TV & Film

Oscar the Optimist?

If it were up to Elmo, the world would be a kinder place — down to the very trash can Oscar the Grouch calls home.


© 2017 Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street, one of the most beloved children’s television shows, is emphasizing kindness in its current season with the help of the UW’s Center for Healthy Minds, which studies the science of well-being and how it can be nurtured.

Driven by an increasing number of news stories on anger, fear, bullying, and violence, the season focuses on kids’ social–emotional skills.

“The kind of interventions and practices we’re studying have a great deal of relevance and promise for the types of problems we’re facing today in our culture,” says Richard Davidson, the center’s founder and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry. “These strategies help people to recognize that we’re all the same — we all share a desire to be happy and free of suffering, and when we embrace that perspective, divisions become more permeable and less formidable as obstacles.”

Associate scientist Lisa Flook and outreach specialist Laura Pinger MS’79 joined writers, producers, and educators at Sesame Street’s headquarters in New York City in summer 2015 to present the UW’s mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum and scientific results from classroom studies.

The episodes, airing first on HBO and then on PBS later this year, make learning about emotions and caring for others a priority. For instance, Elmo leads a playful intermission in which he replays scenes from the episode and points out acts of kindness for his young viewers. Another sketch looks at how mindful breathing helps calm an anxious Muppet. Even Oscar joins in: he is reminded to remain open to what his pet worm wants to do, even if it means leaving his trash can and meeting new people.

Who said a grouch can’t have a kind streak?

Published in the Summer 2017 issue


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