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I think the timing of this series is spot on.

Research on the brain is galloping ahead — neuroscientist Dr. Jay Giedd’s research shows how critical it is to have positive brain development in adolescence, while psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge explores neuroplasticity, which says people can affect and improve their own brain functions, even into old age. We are learning that human beings have a lot more brainpower than they realized, and that how we live, even from childhood, matters more than we ever knew.

Second, happiness is derived from our love relationships and experiences, not cars, furniture or bank accounts.

“Science has revealed three important facts about happiness,” Mr. Gilbert says. “You can’t be happy alone; you can’t be happy all the time; you can be happier than you are.”

One of the most powerful stories in the PBS series is that of Navy pilot and Vietnam War prisoner of war Robert Shumaker. Shot down, captured and tortured, Mr. Shumaker, now a retired rear admiral, spent eight years as a POW, three in isolation.

He survived by mentally designing the house he would build when he came home to his wife and baby. He also developed a “tapping code,” which allowed him and other POWs to communicate via the walls in their concrete, windowless cells.

“I could have thought ‘Why me, God? Why me?’ But I didn’t,” Mr. Shumaker wrote recently on the Huffington Post. “The worst thing I and my fellow POWs could have done under the circumstances would have been to clam up and withdraw,” he said. Instead, they “focused on supporting each other, trying to make life a bit more bearable, and dreaming.”

Mr. Shumaker made it home and built that house with his family. If life has you down, turn to stories like this and remember that, one way or another, we are all in this together.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at