and skills.” Honda died in 1991, having seen the Honda Motor Company grow into a multi-billion-dollar business.

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