Living in Los Angeles, we often find ourselves with an obscene amount of time to kill in our cars, and we can’t help but feel like we’re wasting those (2+) hours a day crawling in traffic when we could be doing something productive. Even if you don’t live in a city that requires you spend somewhere around 700 hours a year staring at someone else’s bumper, however, we assume you have at least a little bit of spare time (read: time now set aside for Insta-stalking your ex) that could be put to better use. Since some studies have shown that lifelong learning can decrease depression, improve self-worth, and slow cognitive decline, and since we’re not about to add to our debts by enrolling in a Harvard graduate program, we think this is where educational podcasts can come in handy as a means for killing two birds with one stone. So, we’ve assembled a list of 13 podcasts that will not only entertain you but will also make you smarter (and therefore, happier), so you can best optimize time your downtime.
You Are Not So Smart
The You Are Not So Smart podcast explores from a scientific standpoint all of the various ways in which our brains confuse, mislead, and delude us. One episode, for example, explains why control is, in many cases, just an illusion that can lead to self-loathing, failure to change, and a variety of other issues. Be patient with the series, as episodes take quite a bit of time to get rolling; however, once they do, the topics discussed are often enlightening. Subscribe here.
Did you ever wish there was a way to be more well read without having to find actual time to read more? If so, Book Riot is the podcast for you. The show is dedicated to “what’s new, cool, and worth talking about in the world of books and reading" and the editors of BookRiot.com, who host the show, believe “you can like both J.K. Rowling and J.M. Coetzee, and that there are smart, funny, and informative things to say about both.” Subscribe here. Also, how cool is their subscription book box?
We have a feeling we would have retained a lot more of what we learned in high school had our history lessons been delivered with as much panache as Hardcore History. Slate chose the episode “Ghosts on the Ostfront” as one of its 25 Best Podcast Episodes Ever; just beware that it is over five hours long. Subscribe here.
Stuff You Should Know
Stuff You Should Know is another podcast that manages to make things you might have learned in school (and since forgotten) both riveting and memorable. Try episodes “How Fear Works” and “What’s the Deal With the Bermuda Triangle” to start. Subscribe here.
The Economist Radio
We only buy The Economist at the airport because it is guaranteed to last through the entire flight, and otherwise we’d never have the time to read more than just a few pages. Since we don’t fly all that often, this means we rarely get to enjoy the publication’s outstanding journalism. Luckily, The Economist Radio exists to fill in the gaps. Subscribe here.
How To Do Everything
An Angelenos, episodes of the NPR How To Do Everything podcast like “How to Find Water in the Desert” might soon prove invaluable for us. While this podcast tends to lean more heavily on humor than it does on information, you can usually catch at least a few educational tidbits in each episode. Subscribe here.
TED Radio Hour
This list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of TED Radio Hour, each episode of which combines TED talks under themes such as “How Things Spread,” “The Unknown Brain” and “What We Fear.” Subscribe here.
Stuff to Blow Your Mind
Stuff to Blow Your Mind examines “neurological quandaries, cosmic mysteries, evolutionary marvels and our transhuman future” with episodes like “The Unsettling Depths of Bird Intelligence,” “Love at First Sight,” “Has Science Explained Life After Death?” and more. Subscribe here.
The Allusionist is for all the word nerds out there who are interested in things like etymology (aka the study of words and their origins). Recent episodes include an exploration of the ways in which the use of “please” differs between cultures, the vocabulary of divorce, and a look at the history of US election lexicon. Subscribe here.
The popular Freakonomics podcast “explores the riddles of everyday life” and features conversations with everyone from social scientists to Nobel laureates. You may find two recent episodes, both of which concern sleep, particularly interesting. Subscribe here.
Radiolab is, hands down, one of the best podcasts out there. Try episodes “Space,” “Lost and Found,” “Colors” or “Sleep” to start. Subscribe here.
Need or want a better grasp on the global economy and all things finance-related? Subscribe to Planet Money ASAP. Try This American Life episode “The Giant Pool of Money,” which instigated the creation of the Planet Money podcast, to start.
Good Job, Brain!
If you’re one of those people who likes to know a lot of facts that others might deem useless, you aspire to be on Jeopardy!, or you just love trivia, Good Job, Brain! is the podcast for you. Subscribe here.