For UC Berkeley's Greater Good, nuance and controversy defined 2015.
Over the course of the year, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center grappled with big public issues like terrorism, racism, and what schools should teach. We tackled "inside baseball" questions about the validity of psychological research and the best ways to measure happiness. We also took on media coverage that we though misrepresented important research into happiness.
And a great deal of nuance came out in stories we've followed for a long time. For years, for example, we've reported on research into how wealth affects empathy and compassion, but this year that relationship turned out to be more complicated than previous studies suggested. We also explored new research into stress, which is deepening our understanding of how it affects our emotions and bodies.
Of course, we kept turning new science into tools and tips for a more meaningful life — our bread and butter, and often, our most popular pieces.
Here are the 10 most popular Greater Good articles from the past year, according to Google Analytics.
10. Eight Keys to Forgiveness, by Robert Enright: Forgiveness can be incredibly difficult. Dr. Enright explains where to start.
9. Five Research-Based Ways to Say No, by Christine Carter: It's easy to feel overtaxed at the end of the year. Dr. Carter explains how to set some boundaries (nicely).
8. How to Help Teens Find Purpose, by Patrick Cook-Deegan: Teens are naturally driven to seek new experiences—and that may be the key to helping them develop a sense of purpose in life.
7. My Trouble With Mindfulness, by Jill Suttie: Dr. Suttie knows the benefits of mindfulness, but she still doesn't practice it. What holds her back?
6. The Secret to Danish Happiness, by Jessica Alexander: Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. The reason why might lie with the idea of “hygge.”
5. Four Great Gratitude Strategies, by Juliana Breines: Here are the key research-based principles for turning gratitude into a lasting habit, drawing from the GGSC’s new website, Greater Good in Action.
4. How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Spoiled, by Ron Lieber: How can parents help kids have a healthy relationship to money? It starts with overcoming shyness and discomfort about financial issues.
3. The Five Myths of Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff: Dr. Neff tackles the misconceptions that stop us from being kinder to ourselves.
2. Why We Love Music, by Jill Suttie: Researchers are discovering how music affects the brain, helping us to make sense of its real emotional and social power.
And by a large margin, our number one most popular article of 2015 was...[drum roll].
1. Four Lessons from Inside Out to Discuss with Kids, by Jason Marsh and Vicki Zakrzewski: Reasons why the new Pixar film has moved viewers young and old to take a look inside their own minds.
We polled our staff and editorial advisors on their personal favorites from the past year — and came up with more you might also consider reading, in chronological order.
Emotional Intelligence Needs a Moral Rudder, by Vicki Zakrzewski: "I always appreciate [education director] Vicki's pieces," wrote Greater Good books editor Jill Suttie. "But I particularly liked this one about the importance of making sure that our drive to increase social-emotional education in schools is tempered by the need to focus it in prosocial directions."
How a Challenging Past Can Lead to a Happier Present, by Linda Graham. "The last few years have been challenging for a lot of American families, mine included," wrote marketing director Elise Proulx in nominating this piece as one of our best. "But the study that inspires this article offers hope that going through a rough patch can be a good thing, suggesting that experiencing adversity can not only equip us to deal with negative events but also help us appreciate the positive ones."
How Science Helps Us Find the Good, by Jeremy Adam Smith: Jeremy originally wrote this essay for the magazine Shambhala Sun, which will next year be renamed Lion's Roar. It sums up a decade of research into how the good and the bad interact to produce the mammals we call "people."
Should Student Success Include Happiness?, by Vicki Zakrzewski and Peter Brunn: This was a strong year for education writing at Greater Good, and this piece received by far the most nominations of any education article. "If you’re looking for an article that we published this year — or any year — that encapsulates the Greater Good Science Center’s philosophy of education, look no further than this impassioned and methodical piece," said Jason Marsh. "At a time when educational goals and standards are in flux in the United States, it elucidates why and how an effective model of education must teach skills to lead a happy and meaningful life."
Should We Train Doctors for Empathy?, by Jill Suttie: Jill thought this was one of her own best pieces this year, and Jeremy Adam Smith nominated it for the way it combined personal experience, interviews, and research to explain efforts to develop physicians' ability to put themselves in the shoes of their patients. This was also one of our most-shared pieces of the year, which suggests that people were talking about it.
A Better Way to Pursue Happiness, by Lahnna Catalino. Editor-in-Chief Jason Marsh felt like we'll be referring to this essay for years to come. Editor and producer Kira M. Newman adds: "For some of us, pursuing happiness can degenerate into constantly judging our emotional state: Am I happy now? How about now? In this article, Dr. Catalino offers a different approach that involves monitoring our activities, not our emotions. It’s a practical, actionable, and backed-by-science alternative that we should all try."
Six Ways Happiness Is Good for Your Health, by Kira M. Newman. "This one was very impressive and useful for its breadth," said Jason Marsh in nominating this piece. "It synthesizes a wide range of research to make the case for the health benefits of happiness--a service that's particularly valuable in light of some recent (questionable) evidence to the contrary."
Is Vengeance Better for Victims than Forgiveness?, by Jason Marsh: Editor Jeremy Adam Smith nominated this one (originally published on CNN's website) for its deft use of research to support a difficult, urgent case. "Our pieces on forgiveness always stir controversy, especially when it comes to situations involving egregious crimes," he wrote. "Many people seem to simply assume that vengeance is always better for the mental health of victims and survivors than forgiveness. In terms that are empirical and pragmatic, Jason explains why that might not be the case."
Ten Questions to Ask about Scientific Studies, by Jeremy Adam Smith. In several essays published in September, Greater Good grappled with the so-called "replication crisis" in social psychology, and staff cited this one in particular. "With the credibility of all social science research in question, it was important for someone to have a thoughtful and cogent response to critics, as well as to point a way forward," wrote Jill Suttie. "Too often, we ignore the critics of our field, which is a mistake. Science is often two steps forward/one step back, and we have to acknowledge this when we talk about the research or we risk being dismissed."
Five Ways to Build Caring Community on Social Media, by Jeremy Adam Smith. "We don't always recognize how easy it is to be cruel in online communications — we lose our sense of perspective when posting anonymously, and it's not easy to correct the damage is done," said Suttie in her nomination. "Reading this piece helped me to see the ways I fall short and gave me real food for thought. This is an important piece about how to manage our technology in a more prosocial way."
The New Science of Implicit Bias: Our staff nominated a variety of pieces from this on-going series, but we thought it best to highlight all of them, because they form an on-going dialogue about one of today's most urgent and dangerous problems: racial bias in policing. "I love the pushback on racism being a mental illness (rather than a product of society's out-group prejudices), and the hopefulness of the piece on reducing bias and racial profiling in policing, which shows that there is a way forward," wrote Jill Suttie. Here is a list of pieces we've published to date in the series:
Do we have any big plans for 2016? Glad you asked! We'll be expanding our coverage of child development, increasing our publication frequency, and launching a new website. Stay tuned!