Kimmy Schmidt is unbreakable: Even after being held hostage in an underground bunker for 15 years, she still sees the world as a joyous fairyland. Some people might consider her unwavering optimism naïveté, but science views it as something else: the secret to happiness.
For the uninitiated: Kimmy, played by the adorable Ellie Kemper, is the star of Tina Fey's new comedy,The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The series' first season was just released on Netflix and has critics gushing, calling it everything from "perfect," to "30 Rock funny." (And it is. It really is.)
Equally notable, the character is a beacon of positivity in a sea of disturbed television anti-heroes. We could all learn a thing or two from her approach to life, as the research below suggests. Caution: Spoilers abound.
The scene: After being rescued from a doomsday cult, Kimmy and her fellow "mole women" fly to New York City to be interviewed by Matt Lauer on Today. After her appearance, instead of heading back to Indiana, Kimmy jumps out of an airport shuttle in the middle of the Big Apple and decides to stay—with nothing more than a purple backpack and a smile.
The science: In a 2005 study, German researchers interviewed 20,000 people about their risk-taking habits. They found that participants who were more willing to take chances were more satisfied in life. They weren't able to determine which came first—the risk-taking or the feeling of contentment—but the correlation was clear.
The scene: Kimmy's new apartment is literally the size of a closet—because it is a closet. What most people would see as a joke, Kimmy sees as freedom, exclaiming "My own window!"
The science: Research has shown cultivating optimism is not only good for your health, it can also lead to a happier, wealthier life: A study of 6,000 men and women found that staying optimistic helped reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and another study found that optimists have better relationships, make more money, and are generally happier.
The scene: When Kimmy's "black and gay and bald and poor" new roommate, Titus, tells her to pack her things and move back to Indiana, she refuses (thanks to a rat she sees in a trashcan—long story). Instead, she finds her roomie in Times Square and gives him the speech to end all speeches: "Life beats you up," she tells him. “You can either curl up in a ball and die… or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us!”
The science: Studies have shown that happiness and resilience are linked. Specifically, those who manage to stay emotionally resilient in the face of adversity end up happier over time. Researchers have also found that resilient people harness positive emotions to "bounce back" successful from stressful situations and avoid depression after tragedy.
The scene: When Kimmy is criticized by her boss over a botched birthday party, her reaction is: I can do better. Doesn't matter that her boss is a nut-job who makes completely unreasonable demands.
The science: While many of us get defensive when called out for mishaps we feel are outside our control—or quit—studies suggest Kimmy has the right attitude. In 2013, researchers analyzed how 3,600 individuals responded to criticism from their boss. Turns out those who can take and learn from criticism (rather than make excuses) are happier in the workplace and have higher levels of self-esteem.
The scene: Kimmy's favorite motto is that anyone can do anything for 10 seconds (even turning a heavy "mystery crank" in an underground apocalypse bunker). Her theory is that, at the end of 10 seconds, you've inched closer to toward your larger goal.
The science: Kimmy knows what business leaders have known for years—that setting small, realistic goals can pave the path to success. When we break big goals into smaller ones, we feel a sense of accomplishment with every milestone along the way, boosting our motivation.
The scene: With so much on her mind (being kidnapped, not knowing any TV shows past the 90s, having no money), Kimmy is desperate for someone to talk to—someone who won't judge her for being different. And even though she gets stuck with a super old guy who's still afraid Nazis, she has the right idea in searching for a confidante.
The science: An Australian study that followed 1,500 people for 10 years found that having good friends helps people live longer. Those with a large support network outlived those with the fewest friends by a significant 22 percent. Another major study, this one from UCLA, found that when women reached out to friends during an emotional crisis, they coped better. One explanation (among many) is that the friendships triggered oxytocin—the feel-good bonding hormone—in the body, reducing women's cortisol levels and combating stress.
The scene: Kimmy advises her roommate, Titus, who dreams of becoming a Broadway star, to sell his Iron Man costume to pay for head shots—a much better choice than going into debt for them.
The science: Studies have shown that couples who are thrifty with their money are happier and have better marriages. Granted, Kimmy and Titus aren't married, but they do live together and share expenses.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.