« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

BONUS: Rising to a Challenge

2020-03-23

We always face problems and setbacks - but the coronavirus has dramatically upended many of our lives in a few short weeks. Allowing sadness, anger or fear to dominate us does little to help. We should instead learn from the Greek Stoics - philosophers who embraced challenges with humor, grace and perspective.

Bill Irvine (author of The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient) explains some simple ways that you can train yourself to reduce negative emotions and put on your "game face" when you find obstacles in your path.

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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 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.
Apple Spotify wherever you get, your podcast welcome to a special set of em so tat, the happy now global spread of corona virus is affecting all us. This disease has brought a host and 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 wellbeing, but whenever I am confused or fearful, I remember 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 when we think about the weeks, maybe months ahead, we'd be forgiven for surrendering to despair. Some of us are already losing our jobs or seeing our Mrs shuddered, for who knows how long time when many people's investments have tanked we may already be feeling ill or feed. Ring for our own safety or that a vote
well relatives some have even experienced bereavement already as a result of this outbreak. And everyone has seen changes in their daily lives like not being able to eat at your favorite restaurant or a tender weekly Olga class. I've even had several friends who had to postpone their weddings. We may feel scared frustrated, or even really, angry about all this. But such emotions are draining the end. Making us feel even worse, a better way to react. Ali setbacks might be to see them a little differently say as challenges to take on and overcome. To look at the trials ahead and confidently say game on because as workable, is that sounds that's how Bill Irvine has reacted to the current covert nineteen crisis bill is a philosopher rights too, university and one of my resilience, heroes. He is someone I wanted to chat with for a long time, and that's because
absolutely adored his recent book, the stoic challenge of philosophers guide to becoming tougher, homer and more resilient. In fact, bills. New book really helped me through a huge set back. I experienced recently about a week before the holidays. I fell on the ice and fraction my kneecap we're talking lots of pain, tons of cancel plans and being stuck on my couch unable to walk for a long time. Despite being a happiness expert, I was in a very, very bad place when I first got injured. But bills book in his overall approach made me realize there was another way, could look at things right and being all woe is me, I could take a more ancient approach The stoics have been around since Zena of City him in about three hundred BC, cobbled together some other schools of philosophy it sort of like martial arts teachers. You know who, bland other kinds of martial arts to come up with a new kind. He did that with stoicism when most people colloquially think about the terms stoic. I think,
people. Think of people who show Noah emotions at all or people who are trying to cut off all their emotions altogether, but that's not exactly who the stoics were right. There is a perception of this looks very intense emotion. The stoics were entirely negative emotion. They wanted to reduce or eliminate the amount of anger or envy that they experienced, but they had nothing against positive emotions, including that most wonderful but innocent of positive emotions at its feelings of delight and you the Kabul, many of them together, and then you experience what we call joy, so they had nothing against the positive emotions, but they very skilfully came up with strategies for avoiding the experiencing negative. Oh she's. There are very easy to learn very easy to put it practice in your own life, and my experience has been that their very effective in judging from the emails I get
it made us substantial difference in the lives of many people, so one step piece of wisdom that made a huge difference in my life. Is this idea that we have more control over our emotional reactions than we think my first entry point to stoicism with with epictetus so talk to us about this idea of epictetus about them? things we can control and the things we can't control. Epictetus said you know there are things in your life that you can control and things that you can't and if you say your time worrying about the things you can't control. It's a waste of your time and a waste of your life you're gonna, be anxious and not be able to do anything to resolve the anxiety. So what you have to do is focused on the things you can control and that includes your character. For example, so developed your character. But to a considerable extent. It also includes your emotions with you. Are unfortunate in that we have divided mines We have this higher rash brain function, but on the way to developing
we didn't lose the old inner brain, the old, primitive brain, and a lot of the anger comes from that old portion of the brain, and then the higher portion of the brain is left to try to deal with it. So, am I as a practising stoic capable of The angry. Yes, I am just watch me stop my summit. I am, and I might utter something that my mother would not have appreciated me uttering. Bob, I discovered is that there is that reflects of anger, but other than that. Your added toward whatever negative thing happened, can have a profound impact one. Whether anger arises in you when something bad happens to you. You have about five seconds in which to decide. How are you frame it, and not only will you not getting angry, but you might also find yourself laughing in response to it.
So that was an important stoic inside is that through this process of framing, we actually have considerable control over our emotions and the stoic seem to have had profound psychological insights like ice in the third century b c, and there are ways in which were only catching up to them in modern psychology in the last few decades so walking through the epiphany at you had in your own life about exerting this type of controlling your own emotions. Guess I went to see the dog and I knew this doktor had a habit of being slow to see patients I brought along reading material and I to bring along Seneca he's around stoic philosopher, lived in the first century, a d I brought along here. An essay on anger. I kept looking at the clock. And the doktor was brighter an hour late, and I realized I couldn't get me I couldn't get angry. I will
but to be angry, and I know I should be angry and I knew I had every right to be angry, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it because the higher rate any portion of my brain was fully engaged in that way, in the brain was saying. You know If you get angry you're, just taking a bad situation and making it worse, you'd be the biggest full on the planet. If you got angry. At this point, that was an interesting inside because I could have sworn no if somebody does anti getting angry, that's just how things work, but it doesn't it be that case and another is this whole divisive? Putting things into a frame in the frame has a huge impact on your emotional response and you and buck. You talk about a couple, different kinds of frames, the typical frame that we often go through as either the angry frame.
Thank you these days with covered, it can be. A kind of woe is me sort of frame, but we can take more positive frames. You talk about comedic frames, or even my favorite frame that you talk about. Is this future storytelling frame so walk through the future? Storytelling frame for our listeners. You are right now experiencing a number of obstacles that you ve never had to experience before in your life, and the question is: how do we respond? One thing I like to do is use the comedic frame when possible when something unexpected winced the negative happens, try to tell a joke about it. Try to turn it into a joke. It's very good difficult to get angry when you're laughing. In my own experience as you get good at it, you get good at finding the comic element of what happens and the other frame. Is this story telling frame? So? another thing you can do as you go about your days is imagine yourself in the future. If you survive this particular
a pandemic, as you probably will very high chance if you will, but there will come a time in your life when you're gonna be telling somebody else about what it was like that can be caught. And child could be somebody else, and so right now you can think in terms of the story. You're gonna be telling in the future about this. Now. For this to be effective, you can't just make stuff up. It can't be a fiction story, has to be a nonfiction story so you live your life so that your story told truthfully makes you instead of somebody who simply was miserable. In frustrated into somebody who can accept fully address the challenge smile their way through those challenges found- work around spore those challenges. It not only makes for a great story in the future, but it makes today so much more acceptable because it's a frame
and you're going to be thinking. Okay, I got a challenge in front of me. How am I going to respond to it? That said, the stoics were not big fans of going around and boasting about how well you handled situations, so you don't want to take away that aspect of it It's a it's a device, a mental device act as if you were someday gonna tell the truthful story of how you handle the pandemic and I do your best in your daily actions to make it a really great story. I love exactly that advice But actually my favorite frame it you talk about is the idea of the stoic challenge framed with or talk to me about what the stoic challenges and how we can embrace it. Okay, so life presidency with setbacks listeners will have experienced many very interesting unusual, unexpected setbacks in recent days, the interesting question is when sent back. How do you handle it? I think of you,
Think about most of the setbacks Eve experienced in your life. If they ve done you harm the biggest harm being done. You is emotional harm, you ve, gotten angry in response to set backs. You gonna frustrated in response to setbacks, so it doesn't being set back itself that hurts you. It's your response to the setback, support. A pipe in your house springs a leak. It isn't the pipe bursting, it isn't the pipe breaking. That's the problem, The problem is all the water company. What do you don't want it that? The real damage in the same is true, if you experience a setback and allowed your emotions to flood your life so the trick, as I imagine that there are these stoic gods now. I dont actually believe in them, but there are very useful psychological device. So these spend their time, trying to think of ways to think I'm set backs that they can expose you too
and it's like a game between you and then you have a different never mind, because anyone your set back you think in terms of our it's a test. Their testing me again and see how I respond to that test, but here's the thing of Europe. Can I use that strategy? You have to act, quick because otherwise, once your emotions are aroused there very difficult to turn back down so as soon as you realize you been set back, you think of it as a test up you up your character, of your ingenuity by the stoic odds, actually have your best interests in mind and testing you
and then the goal is to find a work around for that sat back and stay calm and collected as you do, I super love. They start challenge. I first read your book when I had just fractured my portela and I was just in a really really awful place about it. Just really. Woe is me kind of frame, and your book was fantastic for copper reasons. I mean one was it. You gave me a completely new for that I didn't have before. But the second was that I love this idea that if the stoic gods are giving you something truly awful is in some sense because they trust you like. You know they think you're a kind of Emily athlete and they want to give you the best challenger possible. So is kind of like a you get a little pride of lake. You know God's in just give me a little sprained ankle know I broke my kneecap like that's what they think I'm capable of so I kind of just love this idea that harder challenges are in some ways like a compliment in some. Since the Stoa gods they're trying to prepare you for even more difficult challenges that lie ahead. The ultimate goal,
of course, is our own death and there's going to be any number of challenges. We in Try me number of setbacks before that. So If you want to have a good life, you have to learn how to handle those setbacks well and handle them with a great deal of great. If you're being tested. It's like you have this coach. You can use a kind of electric analogy: it's like you, have this, this coach, who feels that you're up to pay in the big game, you're good enough to do that, and it's going to be difficult, you're going to feel challenged and there's going to be setbacks, but that you're capable of doing it. Whereas in the book I also describe what I call set ups and those are those periods in your life when every It's just go on your way and I from experience that, when one up those periods, hit. That's when you gotta be careful because it's actually once again, if you take them
line of thinking, it's actually the stoics at work. What they're doing is fattening you up because then they are going to test you periods without setbacks should make you a little bit nervous. I expect a certain number of setbacks, reach this strange stage where, when one comes, I pick up a little bit. Thinking about this is uninteresting set back to work bills as much at the mercy of the stoic gods as any of us, of course, he admitted to me- He likes to play the stock market and had been old into believing that share prices would keep rising only for this pandemic. Two decimate his pension fund and teach him a lesson why I feel for this one. Never again, no stoicism relies on learning these lessons, both from our own life and from me. Variances of others and will turn to eggs.
We those lessons when the happiness lab returns. In a moment when I first broke my last December, I was pretty much confined to the couch lots of things I've been looking forward to that cancelled, including spending Christmas with my family. Everyday activity and became nearly impossible and the doctors. When even tell me when I would heal, I was bombed to say the least, but bills book I did me with some fantastic examples of human resilience during a time, needed them most his book. Let me compare my predicament with those who overcome far worse. Accidents and illnesses some of the more interesting ones are cases like John Domini Bobby, who was a french publisher editor about magazine, and he had a stroke lower brain stem that left him
Fleetly immobile two exceptions: he couldn't blink one eye and he could slowly turned his head and certain that he was powerless. Now his brain was above brings them so his brain was was unaffected. He could still think, like usual, it's just that he couldn't do all of these things that he used to be able to do what an easing about him is. He coped. He kept quiet. Well, in fact he wrote a book. How did he do that? You might wonder? Well, he did it by blinking Bible the one I he had opened the other eye out. They had to so short because otherwise it would try out in also right bad things would happen, so he communicated with the world with the one I that he had there wasn't sound shot, through a system he developed with some transcribers, they would say the alphabet
till they came to the letter he wanted, he would blink and they would write it down. My friends neighbours who tell me about their current pandemic as being a major setback, in that gets me started, because you know what I tell him is: are you kidding? This is nothing. This is nothing to how bear a setback can be, and this is nothing compared to pay pandemics that the world has experienced, we regarded as a major setback only because we're so incredibly pampered we're living. The dream world of our great great grandparents. They would be astonished what you have indoor plumbing what you have drinkable water, what you have air conditioning, and I have even gone to the internet for it. It's me
I in my pocket in my cell phone, I have more computing power than the University of Michigan had on its entire campus. When I set foot there in nineteen. Seventy that's just incredible, but we take it off for granted parliament vice is learning how not to take your life for granted. So you can truly appreciate that life, so you can save her the little things that are populate that life and and and truly sabre friendships. I have a fuller life as a result, but this is the power of this: the stoic technique, which is known as negative visualization. So give me a definition of negative visualization and cannot just walk through how these examples work to pray. This negative visualization. What you do is you go about your day, pausing you're doing and you think about when your life would be like if you lost something that you value so far.
Instance, you know a loved one could pass away. You could lose your job You could lose your cell phone. You can go through a whole bunch of possible setbacks. You dwell on these things, because I'll be a recipe for a miserable existence. What you do is you allow yourself to have a flickering fought about these sorts of things? go about your business again now. If you for that flickering moment the death of a spouse watch what happens the next time you encounter that spouse. You will be likely. This is the case. They're probably some exceptions, and you will feel within yourself a rush of appreciation of the continued distance of that being in your life. My wife knows I've been negative visualizing because the Blue, in the middle of the afternoon. I might walk up to her and give her a hug and say thanks for existing
I just gone through, that mental process myself in income to realise how much I value her existence. Life in the realisation that It will someday come to an end because, unfortunately, one of us will have to pass away hopefully in the distant future, I job same thing just before I start this interview, I got a call from a family member who informed me that she had just lost her job there, a bunch of other people. That same boat. I still have mine, I'm a very, very lucky individual so negative, visualization think about how things could be worse, because then things will seem better than they did before, and I think that in a time where things are bad other. Always negative visualization set our worse. I mean you came up with a few before like we could be living through the pandemic. Without plumbing we could be living through the pandemic.
Out, Netflix right, I mean they're, so many things to be grateful for young. We take our lives mostly utterly for granted, which is unfortunate because we live remarkable lives I know, a lot of people who are just complainers. Whatever happens, they find the dark side of it. They find the bad side. But they they imagine how how things could be better their miserable people, and I feel sad about that because it self inflicted life is tough, but life is, beautiful at the same time and are you can emphasise the beautiful up but component or you can emphasise the part that you don't like? The choice is yours some sense. We could see this challenging time with covert nineteen as in some sense, a gift right like you're, not all of, are doing our still training on a daily basis and the universe. The stoa gods have made it such that we all have to do that. We all have to live off. What's in our country, we can't go to our favorite restaurants, Jim we get in
a certain set of months where were forced to do what's gonna make us feel happier in the long run. Negative visualization, that's imagining then you ve lost something that you value well Ok, left and right people are losing things that they value. So they don't have to imagine it. It's actually happening. The pandemic is over, is it someday, surely will be and they go back to their favorite, a restaurant assuming that it Exists, they will. I have this rush, listen blissful rush of it still here. I can still do this one bright side of the pandemic, His people will come out of it. Those who survived that again and there's no guarantee, but most people will will come out Much more appreciative, though, realise how good they had it and though the love life, though save life in a way and way they previously probably didn't
and then the interesting challenges given enough time living, the old life and, once again, they'll take it for granted unless they do the stoic practice unless they do, you use the techniques that the stoics teach in order to make sure that they are keeping that attitude toward life. I am experiencing this myself right now, my mom who lives in Massachusetts, I'm in Connecticut, she's gettin up they are, but she also has c p d and so she's in a really dangerous category where she could get the virus, and so my consistent, visualization is like what is coming as to her. What if something happens, door and what is done is its key Take me to reach out to her more often I know the next time I see her once this is all over. It's going to be an endless hug when I finally get to give her a huge hug, but, but that that kind of reconnection that kind of savoring. I guess it's not to be taken for granted
yeah and another, throwing in another story meditation hears the last time. I call it the last time meditation everything you do in life. There will be a last time. You do it there's all! be a bunch of things that you ve already done for the last time, probably windfall Last time you dialed rotary telephone when's. The last time you played hopscotch. There will be last time for absolutely everything so one of the things that the pandemic does is it makes you think about last times we are talking about being cut off from your favor restaurant and one of the thoughts that people are here being is you know what that last time- I went to my favorite. Restaurant might be the last time ever and its a See friends when you see loved ones this in the back of your mind,
you don't want to make a big deal out of this, but you can do it privately. A voice in the back of your mind should say you know what it's conceivable, that this is the last time, so I'm going to make the most out of this encounter with this person, because you never know throws curveball. The interesting thing is I found when I do that, then the next time counter that same person, it is like this national rush of there's still here they still exist. I still get to enjoy this relationship So stoicism, you know, instead of stoics being these room, determined individual stoicism can actually put spice in your life. It can give a kind of an intensity to your living that, in the case of most people, simply is why and I think, if you learn a lesson the pandemic can actually, be one of the great teachers of your wife
it could even be that by the time you're, old and wise, he might look back and you might think you're lucky stars. Then you are around for that pandemic, I know, It sounds crazy now, but give it some time and those thoughts can change, and so dear podcast listening, I hope, you're all ready to face this crisis with your game pieces on remember this is Europe Kennedy to show your stomach stuff to write your own setback story in a way that future you will be proud of after talking to bill, I'm more competent that up for that challenge and I hope you are too- and I also hope that you'll be back for the next Episode of the happiness lab with me doctor lorry centres, the happiness lab is Pushkin body ass, its co, written in produced by Ryan, doing and mastered by Evan Vila original music is written, implies actually silver special thing
to Ben Davis. Heather thing carlini, glory, Julia Barton, Neil about Jacob icebergs and the rest of the Pushkin crew. 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 just before, and I'm a historian at Harvard and staff failure at the new Yorker has been a time trying to solve mysteries like this one, so anyway, I was at the library at first Everything seem normal, Hum swiped my card
the elevator down to the basement report 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. Hello. How are you No one's. There The voice from the past voices new
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 them as socialized medicine, old horror, movies therein? Here too, punch cards from the forgotten history of the National Data Center network, and it is referred to as being that work is now in operation 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, find what Looking for an answer that question
killed. Truth, I decided to start a podcast. It's called the last archived hotel, stories from hundred years, a history of America arguments about truth and evidence if you wanted I found Mimi back here I'll leave the door unlocked the last archived coming soon brought to you. Pushkin industries
Transcript generated on 2020-05-26.