In the “What I’ve Learned” podcast, Arianna sits down with people she loves and admires, in fields from music and technology to sports and business, to explore the lessons they’ve learned over the extraordinary past year about themselves, their lives, and what they truly value.

This week, Yale cognitive science professor Laurie Santos on why gratitude is a panacea, the importance of social connection, and how self-compassion can strengthen our relationships.

On why caring about our individual well-being can help create change:

“The structures around us can really affect our behavior and our happiness, but we have the power to affect those structures. I sometimes get into conversations with my students who really care about social justice and they’ll say, there’s so many problems in the world, why are we focusing on our individual happiness? Well, one reason is that we know that grateful people are more likely to engage with hard problems. People who are mentally healthy can withstand these challenging times. And so, worrying about your own mental health will give you the strength and the resilience to make those big changes that we all want to see in the world.”

On the importance of self-compassion:

“My husband’s a philosopher, so he tends to have wonderful insight on this stuff. And we started with this mantra, which was patience and compassion. Those two things are so important. Compassion, especially in two ways. One is compassion for one another. We just need to give each other some grace. This is not the time to be upset about how somebody is loading the dishwasher. None of us is going to be our best employees, our best spouses, our best parents, our best selves. But the most important person to give some grace to is yourself. If I look at what’s making people the most unhappy during the pandemic, it’s beating themselves up. And the research really shows that just taking time to experience a little self-compassion, giving yourself grace, can allow you to have stronger relationships.”

On why she’s hopeful for the future:

“I’m hopeful in a couple ways. One is, for better or for worse, this pandemic has completely disrupted our routines. You can just have habits that are different. It might be easier to start exercising, or it might be easier to start behaving differently. I think we’re all going through this moment of a fresh start, and we can harness that for something really good. Second is that I think we’ve collectively had this realization that we weren’t appreciating the old life we had as much as we could. I think back to past me, who used to walk into a coffee shop without a mask and just order a coffee with a friend. We used to blow out each other’s birthday candles. I think those were simple things that we’re all realizing we absolutely took for granted. My hope is when we go back to those experiences, we’re going to appreciate that a little bit more — we’re not going to be sleeping through those events in our lives.”

To hear more from Laurie, listen to this full episode of “What I’ve Learned,” available wherever you get your podcasts.