« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

Mistakenly Seeking Solitude

2019-10-08

Technology allows us to bank, shop and dine without talking to another human, but what toll is this taking on our happiness? The inventor of the ATM and the Talking Heads singer David Byrne join Dr Laurie Santos to explore the ways in which talking to strangers can bring us all genuine joy.  

For an even deeper dive into the research we talk about in the show visit https://www.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 at the end of this episode
you can subscribe today on apple spotify wherever you get your podcast the fighting in the streets of saigon during the new year or telephones who made the war to real tonight i'm ordered i aircraft and are unable to make no attract north vietnam it ten sixty a pretty tumult he was here a combat grown now what was resolved so reportedly chased inquired on a radio at the garden tomorrow there is one event in nineteen sixty eight that didn't make the headlines even though it still having a huge effect on your wellbeing i had a wait wait wait in a really got limit our good because i knew i had the money there is due as you know cash you check and get out of there this is done wetzel he's recalling a fateful
in november of year when he was to do something simple he just wanted to it some cash it is back i was scheduled to take trip on a monday morning on show on friday lunch hour i went to ebay some money i would say maybe eight to ten people in line my guess is you know maybe i was in that line for light eighteen twenty minutes just to cash jack don't i was really valuable he was a tall hunted engineer and vice president of a technology company that was on the hunt for new business but instead of power solving his desk at work he was stuck in a bank lobby sure my job was to come up with one or more new products we're getting nowhere half a century later we still share and misery we're stuck in lines all the time when we for coffee and a cafe when we stand on a crowded train platform when we get stuck for
hours and airport security no exact we what he was feeling watching time slip through his fingers my brother airing wrote a book called how many legs haze enters has a going or how to estimate damn near anything i asked him to calculate for us how much time we likely to spend waiting in line over our entire lifetimes we came up with was seven thousand hours seven thousand hours waiting in line that's more than six months of our life stuck in some q that's crazy right with seven thousand hours you could take a massive vacation you can learn new instrument or a new language or a new sport but you're not doing any of that you're just waiting staring at the back of someone's head and it sucks we tell ourselves that standing in line is an awful annoying happiness straining waste of time but what if we could
see that line not as a huge pain in the butt but as an opportunity to be happier our minds are constantly telling us what to do to be happy what if our minds are wrong what a farmer and are lying to us leading us away from really make us happy the good news is that understanding the science of the mind can point us all back in the right direction here listening to the happiness lab with me doctor lorry centres me you what's all doesn't have the same name recognition as thomas edison or steve jobs but he's in there you're too and it turns out his irritation with waning in line led to a creation that revolutionized the financial sector and has also come we changed the daily routines of ordinary people around the world before i met i had a certain image of him in my mind i rang
doorbell expecting to meet a slick self important inventor guy but then nine you're old dawn welcomed me into the cosy dallas home that he shares with his wife eleanor and i realized wasn't that you must type i had imagined well i'm delighted anti some dawn was the friendliest grandpa you ever met i sat down and eleanor in their living room which was filled with be pillows smile photos of their twelve children and clocks lots of clocks they were lovely but club kind of the nemesis podcast her in a wait till this stops at a second and i'll know at the clocks are kind of fit though because dawn understands the value of time in fact it was that feeling wasted time back in nineteen sixty eight that led to his life changing idea so while i was in london
i saw it seems to me sellers job mostly is cash checks and taken deposits so i just get the idea that i think a machine could do that that's right down had just dreamed up the atm the eye made a teller machines that millions upon millions of busy people use every day nowadays the idea of an atm seems really obvious but dont faced a lot of us since when he first pitch the idea lord were a company there was anchor he thought it was dumbest idea he had ever heard he said have tellers to do that is by tall you there yet you know we do have dollars that do exactly what you're saying you regime can do so why eating anybody would by this that board member that entirely crazy there had been
your attempts to automated being machines and they all failed including one that took deposits its ventre luther synergy and lamented the only people using the machine or prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with a teller face to face the genius of d a tan is that it won the trust of millions of regular customers who loved its convenience entirely body prefers to getting don't quicker and of the eighty year was quick easy way anybody could use it atm really does a very simple stick to car he and you prepare number bingo here come the money if you got it in the bank of course but now in hindsight can you see that this started somebody's a revolution of convenience women never thought of it that way really laurie now tell you a story about that i had to come up with a forecast to have each eighty aims we're gonna show and i fell
like we could sell four thousand of these machines then four thousand just in the bay in the airport where i was just a day after we were delayed is reported the world is the estimated there is one point three million eighty aims install nowadays but the real thing sesar the atm according to dawn isn't it improves pete while being it gets them of those annoying lions edition san said nobody wanted to wait in the telephone line like i did so it makes we customer happy were happy to get in and get our condition was thanks more free time is something we all need and dancing the idea has probably freed up millions possibly billions of ours the world over but it turns out there's a baffled downside to all this convenience and save time one that are lying minds dont even realize
don wessels intuition was that most people want a bit of extra free time then it'll make happier and the site specks him up simply put we all feel way too busy tonight many of us experience what scientists call time famine we literally starving for time in that miss feeling has a negative effect on our well being in fact people report feeling sure on time are more likely to be depressed anxious and less happy than people who like they have lots of free time psychologists have even come up with a term for the amazing feeling you get one say a meeting is cancelled and you suddenly have a free our you didn't expect we call it time athletes and those rare moments when we feel wealthy in time can make us feel amazing it's one of the reasons that every once in a while i sometimes surprise my yell students by cancelling my happiness class and there the actions show just how important a little unexpected time off can be one student
burst into tears she said was the first time she had an hour off all semester she'd almost forgotten what it was like to have some free time so adding in a few extra minutes to our perceived time banks can feel really good but recent studies also suggest something rather counter intuitive that is we estimate just how busy we really are while others so for showing that we feel busier than ever before theirs little evidence showing that we actually are busy air which is kind of way it is though our minds tell us we're super busy all the time but in reality it's not as as we think but there's another even more insidious way are mine leads us astray when we try to if some time it turns out there is an opportunity that comes from avoiding those bank lines and the cost is social one what lines are frustrating but also an opportunity to be around other people
sheer amount of time we spend around other people actually predicts how happy we are take one famous study by positive psychologist at dinner and marty seligman they looked at me who scored in the highest ten percent i'll unhappiness surveys and tried to figure out what makes i'm so much happier than the rest of us the researchers discover at the door happy people didn't spend any more time exercising or doing religious activities what did these happy folks do differently there were more social they spent one time around other humans than people with average levels of happiness the results were so strong that these researchers deemed being around other people as a net sorry condition for very high happiness another study by nobel prize winning psychologist danny economy and confirm this he and his colleagues tested which daily activities make us feel best the winner
socializing with others it's better than eating shopping relaxing or even watching tv just being with other people makes us feel good even those people are strangers their lots of sources of well being standing around you you just have to tap into my friend nick happily professor of behavioral science at the university of chicago's booth school of business happiness and about the intensity of experiences that we have it's about the frequency of them happiness is like is like a leaky tire on your car you don't have a nice conversational somebody and then are happy forever but if you have nice conversational somebody on a plane that plane ride is more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise then you know once you're off the plane ride united targets flat a little bit you gotta do something else to pump it back up so i find a lot of these conversations are like our like you know compressors for my from my time
next studies why were so resistant to being more social why don't we take more time to fill up our happiness tyres with a quick conversation people get the consequences social interaction wrong predictable strangers not engaging conversation with somebody else give you a cost somewhere else and people don't always seem to recognise that it turns out cost of not being social not taking enough time to connect with other people is then it makes us feel pretty awful fuming lonelier isolated just kind of stinks lonely is now growing epidemic around the world people today for feeling lonely at double the rate they did in the nineteen eighties take college campuses like where i work at yale nationally in the u s right now over sixty per and of college students report feeling very lonely most of the time this is higher than any other previous generation of structure like that impairs your well being at an impairs your health reasons
research shows that the physical consequences of our increased loneliness are staggering feeling isolated is said to be as bad for our health a smoking fifteen cigarettes a day if low we know how to help warning it would sound like this they cause increased risk of inclination disrupted sleep abnormal immune response is depression anxiety i stress levels early cognitive decline alcoholism cardiovascular disease stroke alzheimer's diabetes suicide and even early done so what can we do to fight this loneliness epidemic well can get a few hints from people who don't feel all that lonely people like eleanor wetzel i'm have extra virgin have introvert and so that part of personality enjoys the connection with people from them went on what sells wife welcomed into her home it was obvious that this old fashioned grandmother was the opposite of lonely she was one of the most sociable people i had been a while she had to say for everything include
how she met don t write a blind day so we starting as zero and i think there was is the chemistry there i had planned to spain only thirty minutes or so on this interview but i chatting with elinor for over two hours we talked our families were her life was like growing up she was able to raise so many children and other stuff too asked what her secret was to connect with people so easily it turns out she just chat with strangers whenever she can i have no problem with direct eye contact and smiles remunerative that's right we are that's how you relate to people but i can see a lot of down owners with that technology that we have available the atm doesn't smile back at you show me a pretty eyes or whatever so we don't want to lose all of that it's true that done camps have given us back time but they have also robbed us of them
what an opportunity to connect with human tellers and our fellow customers they steal one of the small chances we have each day to fill up our leaky happiness tyres with a quick conversation which is why elinor has to a relatively shocking stance on atms i've actually never used one period that's right or has never used an atm even though her husband is the guy that invented them she just prefers to chat with the teller i don't think we even know yet how much he's being lost without that inner action of human beings the whole bit there's you so are so many components have i wouldn't even have time to go into all of man i'm sure i haven't even thought of all of them eleanor's right here we're automating the humans out of everything take music for example one thousand sixty eight elinor wanted to hear a new song she'd have to enter with a bunch of people shift a fine record store asked the clerk wedding
a new song stand in law with other folks to buy it and only then could you drive home with her kids to throw it on her record player but today it's different who is this alexa lecture big you can have do everything far you every who automated convenience we introduce into our lives has a cost and that car all too often is a social one the problem is it's not when a costly even realise the question is why first we need some music to send us into the break so let's tease what's coming up next alexa play anything by the talking heads i'm having trouble connecting to the internet i'm so sorry gimme a moment the happiness lab we'll be right back
i ride the train chicago every day to my office in hyde park from one of the farce outside suburbs and every day i get on the train and i was seeing exactly the same kind of phenomena i've seen it for years it begins with observation and nick happily serve something on his daily commute that is commonplace yet so when you really think about it people would get on sit down next to their neighbours perfectly decent lovely people going into chicago to work for the day they would sit down she took our next to somebody else and they would then ignore each other for forty five minutes those train cars are full of people which means there so full of knowledge stories and jokes but most are also deathly quiet i'm an almost nobody ever talks on the train the question is why nick decided to test this
he recruited passengers sharing his commute to work dividing them into three different groups or conditions as we researchers call them he asked each group to act in a certain way while they were on the train for one can we told them to keep themselves just focus on their day ahead dont engage others around you in conversation this morning second condition we ask them to do whatever they normally do which is typically the same as what happens in the solitude conditional must nobody talks the strangers on the train i'm in the third condition we ask them to do something radical we asked them to try to make a connection with the person who sits down next to you this morning on the train try to get to know something about him or her so they were gonna have a conversation what's think about these different groups for a second which one would you be happiest and the groups which you could enjoy your solitude or them force you to talk to a complete stranger we naturally have a pretty strong intuition here but i bet that intuition is wrong
people reported the most positive commute in inaction condition less positive in the control condition and least positive in the solitude condition where they kept themselves be forced to talk with a stranger was far away the most pleasurable experience simply making connection with someone we don't know makes us feel really good nix on this very same study in a number of different context on city buses in cabs at the port in waiting rooms they i'll find the same result people are happiest when their being social with someone but what about the other person you could imagine that we were potential spreading misery that the person who is talk too maybe was was unhappy about this we were like polluting the train with all this unwanted conversation so your conversation make other people miserable well knit tested that to my crew
eating a fake waiting room in his laboratory they were also happier when they were talked to then when they were not talked to and that effect was just as big as the effect on the people who were instructed to talk so didn't i dont think we're spreading misery trains or the buses acting with someone s pleasant whether you are the one is initiating an or the one you're you're receiving it note that mix not advocating harassing someone on the train or genuine to try to talk to someone who clearly doesn't want you to speak to them on the same is that a quick conversation can make us feel good the problem is thus not we think is going to happen when asked people to imagine how they feel getting into a conversation with a stranger they re we predicted that it wouldn't be fun or uplifting he's in that's interesting is because our expertise and guide our behavior so if you expected
be freezing cold outside your pick up a jacket nowhere when you got out of you expect that it's going to be really warm outside he won't where a jacket if i expect the talking to somebody we pleasant i'll do it if i expect it'll be miserable i won't but i bet you're thinking what if your shy around people maybe all this talking to strangers stuff works if you're really outgoing but maybe it sucks for introvert and we did measure this weekend we found a shame difference at all between introverted extra written in across these conditions that is introvert enjoyed connecting with others as extroverts did into it did not enjoy keeping to themselves and in solitude and extroverts enjoy that either what the very our peoples expectation about how they're going to feel so introvert because i think that i can enjoy party is going to choose not to go as an extrovert who enjoys a party might choose to go on urge people tend to feel happier when they are correct
with others and that's true for both extrovert and interests results are quite challenging for a lot of people to hear no matter what your personality type is you will increase your happiness if you interact with people you randomly meat in stores or in part transport of creates social connection keeps you connect on the right level i made this very point on the cbs morning news recently happy people take time for social connection they try to make actions with the people on the street and i got some interesting reactions from the viewers here's one too it from someone who says quote talked to a stranger on the bus are you insane don't talk to strangers it's dangerous didn't your mama teach anything here's another one one of my personal favorite if its interest you're talks to me on a bus i will go nuts people die because of shit like this hell no so where do you get do his similar reactions where people here these data and dislike not true not me so yeah yeah yeah i know i get it all the time i get a lot of
back on this because the expectations are so strong so what people are imagining i think are right and people who might come up to you and talk to you and they imagine sort of the worst case outcome so they're imagining homeless people are mentally ill people or something who are dangerous to them or psychopaths whatever but that's different situation from what were asking people to do here where does asking you to talk a person who happens to be sitting next to you and the person who happens to be sitting next to you is likely to just be a normal person not a psychopath we don't do something that's almost certain to make us happier because we think will be wait upon by some imaginary psycho killer actually we're going into the brake again alexa play psycho killer by the time having trouble connecting to the internet
that's so annoying i'm so sorry the show will be back in a moment nick aptly things were too scared of falling victim to some psycho killer to strike up conversations on a train such unfair did fears are part of why we seem to find the automation revolution so alluring hans atm was a first step but now we are killing the human part of so many of our interactions want to introduce you to someone who's deeply worried about this new direction someone who is me changes in his own life to fight david byrne we're losing something and a lot of the efficiency that we think is there is kind of an illusion this is insane you
probably know david is attacking heads frogman but will you may not know is a david also rights brilliant social essays he recently off the fantastic article four the mit technology review on the hidden dangers of automation its title eliminating the human if these these becoming so ubiquitous thee elimination of the human and fraction what does it mean for us as rituals society as a community david's thesis is that humans developed over millions of years to work trade have fun and form relationships face to face you getting all these are different signals you're getting signal from body language their facial expression what their eyes are doing tone of their voice we are social animals that's what we are lacking some wolves and we are at
more that flourishes because we are social and you wonder what will happen what is happening wind that aspect of our deep make up starts to be taken away from us or not so much taken away we give it up vote tara david that we're all voluntarily turning our backs on our fellow humans every day thanks to new products which promises ease and convenience be it an atm or an app pre order our groceries or a thumb streaming servant that saves us a trip to a crowded movie theater on saying that or design these things i had in the front of their mind can i come up with technology to eliminate some of the human interaction in my life but it should seems to be the result notice back to inventors liked on what's all who is it socialists social can be but david is that a relatively small section of society namely the engineers who design all this stuff there
creating a world that the rest of us must inhabit and are creating it in their own image my there was an engineer i enjoy that that mindset of looking at things from an engineers point of but i recognise a lot of that in a lot of fur programmers coders engineers designing a lot of the things that kind of envelop us in the contemporary world you can sense that a lot of these guys and most of them are guys are now comfortable in social situations so when if they would not golly say i'm but make a world where i never have to interact with a person they mike consciously do that that's world that has been made for us and whether we want to or not we're living in their world whether or not you complete
we buy the stereotype all engineers shun human company most of us can admit what they ve designed is often pretty tempting menu have moments where we relish opportunities to be by ourselves or just hide away abed when i was much younger i was much shire was much much more more uncomfortable in social situations i would cry a kind of facade or character or persona that would be i face for interaction it was a little bit artificial in that sense i can unify and understand that a lot of people feel like oh no if i can figure out a way to navigate the world with as few annoying interactions with the human then very good let's design interfaces that speed things along and help
someone who is uncomfortable and social situations for example get through without the pesky human at the his mit tack review article david argues as we spend less and less time talking and listening to each other will become less tolerant of each other's differences will become more inclined to envy and antagonism its billing prospect but can i and save us can researchers like nick convinced the champions of automation there get the balance between convenience and happiness all wrong i'm afraid to save it doesn't look promising remember next exe met using train passengers how he found that the people here forced into conversation with their fellow commuters had happier journeys we'll make reported these fine back to the head of marketing at the railroad company and here was her response nick
you're not gonna believe what we're about to do she said we're gonna roll out a new policy on the trains we're gonna put in place a quiet car i said oh really and then the choir car is one she explain where people are not allowed to engage conversation and not allowed to talk on their cell phones are not allowed to talk to somebody sit next them is supposed to be absolutely quite nick was surprised is by the train company had made a decision that completely contradicted his while being research and she said well because we asked people on a survey what they wanted and this is what they said they wanted course i pointed out there is exactly what our participants said they wanted to add just turned out not quite to be at least in terms of their well being nick being a good scientist wanted to know if the railroad people had carried out experiment with the opposite of a quiet car have you ever just put a chatty car on the line where people can
get together you know maybe snacks or something i get together and you just talking you know get to know your neighbours a little bit get to know your commuters you're you're chatty car and she laughed and you know it we ve never done the chatty car but we used to have bar cars on the trains were where people get together and often they were then connect with each other there and i and i ask you to have the markers anymore anymore she said no we don't anymore and asked why not i was imagining her telling stories about people stumbling off the trains drunk or something it but she said your problem was they were too crowded that is they were to popular so we're too many people who wanted to be in there that's the point which as a behavioral science just sort of saw thick clearly seems they have clear data that people really enjoy being able to connect with each other and yet that service doesn't doesn't get extended they cancelled it because the chair
car or the equivalent of it was was too crowded so if banks and railroad companies and apt designers and store owners aren't going to come to rescue what are we to do to stop feeling so isolated the answer is pretty simple just need to connect with other people and not just our friends and family members we all we need to make the effort to connect more with strangers the rand people around us in lines in our commute they matter more than we think david byrne realized despite his natural shyness he's trying to be part of the cure he now embraces opportunities to connect with the people who cross his path and the other day the subways were messed up and there was a chinese guy who
was really have a heart he had some luggage with him when he was really having a hard time everything of everything is changing this trains now on this line this trains now running on this line this used to be an express now it's a local was all this kind of figured it out together which was come sweep you have made action in what i discover is very often they'll smile that you are sharing this ignores with them they might laugh you laugh and and so the kind of well he's a good cliche but a brightens your day for another fifteen minutes at least so what have we learned in this episode for one thing we too readily assume that convenience efficiency and near gratification are the routes to happiness that assumption is often wrong tat
any human interactions are the burst of air we need for our happiness tyres to steal next metaphor your mind might tell you a quick conversation is going to be awkward too much time not worth it but those intuitions are wrong even for shy folks so get out there and make a new connect next time you are standing in line talked to the person next to you if you cant think of something to say you could tell them lines are an opportunity and that the guy who had the inspiration for the atm machine did so while waiting in a bank line his wife does never who's that invention you could even tell them that you that on a cast upon cast called the happiness lab with doktor laurie centres
if you enjoyed the show i'd be super grateful if you could spread the word by leaving a rating and review really help other listeners find us and don't forget to tell your friends if you want to learn more about the science you heard on the show then check out our website happiness lab diaphragm can also sign up for a newsletter to get exclusive content mapping lab is color in produced by ryan daily the show is mixed and mastered by evan vila edited by julia barton fact checking by joseph friedmann and original music was composed by zachary sulphur special thanks to me all about carly meekly ory heather fain maggie taylor maya caning and jake a voice for the happiness lab has brought you buy pushkin industries and me doctor lorry centres
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 better at the new yorker has been alone 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 only barely make out the words he read the letter archive listen 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 find what looking for an answer to that question who the truth i decided to start a podcast it's called the last archive 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.