« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#196 — The Science of Happiness

2020-04-10 | 🔗

In this episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Laurie Santos about the scientific study of happiness. They discuss people’s expectations about happiness, the experiencing self vs the remembered self, framing effects, the importance of social connections, the effect of focusing on the happiness of others, introversion and extroversion, the influence of technology on social life, our relationship to time, the connection between happiness and ethics, hedonic adaptation, the power of mindfulness, resilience, the often illusory significance of reaching goals, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to the making sense by Cast SAM Harris, just a no to say that if your hearing this, you are not currently honour, subscriber feed and will only be hearing partial episodes of the pot chemist. If you like, access to full episodes, you'll need to subscribe SAM Herriston work, there you'll find our private rss feed to add your favorite pot catcher, along with other subscriber only content and, as always, everyone money to be. The reason why someone can listen to the package of you can't afford a subscription there's an option at Samara steadily to request a free account and we grant a hundred per cent of those requests. No pussycat too, damn speaking with lorry Santos. Lorries, a professor of psychology at Yale University and she hosting very popular podcast,
the happiness lab and she teaches the most popular course at Yale, which is on the scientific understanding of happiness. Shelter. Once they comparative Cognition Laboratory in the Canine Cognition Centre at Yale. And here we get into what we know, or at least have good right. And to believe scientifically about the causes and conditions of happiness. At this point, We talk about the role of expectations and experience himself versus the remembered self. We talk about framing effects, and the importance of social connections, the effect of focusing on the happiness of others as opposed to one's own introversion versus extra version, the influence technology on our social lives, her relationship, the time, the connection between happiness and ethics He Donna adaptation, the power, mindfulness resilience. The often illusory
significance of reaching ones calls and other topics. Anyway. I really enjoyed this. I hope you find a useful. I now bring you lorries, Thus, I am here with lorries Santos lorry thanks rejoining thanks round me. I shall say, this is a long time coming. You many people wonder hear from you? How do you describe what It is you do academically an intellectually yes, sir. I am approach sir psychology, here at Yale University my day, job as a psychologist is. It is involved in studying what makes the human mind special, and I do that by studying non human primates and domesticated dogs but but most of my time these days is taken up with a different scientific pursue in psychology. I became super interested in the scientific basis of happiness and well being
and you have a podcast title- the happiness lab where you go into these issues in depth and the course you teach at Yale. Am I right in thinking this is the most popular course. The university yeah. Seventy thousand Eighteen, I taught a new class on this topic called psychology and the good life and the first time I taught it because it did become yells largest class ever just under like one thousand two hundred students enrolled, which is about one out of every four students at Yale Since then, we put the class online, Encore Sarah dot Org and is now one of corsairs biggest classes and just last month we had over a million learners and role well. Well, that's great happiness really is paramount concern for everyone whether they think about it terms are not less just focus on the word for a second because happiness, it, at least in English, is a somewhat insubstantial concept and people
often say something like you know, there's much more to life than happiness me Your happiness sounds like a somewhat a feat goal or primary value seemed a great into something like hedonism or pleasure, and then people would ten to try to balance that in their talk about the goals to which human life contend with concepts like meaning and virtue, and then many of us find ourselves using a word like flourish, which is strangely stilted, although not as stilted is using the Greek. You'd ammonia, and then I tend to talk about well being allowed in you. You actually just use that term. So how do you think about the concept? And he mostly, I just think I will- we had better terms and that everyone agreed on them cited and spend a lot of money, or I'm kind of fighting about that. I use the term happiness because I think that's what a lot of people think of when their thinking about content
like well being and flourishing. I agree that happiness is a much more loaded thing, because some people think it's about hedonism and really basic kinds of forms of happiness by think people kind of get this concept of happiness. No, we know from like the declaration of independence re in a life liberty, in the pursuit of happiness right, but but scientifically speed, I think social scientists mean a particular thing when they used the term happiness or well being, and this is the definition I end up using the course, which is that you can basically say you're happy if you have a lot of well being in your life and for your life. And what we mean by that. Is it perhaps It is in your life. Is the sort of you know almost hedonistic, kind of positive emotion, type, stuff right, you're, happy in your life, if you have lots of positive emotion,
and laughter and on and and not many negative, emotions like relatively speaking, there's not a tremendous amount of sadness and anger. Although we can debate about how much of that you want, but that's kind of being happy in your life, but but there's another feature. I think that the social scientists really care about net set your happy with your life, and so that's basically your answer to the question. All things considered how satisfied or you would life right now, and so I think there these interesting moments where those dissociate ray. I have my my exit. Dean here in my residential college. You know just had a new born baby and I think, he's very satisfied with her life, but in her life right now, there's a lot of negative emotions of, like you, know, cleaning during diapers and not sleeping in these kinds of things, and I think you know I see a lot. We know when I go to different toxin things of people. You know who are really happy in their life. You know they have a lot of hedonistic pleasure, but really there or are there really dissatisfied with their life? And so I think I think, if you're, if my If you're able to maximize both of those things that wise of encompassing things
like flourishing in meeting and all these kind of lesser concepts, think you're happy your life and with your life, you do in pretty well right. Was it that distinction happy in your life and happy with your life to my ear that is more or less identical to dance economies, distinction between they expire, sensing and remembering self has any daylight between these concepts. For yours that the same division, I think there's a little dissociation. I think I think you can have the happiness in your life and with your life in the experience self rightly so, just as an example, you Know- right now, I'm you know experiencing lots of positive emotions. Just for me no daily things I do and daily activities, but elzevir of meaning from this happiness work and that feels like it right now. Y gotta left after think back on it of my is on my future self canna. Looking back I can think of it all in a thousand anything I really want enjoy. I can experience that life satisfaction in the moment, and so I think you can actually have both in the experienced self rather than the remember itself
although it sounds to me what you're doing is something I do naturally- and this is a point of disagreement between me and danny- I really do think the remembering self is simply the experience himself in one of its modes. It feels like something to have these moments. A retrospective, even when asked what story can tell about your life. How satisfying are you the fact that in his paradigm he's able to show that there is a mismatch, rather often between who you're talking to when you're you're, asking about a retrospective judgment and who you're talking to one year from moment to moment, accounting. Just how what it's like to be. You Still, there really is just a thing, What time line of life experience and, as you say, the global assessment of ones Life is what I'm doing today. Actually meaningful bring in value to the world. Are the sacrifices, I'm making or the stress
I wonder Now- is it aimed at some purpose that I feel inspired by and that other as fuel inspired by all of that is that's where that this rule numbering self and the experience itself, just in my experience they become indistinguishable and and so on, wonder if you're just taking, however, inadvertently my side of the argument against Danny here that really, if we become very fine grained about what we mean by the experience himself- self. It just swallows the remember himself I think, you're right on this one, and I don't know, I think I haven't pushed a neon this directly, but my sense is that we don't have what the timeline is for the remembered self right. You know of any form of retros if any form of meta analysis. Some of it is the remember itself as soon as you asked me, like, hey hothouse things going, how satisfied when you have, if I ever have to take a global view. It's possible that that kind of its using
mechanisms that I use for the remember itself to some interesting extent right, I dont think Danny's really specified how far back we have to do the Roma bring read. It might be that any any point where we're gonna going Meda and thinking about our own happiness might be partly the remembered self in, and I think this it brings up a bigger issue with a lot of happiness. Research right is that we were to get at what happiness feels like in a moment, but the only we can do? That is to ask people and its very possible between the experiencing in the asking in any form or kind of getting some interesting mismatches their legs. Could be that just having you reflect on your own positive emotions, it's gonna change that right. That might be different than kind of what I was the singing what I was experiencing in the sum total of that throughout my day, which sucks for happiness researchers right to ask people somehow. I wish there was a thermometer where we could get it happiness or well be accurately without asking people, but we don't really have that and if we don't it's hard for us to ever know if the act of reporting on your happiness
changing it, whether that be why you're experiencing what you're, remembering in whatever form here, I have another question which relates to this, which is the role that expectation plays in determining a person sense of well being and without vacation, I'm thinking it can also be retrospective right. So I'm having a certain experience. It has as a certain emotional violence which could be negative right could be stressful, but because of my expectations, or because of how I can even retrospectively reconceive. The stress I was just under warm currently under this kind of framing effect. Can you seem too in part or fully determine whether an experience get scored as pure
suffering or one of the highlights of my life, literacy or climbing, Everest right and obviously the physical experience. He is just more or less a pure order, he'll, but if you get to the top and you get back down without dine and you don't destroyer ethical code by passing somebody's near corpse on the way down, we ve all heard those horrible stories. So you can have some if you're sampling each time point along the way just looks like torture and yet retrospectively. And for real enough for the rest of one's life. It's gonna seem like one of the best things. If ever done. How do you think about those framing effects? I think those framing affects our huge. I mean, I almost think that the way Europe, I mean experience in and I mean that in a variety of ways how you're categorizing it, how you frame it retrospectively the expectations you have about it going into it. I think that those expectations and
categorization are more powerful in some cases than the actual experience itself fur. What what we go through, I mean you're. Just did there so many kinds of cases like this so take. You know really classic work in the history of psychology, where you give people a particular physiological response and then them gift in getting give them different kinds of frames for how they make sense of it yes, this is back in the day time before ethics and social psychology, but you basically unknowingly pump subjects full of like adrenaline. Basically, you get easily give them speed without them, realising it and then you you set a frame for what they could be experiencing there, either in it. In a room with other subjects who are acting really aggressively, who are really angry or who are a partying, you know they think the experiments superfine in their enjoying it. And what you find is that the sum six entire experience of that then depends on this name of the other people around them. You know, if they're, in a room of people who are partying and they're experiencing these physical sensations that are kind of a little bit in your educated. They think it's real on, whereas if they're around other angry people, they find it
to be negative and they see it as angering, and so what this shows is our bed, the basic fish ology of what we are experiencing, how we actually you'll about it, whether that's positive or negatively, valence or whether it something that might lead to happiness or lead to sadness or anger is completely based on what our expectations are about That moment, in some cases the social contagion of other people's expectations. About that moment, I mean that's the basic physiology and the example you're getting into has even more complicated you. It's not just single physiological experience in a moment, it's integrating across a whole host of physiological experiences and then looking back on it, and so we might have some frame about those You know experiences say before we start on Mt Everest. Maybe it's a dream of ours and something we ve trained for and so on. You that's gonna causes in the moment to see those actual experiences. You note tiredness and near physiological stress in your fight or flight response, all that stuff
we're gonna, see those differently and then see them differently retrospectively. So I think it's kind of a mess, but in some ways I think that's really powerful that right. That means it. We actually have the chance to refrain things in our life in these powerful way is right think the ancient traditions figure that out and then you know the continent into risky of the world's figured that out in modern times, and I that's exciting, does it mean We can use these framing techniques to change around. Our experience will actually to change our physiology to change whether or not some experience makes us happy or sad were, and we we actually don't even have to change the past or have avoided a certain negative experiences in the past. If we can re frame them in the future, is the one thing that I pulled from Existential ISM apart from an appreciation for how much of it didn't make sense as just a sense that you, you are always free to tell you a new story about the past service, the humiliating failure that as bothered
up until yesterday can be framed as the thing that caused you to get the tools that are now integral to your success or whatever it is, You can actually just change your relationship to something that used to be a source of suffering for you and in that sense, reach into the past and put it to some were in, and most amazing thing about. The human mind is that we can do that prospectively to mean others lovely work by social psychologist like even cross that talk about the power of psychological, distancing, basically trying to think of an event as your future self would think about the event. Yes, I'm about to go through you not gonna, like a really learning have a really stressful interview with SAM Harris right before I start, I could think what what future lorry want? To think about this interview I want to thank here. We had this great Caution- and we no doubt these hard, hitting issues- and this is this to be awesome and that when I If I were to think that way, even before I started interview, it would frame how the conversation was going. You know if I can get stressed out in the middle of it. You I'd think like
This is the hard hitting part that I really want to take some periods. You know it and it would tend to feel better later, and so no one even shown is that we don't have to just wait till we get to the future to think back retrospectively. In this positive way, we can use that as a frame in the present to shoot experiences is overtime to and and he's shown that you can do that simply by your having a narrative in your own head that uses your future self in the third person you know lorry in the future. We want to think this way about. You know ex wines, the experience that can shape it or in time in real time as you experienced the event. We're lucky for you, your speaking to Future SAM, has a real pushover, so no problem there. So, let's start from some kind of ground zero for people psychologically sale lists. Imagine someone comes to you you're your happiness expert. They come to you and I say that they are.
Profoundly unhappy in their life. What generic advice would you give to a person with? It really is generically you think, is more less a good eye. Dear for virtually anyone, you know really boring some strange contra indication. What do you recommend to peoples as a first pass for two? in the various dials within reach to improve their sense of well being. We think the first piece of advice is just that the science suggestion, intervene Ray. I think a lot of people who are not happy at a given time think that there's something about them, that's messed up right. You know genetically they're just predisposition to be unhappy or they're kind of built to be that way, and I think that you know the first thing to tell people is just that. That might be the case to a certain extent. Either
Some Herod ability to most while being measures, but there's a lot. You can do to intervene on them and I think that's kind of message number one is look. You can take some action and mixed this in terms of the specific actions. I would suggest you if you look at the positive psychology literature. One of the huge cost of facts on our own happiness is our social connection. You know, there's a famous paper by Marty Seligman and at dinner that set suggest that social, social relationships and strong social relationships are necessary. Happiness there not sufficient for happiness, but you can't find happy people that don't have them, and so that really suggests that if you want to be like happy people, you should focus on your social relationships. And that means you know and taking a look at your priorities to figure out if those social relationships are falling by the wayside. And I think in the modern day where we prioritize work in the things
go with working for my students. You know their academic performance, often that's coming at the opportunity cost of the time you spend on your social relationships, and so so that's kind of hit number one is: are you making time for the people that you really care about him? and in a lot of that, work also comes from some lovely studies by Robert While dinner and his colleagues he's part of this. Long running Harvard happiness, study that its super cool. It's been studying, it's been studying men from Harvard and they were men. Is the studies started back in the nineteen thirty, so men from Harvard, and also like you? men from lower income, Boston neighbourhoods and they ve been tracking them over time, and Now, their original cohort is in their nineties more and they ve been able to look at all kinds of features about their healthy another immune function, whether they heart disease and diabetes and so on and what's remarkable, is a major predictor, not just of of mental health like happiness but also physical health is the nature of these men. Social relationships,
we are actually predicting longevity now, so that the men who are still alive in this cohort study are the ones that seem to have tended to have the best social relationships, and so again. I kind of doubling down and social relationships, eggs great cause. It's like doing double duty. It's not just good for your mental health in great fear, physical health to Rome, yes, I was run through the list of things that come to mind and then I will come back to some them Alex. I do we talk about relationships more the ass it so social can I, it is a big one being Their oriented generally And what I mean by this is the the active paying attention to other people over yourself, so being the kind of person it gives to charity that volunteers. Your time that that is focused on other people generally seems to be a big one for you Your happiness in your house, one that sounds silly. Is that what I tell my students are just healthy. Bits, and by that I mean the other stuff that we know is good for physical health, like making sure you're getting enough sleep, making sure you're getting off exercise, making sure you're eating right. Those physical things seem to have a huge impact on people's man,
the much more than we think and then I think there is a whole set of things that are more in your we'll house. I know their active being a little bit more present being mindful and then changing your mindset towards things like having a mindset, that's a little bit more grateful and a little bit more compassionate generally. And these are mindsets that often come from ancient practices like different forms of meditation and so on. So those would be those of my top hits? We can get into the lesser top hits to like, like being being religious, it turns out is actually pretty good for your happiness, or at least I should clarify not necessarily believing religious believing in religious doctrine, but actually taking part in religious practices turns out is correlated with happiness. And yet we can go away down the less by us. It will save which ones you want to pick up on here. Ok, but what was go back relationships and I think knowing something about your work is not just once close relationships is also,
orientation towards strangers, and whether you will just talk to people in public on on an airplane or in line on the Sunday covered in at least one of your podcast. So this would suggest, however, that extroverts could be at some time advantage here and that shyness could be a real impediment to self actual Alsatian of some kind. How do you think about that? Let us leave aside close relationship was put someone out in public among strangers. How do you think about the variables that determine a person social experience yet This one was a shocking one for me when I first started reading the literature, mostly because I'm not a very social per se when it comes to strangers. You know the kind of person it when I hop on a plane. I put my
huge headphones on and off the hidden Taylor will speak to me. That's what I used to do at least, but yes, there's so much work by folks like Nick aptly and lays down and others that show that the simple, like fleeting connections that we have with strangers can be really powerful for our well being, and in this in this sense I really mean the sort of happy in your life kind of well being. It really seems to bump up our positive emotions, as these are things like. You know, the simple conversation you have with the Breeze tat, the coffee shop or you know chatting up your over driver while you're on your ride. These kinds of simple social connections seem to bump up our mood, the absence of them can seem took on a decrease our mood in some interesting ways, and so what striking about that intervention, though, is that people really don't think that's the case. This is work by Nick ugly. He finds it. People make incredibly strong predictions that
talking to strangers is gonna, be weird, are awkward or does not very fun, and what he finds is that, because of that, Miss prediction people tend not to talk to strangers when they have the opportunity to do so, and that's true of introvert an extra words. I think that the bigger issue for introvert is that that prediction and intervene is even stronger. So if extroverts predict that there will be a little awkward Tino talk with my driver for the whole ride, introvert send at predicting it's gonna, be actively fall to talk to my Hoopdriver for the whole ride like I'm gonna, make be completely miserable, but both extroverts, an introverted snick fines actually get a big bump and, while being from from having that conversation with the stranger and so in that this actually is a theme that's worth investigating further, because I think this is part of a lot of the stuff we see in the positive psychology work, which is that there are these things that we can do to bump up our well being, but by and large our theories about what we should do to bump up our well being seem to be wrong, which is frustrating as it means that, like rational people aren't
doing the things that they should be doing to improve their happiness because they have misconceptions about the stuff. That's gonna work. So by theories you don't mean the scientific theories literature, you mean each person's personal idea about what they should do to become happier yeah. I know you've been in that rich of an explicit sentence right. You know what, if I'm standing in line at Starbucks to get a latte, you know I have some intuition. I was going to make me happy. I probably think the latte is going to bump up my mood or bump up my productivity. If I decide to talk to somebody, it's cuz at least what's it? I thought that would be a good idea, what kind of feel nice or feel good in that situation as though we constantly have these very low level automatic intuitions about the stuff that feels good and that controls how we act in the world. What scary is that? What the scientific theory suggests that those intuitions are often wrong, in other words, were systematically not doing this stuff that could make us happiest you're here sooner. How do you think about shyness in this context, because that, obviously, the wall, through which
Many people never push and keeps them isolated in the social circumstances where, even if they accepted your thesis that they would we more or less guaranteed to be happier if they could get to the other side of that wall. It feels bad to even attempt it yeah I mean, I think I think what what the science just you should try if you're an interview in that situation is just see if you could try it out lake. You know, just you know, take baby steps into having conversations with strangers and then be mindful about how it feels and what next data really suggests. It is probably going to feel better than you expect. The problem is that there is a real start up costs to having
those conversations, because we have this strong intuition that is gonna go really badly, but if we can get over that start up costs the the benefits that we experience can be really powerful. And that's when I resonate with myself, I mean I don't necessarily consider myself in introvert, but I'm definitely not the kind of person who, just like you, typically strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Rightly what my producer, my podcast Ryan, he's a journalist by nature and every time we go out he's always talking to people. Animals How do you do happy purpose, not in your vote, but that, but the science suggested I'm totally wrong. I need to kind of bus through that initial awkwardness and try it out and you get much more benefit. Then you expect so I'm like you in that respect, and it's always amazing to be with a friend who is the exact opposite and just see how different their life is in situations like that amount, I know people who can walk into a crowded, elevator and strike up a conversation with zero awkwardness, and it is a kind superpower, which I notice I entirely lack, AEGIS real,
in those moments that there are people who are walking through the world having a completely different experience, because everywhere there going there just talk, the people and having a self reinforcing and eaten by large, entirely pleasant in cash. Her with the world, whereas if you have any says the percentages here, but I would imagine increasingly so we can talk about how our certain changes in our society technologically have ratified. This default. Setting of can I down isolation, but I would imagine most people this point are walking through cities more or less nor in everyone, most of the time, at least to the limit of what is possible and the people who aren't doing that at all, are really they live in a very different, parallel track of human experience. Yeah in it, in their data, suggested like a happier track your it's nice to see. If there is to know the researchers who study the stuff because they often live it, were going out to dinner with
Nick aptly recently were in Aspen Colorado together, an inner we went out to dinner and he will just strike up a conversation with everyone. You know the waitresses. Try, they come here. Just take our order and you'll end up chatting with her for, like fifteen minutes, to the point that she's gonna have a good time like. Oh sorry, I have to go when you have put your order and are the personnel to you and you know it for it. It's it's weren't, even I know these data its foreign to me. It's not that thing that I would normally do, but I can. Resonate with them like wow. That was so much more of a fun dinner. It went by so much faster, cuz we're having always interesting conversations, and you know what the people around you are filled with interesting stories. Interesting ideas like worst were: social primates were going to get a lot of that, and so, but the message is that what we have to do is to violate our intuitions, and I think this is me. This is so fundamental and I think it doesn't get talked about enough I get really challenges are: are rational approach to improving our own well being and to getting to you dimona if we have all these incorrect theories again, indirect incorrect intuitions about the sorts of things that we need to do to be happy that me,
we could be in our rationally following what our intuitions tell us, but active we moving against are what would be best for us in terms of our well being, which is so striking at his wife and the science. So important, Desgas doesn't totally cause you to update your intuitions? No, I'm not immediately a social person, who's talking to the barista all the time, but I can kind of put some work in to overcome those, and then it does make your life better. If you can fight some of these bad intuitions, ok we're having this conversation in the first week in April, twenty twenty in a context where you for I was at least a decade of a decade and a half We have witnessed a variety of social and technological changes which again have have made people
some ways less isolated, but in a face to face since more isolated him, so the introduction of the smartphone is probably the biggest one you go into public and people tend to close down any opportunity for spontaneous interaction with strangers because their firstly always looking at their fallen. Whenever they get a chance, and may I guess on some level there socializing was somebody else, often by doing that, but it's not face to face and is a very different experience for social peace. And is an open on the only person to feel that we ve all been inducted into a psychological experiment, to wit, more. Let no one has really consented and were just rolling the dice with human psychology in and seen what comes of all this and now. This is in the context of this conversation, especially ratified by really covered night in pandemic, where you have people truly isolated for rum red.
Of epidemiology and isolated under conditions of significant stress, if not health stress, then economic stress so am, I guess- must take full for those pieces how do you see the trade off between some of the technological advances we made, They really have created wealth and the ability to even have rears. It would be unthinkable and in the internet has been obviously immensely useful and we're we're not gonna get rid of it, but it's easy to how it may have eroded face to face connection for most people most of the time and then, let's jump to the current circumstance of the pandemic. I mean I worry a lot about what technology is doing to our social connection. You know if you, if you get back to the barista and coffee shops in area. No one of the reasons I don't talk to the barista is
I totally sure it'll be that fun, but also I don't even notice the breeze direct I'm staring down on my phone and checking my email is rolling through my instagram feed or something and most of us are doing that and I think you're right. We, we ve put these devices in the pockets of six billion. Bull around the planet and we don't really know their cause. There's there is now Good data coming out about the the specific ways that that cell phones in general and technology in general might be affecting our social relationships and they're all striking and really scary, so Liz done, whose a professor at the universe, your British Columbia, has been doing some of this work and she does does really simple experiments where she has say subjects it together in a waiting room either with their cell phones or without their cell phones and in their their instructed. Just have the cellphone out so they're, not even necessarily using the cell phone, it's just basically present and what she finds it, the presence of a self.
And decreasing the smiling between those subjects or in the waiting room by about thirty percent like just having it out, and we see the same thing when we look at all kinds of different social activity. Is right, is another study where she has. The family is going around like say like a science museum together and she either lets the parents, have their cell phones with them or not, and what she finds its way. You less enjoyment the part of the parents in those science museum when they had their cellphones out with their kids way, less feeling like they bonded with their kids, but also the kids, feel that way to re. The kids are feeling less bonded with the parents. To and again this is just the mere presence of our cell phone and I think We often think he will. We when we talk about technology, is there's always like. Oh for media and facebooking are there so evil and they d strike action like for me, just as a basic science
I actually worry more just about what our attention and resources are doing when, where around cellphones right, because in some ways like our brain, isn't stupid, our brain knows what's on the other side of these devices and there's some pretty good, interesting Nido Piddock induce exciting stuff. On the other side of these things, and now those devices are competing with the basic social interactions we have like. You know ye. I could have a conversation with my husband over the dinner cable, but if I have my phone there, I know that on the other side of that phone, is you every political discussion? That's happened. You know every cat video in the universe. Liz done. I interviewed her for an upcoming season, two episode of my podcast and share this wonderful analogy. She said you know when you We dinner with your husband imagining instead of your phone, you brought this big wheelbarrow and in a wheelchair, Oh is like a print out of every book. That's ever been were in. You know like printer. Of every one of your email since ninety. Ninety, two, like you like a big big stacks of vote, albums of all your family pictures. You know like every
video dvd of every cat video in the universe. Like you, every no museum, like archive of every prisoner print, that's ever been made in every art gallery all over the world poor and electric light neo big deity piled porn is like if you are sitting next, wheelbarrow during dinner. You'd be distracted like you, wouldn't wanted your husband? Is you want a leg flip through the dvds and see what cavity is where their right and in what she says his leg Your brain knows that, on the other end of that device is all that stuff. That wheelbarrow. Is there an even if you're, paying attention to your conversation with your husband at dinner? There is a part of your mind. That's distracted that you have to keep reeling back from that big wheelbarrow of cap videos and we ve put that distraction. As I said in six billion pocket, around the world, and we don't know what it's doing to our attention, sources, we don't know what it's doing to our social resources. All we know is that it's a huge opportunity cost, we haven't been to measure that cost yet, but I think it's huge for our social relationships and also
given what we know about meditation and mind, wandering, I think it's huge for our well being to nearly were kind of constantly pulling our attention back from these devices in a way that didn't exist ten years ago. We just didn't have that attention costs ten years ago, and so sorry there really scary, but not for the reasons people typically think off. I just think you know there's just an attention sock that exists now that never existed before him. History- and we have no idea what it's doing to our minds and our relationships girl Phyllis linger here before we get to the pandemic- circumstance there's another variable here, which is related to what technologies doing to us and how're essentially addicted to smartphones in particular, and that are our relationship to time and the sense that we have to use it wisely that basically everything is an opportunity, cost that Europe constantly tree hygiene with respect to what we could be paying attention to
and for many of us, certainly anyone who's a kind of knowledge worker there really is no boundary between the moments where you could profitably get things done, and do you know any other moment and live wherever you happen to be fun: lorry Santos in a star bugs in line there are many is not to look at the barrister. But one is you can catch up on the emails that you know. You're gonna have to answer at some point and if you answer a few now, that's a few fury. After answer later, in the day when you get home, there's justice fundamental erosion of the boundary between the imperative of getting stuff done and all of these other moments in life, and it say, created background level of stress for many of us and the something about our relationship with time. It gets change. There are enough. You have any thoughts on that. You, I think, that's really important
One of the other things we know super important for well being is: is our perception of time. There's some lovely work coming out of actually willing lab at Harvard Business School focused on this concept of time affluence which is the subject of feeling that you have a lot of free time. The opposite is time, famine, where you feel kind of famished for time hungry for time and Ashley's work has been showing that physiologically time famine works a lot like hunger, famine, where you're kind of tree aging it serve. Pumps up your stress hormones and so on. Action has also shown that was so. It's odd about what we were thought about our sense of time right now is that we assume we have less free time. But actually, if you look at people's calendars, they actually have more free time all told which is kind of surprising refilling were so time this right now. The problem is that our time right now is broken up into into what she's called time confetti. So we have free time, but it seems like tiny snippets, and I think that the form of those tiny snippets is exactly has a feature of exactly what you're saying, which is there.
It's it's hard to use those in a way that promotes our? Well, being you know it's hard to let you know, I have a deep conversation with our spouse when, when we have like five minutes here and there like it's, like while images get a few emails off the coffee knife? I have this little bit of free time, and so, even though we these moments of free time confetti we end up using them, color for work, stuff were or first stuff. That's really fast rate Sometimes, when I'm doing it kind of executive saying I'm in line, I could get a few emails down, but that's anxiety provoking the I'll just do a quick, panics role through social media theatre. You know like they look up that news. Article is on and so We end up because the time is so caught up in these tiny bits. We end up using it for what feels like the easiest thing right things that have a little bit of a start up costs or things that you take a little bit of time to get going. We tend not to prioritize, and that means were not prioritizing alot of deep social connection with people, because you know that has this kind of start up costs and
and takes little time it often means or not even prioritizing, like good leisure either. You know time. Confetti means, we don't want. You know, learn a new instrument or learn a new language or even you know, diving dislike a deep novel. You know the all those existential novels you're talking about before, like I'm, not YO, picking up a good like you know, starts novel. Does it feels too much like I'm just going to scroll through the New York Times? I'm just gonna pick up. My twitter feed, like we kind of only have time, for you know like a few character, is because the time is so broken up, and so I think I think this time confetti has lots of consequences for our happiness, and I think you're right that the fact that these technologies are breaking up our time in these ways is having a negative effect, but but but the technologies also have a negative effect on time in a completely different way, which is that, unlike the other important things in our life, be it in owes such relationships or sleep, those things don't nag us as well
Is our devices do right? You know my husband doesn't have a notification ding that comes up. You know in my window, when I'm checking my email too long. You but my email does when I'm talking to my husband right, and so I think you know that the fact of the matter is that most parts of our technology, most apps on these things you'll, get get revenue and get money from having eyeballs on them and so in your Iphone wants the kind of remind you to be using your Iphone and all apps on your Iphone want to be reminding you to use those apps, and that means that they have a kind of start bugging you in a way that the other important things in life down and its really hard to ignore those things you know cause they're built on the latest neuroscience of what grab your attention of? What can it gives you a little dope mean hits you feel it'll be rewarding to jump on that phone and real life does do that in a real life, doesn't have teams of designers trying to like mess with our attention and mess with our dopamine and now its problematic, as it means that the technology and kind of grabs are engine easier when you add to that the normal time
confetti that all of us have, where we're kind of you're, just gonna go with easy thing. It's kind of a recipe for not prioritizing the right stuff in our lives. Rome The technology is changed. The way we initiate social contact, even with people who were who our closest friends it be used to be that you just pick up the phone and call someone and there wasn't a surprising intrusion into their solitude, which it is now and I feel like eight called call. Even from someone, I'm close to, with a few exceptions wife as an exception and members, a couple of other people, my life, who I still expect a call from, but virtually every they call the default. Now is ended up by email or by text and age called call almost analogous to twenty ago. What how would have felt if someone just showed up at your house on announced
and rang the doorbell and are I don't know if you have noticed this in your life, but there's been a migration from email the text now, and he is very short- form punk tape communication at me. Now in a text rather often is a surrogate for maintaining the relationship in the old way, which is actually seen or speaking with each other. Yet we know that I mean. Obviously, though, it means those are shorter, communications right cause, you're, not gonna, having long lingering our relations, but but is also missing all the stuff that were built as primates to pay attention to write. You don't get the right emotion through tax, as you do through changes to my vocal intonation, are subtle changes to my facial expression. We haven't as a species gotten good at using tax to do that stuff. Yet long tax right, you know if you read Dino again, a fantastic novel you can see here.
Those in there? You can see the emotion, but you don't really get that you know in a short text. You know about dinner and when dinner is ready kind of thing and I think we're we're, we don't realize what we're missing out on in those interactions- and I- and I think you know I again It's just crazy tat. We ve had this experiment on him. In psychology and put your basically changed around six billion social relationships without people's permission and not knowing really how it's gonna have long term effects by ethic were starting starting to see the long term effects mean. This is the mental health crisis. Then it we ve been seeing experts putting in all generations, but particularly in young people who, for the most part, only ever known these forms of communication here. This is the exploits in a lonely. Now that we ve seen you know, loneliness has been increasing by double digit numbers in the last decade, and you know that in some ways I run it cause. These technologies were supposed to be linking us up, but in practice they could be that they could be,
failing to allow us to connect in the ways that our primate minds are used to connecting and that can have all kinds of consequences we don't realize. So Have you been thinking about the covered? eighteen experience world having in really for most of us in genuine isolation new, albeit in many cases where families and many of us our experience. Silver lining their way, we're having more enforced cos. All the time with what our families, but it is a generally speaking, aim surreal upheaval in its psychological experiment of a different order. Now and where we've all been inducted into it. Yeah I think it's I mean it's for me. First of all, it's just surreal and crazy. Eight in u DOT, s is what it must have felt like to live through other major natural disasters for a species, and I feel like we're dinosaurs, watching the meteor hit in some ways, but I think that the biggest people, as you said, is, is in our social relationships in our social lives, and I think, if you look at what happens when people are going through a tough
s full time what our species does is we try to hook up with other people like we try to hang out with our friends. You know we go to our mom does and get a hug that's possible, like we just try to connect as much as we possibly can and in terms of our physical health. That's impossible right now like to flattened the curve. We just can't do that. There's it there's an additional feature, that's bad for social relationships to which is that, if you think about what the threat is in the covert nineteen crisis, its other people. You know it's that guy that touch my door not before I walked out of my house. You know it's the person whose panic buying the toilet paper that I need like, in addition to not being able to connect with people which is our natural response during a crisis. Other people are part of the crisis here. They're kind of making them is worse, and I think those two things together are making this in an incredibly. College in time is making an otherwise incredibly challenging time even more challenging. The good news, though, is, I think this is the time when we can start to harness some of those technologies for social connection, and even
at our ways- and I know what I mean by that is. It is not just a matter of like hey. Gone. Zoom in you know, talk to some friend resume its trying to find ways to use these technologies to get the informal social connections that we're missing out on so much you know it's either. Many of us, as you said, to some people, are living in isolation. I think rhythm in earth did two completely different matter. But you know some of us have family members and so on, but you know we're missing that tat with our co workers at the water cooler year were missing. That quick conversation with the Breeze tat, the coffee shop or just the smiles that we. If the people- and we walked down the street- you those have away a little bit over time. But there still there- and I think a lot us are facing the need. The craving that we're getting from not having that stuff was a new, really cool paper by Rebecca Sacks whose a neuroscientist MIT would actually started this work a long time ago, but it just got publish during covered showing that if you pay people in social isolation, the areas of their brain that would normally show craving for things like food and so on start craving social connection, so
equally, the kind of hunger craving that we get for, say, sugary foods and we stop eating those. That's the kind of thing that we get for social connection after really short period of social, isolation, and I think a lot of us are gonna be going through that right now, but in good news is that there are these mechanisms of connecting with other people. I think we just have to use them to replicate the informal so so social connections to like those are the ones we kind of need like so so for them. Meda, in Meda Zoo meeting, to hang out with a friend of mine whose in New York, why was just chopping vegetables? You know for dinner as an agent you noticed like be their launch. Opting vegetables in her new face was on the screen and am chalk and exiles are chatting, but but in that you have a but things I can see her facial expressions you she can hear me laughing. We can. We can hear each other's intonation in our voices. I can see her in real time. You know it's not face to face, but It's it's pretty good for what our primary beings are sucking up, at least it's much better than scrolling Instagram feed or looking at attacks thread. We just have to kind of build that in, but but the problem
tell me about it right. We have to get over that thing that we have kind of built in through these technologies of like I got to call somebody in that feels awkward and it's kind of the start up cost, but I think you know remarkably, are norms, change really fast, and you even just for me personally spell Euless for Zoom calls like we're going to play trivial resume friends, you know felt a little like us kind of weird, but you know within three weeks of doing it. That's just are we connect now I get it. It becomes normal surprisingly quickly to use these technologies in these informal social ways. I want to recall some few dresser out bein other oriented and they pay off of that. This is a very buddhist concept. If you want to be happier help somebody else is essentially the anger or even just intend to help. Somebody else think pause. Heavily about somebody else's. I'll be in, and you ll find your
gladdening your own mind. How do you think about that and the larger framework in which people pursue that, so you can think about ethics and having some kind of actual conscious conception of the type of person. One wants to be the kinds of virtues one wants to actually live out in one's life. This is worse, so called self sacrifice becomes the wiser form of selfishness. If you really just want to be happy, if that's your goal, one fairly, Why doorway into that is to be very rigorous about using your energy and consciously RO social way to improve the lot. Of others. So what do we do? about all that, yet We know. As I mean, the science suggests that in her as usual, the Buddhist swore right here how his ancient traditions, one of being confirmed by modern social science and nurse
As I mean I, the happiest folks tend to be on average, the folks that give more to charity even acquainted for income. The happiest folks tend to be the ones that, on average, volunteer more of their time and energy kind. I ve no, as you said, kind of ethically oriented to kind of thinking about other people first, but I think this is another. Spot where intuitions get it all wrong. You know, if you look at you know any like self Help magazine or any article these days, especially during Covid nineteen. It's all about self help, audio self help. You know self care treat yourself you, MRS Parks and Rec Slogan, that you need to be treating ourselves. I think we think that, when push comes to shove, the way to get out of a stressful situation is to become more inward oriented. Focus on what we ourselves think we need hedonistic, Lee or in terms of our you know like meaning in life and leisure and stuff, like that and in the new science suggested that again, is an intuition ass, just incredibly wrong
neither some work by lays down and her colleagues, and that shows that spending money on yourself actually makes you less happy. Then spending money on other people. You know she does these lovely studies or she walks up to somebody on a street and has the money and tells the subjects how to spend it in. So some half of the subjects are told, spend the money on other people by the end of the day in, and some of them are told, spend the money on yourself by the end of the day and what she finds, that the people who spend money on other people at the end of the day and even later, on, like at the end of the week, are happier ourself self reported, are happier then those you spend the money on themselves, and I think that you know- and she also like Nick Aptly- does work showing that does not people's intuitions. You know she ass a different group of subjects which of these conditions would make you happy. Aren't subjects are improved, strong agreement that they want the money for themselves. Thus, the kind of thing that would make them happier- and so you I think it's one of these things that, like ethically and in terms of our religious commitments, those of us who are less religious, like people kind, I get that you're supposed to do no stuff for others, but but but often people think about that.
In a like. Well, that's to be a good person it. It doesn't necessarily make me in the moment. I am here to do something nice for somebody else. You know it's kind of a sacrifice right, but in practice with the science suggests that that's wrong like if I'm having a really bad day at work. I shouldn't go often by myself in Munich here. I should just like get a gift card to give one of my co work as a manicure and intuition feels just wrong to me. You're. Maybe it's the right thing to do or a noble thing to do- or you know a very ethical thing to do like phosphorus- would be really proud of me. But I dont think that, like lorries and open mean system is going to respond better to gifting that manicure than getting it myself, but that's actually The data suggest the others were. Mindfulness can be very helpful because you can notice the hedonic bump. When you do that sort of thing. And become more and more vivid ass, you can what is the ways in which giving what, in real terms, It is even more images like radiant check to an organization, their way,
to do that, where you get very little hedonic reinforcement and their ways to do that were you get much more and it is interesting the variables there, but it be great if there were a truly linear connect, in between doing good things in the world and moment, Mama gratification. There is definitely a connection, but it's just. It requires some intelligent steering of your own attention to extract the reward that is there to be extracted this circumstance a being in economic lockdown offer some unique opportunities to experiences so in I've known that. Anyone who is fairly well off in this situation, whose new hasn't experienced an implosion economically and who can continue working,
really. The low hanging fruit here ethically, is to continue to support the people in one. Wife who you know or just being created by this change in the economy, so take somebody in it in a service role, the four person to come to mind, for me was the woman who cut. My hair guy, get a haircut once every six weeks or so, and I had to know that her business more or less going to zero under these conditions. So very early on my head, the thought, while just by imaginary haircuts, doesn't reason why you know she should suffer the fact that I can't physically get those haircuts and just doing that A few things like that, I'm in a way it wasn't a list of a hundred people like that in my life, but taken care of people when I was truly say revising fighting nothing to do it that some of the most pleasant experience I've had a month just being able to do that, and
How did I get a good thing to do is good for you and it is good for the world. You are totally eminent tuna pick up on two points here. One is just. I think you ve Eve conduct completely hit the nail on the head right there. I think this is covered. Nineteen as a time where we really feel like we don't have that manage. Agency, write them in the maximum. Frustrating thing is big: you wanna help just stay home and don't do anything like to stay home like don't do anything and ito humans do that we like to be causally effective in the world, and I think one way to because the effective is just to be helping financially, if again, you're in the privileged position to do that, all the people, you would have normally helped financially anyway, and in some ways it is, as you said, there is no cost to it like that. Money was already spent, and I think that an important framing for this time is that many of us are getting fat Rachel windfalls that we're not paying attention to. You know I'm not spending enough for box on a latte every morning, which was my normal practice yo. Some of us are now
paying you know the subway fair, the gas fair for our commutes. These are all tiny windfalls that lots of us are getting in so many domains during covert nineteen, but we can pay those windfalls back to the people that need ere. I now an evil folks who are in not great financial positions? Has probably a lot of your listeners are in the same privilege position that you are. You know to know that they still have a job. Some of them. You are working, less hours or be given have lost their jobs and so on. Even those folks have a different windfall. They have a temporal you know they have time that they might not have had before and again. The best use of time in terms of your well being is turn of time spent on other people. You know so you can be making those calls to advocate for say, more Ppe for healthcare As you know, you can make a call to elderly neighbour a kind of check on how they are and those kinds of waste. Spending our money and our time during this crisis can have a huge impact on our well being personally
but then also they're, just like good for the world. Cuz we're like doing good stuff to like protect the economy and protect the vulnerable folks during this crisis. But I want to pick up on a second language. Is this idea invention that to notice the effect that you are you're good actions have on your own psyche? You can have to be a little bit mindful, and I think this is really powerful, that this is something that I think neuroscience is just beginning to understand, which is how we can use mindfulness to to hack these bad intuitions that we have about stuff you throughout this conversation I've been saying, you know we should be more social, but we don't realize that and therefore we don't do it. We should be nicer to other people be more focused on other people, but we don't notice it so it we don't realize we should do it. Mindfulness the reefs,
starting to suggest is one way to hack those things so that you can start her notice hang on when I actually do this, if the Elles nice, and that, while it doesn't immediately changer intuitions, it can kind of change your reinforcement structure such that you start to realize what these things really look like, and this comes from, some lovely were coming out of heavy cobras lab she's neurosciences neuroscientist at Yale, who uses mindfulness techniques to to do all kinds of different therapeutic things, including working with attic, on their craving and so on, and and and it's a powerful technique, because even even Indonesians like an attic too, has craving for say, nicotine, our heroine or something like that- the act of noticing what it's like afterwards can update these circuits that are getting the getting the wanting wrong You're? One of the one of the worst things about the mind is like the most one of the most shocking things. I've read in my early psychology training was that there is this interesting disconnect in the brain between circuits that are involved in wanting in sort of craving and circuits that are involved in
liking, and so the circuit that tells you or your body hey, go out and crave. This thing go, get it no matter what cost work work work really hard to get it. That's completely different from the circuit. That's actually gonna like the thing once you get it and you can see these cuts, easy associations where, unlike in the case of addiction where we can have incredible craving for something in a work, really hard to get it in or take the heroin addicts whose addicted Berlin but then, when you finally get that reward, you don't actually like it. That much is actually not even that rewarding you know the heroin to an addicted heroin addicts is just bringing you a baseline, it's not even that good anywhere near and this this I feel it knows true and addictions, but it's so true, and so many aspects of my life before I kind of started practicing meditation, Unmindfulness worthless there's all these things that my body wants me to go after all the time that I think is gonna, be, great cuz my craving super high for it, but then, when I get it, I'm kind of like if you actually noticed you're like well, that wasn't that good looks like that kind of sucked there like that
make me feel what I thought it was gonna make me feel, and then there's stuff like we're talking about about doing nice things for others. Where at least for me, I don't necessarily have the craving for it. You know, as I said in on a bad day, I'm not thinking. Let me give a gift card, you know for the Munich you're too, my coworker, I'm thinking. Let me get the manicure myself, but then, actually, if your mindful and you pay engine. Afterwards, you could notice, even though the craving the wanting wasn't that high the liking is pretty good and it can cause you to start shifting. Your behavior is, and so so Hetty, starting to do some real work on that than actual neuroscience of dislike it. What is it about this active mindfully noticing that can then feedback on your behavior is see your kind of updating what desires you really do want to have over time. You're here this fascinating. My fourth also can show you that desire doesn't have to be gratified to disappear right. If you just become interested in desire itself as an object of consciousness right and you just become committed to
witnessing an arise and persist for a time and then pass away? We will in fact passive. And in many cases at me, I will see you can resurrected again by focusing on on the wanted object yet again, but you can sensitize yourself to this full time course. I've desires arising and subsiding and realize it there's nothing you have to do about it. It's almost like the abandoned shopping, cart of the mind, We had this experience, you gotta Zappos or whatever you take a parachute within you, think better of it and in those shoes, follow you around for the rest of your life online. But can abandon the shopping cart and it really can just disappear. Then one wonders of yellow than what is the significance of gratifying any specific desire and then on the other side As you say, you can become more mindful of what it's like to ratify it,
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Transcript generated on 2020-04-15.