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12 Lively Facts About Corpse Bride

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Corpse Bride wed some innovative, 21st-century animation to a centuries-old story about life, death, and devotion. More than 10 years in the making, the breathtaking film began filming during one of the busiest chapters in co-director Tim Burton’s life. Despite this, the movie’s all-star cast and state-of-the-art puppetry secured it a chorus of critical praise and an Oscar nomination. We’ve dug up some fascinating facts about the liveliest cadaver film in recent memory.

1. IT’S BASED ON AN OLD JEWISH FOLKTALE.

As production on The Nightmare Before Christmas came to a close, storyboard supervisor Joe Ranft approached Tim Burton with a macabre little yarn that he knew the auteur would eat right up. Titled “The Finger,” this twisted tale came from Shivhei ha-Ari, a 17th-century text that includes a number of Jewish folk stories. Set in Russia, “The Finger” is about a young bridegroom who slips his wedding ring onto the finger of a corpse while reciting his vows. Suddenly, the cadaver leaps up and exclaims “My husband!” Duly horrified, the man brings his would-be spouse before a local rabbi, who annuls their marriage by declaring that the dead can lay no claim to the living. With a piercing shriek, the corpse then falls apart into a pile of disjointed bones, never to rise again.

Suffice it to say Ranft knew his audience: Burton was immediately drawn to the tale and began developing a big-screen adaptation of it. In its transition from a centuries-old folk story to a mainstream film, the original narrative underwent some major changes. Case in point: Burton’s screenwriters devised a more family-friendly climax and shifted the setting from Russia to a fictional locale modeled after Victorian England. Also, allusions to Judaism were omitted because, according to co-writer John August, “Tim gravitates towards a universal, fairy-tale quality in his films.”

2. BURTON, JOHNNY DEPP, AND MANY OTHERS WORKED ON CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY AND CORPSE BRIDE SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for MOMA

Both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride essentially entered their production phases at the same time. The overlap presented a big challenge for Burton, who lent his directorial talents to both films. Corpse Bride saw him share the helm with co-director (and stop motion animator) Mike Johnson. “Tim knew where he wanted the film to go as far as the emotional tone and story points to hit,” Johnson said. “My job was to work with the crew on a daily basis and get the footage as close as possible to how I thought he wanted it.”

Complicating things further was the fact that a number of key actors who appeared in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Christopher Lee—also did voicework for Corpse Bride. In many cases, these players would portray their characters in the live action Roald Dahl flick by day before recording their Corpse Bride lines at night.

Composer Danny Elfman was likewise asked to work on both projects concurrently. In fact, according to the musician, Burton hired him to score Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the same day. Elfman said he spent a full year “essentially shuttling up and back between writing and producing for both films simultaneously, kind of like a ping-pong ball.”

3. DEPP DEVELOPED HIS CHARACTER’S PERSONA IN ABOUT 15 MINUTES FLAT.

As Depp recalls in the video above, Burton approached him one day on the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and said, “Hey, I’ve got this other thing, Corpse Bride. Maybe you could look at it.” Depp read the script and loved it immediately—however, he assumed that he wouldn’t start working on the animated feature for another couple of months. “So you can imagine my surprise,” Depp said, “when … Tim arrives on the set [one day] and says ‘Hey, maybe tonight we’ll record some of Corpse Bride.’” At that point, Depp hadn’t given any thought whatsoever to how he’d portray Victor or what made the bridegroom tick. On their way to the recording booth, the actor sat Burton down and “grilled him for 15 minutes.” In that crucial quarter of an hour, Depp devised an entire set of mannerisms and motivations for Victor.

4. THE CHARACTER DESIGNS WERE ADAPTED FROM TIM BURTON’S ROUGH SKETCHES.

In 2003, Burton approached Spanish artist Carlos Grangel with a copy of the Corpse Bride script and some illustrations of the main characters that the director himself had drawn. “Here are my sketches,” Burton told Grangel. “I want you to push them and explore every character.” The final designs Grangel came up with did not depart significantly from Burton’s original drawings.

By the way, you might have noticed that Victor—Corpse Bride’s protagonist—looks an awful lot like the actor who voiced him: Johnny Depp. Burton swears this was coincidental. Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, the director said that the characters were all designed “long before” any of the voice actors were cast. In Burton’s words, when Depp signed on, “We felt like it was such good karma because [Victor] did resemble Johnny.”

5. HELENA BONHAM CARTER HAD TO WAIT TWO WEEKS FOR BURTON TO TELL HER SHE HAD BEEN CAST.

Among Corpse Bride’s primary cast members, Helena Bonham Carter—Burton's then-romantic partner and the voice of the title character—was the only one who had to audition for her role. She has stated that it took Burton two weeks to inform her that she’d gotten the gig, though the co-director has waved off this allegation. “Oh, I think she's an actress so she is making it much more dramatic," the director said. "There was probably a slight little bit of torture there, but it's a two way street. I don't think it was as dramatic as that."

6. THE 30 PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS WERE BROUGHT TO LIFE WITH 300 PUPPETS.

These were crafted by MacKinnon and Saunders, a puppet-making company based in Manchester, England. (Over the years, their team has worked on such other projects as Fantastic Mr. Fox and TV’s Bob the Builder.) For the 30 main players in Corpse Bride’s story, a grand total of 300 puppets were built—the most expensive of which commanded a $30,000 price tag. The group included 14 individual Emily models and a dozen Victors. As producer Allison Abbate revealed in the clip above,the puppets “were constantly being refurbished and changed out” during the production.

7. THE PUPPETS’ HEADS WERE CONTROLLED WITH MINUTE GEARS AND KEYS.

Before this movie came along, the facial movements of characters in stop motion films were generally manipulated with replaceable heads or mouths. However, Corpse Bride relied on a newer technique which had previously been reserved for a handful of TV commercials. The method relied on sophisticated puppet heads filled with tiny gears, a system Burton likened to the inside of a Swiss watch. Miniscule keys are then built to fit into the ears of a character, or the back of its head. By inserting and twisting these, an animator can incrementally change the character’s expression.

“[This technique] enables us to get much more expressive performances than you could with replacement animation," Johnson told VFXWorld Magazine. "Little paddles and gears allow us to get the tiny increments. Put an Allen key inside an ear and Victor smiles; put it inside the other ear and he frowns.”

8. THE BRIDE’S VEIL WAS ESPECIALLY HARD TO ANIMATE.

Emily, the Corpse Bride, makes a grand entrance. “When she gently takes off her veil and we see her for the first time, it becomes a glamour-girl shot,” cinematographer Pete Kozachik observed. That particular garment proved to be one of the most complicated props in the entire film. Although Emily’s veil was computer-animated in some scenes, others called for it to be rendered with good, old-fashioned stop motion. This was no easy task. In the words of puppet fabrication supervisor Graham Maiden, “The most difficult thing was having Corpse Bride walk with a veil because it has to be transparent, it has to animate and it has to be very fluid … like it was under water.” After four months of research, the crew put together a transparent veil with nearly-invisible wires stitched into the fabric.

9. THERE'S A NOD TO RAY HARRYHAUSEN.

Arguably the patron saint of stop motion animation, Ray Harryhausen used the art form to breathe life into all manner of movie monsters. From 1959 to 1981, his rampaging dinosaurs, hissing hydras, and sword-fighting skeletons invaded cinemas all over the world. He also inspired an entire generation of artists and filmmakers—including Burton, who credits Harryhausen with kindling his lifelong passion for stop motion. At one point, the world-famous animator paid a visit to the set of Corpse Bride, where he received a hero’s welcome. “The day he came by, production sort of ground to a halt,” Johnson recalled. “Everyone had a chance to talk to him. It was amazing for all the animators.” The crew gave their idol an on-screen shout-out in the film; when Victor plays some light piano music right before he first meets Victoria, you can see Harryhausen’s last name engraved upon the instrument.

10. DANNY ELFMAN WAS ASKED TO PLAY BONEJANGLES AFTER NOBODY POPPED OUT AT THE AUDITIONS.

Without question, the jazziest song in Corpse Bride is an exposition number called “Remains of the Day.” Singing the ballad is Bonejangles, a one-eyed, big-jawed skeleton with a flair for the theatrical. As Elfman was writing the tune, he did so under the assumption that the character would have a rich, raspy voice. “We auditioned 25, 26, [or] 27 people at least,” Elfman said in the promotional video above, “and I recorded three different singers.” In the end, none of them sounded satisfactory to the creative team. Burton therefore gave the role of Bonejangles to Elfman himself. Because the character needed a gravelly voice, this job took a toll on the musician’s vocal cords. “Every time I did Bonejangles, I was hoarse for the rest of the day ... it was really brutal,” Elfman recalled.

11. CORPSE BRIDE WAS THE FIRST STOP MOTION MOVIE TO BE SHOT DIGITALLY.

Like every stop motion picture that had come before it, Corpse Bride was originally going to be shot on film. But then, a mere two weeks before production kicked off, a historic choice was made. At the suggestion of two VFX supervisors, the animation team explored the possibility of using digital cameras. As they soon discovered these newer devices would allow them to view the dailies immediately, the animators decided to shoot Corpse Bride digitally.

12. ELFMAN WROTE A SOLO SONG FOR VICTOR, WHICH WAS DELETED.

The number finds Victor yearning for his living bride-to-be from the land of the deceased. Titled “Erased,” this number was, well, erased from the score. Elfman says that it was omitted in order to reduce the film’s runtime. Apparently, “Erased” landed on the cutting room floor right before Depp began recording his lines—“probably much to his relief,” Elfman quipped. In 2010, a demo version of the song was included in a limited edition Elfman and Burton CD box set.

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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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