« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

BONUS: Grateful Expectations

2020-01-13

Grit and determination to change your habits can only get you so far... if you want to be happier you have to stop and think about how nice people have been to you and how nice you can be to them in return. This circle of gratitude - the science suggests - will also make you a better friend to one of the most important people in your life... your future self.

Dr Laurie Santos investigates this effect with Northeastern University's Prof David DeSteno - author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride.

For an even deeper dive into the research we talk about in the show visit happinesslab.fm

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
how happiness lab listeners i want to tell you about a new podcast i think you're like it's called the last archive and it features one of my favorite new yorker writers the harvard historian jill uproar jill asks the big question who killed truth she looks for clues and events across the twentieth century from a brutal death in burma to the invention of the lighted factor to the release of the polio vaccine the last archive is unlike any podcast you ve heard before it brings history the life with archival tapes intrepid field reporting an old timely radio drama reenactments the last archive unfurled like a classic nineteen thirties mystery but takes on the big issues of today wouldn't you like to know who killed truth then check out the last hour five brought you buy pushkin industries have included a trailer theatre sat beside you can subscribe today on apple spotify rather you get your podcast most of the time i liked
think i'm a relatively nice person but if i'm being completely honest there is one person out there that i do tend to screw over com really now mind you i don't intend to be a jerk to this person i mean actually about her a lot so i not purposefully out to get her but i do inadvertently wine making her life a lot more difficult i wrote her into doing all kinds of things she didn't want to deal with i've cheated out of money i've made her pickup pieces whenever i miss a work deadline and i've even forced her to eat healthier while i get to pick out this poor girl wines at being the collateral damage in nearly every bad decision i've ever made so who this easy mark that person constantly sabotaging she is future lorry she's me just in the future to morrow lorry or next month laura
we tell you from her perspective right now lorry is a real bitch to be happier and twenty twenty i need to stop screwing over future lorry that the only way i m going to form better habits and meet my new decade goals but stop sabotaging my future self what can we all do avoid instant gratification and take better care of our tomorrow sal's online minds give us what answer to this question we need we'll power even if you listen to our last episode i bet you see have the intuition that gritting your teeth is the way forward but that just force yourself kind of willpower tends to disappears soon as times get rough deserving us the very moment we need it most but what if i told you this science teaches us an easier way to kick ourselves into goal mode one delaying gratification to protect our future selves total breeze sound too good to be true well again
even more shocking because my feet first thing about this willpower supercharged strategy doesn't just help you achieve your future gauze and can also you happier in the process if you're ready to harness some self control and feel better then join me doctor laurie santos for the next instalment of the happiness lab twenty twenty wanted to learn more about the strategy that help to achieve your future goals and feel good so i dropped it to my friend david to steno are we really here we go david steno professor of psychology at northeastern university and author of emotional success the power of gratitude compassion and pride today one of the things i love about your book is that it really disk since in a lot of detail the limits of willpower i think in the book you actually call it a candle in the wind so what why is willpower so fragile vote
let me give you some examples of wise i say that so we tend to use willpower when we're trying to pursue a long term goal in something that has a big reward in the future but might be difficult in the moment or require some effort on our part to persevere towards you know what you're going to study to do well in school or on an exam exercising in eating right saving money rather than binding the new iphone and we tend to try and use willpower to overcome our desires for more immediate gratification and it's something that we consider even more important you know this time of the year we can think about new year's resolutions right eight per percent of new year's resolutions are capital beers and twenty five percent are gone in the first week or two of january and so worked knowing something really wrong if if pursuing our long term goals we all know leads to success there yet our failure rate is that high and there's a lot of reasons why will power is weak from
oyster bar history here on earth is the human species the future was very uncertain i didn't know if the food i was looking at was going to be here tomorrow i didn't know if i was going to be here in two months but now the world is a lot more certain and it's just that our mental calibration hasn't hasn't caught up to two that certainty you're always using willpower to kind of tampa down desires for what you want in the moment then your body is kind of a perpetual state of stress you're always trying to tempt down one desire to persevere tour something in the long term tonight each anything you want that to exercise that is a problem work by gregg miller his psychologists northwestern university was looking at this in terms of students in high school and college you studying for example would he found when you train kids in these cognitive strategies to build willpower to build grit to kind of suppress their desires yeah they perform better but
there was actually premature aging to their dna because of the stress which if you extrapolate out mean yeah i'm doing better but i'm not gonna be around his long to enjoy the fruits of that at that success but the other problem is often times we choose not to invoke will power in the first place because we're really good as humans at engaging in rationalization right i deserve the extra scoop abandoned jerry's i've been good this week i deserve to spend money on myself or whatever it might be and if we go that route i could engage in will power in the first place we're gonna give ourselves easy way out this it's pretty bad for news resolutions re like this this one thing we usually rot rely on willpower is not gonna save us so if not willpower if not pushing ourselves you know what can we do you know economist talk about this problem is of these a fancy term which is called into temporal choice which basically means do why in immediate gratification now
where my willing to forego that so that i can have a better gain in the future and if you think about why we as a human species have the ability for self control itself control didn't have also i could save from my for one k it none of it existed for most of our evolutionary history what mattered for our success was the ability to be a little bit selfless as opposed to selfish that is to cooperate with others to be fair to be is to be generous those are the traits that allowed us to be good partners invaluable partners to other people and what underlie those abilities are a calm moral emotions things like gratitude things like compassion things like off pride not arrogance in hubris they tend make us more willing to be self was to cooperate with
others to engage and self sacrifice to be willing to tap down our desires for immediate gratification often ask me worry no dave if i want to be a success should i be this guy or or nice woman or should i be kind of a selfish jerk and by that i mean should i cooperate and work fairly but others or should i basically exploiter there is indeed very self interested in and the answer was fine shows is you know i say well what's your time frame i hit it if you want to be a success in the short term yeah you can be a jerk you can be selfish you can exploit others the visuals who are self interested exploit other people's rise very quickly but over time they begin fail because no one wants to cooperate with them no one wants to work with them and individuals who are self less who have the ability to come roll their desires for immediate gratification selfish behaviors
do well in the long run and so a lot of what i argue in in this book in my work is that we are now using the emotional tools that we have our arsenal to help us succeed in the long run we relying on these weaker tools of kind of tamping down emotional responses dear will pay for that researchers shown our pretty fragile so let's zoom one of these tools in particular you mentioned gratitude like what is gratitude yes gratitude is the emotion that we feel when someone gives us something of value at some class to themselves a present or financial assistance it can be you know a shoulder to cry on it can be someone who's gonna help us and mentor us the important thing about it is that we feel that the benefit that this person is giving us we could did she very easily on our own and doing it not to help themselves but at some cost
and it's not a feeling of indebtedness and in a negative sense but a feeling of of this person really help me i value that i want to go above and beyond to pay them back that feeling is gratitude mean gratitude sounds also minute increases happiness but at first blush it doesn't seem obvious that this emotion has anything to do with the willpower you know that that feeling grateful isn't gonna help me eat healthier or get the jim in the morning but like what's a connection there while the beautiful thing about greece dude is in any emotion really is while we feel it a kind of sets are expectation for what we should value and what we should do now why would you have an emotion that only focused on the past right feeling an emotion that can't change anything you do in the future its away even metabolic lee why would the brain want you did wasted time feeling something so i people gratitude is really about the future it makes
value long term goals more then immediate gratification you may still doubt the idea that gratitude is more powerful for protecting our future south then good old fashion the power but there's some super cool scientific results to back it up ones that will hear about right after this break fabulous loud we'll be right back what's the biggest obstacle to being kinder to our future selves to getting more sir size and stopping procrastination and saving more money turns out it's our lying minds we tell ourselves that all we need is a bit more willpower that are self control will save but as we seen when push comes to shove our rationalizing mines would you say it's ok to screw of our future solves just this once but what if we try to different strategy would have we harness and emotion like rats
to one that naturally primes us to protect our future selves this was exactly what researcher david distend set out to test he devised an experiment to see whether people could be nice to their future yourselves face of attempting reward so in our we bring people in we have them azra bunch of questions of the form would you rather have ten dollars now or thirty dollars in three weeks right and to make it real we tell them are gonna pick one of your answers and honour it so if you said i'd rather of ten dollars now than thirty dollars in three weeks we gave you ten dollars fish that had rather thirty dollars in three weeks we send you a check in three weeks found right is that most people tend to be pretty impatient that is they discounted value of future rewards a lot so for example are average subject said they would take seventeen dollars now rather than a hundred dollars in a year
another way of saying that is they view two hundred dollars in the years worth seventeen dollars now and i don't know about you are sure listeners but if you don't need that seventeen dollars to survive right now then passing but opportunity chinese quintuple your money given with the banks are paying its not the greatest decision when we made people feel grateful suddenly how much they discounted the future our patient they were to get that money in their hands change these folks suddenly view two hundred dollars a year not is worth seventeen where's now but as were thirty dollars we'd have to give them at least thirty dollars before they passed up the opportunity for a hunter dollars near what that means is their discount the value of a future award last and if you take this and you extrapolated out to the real world the decisions that matter you know other people have found that people who accept in gratitude are more willing to exercise for better health
there are more willing to save their money rather than spend it on impulse spies there are more willing to work harder for long term goals and so what we see here is just by changing the emotional state your in how much we value the future changes so that is the question of you know how did you as this clever experimentalists get people to experience gratitude you know how you make people more grateful in the lab one way we do this we have them doing this task on the computer that's designed to be god awful boring how do i get it that we are going to god of a boring and right as they think they are about to be done computer is rigged crash or to look like it crashes on them and then they expire better comes in and says sorry you're gonna have to do this all over again let me go get the tec and of course people are not happy
we have somebody else in the lab who there are subjects believe with another subject take the study but it's actually an actor who works for us and this person will be walk over to them and say this is terrible i'm pretty with computers let me see if i can help you and so you know she starts fighting with the wires and sir particularly had two key that starts a timer and loan the whole bang the computer comes back on and ninety five percent of our subjects are incredibly grateful for this five percent of them think somehow they fix it themselves but are they they get excluded but for the most for if people are very grateful because they don't want to do this got off its basque over again and in that way what we can find is that the people who are actually experiencing gratitude in the moment compared people or feeling neutral or people who are feeling happy in that was important because we wanted to show it wasn't just that you were feeling positive but there was something really particular about gratitude
what gratitude makes you do is is engage in self control and as i said evolution narrowly speaking that so you're willing to be less selfish but if you think about it when you feel good attitude there's one person besides strange sure people you meet on the street or france where you can help that important to your own future goals and that is your own future self what we find is when you're feeling grateful yes you're willing to sacrifice for other people but we are also willing to sacrifice fear own future self and that's how you can pivot the power or of gratitude from just being this emotion ass kind of a moral cast to do the right thing to repay debts are to begin more away to actually help your own feet self achieve her his own goals i wanted to talk a little bit about some of the specific domains at which gratitude helps because i just design these data is totally fascinating so in your book you show that gratitude and just help you on financial decision making it also hope you like it your job yeah it's just
what your job is so you know adam grant has this great data where he shows that people who are working in a call centre and talk about a thankless job calling people for fund raising asking people to donate money when attitude as expressed in those offices people's productivity goes up fifty sent and not only do they work harder but there actually happy about it they feel good and so there's no stress their when you're a doctor right if you're feeling gratitude x you more willing to invest the effort to do the right thing and through your more willing the data show too engaged in greater fought in terms of your diagnoses and so gratitude whatever the realm is that we're talking about by giving you more patients by giving you nudging you is going to improve the outcome and while its doing it it's gonna solve to other problems for unite and something else that i really want to talk about is that it does
in a way that better for your mind and your body in terms of your physical health and your mental well hence the talk about the mental wellbeing part because one of the things were trying to do in this many series is to help people find strategies that can allow them to achieve their goals but in doing so can make them happy in the media to an that's really there using thing about gratitude is it doesn't just help you exercise more and save more if it feels good unlike willpower that's right so different let's talk about that there are two types of virtues people have resonate virtues which are the virtues like being dogged working here having quit trying to get ahead and eulogy virtues things like being fair being generous b and the unity virtues of the ones that ultimately we want to be remembered for their though once that draw other people to us that give us the relationships that help our allies so if we are pursuing our own success would ever realm it might be
you know as i said for for millennia the other way to do that was to have good character to be fair beach it used to be that you would you virtues and resonate virtuous were the same there was no difference between them because of the way we structure our lives now we can pursue success in a very optimistic manner that is we can just be dogged and if we earn enough money we can me oliver needs we don't have to have other people around us as much but leads to a not very fulfilling life in its very stressful existence when you choose to pursue success by cultivating emotions like gratitude by virtue of what you're doing yes it's going to give you the self control to pursue your goals to have patience to persevere in the face difficulty but it's also going to change your relation it's right when we feel gratitude not only do we work harder but we show more appreciation to others around us it makes
behave more loyally it makes us behave more compassionately toward other people and so we build social safety net better there too buttresses and so you know when you look at gratitude people who feel more gratitude yes they exercise more yes they save more yes they get ahead in life more but they also sleep better at night they also have better blood pressure they show less stress reactivity then do people who don't experience gratitude more often they even petticoat strong how and why these things are intertwined is is an interesting story it having to do with the stress and and do they exercise more because of that gratitude etc but granted it really is a buffer it helps us pursue our resume virtues and our eulogy virtues at the same time so striking about though is that i think if you ask people people often think those resume virtues and eulogy virtues are in conflict right like you
to boost up your resume you gotta see no stop writer fellow man about right but it's just the opposite so so much of this podcast is the idea that our minds are leading us astray right we have this bad into in about what gratitude gonna do like it makes us weak here it's gonna make it help others rather than getting idea and part of that right is you know i think our resolution are eulogy virtues we think of them ass distinct for most of our evolutionary history they weren't and were kind of toll but you know the way to succeed is to be self interested but you actually look at the data it true i think we're being sold at a bill of goods you know it is in the short term right the faster way is to kind of be self interested but in the long run it is people who experience gratitude hooks syrians compassionate empathy do really really well you know my friend by francs and at coronel i read this great book called success and lock any talks about
the illusion that people have that the way the any thus exceeded was through our own self determination i am not saying that doesn't matter of course it does but there's out of walk along the way and if you think about what a lot of luck is it it's not really luck its people opening doors for us its people supporting us in our hours of need and in helping us out and are doing the same for them right that's what a lot of lock is not all when people do that i only want to pay those people back but to pay it forward to other people so for example in our studies we were talking about so for example in our studies we were talking about we make people your gratitude in the lab and then they believe the lab thinking the experiment is over and we have a stranger approach them who asks for help them help the stranger too
and the reason why is when you feel gratitude it makes you want to help someone else right that the brain is is nudging you that way because in the long term not a successful strategy i'm it's the beautiful thing about gratitude is it makes us pay it forward and creates conover an ongoing cycle and so i think people often feel that gratitude can be a sign of weakness but really good attitude is in emotion of power as hopefully the listeners are sold on this idea that becoming more grateful is a good thing but then that raises the question how do you do that what can blisters you to improve their sense of gratitude one strategy is simply doing daily reflections i'm thinking for a few minutes about what it is that your grateful foreign life what's people do gratitude diaries aid for foreign we all have the you we think that were incredibly grateful foreign our lives but if you think doubt the same things over and over again thirteen alive
their power you gonna habituate too it's gonna become boring and so think about little things about the person who gave you their seat on the bus or the subway think about the person who gave you direction to let even on the highway someone who held the door for you and you might say dave really is that gonna work it does so i told you earlier about the way we induce gratitude in our lab where we have these these big shenanigans we go through where computers crash on people but when we we asked people reflect on something in your life at your grateful for whether at something somebody did for you your parents a friend the university believe in god god whatever it might be those simple reflections prick to use the same exact effects and so it may sound trite but it's not cultivating gratitude daily in your life i will do this reform in another way is to engage in something called the reciprocity ring this is great if you
have an office in you're trying to create a culture of gratitude or classroom or even for families at home have everybody take a post it no and right on the post it know something they need help with then on a border on the refrigerator aware paint be stick up those posts no it's kind of a circle never we take a different color poster no and write your name on it and go up and stick it next time posted no up there already where a person's request helps you're saying ah john says he needs help with this dave i'm gonna help him with this right and then what you do is draw lions or tie strings or tape whenever you might being what you'll see is connection in the circle and then most importantly go give that assistance that you said anne this does is is a few things one it shows that asking for help is ok and offering to help is ok
and by you actually helping the person who you said you were going to help that person feels gratitude and what our research shows is in that person feels gratitude increases the probability very dramatically that they're just going to go and offer help to someone else way of creating kind of a norm in a culture for gratitude in your family or your classroom or your workplace heavy this in your lab or in your own family yeah you know before starting this research i wouldn't say i wasn't ungrateful person but i dont think i thought a lot about gratitude in my life but what i realised through doing this work is that you can cure your own emotional life right emotions don't just happen to us we can curate what we feel by by taking time to think about what we want to feel by paying attention to the people that help us as opposed to the people that annoyance
so what i have begun to do in my own daily life now is to do that if it is to focus on when somebody does something for me or someone helps me do not say thank you quickly move by that but to focus on it for a few minutes surely the emotions that i feel are important and valuable in my daily experience as opposed to the ones that art and what happens when you do that as it begins to change the land sea which you automatically vigour life so that suddenly gratitude isn't something you're trying to cure it but it becomes a lens that you pick out things with daily in life and i think it you know it becomes a habit some ways and beautiful thing about gratitude is as who's the habits as you know if i have a habit to save money that work for saving money if i have a habit to study that works for studying but if i have a habit to experience gratitude gonna bleed over into making me better able to pursue my long term goals in any realm and i would
you know encourage you're listeners to try and create gratitude as a habit after talking to david hearing about his work i've decided on a personal goal for this new decade i'm to stop sabotaging future lorry i'm going to stop assuming that willpower will save me instead i'm going harnessed the power of my moral emotions i'm going to work harder to become a bit more grateful starting now so here goes i am so grateful that dave and so many other scientists took time out of their busy schedules to share these insights with us i'm so so thankful that we all have a fresh start with this new decade to make a bunch of positive it is that we want to see and twenty twenty and i'm so so grateful for you think so much for listening to this podcast and thank you for being a part of this journey you science to live a little bit better and finally ip
super grateful if you joint future large for our third bonus episode of happiness lad twenty twenty the happiness lab is cholera and introduced by ryan delhi the show was mastered by evans yola in our original music was composed by zachary reseller thanks to bend davis meal about julia barton carlini glory heather thing maggie taylor maya caning and jacob iceberg the happiness lab is brought to buy pushkin industries
a strange thing happened to me in the library while back i needed to pick up a few books this was before the quarantine a question was nagging me choose problem it isn't just bad its deadly it's also way older this truth problem it isn't just bad its deadly it's also way older than it might seem this mystery its historical jennifer and i'm a historian at harvard and staff better at the new yorker has been a lot time trying to solve mysteries like this one so anyway i was at the library everything seem normal hum swiped my card the elevator down to the basement upon volumes of the shelves and then i saw it something i never seen before down here at the end of the rope hidden in the shadows green door
was a sign on the door tarnished breastplate we barely make out the words it read the letter archive everybody tv and radio confuse hello right right hello how are you no one's there the voice from the past voices ray we waited period prior woe heralded the discovery which assured and who want to ban time was granted in here
he's lying before corona virus a congressional debate about the government's role in developing a vaccine is there any other term for them as socialized medicine old horror movies therein here too punch cards from the forgotten history of the national data center network referred to as being that work is now and operate in record's records of bird songs considered america foremost songbird hermits rush all these voices from the past sound nobody is heard for decades maybe somewhere in this vast last archive this corridor of the mind i can find what looking for an answer to that question who the truth i decided to start a podcast it's called the last archived hotel stories from hundred years a history of america in our arguments about truth and evidence if you wanted
i found mimi back here i'll leave the door unlocked the last archived coming brought to you by pushkin industries
Transcript generated on 2020-05-26.