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This Emotional Life: Rethinking Happiness

Airs Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Bob Shumaker, a former POW in Vietnam, describes how he and his fellow prison...

Credit: Courtesy of This Emotional Life

Above: Bob Shumaker, a former POW in Vietnam, describes how he and his fellow prisoners developed a social network that was crucial to their surviving three years in solitary confinement. They succeeded by creating a tap code that allowed them to communicate through their cell walls.

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This three-part series explores ways to improve social relationships, learn to cope with depression and anxiety and become more positive, resilient individuals. The series host, Harvard psychologist and best-selling author of "Stumbling on Happiness," Professor Daniel Gilbert, talks with experts about the latest science on what makes us “tick” and how we can find support for the emotional issues we all face. Each episode weaves the compelling personal stories of ordinary people and the latest scientific research, along with revealing comments from celebrities such as Chevy Chase, Larry David, Alanis Morissette, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Richard Gere.

The last episode explores happiness. It is critical to well-being, yet it remains such an elusive goal for many. What is it, why is it important and how can we attain more of it? Viewers meet individuals facing major turning points in their lives — a job loss, a cancer diagnosis, the death of a child, an accident — as well as those facing more common struggles.

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Viewers discover the latest research that says we often incorrectly predict what will bring greater happiness, leading us to look for it in the wrong places. As the study of behavior turns more toward positive emotions, the episode explores the latest research on the activities and qualities that foster them, such as meditation, compassion, forgiveness and altruism.

The series features remarkable stories of resilient individuals whom scientists are studying to learn more about us all, including a man who overcame an abusive childhood to become a renowned surgeon and a Vietnam veteran who survived torture, solitary confinement and seven years as a POW, and yet emerged emotionally unscathed. Understanding why some people have the ability to bounce back after disaster strikes, while others do not, sheds light on how all of us can lead happier, more fulfilling lives. The film ends by coming full circle to the understanding that the quality of our relationships — with friends, family and larger community — ultimately defines our happiness.

Watch an overview and the episodes online.

This Emotional Life: Larry David

Larry David, creator of TV hits "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld," shares his unique perspective on happiness.

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