9 Podcasts to Boost Your Mood and Brighten Your Day
Looking for ways to improve your mood? An act as simple as listening to a podcast could decrease feelings of anxiety and depression.
When you’re feeling down, one of the simplest mood-boosting practices you can try is also one of the oldest: listening to stories.
“There is power in listening,” says Nancy Mramor, PhD, a licensed psychologist based in Pittsburgh. “But it’s not new.”
For thousands of years, oral storytelling was humanity’s only learning tradition. Podcasts are the latest iteration in that long history, so it makes sense that they’re so popular, says Dr. Mramor, who researches media’s impact on health.
“We have been programmed from childhood to look forward to, and enjoy, stories that bring us pleasure,” adds Jodi De Luca, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Erie, Colorado. If you’re enjoying listening to a podcast, it can certainly boost mood and well-being, she says.
Any exposure to feel-good information raises endorphins (chemicals in the brain associated with happiness and pleasure), Mramor explains. Anything that triggers this type of endorphin release can be a quick hack for your health, potentially improving your mood and even decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Endorphins help reduce stress, frustration, irritability, and panic, Dr. De Luca says.
How to Choose the Right Podcast to Boost Your Mood
Which podcasts are best for boosting mood?
Crime is a popular podcast genre (third only to comedy and news, according to an October 2020 Statista poll) and may certainly keep your attention, but these stories tend to boost your adrenaline, not mood. Listening to too many crime shows may even increase your anxiety, Mramor says.
Ultimately what puts you in a good mood is a personal choice. Consider these genres:
- Human Interest Look for podcasts that focus on acts of kindness, resilience, success stories, or animal/pet content, Mramor says.
- Stories If you have positive memories of falling asleep to a bedtime story, this type of podcast may engender the same feelings, De Luca says.
- Comedy “Social laughter” activates the frontal cortex of the brain and releases endogenous opioids, which can improve mood and reduce levels of cortisol, helping to lower stress and anxiety, according to a study published in June 2017 in The Journal of Neuroscience.
- Television Podcasts about television shows can be satisfying because we tend to develop parasocial (or one-sided) relationships with characters we revisit often — so hearing their voices and stories again can feel comforting, like catching up with an old friend, says Mramor. Some include: Office Ladies (about the TV show The Office), Fake Doctors, Real Friends (about Scrubs), The West Wing Weekly (about The West Wing), and Zack to the Future With Mark-Paul Gosselaar (about Saved By the Bell).
- Mindfulness Mindfulness meditation can help with emotional regulation and activates parts of the brain that trigger a calming response and deactivate fear and anxiety, research shows. See if a podcast can help you do it regularly.
9 Mood-Boosting Podcasts to Try
Still not sure what to listen to? Grab your headphones, find a comfy spot, and hit play on one of these feel-good shows.
And remember: Don’t be afraid to opt out of a podcast after a few episodes or even a few minutes if you’re not into it (whether you’re finding it boring, stressful, or unenjoyable), says Mramor. “You have to really pay attention to the effect something has on you and know you can step away,” she adds.
1. Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most recognizable hosts in the world for good reason. In her podcast, which debuted at No. 1 on Apple podcasts upon its release in 2017, per Discovery, Winfrey brings her signature warmth and journalistic style to interviews with world-renowned experts, spiritual luminaries, bestselling authors, and award-winning celebrities. This podcast delivers powerful life lessons and plenty of aha moments.
Typical episode length 20 to 45 minutes
2. The Happiness Lab With Dr. Laurie Santos
Laurie Santos, PhD, a professor of psychology at Yale University, focuses on the science of happiness and well-being in her podcast. (Her Yale University course on the same topic, Psychology and the Good Life, was the university’s most popular class to date in 2018, The New York Times reported.) Like her course, Dr. Santos’s podcast covers topics like burnout, grief, and loneliness. She shares inspiring stories, interesting research, and tips on how to build more happiness in your life.
Typical episode length 30 to 45 minutes
3. Happier With Gretchen Rubin
Author of The New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin believes there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for becoming happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative, so she shares lots of ideas and strategies for listeners to try. (With almost 400 episodes to catch up on, you’re bound to find a tip that works for you!) Short on time? Rubin also regularly posts brief episodes, A Little Happier, where she shares quick happiness tips in under five minutes.
Typical episode length 30 minutes
If you love the idea of someone reading you a bedtime story, look no further. LeVar Burton hosted the educational PBS program Reading Rainbow for 23 years. Now he’ll warmly read to you on this podcast, reciting classic and contemporary short stories by authors ranging from Terry Pratchett to Ken Liu.
Typical episode length 45 minutes
5. Happy Place
In this British podcast, television and radio presenter Fearne Cotton interviews people about life, love, loss, and what happiness means to them. From lecturer Brené Brown to drag performer Bimini Bon Boulash, Cotton picks the brains of mental health experts, artists, and other celebrities on topics like fear, intuition, and more. And the Happy Place content doesn’t stop there: Cotton has also authored multiple books, in which she discusses her experience finding happiness, and organizes a wellness-centered Happy Place Festival.
Typical episode length 60 minutes
If doom scrolling through your news feed is getting you down, try switching on this podcast instead. Brought to you by the folks who created irreverent party game Cards Against Humanity, these short episodes come out three times a week to give you a quick, quirky, good news story. Over 800 episodes, topics have ranged from animals coming off the endangered species list and free education initiatives to snowball vending machines. And since episodes are five minutes or less, you can get small doses of feel-good news even if you don’t have a ton of time to listen.
Typical episode length under 5 minutes
In this podcast, hosted by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD, and coproduced by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Dr. Keltner takes findings from scientific studies on how to live a happier, more meaningful life, then asks real people to try out these research-tested strategies and report back on their experience. Afterward, Keltner reviews the results with scientists and experts to explain what’s going on. Previous guests have tried practicing gratitude, confronting fear, and setting goals.
Typical episode length 20 minutes
8. How to Fail With Elizabeth Day
This British podcast features guests talking through their three biggest “failures” in life. Every week, host Elizabeth Day — a writer and broadcaster — aims to celebrate when things don’t go right and find the lessons in mistakes. Guests who’ve fessed up to their failures on the podcast include actor Stanley Tucci, comedian Phil Wang, and even British politician Ed Miliband.
Typical episode length 60 minutes
Rangan Chatterjee, MD, is a British doctor, author of international bestseller The 4 Pillar Plan, and star of BBC 1’s Doctor in the House. His podcast’s manifesto is simple: “Health has become overcomplicated. I aim to simplify it.” Dr. Chatterjee attempts to debunk common health myths, offers actionable health advice, and shares tips for finding better ways to eat, sleep, move, and relax. Whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, increase your confidence, or live a more authentically happy life (with advice from actor Matthew McConaughey), this podcast has you covered.
Typical episode length 120 minutes