One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on with SuperBetter Labs and my twin sister, superstar game designer Jane McGonigal, launched in May 2012: Oprah’s Thank You Game. The Oprah Winfrey Network and partnered with SuperBetter Labs to create a game that spread the benefits of gratitude to millions of people across the globe. Although the 30-day game is over, you can still learn the secrets of “giving good thanks” in this 3-min video that shares the science of how gratitude can improve your own well-being — and change the world.

So let the secrets be revealed:

San Francisco Public Radio did a lovely 1-hr show on the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The piece features the founder of CCARE, the scientists who are studying compassion, as well as one of my compassion cultivation courses, and stories from students in it.

You can download or stream the audio story here, or read the transcript here.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts:

Deborah Defilippo heard about CCARE when she attended the 2010 discussion between scientists and the Dalai Lama. Researchers talked about the health benefits of meditation.

“I am, I guess you could say I’m a type A, high achieving person,” DeFilippo says. “And I’m now catching myself when someone in front of me is driving below the speed limit, saying the phrases that are in almost every single meditation practice that Kelly has. And that is, you say for each individual and yourself and the world, ‘May you be happy. May you be free from pain and suffering. And may you experience joy and peace.’ …It’s like taking a deep breath and a lot of calm does instill within me.”

Stanford’s CCARE program has its critics. Some worry this type of secular practice will lose something, and perhaps lack substance. Others say the aspirations of CCARE – to make a more compassionate world  — are too idealistic. They question how much students can learn in nine weeks.

But McGonigal says many students do connect what’s taught by CCARE with what’s occurring in their lives.

“One of my favorite stories was a man who was in a church setting and a homeless woman had approached this group that was meeting at the church…. And he could feel in himself that little bit of threat or stress arising that would normally have led him to maybe get rid of that person as quickly as possible so that she didn’t disturb the group that was meeting.”

The man remembered a lesson from the previous week in class.

“He considered the other ways of thinking about her,” McGonigal said. “That, just like him, she was human. She was suffering. Going down the checklist, does this person need help? Do I have the resources to help? And turns out that she had diabetes and she needed food and there wasn’t food available in that moment and the people in the group were able to get her something to eat and the whole thing ended very differently because he was using this framework from the study that we talked about … People can take something from a study and use it in everyday life.”

– Narrated by Judy Silber for San Francisco Public Radio. You can download or stream the audio story here, or read the entire transcript here.

In this 1-hour webisode of the tv show “Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour“, Dr. Kirsten Sanford and Dr. Kelly McGonigal discuss the science of self-control, why and how to become a “willpower scientist” in your own life, and what the latest research says about parenting strategies, behavior change, and motivation.

Watch via the link below, or download the audio or video for your ipod/phone/computer.

It was a blast to be on The Today Show! Check out the interview discussing my new book The Willpower Instinct,  and my Stanford Continuing Studies class “The Science of Willpower.”

Click to watch: The Today Show Willpower Tips

Interview by Matt Lauer. Original broadcast: 1/3/2012.

Whatever your New Year’s Resolution, there’s a science-help book for you.  You’ll get great advice mixed in with the funniest, most fascinating stories and studies science can provide. I put together my favorite science-help books for every possible New Year’s Resolution.

Check out the slide show on the Huffington Post’s Books Section.

[Excerpted Below]

The self-help shelves are full of guides on weight loss, health, happiness, and self-improvement. But sometimes the most life-changing ideas and advice are found in the science section.

As a health psychologist, it’s my job to help people make difficult changes. I learned early on that it was easier to change people’s attitudes and behaviors with a fascinating new finding than with platitudes or pleading. The right study doesn’t just convince you that you should do something. It gives you a whole new way to understand yourself and the world around you.

For example, when I show my Stanford students videos of an addicted rat willing to be electrocuted for its next fix, they report back that remembering this image gives them the willpower to resist temptation. Pictures of how the brain responds to bargains helps shopaholics understand their need to buy; studies showing the importance of self-compassion for weight loss convinced dieters to stop calling themselves fat, lazy, and hopeless.

And in my experience, it’s these “A-ha!” insights that give us the inspiration and motivation to make a change for good. That’s why I wrote The Willpower Instinct – to give people enough A-ha moments to tackle any challenge.

Want to know my favorite picks for science help to be happier, get fit, save money, have better sex, lose weight, break bad habits, be kinder to yourself, and more? Check out the slide show on the Huffington Post’s Books Section.

Bookstore browsing image by Martin Cathrae, licensed under Creative Commons.

We’re joined this week by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, to discuss her work at Stanford University, where she is teaching compassion-based practices from the Buddhist tradition, taught in a way that pulls from scientific research and appeals to a secular sensibility.

As part of her work with CCARE she shares some of her background with Stanford as well as her long-standing Buddhist practice, which pulls from both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. We close the discussion by exploring some of the difficulties with teaching meditation in a secular context, as well as some of the benefits that come through framing the teachings in scientific and psychological terms.

Listen to the podcast (or read the transcript) here.

UPDATE (June 2012): Please note that all admissions for the 2012-2013 program have been completed. The admissions process for the next program will begin in 2013, and information will be available at this site at the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.


The Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education is launching a new teacher certification program. I am co-running this program, and will be co-teaching the core classes as well as retreats. Below is all the info! Note that the early application deadline is 2/15, and the regular admissions deadline is 3/15.


CCARE’s Compassion Training Teacher Certification program is a part-time, 12-month training for professionals who want to deepen their ability to share the science, philosophy, and pedagogy of compassion. Graduates, who fulfill all program requirements, including a period of supervised teaching, will be certified to teach CCARE’s Compassion Training Course. The Compassion Training Course is 9-week program developed by a team of psychologists, scientists, and contemplative scholars at Stanford University.


Requirements include:

  • Academic coursework (1 course per quarter) that may be completed at the Stanford University campus or online
  • Quarterly projects that can be completed independently
  • 2 3-day residential retreats at an educational retreat center and sanctuary in Woodside, CA, and 1 5-day professional intensive course at Stanford University.

Retreat dates for the 2012-2013 academic year are as follows:

3 day intensive retreat, September 7-9, 2012, at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA.

3 day intensive retreat, January 18-20, 2013, at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA.

5 day intensive retreat, June 26-30, 2013, at Stanford University.

Pre-Requisite for the Program

Students in the Teacher Certification Program are required to take either the 9-week Compassion Training Course, or a 3-day intensive version of the course, by September 2012. This pre-requisite may be completed following acceptance in to the Teacher Certification Program. See live course listings here.

Who are the instructors and retreat leaders for the program?

Classes and retreats will be led by certified instructors affiliated with the Center for Compassion & Altruism Research & Education. See a partial instructor list here.

Academic Calendar

Fall 2012(September 24-December 14, 2012)

Retreat at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA. September 7-9, 2012

Academic Coursework: The Science of Compassion. This class will explore the latest scientific thinking on the evolution of compassion; the psychology, biology, and neuroscience of empathy, compassion, and altruism; and how early life experiences, social forces, and culture shape our responses to others’, as well as our own suffering

Independent Project: Daily practice of the compassion-focused meditations taught in the Compassion Training Course, along with a journal of observations and questions.

Winter 2012 (January 7-March 22, 2013)

Retreat at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA. January 18-20, 2013

Academic Coursework: Philosophical Perspectives on Compassion. This class will explore how various religious and philosophical traditions understand suffering, compassion, and altruism; and how individuals can draw on and respect different traditions when interacting with diverse groups.

Independent Project: Retake or virtually view the Compassion Training Course, with a focus on analyzing classroom dynamics and teaching strategies.

Spring 2012 (April 1-June 12, 2013)

No Retreat.

Academic Coursework: Perspectives on the Practice of Compassion. This class will address practical strategies for offering compassionate presence and service in a wide range of settings, from hospitals to prisons, and how to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout. A wide range of guest speakers will share their professional and personal experiences.

Independent Project: Complete and report on a service project (volunteer or professional) that involves offering compassionate presence and/or action.

Summer 2012

Professional Intensive at Stanford University, CA. June 26-30, 2013

During this intensive, practical/oral exit examinations will be completed.

No Academic Coursework.

Supervised Teaching. Candidates who wish to be certified to teach the Compassion Training Course will teach the 9-week program under the supervision of a senior instructor. Candidates will have up to 1 year (Summer 2013) to complete this requirement. Undergoing the supervision process does not guarantee that candidates will be certified; however, every effort will be made to support the candidate through the process.

How to Apply

What are the admission requirements?

We welcome applicants of diverse backgrounds and goals.

Ideal candidates will have professional experience in a field that is related to, or could be enriched by ideas and practices of compassion. This includes, but is not limited to: education, healthcare, social work, psychotherapy, religious services, public policy, law, business, science and others.

There are no education requirements for admission to the certificate program. However, candidates must be prepared to complete a graduate-level curriculum in psychology, philosophy, and theories of teaching/learning.

Because daily compassion-focused meditation practice is central to the Compassion Training Course and Teacher Certification Program, all candidates must be willing to commit to their own daily personal practice. Candidates are not required to have previous experience practicing or teaching meditation. However, such experience will be considered in the admission process.

How do I apply?

To apply, complete the online application process.

Application fee: $50 payable online.

You will be asked to submit the following materials via postal mail. Please send the materials to:

CCARE Teacher Certification Program, 1215 Welch Road, Module B Room 55, Stanford, CA 94305-5400

  • A brief personal statement (approximately 1000 words) explaining your interest in the program, including how professional and/or personal experiences have shaped your interest.
  • A brief response (approximately 500 words) to one of the following questions:
  1. Compassion is often described as the desire to relieve suffering. How do you define suffering, and what does it mean to you to relieve suffering?
  2. Describe a time when your compassion was challenged, or you experienced the limits of your own compassion.
  • A resume or C.V. that includes your education, work experience, and any other relevant activities (e.g. service/volunteer projects, religious or community involvement, meditation training).
  • 2 letters of recommendation from someone who is well-suited to assess your candidacy for the program. The letters may come from a colleague/co-worker, employer, religious leader or meditation teacher, or anyone in your community who can speak to your interest in compassion, education, and/or service.

All applications will be reviewed by the admissions team. Applicants may be contacted by email/phone to arrange for an interview.

Deadlines for Application

There are two deadlines for applying to the Professional Certificate Program in Compassion Education.

Early Acceptance Deadline: Feb 15, 2012

We will begin reviewing applications, and granting early acceptance, to highly qualified and motivated candidates on a rolling basis. Applicants may be contacted for interviews. Those accepted will be notified of their acceptance by March 15, 2012. Applicants not accepted in this process will be fully re-considered during regular admissions (see below).

Regular Admissions Deadline: March 15, 2012

Submit all materials by March 15. Applicants may be contacted for interviews. All candidates will be notified of the admissions decision by May 1, 2012.

What is the cost?

The total cost for completing the year-long program is approximately $4500.

Application fee: $50

Pre-requisite fee (if not already completed): $325 for in person 9-week course or $750 for 3-day intensive

Quarterly tuition/assessment fee (Fall through Spring): $1500 total

$500 per quarter; $350 for each 10-week class; $150 for each quarter’s individual assessment ; $175 for the second Compassion Training Course in Winter, 2013.

Retreat fees (housing/meals/materials included; fees may vary based on housing choices): $750 each for Fall and Winter Retreats.

Professional Intensive fee $950 for 5 day intensive at Stanford.

Additional costs for those who require for on-campus meals and housing.

Teaching supervision fee (for certification candidates only):$500 tuition fee for the group supervision conference call and a single evaluation of a single class- live or video. Candidates who want more intensive mentoring will have the opportunity to arrange for private supervision at an additional cost of $125 per hour.

Payment is due on a quarterly basis.

Limited financial aid/scholarship money is available. Please contact for more information.