This is a transcript of our episode “Happy: All about feelings, pt. 1”

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Sanden: Yes, yes, YES! I would love the part.

(indiscernible phone voice)

Sanden: Thank you so much. I will not let you down!

(indiscernible phone voice)

Sanden: For sure. For sure. See you Thursday. I’ll be ready!

(indiscernible phone voice)

Sanden: Bye! Oh man this is so exciting. I gotta tell someone. I know! I’ll tell HARVEY.  Our ever-present, disembodied robotic voice assistant. HARVEY, I got some new you are not gonna believe.

HARVEY: I am programmed to believe facts.

Sanden: Are you familiar with the series of plays based on superhero Alpaca Jack?

HARVEY: Yes. An orphaned alpaca named Jack is found by world-renowned physicist and karate enthusiast, Dr. Kate Calhoun. While raising Jack, Dr. Calhoun discovers a new neural pathway and enhances Jack’s brain capacity far beyond any alpaca or human. Plays include: Disturbing the Fleece, Keep the Fleece and Sweater Weather.

Sanden: Yep, well, now you’re talking to the newest Alpaca Jack! WOOL YEAH! 


Sanden: I got the part in the next play: Fleece of My Mind! (singing) Ooo I - got the part. Yeah I - got that part. 

HARVEY: I am sensing an elevated heart rate. Sometimes when I am given a new part, my circuits overheat. Would you like me to call a doctor?

Sanden: No, no, HARVEY. I’m just over the MOON about getting to play Alpaca Jack!

HARVEY: My GPS shows that we are on earth. 

Sanden: Good one Harv-ster… what I mean is that I’m jumping for joy.

HARVEY: I do not detect a person named Joy in this room. Only Sanden.

Sanden: Okay. Harvey, I am having strong feelings right now.

HARVEY: Does not compute.

Sanden: Wow. Ok. The thing going on with me is called happiness. Check it out. I am happy! See my smile?

HARVEY: Smile acknowledged.

Sanden: I’m smiling, because I’m happy. And I’m happy because I’m going to play Alpaca Jack. Get it?

HARVEY: Smile equates feeling of happiness. Information downloaded.

Sanden: Yeah. Wow, reading people is not your strong suit pal. Anyway. Oh man, I can’t wait until rehearsals start… I have to start practicing my two-toed walking… and, and I’m going to go on an all-grass diet…Gotta get into character. And I have to hire a trainer to work on my spitting technique.


Molly Bloom: You're listening to Brains On from American Public Media. I'm Molly Bloom. You're going to hear more about Sanden's role as Alpaca Jack at the beginning of the next few episodes because they're all part of our long-awaited series all about feelings. And here to help me with these episodes is co-host DaCari from Baltimore. Hey DaCari.

DaCari: Hello.

Molly: This episode is the first of a four-part series on a subject near and dear to our hearts and our brains and our bodies.

DaCari: Feelings.

Molly: Where they come from.

DaCari: Why we have them

Molly: And what we can do with them.

DaCari: And that's because you have a lot of questions about emotions.

Nikita: Hi, I am Nikita from the Bronx. My question is how do people feel certain emotions?

Aiden: My name is Aiden from Topsfield, Massachusetts. And my question is, what are feelings and how do we get them?

Katie: My name is Katie from Sterling, Virginia. My question is, why do we feel emotions?

DaCari: First things first, we talk about feeling from the heart. But it's not really our hearts that makes feelings. It's more of our brains and our bodies.

Molly: When you see or hear touch things, your brain sends signals telling you how you feel about that, but it's a two-way street. Sometimes, your body tells your brain information too.

DaCari: It's like if you bang your knee against the chair and your knee tells your brain, "Hey, that hurt," you feel pain.

Molly: Even though you can't always see feelings like joy or anger, the way you can see a scratch or a bruise, feelings still affect your brain and your body in a very real way.

DaCari: So let's get into how feelings work in our brains.


Molly: Brains do all the things they do, feel feelings, think thoughts, move our bodies with chemicals called neurotransmitters. These little molecules are how brain cells, or neurons, talk to each other.

DaCari: We asked Rapheal Williams to fill us on molecules that matter for happiness. He studies our brains and how we make choices at the University of Washington.

Molly:  Rapheal says a few chemicals are particularly important for feeling happy. They’re serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

DaCari: Rapheal actually gave us a play by play of what's going on with the neurons and their neurotransmitters when something is making you happy.


Rapheal Williams: One of the things that makes me happy is that I love painting.


[crowd applause]

Sport announcer 1: This painting might be Rapheal's best one yet. The brushstrokes alone speak volumes.

Sport announcer 2: It's certainly the best piece this season.

Rapheal: When I finish a painting, and if my friend says, "Yes, that's a really great piece of work", then my dopamine neurons release dopamine which is a messenger to other neurons to tell your brain, "Hey, that felt good."



Sport announcer 1: Before that dopamine release, maybe he was feeling okay, but after that dopamine reward, wow, he is feeling excited, motivated, he probably wants to make another painting.

Sport announcer 2: That's just great. And oh wait, that's about the only thing coming in.

Rapheal: You also get a release of oxytocin because your friend is telling you that that felt good. Therefore, the oxytocin, which is a bonding molecule is released in the brain.

Sport announcer 2: So that oxytocin is going to make him feel closer to his friend.

Sport announcer 1: More trusting, more connected, what a great molecule.

Rapheal: Then you also get that serotonin release as well.

[music and applause]

Sport announcer 1: Holy neurochemicals, that serotonin it's interesting because our gut makes most of our body’s serotonin, but it has such an effect on the brain.

Sport announcer 2: I know, it can be tough to pin down exactly what serotonin does. It does so many things in the brain, but it seems to stabilize the way we feel.

Sport announcer 1: It'll likely keep Rapheal feeling good even after this conversation ends.

Sport announcer 2: Just amazing work out there neurons, truly incredible.


Molly: We know that a mix of different brain chemicals helps create feelings like happiness and contentment.

DaCari: And everyone's mix is a little different.

Molly: Just like no two people look exactly the same, our brains don't work exactly the same either.

DaCari: Some people feel happy pretty easily, but for others, it might take more to make them smile.

Molly: The same goes for other emotions too. It's kind of like each of us has our own thermostat set for what it takes to feel certain feelings.

DaCari:You know, a thermostat is that thing that controls the heat in your house.

Molly: Exactly. This metaphorical thermostat controls your moods.

DaCari: An emotional thermostat.

[music: ooh, emotional thermostat]

DaCari: And this emotional thermostat is set by your genes.

Molly: Not your pants. Those are jeans with a J. These are genes with a G. There the instructions that tell all the cells in your body how to be. You inherit them from your parents.

DaCari: And this emotional thermostat is also set by experiences you have.

Molly: We'll be talking more about regulating our feelings throughout this series.


Okay DaCari, I have something for you that might release a little dopamine in your brain. It’s the mystery sound. Here it is — 

[plays sound]

DaCari: It sounds like a bell.

Molly: It definitely sounds like something ringing. We’re going to give you another chance to guess and we’ll reveal the answer a little later in the show. 


Molly: Oh man, we are SO thrilled to bring you a new season of our debate podcast: Smash Boom Best. Our roster of debaters is ready to wow the judges with great stories and fascinating facts. 

DaCari: In each episode of Smash Boom Best, get ready for an epic match up to decide which is cooler…

Molly: Like Unicorns or Dragons! DaCari in the unicorns or dragons debate which would you say are cooler?

DaCari:  Dragons, all the way.

Molly: Why?

DaCari: They’re just cooler and they breathe fire.

Molly:  It’s hard to compete with breathing fire. I might be on team unicorns because I’ve heard their skin and horns have some pretty cool magical powers but we’re going to have to hear the whole debate.

DaCari: Well, we are in luck because at the end of this episode, there’s a smash boom best SNEAK PEAK! 

Molly: Ohhh I can’t wait. Full length episodes drop in June. 

DaCari: And if you have a debate idea - send it over! 

Molly: We’d also love it if you sent us a question, drawing, or a mystery sound at

DaCari: That’s what this listener did: 

Catherine: Hi, my name is Catherine. My question is when you first get snow it’s powdery but then if you melt it and freeze it again why is it ice and not snow again?

Molly: We’ll answer that question in the Moment of Um at the end of the show. We’ll also read the latest listeners to join the Brains On honor roll. 

DaCari: And then! We’ll roll that Smash Boom Best Sneak Preview! 

Molly: Keep listening! 


DaCari: You're listening to Brains On from America public media. I'm DaCari.

Molly: And I'm Molly. We asked you, our lovely listeners, to tell us what your body feels like when you're happy. And here's what you had to say.


Veda: Every time I'm happy, my stomach just up and down and really wants me to move.

Amaia: My body feels really energetic.

Bar: When I'm happy, I feel like I can bounce on balls.

Amelia: When I feel happy, I feel like I can fly.

Sulayman: When I feel happy, I feel all light and jumpy and excited about things.

Caleb: It feels like all the energy is like pumping up itself.

Kathy: I feel light as a feather, I feel free.

Randall: When I am happy, I get excited, and I feel a jump of energy and I feel like I want to run.


Molly: Thanks to Veda, Amaia, Bar, Amelia, Sulayman, Caleb, Kathy and Randall for sharing those answers with us. Doesn't it just make you feel good inside to hear all those happy feelings?

DaCari:  Yeah. It also makes me wonder if the feelings we feel actually make changes in the rest of our bodies beyond our brains.

Molly: You mean like whether feeling positive can make your body feel better?

DaCari: Right. Like when you get hurt, sometimes something funny can make you forget the pain. How do our good feelings affect our bodies?

Molly: Let's find out. I have our trusty zoom ray. I know just the person to zoom in on, Our pal Chee is super positive. She's usually in the gym around now.

Chee: Okay, Chee's about to score the winning point. Will she make it? There's a serve. Chee goes for it and the crowd goes wild.

Molly: Hi Chee.

DaCari: Hi Chee.

Chee: Hi Molly. Hi, DaCari I'm just playing against this tennis machine. Practicing for Wimbledon, you know. Is that the zoom ray?

DaCari:Yes, we're trying to find out how good feelings affect our bodies.

Chee: Well, point your zoom ray right this way 'cause I am feeling pretty good.

[zoom sound]

DaCari: Wow, your heart is beating really fast from your practicing.

Chee: Makes sense. How's the rest of me?

Molly: Well, let's look up at your brain.

[zoom sound]

Molly: Whoa, your endorphin levels are high too.

Endorphins: We got this. I'm at the top of my game. Yes, never felt better. I feel great.

DaCari: Those are the body's natural feel-good chemicals.

Molly: Right. Endorphins get released from the pituitary gland in the brain, right behind the bridge of your nose.

DaCari: That little thing attached to Chee's brain with the blood vessels and nerve cells is like the size of a pea.

Molly: Yes, it's super small but super powerful. The pituitary gland makes hormones like endorphins and it also sends messages to other organs about what kinds of chemicals they should be producing.

Chee: Endorphins affect your brain like the strongest pain medicines that doctor can prescribe, they tickle parts of the brain that process pain, kind of distracting it, so your brain stops remembering to tell you that you're hurt and because of the pituitary gland,-

DaCari:-the pea-size thing behind your nose.

Chee: Precisely, because the pituitary gland also directs how your body releases other neurochemicals. It's often sending out other neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine along with hormones like oxytocin to mix it up with the endorphins.

DaCari: Right We heard about those before, they make you feel happy.

Chee: Yes, when the mix of these chemicals are higher, you feel good. They even help you boost your immune system to keep you from getting sick. They help you manage stress and they can improve your overall mental health.

ENdorphins: Oh yeah!

Chee: Yes. Looks like I'm out of balls. I think I crushed it.

[zoom sound]

Molly: You totally did Chee. Now that you're smiling, I see even more endorphins, dopamine and serotonin.

DaCari: So smiling can make your body send out good neurochemicals too?

Molly: That's right. Just smiling can trigger feel-good neurotransmitters and it can lower a person's blood pressure and heart rate.

DaCari: Cool. I can see Chee's whole body calming more.

Molly: Yes, smiles are magic, because they're contagious, we're all feeling some positive vibes. That's why I like smiling. It helps me feel better mentally and physically and it helps others feel good too.

Molly: Awesome. That was some super-smart tennis.

Chee: Yes, I'm always happy to serve up the science.

DaCari: Thanks Chee.


Molly: Okay, let's get back to that mystery sound. Here it is again.

[plays sound]

Before you take another guess, I'm going to give you a clue. You might hear this in a yoga class, any new ideas?

DaCari: It sounds like you're hitting something.

Molly: Definitely. Here is the answer.

Dimaun Coleman: It is a sound bowl, an Asian yoga tool, where this is what it sounds like.

[ringing sound]

Molly: That was Mr. Dimaun Coleman. He's a yoga teacher who works with kids in Baltimore. When you do yoga, you move your body through poses like downward dog or happy baby, while focusing on your breath. Yoga originally comes from India and is thousands of years old. Mr. Coleman uses the sound of the bowl to get his class’ attention and get them to focus.

Coleman: My name is Mr. Coleman. I'm at Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School. I am the yoga teacher for the school, the yoga and mindfulness practitioner, and this is my yoga class.

Everybody say sunrise.

Students: Sunrise.

Coleman: This is a full-body exercise. What that means is, you're working every muscle in your body that you use every day, from your toes to the top of your head. Everybody breathe in.

I've been doing yoga since middle school. It really enforces the importance of self and breathing. 

Every time you breathe in, I want you to see yourself pulling positive energy, like happiness and joy. Every time you breathe out, I want you to see yourself pushing out any negative energy, like sadness or anger.

If anything made you sad, angry at school today, just breathe it out. Realize that is not happening right now. Focus on the present moment. What we're doing in this present moment is relaxing.

Student: I like it because I bring in the energy and the happiness and then sometimes when I'm sad, I just breathe out.

Coleman: Everybody say tree pose.

Students: Tree pose.

Coleman: Balance pose.

Students: Balance pose.

Coleman: Mountain pose.

Students: Mountain pose.

Coleman: All right.

Student 2: My favorite pose is the mountain pose because when you put your arms up, it looks like a mountain was formed.

Student 3: My favorite pose is the tree pose.

Student 4: Tree pose.

Student 5: The tree pose.

Student 6: The balance pose.

Coleman: Last breath, we're going to take together, breathe in and breathe out.

Molly: For some people like the students in that class, yoga is a way to get in touch with their bodies and their feelings. DaCari, have you ever done a class like that?

DaCari: Yes. When I first started, when I saw people doing this weird pose, I was like ‘what are they doing?’ It looked so weird me. When I tried it, I thought it was really fun, so I wanted to stay in it.

Molly: You started taking these classes through the Holistic Life Foundation, which is an organization that teaches young people all about yoga, and mindfulness, and now you're a mentor in the program. What kind of classes have you done as a mentor?

DaCari: We have done classes for the little kids, we're teaching like the basics. Then as the kids get older, we tell them more and more.

Molly: So you're a teacher.

DaCari: Yes.

Molly: That is so cool. Can you tell me a little bit about what you tell the little kids, first of all, how old are the kids you're working with?

DaCari: Three to five.

Molly: What do you tell them?

DaCari: I tell them, when we first started to stretch out our bodies, so like you don't get hurt. Then after we stretch out, we do the first pose. This is the downward dog. Like you go on your own, your feet and your hands, and you put your legs up. You just sit there for like five seconds. Then when you exhale, you go down.

Molly: You use your breath to move through these different yoga poses?

DaCari: Yep.

Molly: When you're teaching them like, is the purpose of the class like helping to control your emotions or does it have a different purpose overall?

DaCari: It helps with emotions and behavior.

Molly: How do you think it helps that?

DaCari: It helps them with calming down more and not like more explosions happen.

Molly: Do you meditate and do yoga or do you just do yoga?

DaCari: I do both.

Molly: Do you find that when you do those that it helps you control your emotions?

DaCari: It helped me by making me a calmer person. It helps you with your anger problems or anything you need to be helped on.

Molly: How old were you when you started doing it?

DaCari: I was a five-year-old when I started. When I first started, it was weird to me, but it grew on me.

Molly: That is so cool. Well, for people who have never meditated before, meditation can help you quiet your mind. In some meditations, you focus on your breathing. In others, you notice your thoughts.

Some people call this mindfulness, which means being aware of what you're doing and thinking and feeling. That can help you listen to the logical part of your mind instead of just the automatic emotional side.

Researchers are starting to look at how mindfulness can help us. It's hard to understand exactly what it does to us because people and brains are really complicated. We'll talk a little more about how meditation might specifically help with feelings throughout the series.


Molly: Just like everyone has their own emotional thermostat, different techniques help different people. Some people connect with their feelings when they're taking walks, or petting their dog or praying, or volunteering, or singing, or journaling. In a way, these are all different kinds of meditation. That's something Mallika Chopra knows a lot about. She's been meditating since she was a kid.

DaCari: Welcome, Mallika.

Mallika Chopra: Thank you so much.

DaCari: When did you learn to meditate?

Mallika: I learned how to meditate when I was nine and I believe you may have learned even younger?

DaCari: Yep.

Mallika: That's so inspiring to me because I learned when I was nine, and I will admit sometimes I did it and sometimes I didn't, but I know how valuable meditation was to me growing up, so you're such a great role model for other kids. Congratulations.

DaCari: Thank you. Why should you use it when you're happy?

Mallika: That's such a great question because meditation helps us in all parts of our life; when we're happy, when we're sad, when we're angry. And so when we are happy, if we can focus on how we're feeling happy, then we train our body to feel that more and more.

So I like to recommend that when you're happy, you focus on what you're grateful for. Think about more things that you're happy about and then also just feel your body so that you can remember what that feels like.

DaCari: Is it good to always try to be happy?

Mallika: You know, I don't think anybody is always happy all the time. People have lots of emotions and that's totally normal, to feel happy sometimes, sad sometimes, angry at other times. No, I don't think we're all always, always happy, but there are ways that we can deal with sad angry feelings to make ourselves feel better.

Molly: In each episode of this series, Mallika will be sharing a meditation that you can try when you're experiencing different emotions. Today, she'll share a meditation for when you're feeling happy.

Mallika: So when we are happy, what we want to do is feel that in our body and continue the feeling of gratitude. This is a really simple meditation for when you are happy to also focus on what you're grateful for.

And I recommend doing this every night before you go to sleep or in the morning before you start the day. Either you can do it by yourself, or you can share these with your family or friends or even write them in a journal.

It's really simple. You just sit, put your hand on your heart and say, "What am I grateful for?" And maybe different things will come up, but I'd like you to choose just one thing, take a deep breath, in and out, and feel that throughout your body. Take another breath in and out and now that's it. You can continue with your day.


DaCari: Everyone has their own unique setting for feelings.

Molly: Some people feel things easily. For others, it takes a lot to change their mood.

DaCari: When we experience good things in the world, our brain signal our bodies to release chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Molly: Neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.

DaCari: They help us feel happy.

Molly: Thinking about our feelings can help us decide what to do with them.

Molly: That’s it for this episode of Brains On.

DaCari: Brains On is produced by Marc Sanchez, Sanden Totten and Molly Bloom.

Molly: This series was also produced by Menaka Wilhelm and Sam Choo, with support from Call To Mind - APM’s mental health initiative.

We had production help from Stel Kline, Hannah Harris Green, Kristina Lopez, Elyssa Dudley and Jackie Kim. And we had engineering help from Johnny Vince Evans, Veronica Rodriguez and Bob White. Special thanks to Jamar Peete, Andres Gonzalez, Naundia Fitzgerald, Kaz Nelson, Elena Blanco Suarez, and Nancy Yang.

DaCari: Now, before we go it’s time for our Moment of Um…

Catherine: When you first get snow, it's powdery, and then if you melt it and freeze it again, Why is there ice in that snow again?

Sarah Patterson: I think this is a really interesting question because it gets to the heart of what we as scientists try to do. We're trying to actually measure how much water is in snow. My name is Sarah Patterson. I am a scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Specifically, I am a snow scientist. I use instruments like radar and videos and images of snowfall to study the properties of snow. I do this all over the world.

You have this great observation of snow right, You say, "I observe snow when it first falls as a powder." What you're actually seeing is a collection of small crystals, and as you have ice falling in the atmosphere, the temperature and moisture of the atmosphere determines the shape of a snowflake. The result is you have this fluffy, powder-like collection of ice crystals at the surface. 

Then when all those ice crystals melt, they all flatten out into a bunch of water that's all collected together. That's a much more dense material so it turns from a big fluffy pile into a flat sheet, like a puddle.

And then when that refreezes that block is much denser than the snow crystals that fall out of the air. The powder becomes liquid or the crystals become liquid and then that liquid freezes as an ice slab.

You can't actually reform these crystals once they're on the surface. You have a snowstorm that produces ten inches of snow. If you were to melt down those ten inches into water, you would have one inch of water. So we went from snow which was 10:1. Then we went to water which is 1:1. Then that water froze as an ice block which is approximately 1:1. It's all about the change in density.

Molly: This list of names makes me so very happy. This is the Brains Honor Roll. These are the lovely listeners who share their brilliance with us in the form of questions, ideas, mystery sounds and drawings. We love you.


Molly: We’ll be back soon with more answers to your questions!

DaCari: Thanks for listening!