Calling 2020 a dumpster fire is the understatement of the century. We’d like to kick this past year straight into the sun, too, but are worried 2020 might destroy it and consequently all life on earth.
Before we all go breathlessly running toward 2021 for our dear lives, though, let’s take a minute to understand what we’re walking into. Unfortunately, a lot of what made 2020 so awful isn’t just ending with the calendar year. Now, that doesn’t mean January can’t be a time for fresh starts and hard resets. It should be!
But if you ask us, the New Year’s resolutions you set for 2021 should also respect the hard lessons learned from last year.
Be patient and kind to yourself while setting goals for the year ahead that manage expectations, self-imposed pressures, mental health fall out, isolation, grief, or simply just congratulate yourself for getting through it all in one piece.
That’s where podcasts can come in to help start your 2021 on the right foot.
No matter what intentions you set for the new year, the appropriate podcast can be your trusty companion to help get there. Whether you’re focused on self-improvement, self-care, physical and mental health, or expanding the scope of your knowledge — there’s a perfect podcast for that.
1. Life Kit
Who or what it’s for: Everyone and everything
What it is: A guide to being a person that fits in your pocket, Life Kit truly delivers on the promise of its wide-sweeping name. A rotating host of NPR favorites give you a Swiss Army Knife of life skills and solutions from experts with advice on timely day-to-day issues and questions. Topics run the gamut of existence, and there are even specialized feeds for parenting, health, and money.
2. On Being
Who or what it’s for: Feeling more present in your humanity
What it’s about: [From our Best Podcasts to Fall Asleep To roundup] “Krista Tippett wants to get to the bottom of everything human, from the spiritual to the scientific. Every week she interviews a new person who can speak to vastly different aspects of life’s biggest questions. The podcast and interview style Is best suited to people who enjoy something conversational rather than a crafted narrative.”
3. Maintenance Phase
Who or what it’s for: Those looking to start new weight-loss diets, juice cleanses, or any other wellness trend
What it’s about: What does it mean to be “healthy?” It seems like a simple question, but actually comes with a world of baggage. From the fatphobia many doctors unknowingly perpetuate to the trendy “wellness” fads embodied by Goop, the question of what it means to live healthily are saturated in cultural stigmas, myths, misinformation, and faux science. On each episode of Maintenance Phase, writers Michael Hobbes (of You’re Wrong About fame) and Aubrey Gordon (of Your Fat Friend fame) debunk the loads of junk that consumes popular notions of health.
4. What A Day
Who or what it’s for: Those looking to be better informed on the day-to-day of American politics
What it’s about: [From our ] “A daily news podcast from the Pod Save America team, What A Day is co-hosted by author and comedian Akilah Hughes (who ). In a sea of white dude daily news podcasts, Hughes and co-host Gideon Resnick often cover stories that slip through the cracks but speak to the day’s most central issues. Akilah is a voice of clarity amid the chaos of political news, making the constant deluge of garbage digestible and accessible in the span of about 20 minutes.”
5. Home Cooking
Who or what it’s for: The new, aspiring home chef who doesn’t know where to start
What it’s about: While chef Samin Nosrat (of Salt Fat Acid Heat fame) and podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway (of Song Exploder fame) began this podcast in 2020 with quarantine in mind, its utility has a much longer lifespan. Many of us need help getting started in the kitchen whether or not there’s a pandemic, and this dynamic duo has got your back like no other. Unfortunately, it seems that their December 2020 episode was their last. But the pandemic is far from over, and the show’s backlog of great cooking advice, joyous friendship, and emotional support is there whenever you need it.
6. Nothing Much Happens
Who or what it’s for: Insomniacs looking to improve their sleep habits
What it’s about: [From our ] “Described as a ‘soft landing spot for your mind,’ Kathryn Nicolai tells short and meditative stories. As the title suggests, not a lot happens. And when she’s done, she reads it again, but slower. So there’s no danger here of staving off sleep because you’re too interested.”
7. How to Citizen with Baratunde
Who or what it’s for: Citizens of the world, especially those living on American soil
What it’s about: The call to action of this podcast is embedded in the title, which turns the noun of citizen into a verb. Regardless of official legal status, everyone has the right to find power in how the collective can make the home we share together a better place for all. Phrases like “civic engagement” can sound so clinical, and are antithetical to what makes writer and activist Baratunde Thurston’s podcast work. Beyond politics, beyond government, beyond protest, beyond resistance — this is a show about becoming a better member of our human family.
8. Terrible, Thanks for Asking
Who or what it’s for: Coping with still feeling terrible in 2021
What it’s about: [From our Best Feminist Podcasts roundup] Terrible, Thanks for Asking is, “a place for processing trauma and how terrible we’re all doing through individual people’s stories… Author and self-described notable widow Nora McInerny hosts a weekly interview podcast talking through different guests’ pain, life trauma, and mental health struggles. It’s a podcast that isn’t afraid to sit with the feeling of not being OK and that’s oddly comforting — especially now.”
9. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
Who or what it’s for: The science-minded self-help seeker
What it’s about: Happiness is a tricky goal, especially when we think about it in terms of things that will finally make us happier. But no “thing” can make you happy except yourself, and achieving that state of mind takes daily work. That’s what Dr. Laurie Santos, who studied the science of happiness at Yale and has a doctorate in psychology, makes clear in her podcast tackling the wide range of questions about how to live a life with more joy in spite of, well, all of it. While many other podcasts tackle similar topics, Dr. Santos sets this one apart by taking them to panels of experts and researchers in psychology, behavioral science, and more.
10. Sex with Emily
Who or what it’s for: Ramping up your sex life, whether solo, partnered, active, or inactive
What it’s about: [From our Best Dating, Sex, and Relationship Podcasts roundup] “A longtime favorite interview and advice sex podcast hosted by sex therapist Emily Morse, the structure of this podcast is like many others. There’s something especially comforting about Morse’s approach, though. She’s a great voice to have in your head whenever you encounter sexual difficulties or uncertainties in your real life, with advice that runs the gamut from medical expertise to astrology charts.”
11. Meditative Story
Who or what it’s for: Folks who’ve never really “gotten” meditation, but want to
What it’s about: Meditation isn’t for everyone, and that’s perfectly OK. But sometimes folks who struggle with meditation just haven’t found an approach they jive with, or get caught up in misconceptions around “clearing the mind.” Like diet and exercise, the right mindfulness practice is about discovering what resonates most with you as an individual (we even recommend giving mindful masturbation a try). That’s why Meditative Story isn’t just any other guided meditation, instead grounded in exploring a variety of mindsets underlying mindfulness through common human experiences. In every episode a storyteller narrates a sensorial, meaningful experience from their life, while an undercurrent of soothing music plays. At the end, host Rohan Gunatillake returns to offer a way of seeing their tale through the philosophical lens of mindfulness, then uses that intention for a 5-10 minute closing meditation.
If you’re looking for a more traditional and straightforward approach, though, check out A Mindful Moment instead.
12. She Makes Money Moves
Who or what it’s for: Women who want zero-bullshit financial guidance
What it’s about: [From our Best Feminist Podcasts roundup] “Women-focused money and business podcasts often reek of #GirlBoss rhetoric that feels disingenuous, paltry, and patronizing. But She Makes Money Moves stands out as one of the few that is not only grounded in women’s real-life struggles, but also offers them real solutions instead of platitudes. Each episode is structured around an interview with a woman facing a specific financial problem, then finishes with an expert that provides advice for how she can start to tackle it. Whether it’s negotiating salary or getting better credit as a new immigrant in America, host Samantha Barry covers a diverse breadth of life experiences while always giving universally helpful advice.”
13. Small Doses
Who or what it’s for: Whoever’s in need of that friend who tells it like it is
What it’s about: Comedian Amanda Seales (known for her role on Insecure) may not be right 100 percent of the time, but she’s definitely always telling her truth. Exuding confidence and charisma, she doesn’t have all the credentials that other advice podcasters on this list have. But her straight-talking relatability is exactly what makes her words of wisdom resonate so much. Each episode, Seales goes off about a central topic, situation, or theme — weaving her own experiences with advice for relevant listener problems.
14. Code Switch
Who or what it’s for: Expanding your knowledge on the world of different cultures and identities
What it’s about: [From our ] “Hosted by Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, Code Switch adds some much-needed no-bullshitery to NPR’s line of venerated podcasts. Tackling issues of race from past to present to future and around the globe, their approach is personal yet wide-reaching, uncompromising yet inspiring. It’s a podcast that never backs down from the hardest discussions, even . Alongside the rigorous reporting that illuminates a variety of crushing realities and lived experiences, Demby and Meraji also find plenty of time to celebrate the greatness of marginalized cultures and identities.”
15. Witch Wave
Who or what it’s for: Creating a more magical, intentional life
What it’s about: If you haven’t already heard, witchcraft isn’t just for Halloween anymore. It’s an increasingly popular, year-round lifestyle. Whether you’re interested in practicing or just curious about the trend, Pam Grossman’s Witch Wave is the spell-binding podcast for all your magical needs. While Grossman’s magical practice is grounded in her Jewish heritage, she interviews a host of diverse witches resulting in riveting conversations about their crafts, cultures, spiritualities, and creativities. While the topics may sound fantastical, the podcast gets real as fuck, addressing essential questions about colonization, appropriation, oppression, and identity that surround this new age wave of witchery.
16. Therapy for Black Girls
Who or what it’s for: Black women and girls putting their well-being first
What it’s about: [From our Best Feminist Podcasts roundup] “Black women are one of the most underserved demographics in American society, especially when it comes to medical care. That’s why host and licensed psychologist Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s Therapy for Black Girls is so vital. Dr. Harden Bradford, who has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, provides informal therapy sessions on a wide spectrum of mental health issues and strategies for everything from processing communal grief to finding agency through pleasure. Episodes are structured around interviews with an expert and then a listener advice segment. Dr. Harden Bradford is careful to start with a disclaimer that the podcast is no substitute for actual one-on-one therapy, offering resources for .”
17. Food, We Need to Talk
Who or what it’s for: Nourishing a healthier relationship to food
What it’s about: This podcast started from a very personal place for host Juna Gjata, who wanted to “end her war with food,” according to WBUR’s official description. But it turns out this war is as universal as it is individual, with a whole spectrum of unhealthy relationships to food manifesting into a variety of widespread issues. Joined by co-host Dr. Eddie Phillips and other experts with scientific and medical knowledge, each episode covers an essential conversation around food, exercise, body image, weight loss, and nutrition. Helpfully, they not only debunk but offer more nourishing ways of thinking about how, why, and what we eat.
18. Call Your Girlfriend
Who or what it’s for: Prioritizing and strengthening long-distance or strained relationships from 2020
What it’s about: [From our Best Feminist Podcasts roundup] “Originally Call Your Girlfriend was unique for its premise. It’s hosted by two long-distance best friends, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, who discuss both their personal lives and larger topics related to womanhood. Then during the pandemic, their relevance increased once basically everyone became a long-distance friend. Call Your Girlfriend is always ahead of its time like that, leading by example as two women who’ve committed to their platonic friendship in ways usually reserved for romantic or familial relationships. Years ago, when their friendship was in a precarious place, Friedman and Sow even went to couples therapy to work it out. That dedication to sisterhood is embedded into everything they cover, offering nuanced explorations of women’s relationships to one another, whether in the personal, professional or public realm.”
19. Where Should We Begin? and How’s Work? with Esther Perel
Who or what it’s for: Couples therapy and the struggles of work-life relationships
What it’s about: [From our Best Dating, Sex, and Relationship Podcasts roundup] “Thanks to doctor-patient confidentiality and/or poor access to healthcare, we rarely get a glimpse into what therapy actually looks like. Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel allows listeners into that black box, as the renowned Belgian therapist counsels a couple through a major conflict in their relationship. By digging into the specificity of their situation, though, Perel offers universal insights into managing all the complicating factors that come with love, from family to infidelity to religion.”
Meanwhile, How’s Work extends Perel’s expertise into the workplace. There are endless struggles embedded into the promise of work-life balance, where relationship dynamics should stay professional but are often no less emotionally and socially complex than the personal. From couples who work together to colleagues in relationship-centric fields, work can demand as much therapeutic labor as your home life.
20. Anxious Achiever
Who or what it’s for: The high-performing neurotic
What it’s about: So you’ve tried How I Built This, and simply cannot get the hype. The grand entrepreneur mythologizing actually just makes you mad, dejected, anxious, and less motivated than ever. That’s where Morra Aarons-Mele’s got you covered, with interviews with successful people that focus as much on their mental health struggles in the workplace as their achievements. Their conversations are as raw as they are inspiring, never skipping over the hard parts for the sake of a more aspirational origin story. Being self-made, your own boss, or professional over-achiever isn’t an easy path. Hearing successful people admit to the ugliest parts of that on-going struggle is much more motivating than the sugar-coated bullshit you hear elsewhere.
21. Mind Pump
Who or what it’s for: Advice for exercise and nutrition goals, perfect for beginners and pros alike
What it’s about: Don’t let the overdone dude-bro intro music intimidate you — Mind Pump is one of the most beloved, approachable health and fitness advice podcasts out there. Professional trainers Sal Di Stefano (a regular on Food, We Need to Talk), Adam Schafer, and Justin Andrews are here to help you get rid of the junk in an industry fueled by lies and broken promises. Bringing a much-needed focus on science-backed fitness, they pool their collective knowledge from years of experience to tackle everything from the right workouts for you to the right mindsets for meeting goals. They do promote their training regimens you have to pay for, but the general advice is free and priceless. While some of the language used ekes into problematic territory covered by others like Maintenance Phase, the hosts are on the whole great, welcoming, and trustworthy guides.
22. How I Built This
Who or what it’s for: Inspiration for the aspiring entrepreneur
What it’s about: [From our Best Business Podcasts roundup] “Ever wonder how innovative brands like Spanx, Airbnb, and Edible Arrangements — built on concepts that seemed unusual at first, but we can’t imagine a world without now — got their start? NPR’s How I Built This goes behind the scenes with their founders and many more to talk about their journey from small biz to international recognition. Hosted by Guy Raz, you’ll learn how to succeed in business but even more about how to fail making this podcast essential listening for new and established ‘treps.”
23. Consider This
Who or what it’s for: A quick and easy way to keep up with the most essential news
What it’s about: [From our Best Daily Podcasts roundup] “So you love NPR, but you don’t have an hour of your time to give it every day. Well, consider Consider This. A host of various NPR staples recap the day’s biggest stories in about 10-15 minutes, but with all the rigor and polish you’ve come to expect from the public radio titan. What’s more, the final few minutes are spent on local news — an integral but often overlooked aspect of a healthy news diet.”
24. Vox’s Today, Explained
Who or what it’s for: Keeping up with current events across all facets of society
What it’s about: Today, Explained isn’t just another daily political podcast — it’s your one-stop-shop for understanding a central cultural topic or current event of the day. [From our Best Daily Podcasts roundup] “A number of great hosts zero in on one story for 20-30 minutes, whether it’s a crafty magician saving theater during the pandemic or the class of college kids graduating during the pandemic.”
25. Planet Money
Who or what it’s for: People who hate talking or thinking about money
What it’s about: [From our Best Back to School Podcasts roundup] “Planet Money’s success lies in how it tackles complex subjects with great storytelling. A financial instrument like a Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) may sound impossibly boring, but Planet Money routinely makes these types of things the heart of a thrilling narrative. The team continues to explore the financial collapse, but they’ve expanded their scope to include all aspects of the global economy.”
Or alternatively, try NPR’s Indicator [From our Best Daily Podcasts roundup], “its more compact, daily sister podcast is a knockout. But for those a little less interested in talk of money stuff, NPR’s The Indicator is a great gateway drug. Tackling smaller yet still robust and integral stories related to work, business, and the economy, you’ll be surprised by how much crucial information you can gain in just 10 minutes.”
26. Curiosity Daily
Who or what it’s for: Sparking curiosity on a daily basis.
What it’s about: [From our Best Daily Podcasts roundup] “Curiosity Daily is kind of like the r/TodayILearned subreddit but in podcast form. Every weekday, you can learn something new from hosts Cody Gough, Ashley Hamer, and Natalia Reagan. They offer 10-15 minute summaries of interesting, research-backed news and facts relevant to our everyday lives from the science, psychology, and technology fields.”
Who or what it’s for: Learning what resistance to oppression means for you and others
What it’s about: [From our Best Podcasts of 2020 roundup] “Sierra Leonean poet Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. and the people he interviews don’t offer easy answers about how to resist the global machine of white supremacy. But that’s the point: Resistance is a daily fight against both the small and enormous battles of reckoning with anti-Black hatred. Interviewing everyone from activists to the single Black man who lives in a nearly all-white Nebraskan town, Tejan-Thomas Jr. shows the many different faces of what the struggle for justice and liberty looks like.”
28. How To Save a Planet
Who or what it’s for: Both climate change dooms-dayers and nay-sayers
What it’s about: [From our Best Podcasts of 2020 roundup] Gimlet’s new podcast comes in hot with a title that makes a supposedly impossible promise. But actually what makes How To Save a Planet great is precisely how it breaks down a seemingly insurmountable issue into digestible questions, conversations, and explanations. From disaster prep to the Green New Deal and even talking about climate change with the denier in your family, journalist Alex Blumberg and marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson guide a crucial search for solutions.
Who or what it’s for: Enriching the way you see the world both around and inside you
What it’s about: [From our Best Science Podcasts roundup] “An offshoot of Radiolab hosted by Alix Spiegel, Hanna Rosin, and Lulu Miller, NPR’s Invisibilia doesn’t cover hard science, but instead has a goal to investigate ‘unseeable forces [that] control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions.’ The team expertly unpack dense behavioral and social scientific studies in a relatable way — through the stories of actual humans. More recently, they’ve looked at how using AI and machine learning to try to translate animal communications into human language. What?!”
30. Hidden Brain
Who or what it’s for: Uncovering why we are the way we are
What it’s about: [From our Best Science Podcasts roundup] “If you like Invisibilia, you’ll like Hidden Brain. NPR’s popular podcast hosted by social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam delves into the recesses of the human mind, and questions why the hell we do and think the things we do. Vedantam conducts excellent, well-researched interviews with experts on complex topics that are made simple to understand, and will have you really getting in your own head.”
31. Mentally Yours
Who or what it’s for: Mental health help for specific issues and struggles
What it’s about: [From our Best Mental Health Podcasts roundup] “Hosted by Metro journalists Ellen Scott and Yvette Caster, Mentally Yours tackles a wide-ranging number of topics, including abusive relationships, living with alcoholism, body dysmorphia, and bipolar disorder, to name a few. Seeking information on a specific issue? Mentally Yours episodes are helpfully titled with specific topics to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. Right now, Scott and Caster are focusing on mental wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Who or what it’s for: Recovering from the year in grief that was 2020
What it’s about: [From our Best Mental Health Podcasts roundup] “If you’ve experienced loss and are , the Griefcast is well worth a listen. As host Cariad Lloyd writes on her website: “Griefcast is a podcast that examines the human experience of grief and death — but with comedians, so it’s cheerier than it sounds.” Comedians Robert Webb, Nish Kumar, Deborah Frances White, and Aisling Bea are just a few names on the stellar line-up of this award-winning pod.”
33. Still Processing
Who or what it’s for: Elevating your pop culture perspective and conversations
What it’s about: [From our ] “New York Times culture critics Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham bring some of the smartest cultural analysis directly to your eardrums on a weekly basis. The scope of what they cover is one of the widest of any pop culture podcast, whether TV, film, music, art, or the web. From the niche to the mainstream, their analysis always zeroes in on what each piece of media says about America, which often intersects with topics of race, gender, and identity.”
34. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Who or what it’s for: The historically curious who hated how it was taught in school
What it’s about: [From our Best History Podcasts roundup] “Dan Carlin, also the host of the popular show Common Sense, is one of the better-known voices in podcasting. Hardcore History dives deep into historical events — chiefly wars and military history — with super-detailed episodes being released only a few times a year. But the hours-long episodes are always informative and entertaining, and they should last you a while. There’s also a deep backlog if you’re not already a listener.”