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15 Intense Facts About Cape Fear

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In 1991—long before the term "gritty reboot" came into this world and lost all of its meaning—Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro teamed up to make a gritty reboot of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller Cape Fear. De Niro played Max Cady, a vengeful sex offender who, once out of jail, attempts to torture his lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who he blames for his 14-year imprisonment. Juliette Lewis made what was for many a first impression for the ages as Sam's daughter, Danielle. The impressive supporting cast included Jessica Lange as Leigh, Sam's wife, and cameos from actors who were in the original, including Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (in what would be his final film). Here are 15 facts about Cape Fear in honor of its 25th anniversary.

1. STEVEN SPIELBERG TRADED THE MOVIE TO MARTIN SCORSESE FOR THE RIGHTS TO SCHINDLER'S LIST.

Martin Scorsese was apprehensive about making Schindler's List after the controversy surrounding his previous two films, Goodfellas and The Last Temptation of Christ. Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, said he "wasn't in the mood" to make a movie about a "maniac." So, once Scorsese promised Spielberg that the Bowdens would survive in the end, they traded. Spielberg had Bill Murray in mind to play Max Cady. Scorsese had other ideas.

2. THE SCREENWRITER PASSED ON THE PROJECT, BUT SPIELBERG DIDN'T NOTICE.

Spielberg had originally contacted screenwriter Wesley Strick (Arachnophobia) about adapting the original 1962 screenplay by James R. Webb, which was based on John D. MacDonald's 1958 novel The Executioners, but Strick wasn't interested. "They sent me the original movie and I watched it and didn't like it very much," Strick admitted. "It seemed like sort of a failed Hitchcock, which doesn't really turn me on. And also I didn't like the vigilante implications of the story—you know, there comes a point when a man's gotta be a man with a gun and shoot this guy down. It's not a message I ever wanted to send in a movie."

Strick planned to pass on the project, but found himself unable to say no to Spielberg when they met in person. "I didn't want to insult him and tell him I didn't think it was a good movie idea, but I wanted to convince him that I wasn't the writer for it, in a sort of polite [way]," Strick explained. "So we sat there and we talked. Actually I did most of the talking; I kind of explained what aspects of the story bothered me, and he listened, and then when it was all over he stood up and said, 'Well, I'm really glad that you're coming aboard.' And he shook my hand, and as I shook his hand back my mouth moved, my lips moved and I said 'Me, too.' It was like, in person, I was unable to say no to him, and I remember driving home thinking, What have I done?"

3. SCORSESE MADE THE SCREENWRITER TAKE OUT THE PARTS THAT WERE "TOO CLEVER."

When Scorsese took over, he kept Strick, but made him take out all of the overly clever dialogue. "Anything that smacked of television, all the dialogue he perceived as being 'clever,' everything that was too well reasoned, too neat, too clean, with ideas that were somewhat predigested—he wanted it gone," Strick told The New York Times. Strick's new boss insisted on 24 drafts before filming began.

4. IT COULD HAVE STARRED HARRISON FORD AND ROBERT DE NIRO.

Scorsese asked De Niro to ask Harrison Ford to play Sam. Ford told De Niro he would only be interested in working on the film if he played Cady and De Niro played Sam. De Niro said no to that.

5. NICK NOLTE REALLY WANTED THE PART.

Nick Nolte wore a blazer and tie to the Goodfellas premiere, with the hope that Scorsese would see he could play the part of Sam Bowden. "He had played this bear-like man, very big and rough, and I didn't think he would be right for Cape Fear," Scorsese admitted. Only after "several" discussions between the two did Nolte win the role. For research, the actor spent many weeks in public defenders' offices. For the climatic scenes in Cape Fear, he channeled the primates in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey because, according to Nolte, the cast and crew were "all trying for a very primal image."

6. REESE WITHERSPOON BLEW HER AUDITION TO PLAY DANIELLE. SO DID DREW BARRYMORE.

"It was my second audition ever," Witherspoon said in 1999. "My agent told me I'd be meeting Martin Scorsese. I said, 'Who is he?' Then he mentioned the name Robert De Niro. I said, 'Never heard of him.' When I walked in I did recognize De Niro, and I just lost it. My hand was shaking and I was a blubbering idiot.''

Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role, too, but believed she overacted for one of Scorsese's assistants. In 2000, she called the audition "the biggest disaster" of her life and said that Scorsese thinks she's "dog doo-doo" because of it.

7. JULIETTE LEWIS WAS THE FIRST ACTRESS TO BE INTERVIEWED BY DE NIRO FOR THE ROLE OF DANIELLE.

Juliette Lewis first met De Niro for an interview in a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "It was to my advantage because I knew that was not a normal situation for [De Niro], interviewing young girls," Lewis said. "I could tell he was a little uncomfortable. I mean, all the other girls came in with their moms." Lewis had herself declared as an adult at 14 to be free of child actor labor laws. "So I said something to put him at ease. I summed everything up very quickly, meaning I didn't tell him an elaborate story of all the pieces of [crap] work I'd done. I said, 'If you want to see if I can act, just look at this movie-of-the-week I've done.'" Moira Kelly, Fairuza Balk, and Martha Plimpton also auditioned, but Lewis won out.

8. DE NIRO BECAME A GYM RAT.

To prepare for the role, six months before shooting began De Niro and his longtime trainer began hitting the gym six days a week, for two to three hours per day. Once filming started, he worked out for five hours a night. De Niro suggested that Scorsese hold off on shooting any scenes that showed off the actor's muscles until the very end of production, so that he could be as fit as possible, and the director agreed.

De Niro also reportedly paid a dentist $5000 to grind down his teeth, then another $20,000 after filming wrapped to have them fixed.

9. DE NIRO AND LEWIS DIDN'T REHEARSE THEIR MOST FAMOUS SCENE.

Scorsese put one camera on De Niro and one on Lewis for the long scene, which was filmed three times. The first take was the one used in the final cut. Lewis did not know De Niro was going to stick his thumb into her mouth before kissing her. She only received a nonchalant warning from her director that De Niro was "going to do something."

10. ILLEANA DOUGLAS BASED HER CHARACTER ON THE PREPPY KILLER'S VICTIM.

In the early morning hours of August 26, 1986, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin was murdered in Central Park by Robert Chambers, who came to be known as the "Preppy Killer." Illeana Douglas had that infamous crime in mind when preparing to play the role of Lori Davis. "I was the one who suggested my part," Douglas said of her role in Cape Fear. "The original part was called 'The Drifter.' She didn’t even have a name. I was in school when Jennifer Levin was murdered in Central Park by Robert Chambers, and I was profoundly affected by that ... In the back of my mind, 100 percent it was based on Jennifer Levin. I tried to put myself in the position of somebody who’s new to New York, who’s young, who doesn’t see anything bad coming."

11. DOUGLAS'S TORTURE SCENE TOOK TWO VERY LONG DAYS TO SHOOT.

Filming the scene in which Cady tortures Douglas's Davis was no small task. It took two days to complete the scene, and the first day lasted 17 hours. "It really hurt," Douglas told The AV Club. "My arms really were quite banged up. At one point, De Niro hopped off the bed and started whispering to Marty, and I thought, 'Oh my God, they’re going to fire me! I’m terrible!' I’d been crying for hours on end; I’ve never cried so much in my life. Then De Niro hopped back on, and Marty came and said, 'Bob says you’re done.'” It was like Stephen Boyd in Ben-Hur—like, 'Just take him off. He’s done.' I could barely walk, and my arms were all cut up from thrashing around, and then De Niro complimented me. He said that Charles Grodin was a p*ssy, because he couldn’t take the handcuffs when they did Midnight Run. I thought that was a supreme compliment."

12. GEORGE C. SCOTT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN IT.

George C. Scott was scheduled to appear in Cape Fear, but ended up needing an angioplasty after a heart scare while shooting another movie. He never made it to the Fort Lauderdale set.

13. THE HOUSEBOAT SCENES WERE SHOT INDOORS.

Cape Fear's houseboat scenes were shot indoors, on a soundstage made just for the production, and featuring a 90-foot water tank. Rain and wind machines helped capture the torrential storm. "It was hard making that commitment to build something so big," producer Barbara de Fina said. "In the overview, I guess the amount of money we spent to build the tank we'll save by not having to worry about things like weather and tides and alligators." In post-production, miniatures of the houseboat were shot in England.

14. ELMER BERNSTEIN RECYCLED SOME MUSIC.

Composer Elmer Bernstein adapted Bernard Herrmann's 1962 score from the original Cape Fear, even though Bernstein admitted that Herrmann probably would have hated the idea. "He would have killed me," Bernstein said. "He would have yelled and screamed with no question." Bernstein said he was in a state of depression for weeks working on the score because the movie was "so depressing." When Bernstein needed music for scenes not from the original, he "did something else which Herrmann would have hated. As part of the music for scenes for we which didn’t have ... appropriate music in the original, we used some of [Herrmann's] rejected music to Torn Curtain in the score, which was also very effective.”

15. PREVIEW AUDIENCES WERE CONFUSED.

After Scorsese noticed a lot of preview screening audience members wrote that the movie "skips around a lot" on their comment cards, he added shots to connect some of the dots, including one of Max's arm grasping a rope off of the houseboat. Originally, Cady fell off the boat and got back on with no explanation as to how.

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10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
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Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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15 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter
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It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the podcast options out there, but narrowing down your choices to the titles that will teach you something while you listen is a good place to start. If you're interested in learning more about philosophy, science, linguistics, or history, here are podcasts to add to your queue.

1. THE HABITAT

The Habitat is the closest you can get to listening to a podcast recorded on Mars. At the start of the series, five strangers enter a dome in a remote part of Hawaii meant to simulate a future Mars habitat. Every part of their lives over the next year, from the food they eat to the spacesuits they wear when they step outside, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face if they ever reach the red planet. The experiment was a way for NASA to test plans for a manned mission to Mars without leaving Earth. The podcast, which is produced by Gimlet media and hosted by science writer Lynn Levy, ends up unfolding like a season of the Real World with a science fiction twist.

2. STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark (both writers at How Stuff Works) have discussed narwhals, Frida Kahlo, LSD, Pompeii, hoarding, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

3. THE ALLUSIONIST

Language nerds will find a kindred spirit in Helen Zaltzman. In each episode of her Radiotopia podcast The Allusionist, the former student of Latin, French, and Old English guides listeners through the exciting world of linguistics. Past topics include swearing, small talk, and the differences between British and American English.

4. PHILOSOPHIZE THIS!

Listening to all of Philosophize This! is cheaper than taking a philosophy class—and likely more entertaining. In each episode, host Stephen West covers different thinkers and ideas from philosophy history in an approachable and informative way. The show proceeds in chronological order, starting with the pre-Socratic era and leading up most recently to Jacques Derrida.

5. MORE PERFECT

In 2016, Radiolab, one of the most popular and well-established educational podcasts out there, launched a show called More Perfect. Led by Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, each episode visits a different Supreme Court case or event that helped shape the highest court in the land. Because of that, the podcast ends up being about a lot more than just the Supreme Court, exploring topics like police brutality, gender equality, and free speech online.

6. SLOW BURN

The Watergate scandal was such a important chapter in American history that it has its own suffix—but when asked to summarize the events, many people may draw a blank. Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, gives listeners a refresher. In eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the Nixon’s demise as it unfolded, all while asking whether or not citizens would be able to recognize a Watergate-sized scandal if it happened today.

7. LETTERS FROM WAR

Instead of using a broad scope to examine World War II, the Washington Post podcast Letters From War focuses on hundreds of letters exchanged by four brothers fighting in the Pacific during the period. Living U.S. military veterans tell the sibling's story while reflecting on their own experiences with war.

8. LEVAR BURTON READS

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the soothing sound of LeVar Burton’s voice reading to you. The former host of Reading Rainbow now hosts LeVar Burton Reads, a podcast from Stitcher aimed at adults. In each episode, he picks a different piece of short fiction to narrate: Just settle into a comfortable spot and listen to him tell stories by authors like Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

9. BRAINS ON!

Brains On! is an educational podcast for young audiences, but adults have something to gain from listening as well. Every week, host Molly Bloom is joined by a new kid co-host who helps her explore a different topic. Tune in for answers to questions like "What makes paint stick?" and "How do animals breathe underwater?"

10. SCIENCE VS

There’s a lot of misinformation out there—if you’re determined to sort out fact from fiction, it can be hard to know where to start. The team of “friendly fact checkers” at the Science Vs podcast from Gimlet is here to help. GMOs, meditation, birth control, Bigfoot—these are just a few of the topics that are touched upon in the weekly show. The goal of each episode is to replace any preconceived notions you have with hard science.

11. FLASH FORWARD

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but Flash Forward lays out the more interesting possibilities. Some of the potential futures that host and producer Rose Eveleth explores are more probable than others (a future where no one knows which news sources to trust isn’t hard to imagine; one where space pirates drag a second moon into orbit perhaps is), but each one is built on real science.

12. HIDDEN BRAIN

What motivates the everyday choices we make? That’s the question Shankar Vedantam tries to answer on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain. The show looks at how various unconscious patterns shape our lives, like what we wear and who we choose to spend time with.

13. PART-TIME GENIUS

The fact that it’s hosted by Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur isn’t the only reason we love Part-Time Genius. The podcast from How Stuff Works wades into topics you didn’t know you were curious about, like the origins of Nickelodeon and the hidden secrets at the Vatican. Each episode will leave you feeling educated and entertained at the same time.

14. ASTRONOMY CAST

It’s a big universe out there—if you want to learn as much about it as possible, start with Astronomy Cast. Fraser Cain, publisher of the popular site Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela L. Gay, director of the virtual research facility CosmoQuest, host the podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from the animals we’ve sent to orbit to the color of the universe.

15. SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

The Science of Happiness podcast from PRI is here to improve your life, one 20-minute episode at a time. Science has proven that adopting certain practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, can make us happier—as does letting go of less unhealthy patterns like grudges and stressful thinking. With award-winning professor Dacher Keltner as your host, you can learn how to incorporate these science-backed strategies for happiness into your own life.

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