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Researcher Kelly McGonigal is Teaching a Generation How to Embrace Stress

The Editors
Photo credit: Allie Holloway

From Oprah Magazine

To celebrate 20 years of O, the Oprah Magazine, each month we're spotlighting Visionaries—remarkable people who could change the way we look at the world.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, research psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, is a passionate student of the mind and an unabashed believer in human potential. Part scientist, part storyteller, she translates the complexities of neuroscience into inspirational yet practical advice that helps people lead healthier, happier, more creative, abundant lives.

In her 2013 TED Talk, "How to Make Stress Your Friend" (viewed more than 21 million times), and her 2015 book, The Upside of Stress, she makes a compelling, counterintuitive case for embracing stress as a force that can energize, connect, and strengthen us.

Her latest book, The Joy of Movement, is what McGonigal calls a love letter to exercise, blending research, social anthropology, and first-person narratives of exercisers who discovered not just endorphin highs but also their higher selves. She says, "I hope people put down the book and think, How marvelous, how miraculous, we humans can be." In the January 2020 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, she helps us kick off the new year with strategies for cultivating resilience and joy.

20 Questions for Kelly McGonigal:

  1. What's your no-fail motivational song? "Move Your Body" by Sia.
  2. What's your guilty pleasure? Buying vintage fashion magazines on eBay.
  3. What single person most changed your life? Barry Moore, the director of the summer theater program I did as a kid. He showed me the power of seeing potential in every person and giving them a way to shine.
  4. What makes you brave? Tonglen meditation, in which you imagine breathing in the pain and suffering of others, allowing it to be transformed by a compassion bigger than yourself, and breathing out kindness, courage, and hope.
  5. What is the world needs now is... more dance parties in public spaces.
  6. What's your favorite place on earth? Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, where I got married.
  7. What's your secret talent? Matchmaking humans and cats as an adoption counselor.
  8. When in your life have you needed courage? Every day–that's the reality of living with anxiety.
  9. What movie could you watch on an endless loop? Desperately Seeking Susan.
  10. What's your worst habit? Googling things I'm worried about.
  11. What is the last time you felt awe? Looking out my hotel room window late at night and watching New York City traffic while listening to John Coltrane.
  12. If you could choose any magical power, what would it be? Unlimited bladder capacity.
  13. What historical event would you most like to have witnessed? The night in December 1946 when my grandfather met my grandmother at Wagner's Ballroom in Philadelphia and fell in love fox-trotting to Irving Berlin's "Always."
  14. What do you think about on long flights? I'm singing along in my head to electronic dance and hip-hop music to distract myself from the turbulence.
  15. What's the most beloved thing you own? The worn-out chair from IKEA I've sat in to write all my books and have shipped cross-country twice.
  16. What adventures are still on your bucket list? To guest-judge a vegan baking competition or a reality-TV dance show; do a mission with GoodGym, a London organization that combines running and community projects; and present an award at one of my alma maters (Boston University and Stanford University) to a young person making a difference in the world.
  17. What's something you hope you never have to face? Life without my identical twin sister, Jane.
  18. What talent would you love to have? Singing on pitch.
  19. What's the greatest gift we can give one another? The benefit of the doubt.
  20. What's the greatest gift we can give ourselves? Choosing to be of use in the world in a way that lights us up and feeds our soul.

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