« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

BONUS: Help Others to Help Yourself

2020-03-30

College student Liam Elkind studied happiness in the class taught by Dr Laurie Santos. When the Covid 19 crisis hit, he knew exactly what to do to fight the negative emotions this pandemic arouses in us all - he helped set up a volunteer group called Invisible Hands to support vulnerable neighbors.

Compassion expert David DeSteno explains why helping others can improve our own wellbeing while protecting us from emotional burnout. And with a guided meditation Dr Santos shows that compassion is thing we can nurture and develop.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello 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 to life with archival tapes, intrepid field reporting, an old timey radio drama reenactments. The last archive unfurled, like a classic nineteen, thirty mystery, but takes on the big issues of today. Wouldn't you like to know who killed truth then check out the last hour have brought you buy. Pushkin industries have included a trailer at the end of this episode. You can subscribe today
Paul Spotify or ever you get. Your pot casts welcome to a special set of emphasis on the happiness and now global spread of corona virus is affecting all of us. This disease has brought a hosting medical, economic and political problems, but it's also given us a ton of uncertainty and anxiety, which are begin. Have an enormous negative impact on our collective well, whenever I am confused or fearful. I remember that looking for answers in evidence based science is always the best way to go, and that's where I'm hoping this podcast can help It's really hard to escape bad news right now, as in fact, Rates continue to rise in the number of deaths from covered. Nineteen mouth is easy to become overwhelmed by doom and gloom, and also cynicism. We ve all heard of our food citizen, selfishly hoarding vital supplies or store hiking up their prices for profit.
Or even college spring breakers partying rather than staying on agriculture. All these stories can make us feel even more alone in isolation. We just assume everyone is out to protect themselves. With no thought for the well being of others. But when things to feel overwhelming. For me, I always think back to one of my favorite quotes from Mr Rogers. It's one that comes up alive and tragic times like You know my mother used to say always look for the helpers, because if you look They help purse you'll, know that there's hope and so, inspired by Mr Rogers, I started for the helpers looked on social media at the hashtag covert kindness- and I start see some amazing stories. I mean chefs giving away free food. Doctors working all hours and whole countries joining in applause to think their healthcare workers. But one story stuck with me and predict a college student from New York name Liam Elk and decided to spend his springboard
doing something amazing for his community. He teamed up with friends to set up a what site called invisible hands. Coordinating free, grocery delivery for the elderly invulnerable, vulnerable message hope in solidarity went viral. Thousands of volunteers signed up to help tons. By slated folks access the vital resources they needed. But, as I read more of limbs, lovely story I kept thinking I had seen his name somewhere before and that's when it hit me I'd seen his name before because he taken my happiness class. He was my students which may be super super proud, but also set me thinking. I wanted to talk to him and ask for important tips for how we can all make a difference to, and I also wanted to see if the site
I had taught me, I'm in class was working out there in the real world. I spent the first few days of break in Philadelphia, doing voter registration and a lot of our hosts were quite elderly. They were providing us with. Our meals are breakfasts every morning. These people were quickly becoming my close friends, and so it was scary to realise how vulnerable a lot of them might be, and you know then I got home and things were getting worse. I wasn't sure if I should take the subway when I got home from New York City and my grandparents live in euros. Shell. And which was at a ton of cases and the National Guard it came in, and I grandparents at first were saying I know we're going to restore every day and stuff like that. Make hamper went to the view. I think- and I said grandfather you know just go home. Stay at home will face time. You it'll be fine, but rather than just can drop your hands, you decided to do something about it. A lot of people are seeing this crisis unfold and the only thing that they can do to help
is nothing is what their being told right, be a hero, stay at home and I'm not saying that staying at home isn't important. But it feels like when you are dealing with an existential crisis, not just to you personally but to humanity at large. You want to be able to do something, and so, when we are told that the best way to do something is do not do anything. You feel very useless. That was kind of what I was looking for is. Is there a way I can actively help people and just and not just passively, not make it worse? And so I happened to come across a facebook post of of a friend of mine, a fellow yell alarm named Simone Polar Kano, and she was saying- and is there any kind of programme that connects young, healthy volunteers with the elderly, that is
bold in a compromise, the the sick just to help deliver them their groceries necessities, whatever it is that they may need. So I thought well that towns, amazing. I reach out to her and I said what a remit program like that. We build a website. We are trying to decide if we wanted the sixteen dollars a month square space. That would let you not take donations or the twenty six dollar month, one that would let you take donations, and I said you not private ten dollars and almost immediately that the reaction was insane. I mean this thing took off pretty much immediately. People start sharing it. People start putting up our flyers around town news outlets started picking it up. We ve been on promoting America, Fox and friends, CNN Nbc, with, lest her whole, I mean people. I think the reason that there was such an incredible outpouring of support is because people are hungry to help right now, and people want to do good in this world that feel so bad all the time, and so
if there's a way to help, people are more than ready to jump at her opportunity. By, as we grew, we quickly realized. No. This is not a thing that we can do alone. I was thinking. Maybe we would deliver to a couple of neighbours and how lovely would that be, but pretty much immediately, I mean, were now up over five thousand volunteers in New York City alone. People are reaching us from all over the country. Saying hey, how can I get started in California? In Florida we ve had outreach from Malaysia, Canada, Australia me people want to help their neighbours and to come together in this time of crisis, and so had been really really incredible to say. Did you ever made a website for a lake as this new tenure? I one made one website before it is not very good, so it's been crazy, but in the best way possible I mean I dont know why, like our organization in particular, was picked up so much because there are a ton of amazing organizers other who are doing similar work. But the fact that we were very much makes me feel the responsibility that I need to do this right and do it well and do it fast, because there is such a critical
Out there so yeah, I mean I built a website with mine in someone's personal phone numbers on it, then the phone started ringing pretty much immediately and we said okay. We should finally take our personal phone numbers off of it, but it was too late because Blake Lively had already put us on Instagram story ends at an hour for numbers were out there and then it was an error calm with our personal phone numbers makes it. Ok, let's make a Google voice. We'll find some other way that redirect toward for numbers but won't overwhelm us and we're just starting to get into a place for resorting to build institutions, build alliances. The outpouring of support from the community has been amazing and it's crazy how many people want to help in this time? This is all in a week like this has happened in a week, which is so crazy. Yeah I have not slept, my mom said that my eyes looked like cookie monsters, eyes, lectures, I'd, look wired, and I have not slept in days to talk to me about invisible hands like what is their original idea for the organization. What did you expect it to do so? The
no idea for invisible hand- was that we would just make grocery deliveries to people who couldn't, for whatever reason come come out of their house. Did this virus, or due to in physical disability, alot of people can get to the store? Anyway, but they may have helped, that's no longer able to come because of this virus, so it's just is compounded a lot of difficulties and a lot of ways, and so we figured you know we have some time on our frequently washed hands and so may as well do something with it and then what we realized was a lot of these people. Don't you need some fruits and vegetables, but they need some company and in this time of social distancing, it's really isolating and people feel really alone and and they feel scared, and if you like, you, don't have a partner or friend and ally who can stand with them, and so one thing that we make sure to prioritize is that all our volunteers call ahead to the recipient and talk to them and give them conversation. Hey Missus Smith, how's your day, going, learn a little bit about
I'm about their families. I made connections with people who turns out one woman, her grand daughter, ghost preschool that I went to and his loving it. We talked about the teacher that I had who she has end and so making connections like that people. In my neighborhood from I never would have met, and so it's a little bit crazy to be getting that kind of social connection in this age of social distancing and how people are able to come together when it feels like the world is pulling us all apart. So those are a kind of the main things that we started out with was the delivery service and the social aspect, but then also thanks to the incredible outpouring of financial support, were also offering financial subsidy to the people hit hardest economically by this disease, whether they relate offered, if their freelancers and can't get any jobs right now, whatever it may be lower your expectations about how this is gonna get mean. If you, if you could tell your crystal ball and ways is best as it could well. Are you expecting a week ago best option would be. I recruit my friends,
their super pumped up about it, and I am able to go to the grocery store, makes him deliveries and makes a new friends hopefully, and that is what has happened, and I have made new friends one person I made a delivery do sent me a picture of her granddaughter tried to set me up with your granddaughter and another one in. I brought her delivery and she invited me in fourteen cookies, and I said Carroll. That is the exact opposite of the point here. We're supposed to be physically distancing from one another and she's: ok, ok, fine, but but after after this thing is over, you can come over for some cookies and treated. So we ve been in committee, asian over email, and so I am really looking forward to the day when this whole thing is over and I can come up for some cookies. But you know I was surprised by how many people found us, but I wasn't surprised by how much people wanted to help and, as you may know, a friend psychology in the good life, which are also pleased that you took it in months. My thousands of students, the active helping people is, is something that can boost our well being in this
I'm a formal crisis, so I was gonna dear rubber kind of some of the stuff from the class one year. I had this vision that what you are setting up invisible hands. You thought back to that. No its course, I had you in my mind that you were the one who gave me the idea I was thinking. How can I be happier- and I thought community service and you- and you remember me from your house- Ray you Sally Amalgam, youth. I thank you. I remember him uncle s idea in many ways I think fit. The overwhelming response to your class reminds me of the interest in invisible hands, because people want this world to be a better, safer happier place and they want to know how they can get it there, and so I think your class offered that strategic way that, in a scientifically proven of making yourself happier and making the world a happier place which is similar to what we are offering, not with psychological tools but with social tools, which are psychologically proven to be helpful in scientifically proven to be exactly the thing. We need right now to increase people's sense of agency to increase, increase people's sense of well being
and not just for the people. You are helping not further elderly neighbour that gets her prescription, but also for the twenty something who feels lost and now has something he can do rather than just stay home there. And I will say it you know. I remember you telling us that helping people you know makes us happy and all the deliveries that I've made have brought along new friendships with them. You know said Caroline, I communicate a lot arrow and I have been emailing back and forth as well. It was one woman's ethical, were seventy seventh birthday and she was really sad that she wasn't killed, hang out with her friends. On that day, we brought along a birthday card with her delivery. One person made a collage for her deliverer. I like the term mutual aid, because I think it gets at the fact that it is not just a service on our part to other people, but this is the way the community's come together and help or another out, and I think that a lot of people are a really struggling without right. Now, I've gone so many calls from
people who are living with him. You know suppression, HIV, AIDS or poor paralyzed, or even just people who are lonely and and need a friend, and I think that every time I am able to have a conversation with people like that and and help them out in some small way by brain groceries, which is not a huge thing in and of itself, but means a lot when you're feeling alone. I think that that has untold impacts on people's emotional wellbeing. Now that you ve heard aims inspiring story. I wanted to explore why his problem, has been so powerful after the break. You'll learn how you can get that seem benefit. Liam has from a little the kindness, the happiness I'll be right back. Why is limbs approach so important in these tough times? The answer is twofold: the invisible, hands. Volunteers are bringing support and cheer to their communities, but they're all
improving their own personal wellbeing and help me explain the science underpinning this effect. I turned to one of my favorite social cycle Just and longtime friend, of the happiness lab hi, I'm David. Instead, professor psychology, at northeastern, University and author of emotional success, the power of gratitude, compassion and pride. You may run from an from an episode. We did on the power of feeling gratitude, but Dave's also an expert other social emotions and how we can use them in this challenging time to feel a little better and that's why I want to date to help me dig into Liam story. A bit Dave argues that LEO was able to reap the benefits he did because he tapped into a powerful social and can one we should all be using more right now, compassion at heart. Most of us are compassionate. Most of us really want to help other people, but what usually gets in the way is not knowing how not knowing where to start or even feeling like any small, we might do, might not make a difference and encoded nineteen. It's even here
because the ways that we might normally tried reflexively reach out on available to us for socially isolating and that's why innovators, like Leon, become really important here, found a way to open a channel for us to help other people to allow us to feel Effective in what we're doing and now people are rushing to it from all over the country and that's incredible inspiring. So I went to dig into compassion a little bit because when we think about compassion and others is an emotion that psychologist talk about all the time, but it's not an emotion that people tend to think of in the set of emotions, like anger, fear have this compassion doesn't come up. So so what is compassion, compassion, yeah? I think that's true most of the emotions we think about tend to be kind of the ones that psychologist often call more basic states like anger, fear, but for humans we have to master not only the physical landscape of the social landscape, and so we have this sweet of emotions that have to do with personal interaction. Again, things like gratitude, things like guilt, things like compassion
What compassion is it's the emotion we feel when we want to give care to? Somebody else is often mixed up with but these are epithet. These days, at least in the Neuro scientific sense means I can feel what Europe going if you're feeling happy. I feel your happiness dear you're, feeling sad. I feel your sadness compassion Naturally, as the emotion that is a caregiving motion, I understand that you are in distress or pain, and I want to do something to relieve, and so it's important to move past empathy to compassion. So the buddhist monks will often talk about this. If you're always feeling empathy, you can get overwhelmed and feel burned out if you're trying to feel everyone's distress we have to do. Is there recognize your in distress. Let me get into the state of compassion were it motivates me to want to help you to suck. Fight for you in a way that doesn't require media continually, feel your pain and therefore get burned out by at this particular point about the power of compassion is really important, particularly right now,
and so I want to take a second to unpack it, because many of us are and positions were we have to worry about other people during covered nineteen. Maybe you elderly or immune compromise relatives or maybe work in the medical profession, and you have to help sick people in really risky situations, or maybe just an empathic person like Liam who can't help but share the fear and worry that everyone's experiencing right now with so people in need and suffering its easy to feel really overwhelmed, and that's where the science shows that compassion can really help it protects us from feeling burnt out in a time of heightened stress now. You may at first glance assume that feeling compassion for other people may make you We prone to feeling overwhelmed right now, but our most recent work shows It actually allows them to overcome what we call known as compassion, fatigue or compassion burn out, which I a lot of people, were feeling right now, because there feeling overwhelmed. Take one study,
by Tanya singer and her colleagues, they showed people scary news reports, as you might expect, people naturally felt pretty bad after seeing this footage, but singer and colleagues gave one group of subjects a compassion, booster shot one though we ve talked about it. The absence. She had her subjects attend a one day. Mindfulness course on loving kindness, meditation, a form of meditation. That's known to bump up people's compassion overtime. If you want, you can try one of these practices out at the end of the episode. So what happened, People watch these distressing videos after boosting their compassion of it. The subjects negative emotions dropped. In fact, the people who meditated showed positive affiliate of emotions when watching the screenings. The act of experience and compassion allowed them to see people in pain and want to help them without feeling overwhelmed, which is kind of what all of us need right now,
so compassion can give us the power to get through hard times without feeling burned out. But Dave has also shown that compassion makes it easier to do a lot of the hard things we need to do right now, like self, sacrificing and staying home in order to flattened the curve. The extent that you can cultivate compassion, even among your family. It will color your views. It will change your minds response to any instance. That comes up Can you more willing to sacrifice by social isolating and not going out to dinner her shopping by maybe try it takes time call your elderly neighbor, who does not know how to order food online or taking her You know order in doing it for her right you more willing to do those sacrifices. I love this tat because I think anything we can do to reduce
the challenge associated with what we need to do to not be just frustrated. The whole time were sitting at our houses can make us feel better and it seems the counter to it. But the simple act of experiencing more compassion can just make it easier to hang out and just accept that were sticking around in a house in its ok. That's right- and you know when you think of it that way that compassion, you understand the sacrifice in you. You know that the compassion that Europe They would normally make you want to reach out and go help. Someone if you re frame it. Wade. No staying home is actually helping than compassion can be. Channeled in that way and trust me, it will make it easier for you. It focuses you or value on long term outcome as opposed to what would make you feel good right now and the reason we do hard things. What makes us do hard things sometimes is because what we think we should do, but more often it's because
we feel we should do it if you feel you should do it then you're not using your reason the combat you're impulse inside which is yeah, but I really want to go out, or I really want to do this. If you cultivate and emotion of compassion, then you're not fighting your impulse to want something else, it's actually making you want to sacrifice for others, compassion can give us the strength. We need to focus on others in a really tough time, and that can pay huge diffidence and not just for the people were through our actions. As Liam remembered from my class and saw first hand, doing nice things for others can make us feel really good Liam describes is as wind will it's a will for the person whose receiving help that they need right now and it's a win for the person whose giving that help giving to other people he's incredibly rewarding. It makes us happy at heart, but
really I'd say this is a win, win, win situation and that third wind stands for the upwards spiral of gratitude and compassion. That's going to come from this right people who are helped. Feel grateful for that help, and we know that sense of gratitude makes them then want to pay it forward to some one else spreading that network and also the people who who are giving and their experience compassion that makes them want to join women's organisation and give that compassion will continue to be evoked in them and make them want to help even wider circles of peace strangers that they might not even know now, and so I think that through where is in some ways the most inspiring, because what it suggests that this network is gonna, kill you to grow and allowing a trusted network to grow during scary times like this can mean the difference between surviving this crisis and not
One of my favorite examples is when Superstore Sandy hit New York City and twenty twelve, it decimated alot of neighborhoods with the AP did in and the North Research Institute was they came in two years later and they did a study and what they found is at once. Controlled for a lot of the degrees of physical damage that occurred, the best predictor for which neighbours whether most brilliant meaning the ability to bounce back, where those that where people felt that they could trust and count on their neighbours, which is why programs like lions, are so important they allow neighborhoods to build up trust in connection with one another. It's all important. That leaves noticed the importance of connection right he's having his volunteers may cause to people and their talking to each other. Making social connection. As he said, one woman was trying to set him up to date on what you're seeing there is the the growing of of truck within a community, the growing of connection and that's going to pay dividends moving forward because,
As I said earlier, what underlies communities resilience is the extent to which people trust each other and that's the same, whether virtual communities where we can help across wide networks without being physically near each other or within the same town, and hopefully that sense of connection will only how people's anxiety, while being now but will continue to foster connection in giving as we move forward, even beyond the Corbett nineteen crisis. So does your research make us hopeful that if we can harness our emotions in the right way, we really can get through this crisis in a deeply cooperative way. It makes me very hopeful for that. I dont say that in a pollyanna sense I say that because I think that is what worked many times in the past My favorite sayings right now that I see- and I know all religions say this, but I think the Dalai Lama says it most eloquently which is compassion is not a luxury. It's a necessity for human survival right now. We need more compassion and now
in the fancy you know come via sends, let's just all sit down in a hippie Depew I mean in a truly deep scientific, illusionary way. These emotions will push us towards the cooperative behaviors. What we need right now to come through this together? compassion, is what we need now more than ever. It can give us drank to sacrifice for others and can help us. You so in a way that doesnt exhaust our own well of goodwill and his M story so nicely shows having Bit more emotional bandwidth tell others can lead to some eight of new Winwin wins ones where we can help the people who need it most improving our own mental health in building communities of trust around us, Mr Rogers was right. It does pay to look for the heroes, but what he didn't say is that it pays even more to become a hero yourself. Help you supercharged your own compassion. I thought it I too share another quick meditation.
This one is called loving, kindness or Mehta it'll take a couple minutes, but the science shows that performing just this kind of practice over time can bump up your levels of compassion. So why don't you pause this episode right now, gravity and let's get started now that you're sitting somewhere comfortably it's time to close your eyes begin to pay attention to your breath. Just try to get a sense of how you're feeling right now and then follow your breath as it comes in through your nose and then out three around one more time following your breath. As it comes in through your nose, deep breath in and then out, and now I want you to bring to mind someone is really easy to care about. This could be
a partner, a child, someone, you really love people even can pick a favorite pad I want you to bring to mind this person or this critter, and I want you to feel in your heart what it feels like when you think about them, and I want you to send this individual some good wishes. I want you to think about this person and think, may you be happy, may you be healthy? May you care for yourself joyfully and may you be safe, Just think about that individual and repeat those phrases again and just watch what's happening in. What's called your heart space, the area just her under chest. Some people describe thinking of this
things and watching you. That area can fill up a little bit and if you notice. Anything, that's ok, too. Sometimes this practice takes a while Now I want you to bring to mind another person, someone else your close with and we'll walk through those same statements. Remember see what feels like in your heart space, may you be happy, may you be healthy? May you care for yourself joyfully and may be safe,
now I'll take a second to apply compassion to someone, that's often hard to feel compassion towards ourselves. So now take a second to think about yourself and let's apply those same statements. May I be happy, may I be healthy? May I care for myself joyfully, and may I be safe, percent hawks folks, it's easier to apply compassion to themselves. The some folks find it hard, so just noticed what it feels like for you, men will try to broaden our compassion to an even bigger group. I want you to think of your entire community, especially folks that might be affected by this crisis. Now what
Sandra compassion to all of them. Thinking about all the folks together, May you be happy May you be healthy, May you care for yourselves joyfully and may be safe. And just repeat those statements over and over again in your head and again sort of monitor, what's happening in your hearts, phased see. If you can feel what it feels like to feel compassion for the people around you
And then just two cloves: let's take one more really deep breath in through the nose and lets say it out through the mouth. You can open your eyes, and that was your quick introduction to loving kindness, meditation. The research suggests that the act of doing a practice like that regularly can bump your compassion and can help you with burn out. I hope it's been useful to you during this time and I hope you'll join me again for the next up. A sort of the happy lab but doktor lorry centres, the happiness lab is a Pushkin podcast, its co, written in produced by Ryan Dilly and mastered by Evan Vila. Our original music is written by Zachary, sober special thanks to bend Davis other thing
willingly, Ory, Julia Barton, Neil about Jacob icebergs and the rest of the Pushkin group. 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 it had been nagging me for a long time who killed truth. 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 failure at the new Yorker has been a lot. Time trying to solve mysteries like this one. A question was nagging me: he'd been nagging me for a long time. Everything seemed normal ho hum I swiped my card. The elevator down to the basement
It puts volumes of the shelves and then I saw it. Something I never seen before down here at the end of the road. Hidden in the shadows. Green door, was a sign on the door tarnished breastplate. Only barely make out the words he read the last archive everybody, tv and radio, confuse hello, right right hello? How are you no one's there, the voice from the past voices. Yeah
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 forward firm, 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 wreckers 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 the mind I can find what looking for an answer that question
killed. Truth I decided to start a podcast, it's called the last archive hotel stories from hundred years, a history of America arguments about truth and evidence. If you wanted I found Mimi back here. I leave the door unlocked the last archived coming soon brought to you Pushkin industries
Transcript generated on 2020-05-26.