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The Most Watched TED Talk On Happiness | Dr. Robert Waldinger

Apr 18, 2024
Happiness is a momentary thing, it comes and goes, one of my teachers said it's like

happiness

is an accident, but we can become more accident prone, we can build a life that makes it more likely that we will be happy for the

most

part. weather. Dr. Robert Waldinger will tell you what you can do to find

happiness

. What tastes good? Dr. Waldinger is the director of the world's oldest happiness study. The nearly hundred-year-long Harvard study of adult development. Dr. Waldinger is packed with evidence. Happiness-based tips for happiness and world-class experience in psychotherapy and unlimited vision as a Zen priest.
the most watched ted talk on happiness dr robert waldinger
Clearly, there's a lot to unpack here, much of which can be read in Bob's new book, The Good Life, available now. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Robert Waldinger to your checkup with Dr. Mike. I'm curious to know what his experience has been

talk

ing about the science he's so passionate about with the added tool of social media. Has He seen It as a positive, negative or neutral effect? I'm not that familiar with social media. media, okay, but I'm learning to be a little more familiar and basically my feeling is that posting small messages can be useful if it makes people dive deeper, sure, so the idea is that you know speak in red and crumbs yeah, okay, yeah, I like that approach.
the most watched ted talk on happiness dr robert waldinger

More Interesting Facts About,

the most watched ted talk on happiness dr robert waldinger...

I think it's a good way to make use of short form content because now on social media there are so many different forms, like the podcast is the longer version of online content, then you have the 10 15-minute newscasts. videos yeah so you have really short 30 second videos and that's where it gets complicated because that's where misinformation spreads and actually you and I were

talk

ing about it off camera how hard it is to see the people in our own industry. uh sometimes saying things or selling things that aren't I guess evidence based is a good way to put it, you said snake oil, yeah that's a term that's been used a lot, how common is that these days, in your eyes, it's very common, I mean.
the most watched ted talk on happiness dr robert waldinger
The problem is that even they ask me as a researcher about things that I have no experience in and you know one of my professors once said that without data I'm just another guy with a lot of opinions and there are many people with a lot of opinions are correct and especially if you monetize those opinions, that seems unfair to people who might assume you have evidence behind them. What's complicated for me, as someone who likes to bust the myth with some of these snake oil products, is that In science, if we are real scientists, we can say that something lacks evidence like you just said or you're missing data but also when someone comes in with a snake oil product and says this cures all your problems and I say they have no evidence to They say they say they have no evidence to say no that's true that's true Well, the tobacco companies have been saying for four years that there is no absolute concrete proof that smoking causes cancer because they can't find the mechanism because we don't know the mechanism for a lot of things, but we know the relationship between A and B, so we've Since, although there is a correlation with smoking and lung cancer or COPD, and smoking, the correlation is so high that it is not useful to investigate the causative mechanism behind that right, that's how I think about it and we can act on it. consequence even before knowing exactly the cause.
the most watched ted talk on happiness dr robert waldinger
I mean, we didn't know the mechanism by which aspirin worked, but we used it for decades before we knew the mechanism well, that's where I think these snake oil guys really thrive, since they say this is natural, but For me, even pharmaceutical company products that are largely manufactured started out as natural products, were evidence-based, and are now part of the pharmaceutical industry. like alternative medicine, once you get evidence it becomes medicine, that's right, that's right, and many of our best discoveries are by accident, yes, exactly and, again, they're natural, it's some kind of algae in the ocean or some type of animal that makes a product and even Botox like the What yes, everyone loves to inject themselves these days to prevent or treat wrinkles is a toxin.
Yeah, I know, I know Botox hasn't been my thing, but I'm just saying how interesting it is, yeah, that point of view of things from before too. When you came in, we were talking about how I labeled the work you do as part of the field of positive psychology, but you corrected me and said it's actually not. Can you elaborate on that? Yes, what I do is often called a happiness study. but it's actually a study of adult life development and that's different, it includes happiness and unhappiness and it includes heart disease and it includes DNA methylation and so many right things, it's about a kind of well-being, a kind of organic well-being that gives us They called it a happiness study when I gave a TED talk that went viral because the Ted people know that when you put the word happiness in the title, it sells, yeah, so that's been our label, but really what we're about talking is kind of a broader view of human flourishing and when you were, I mean, obviously, when the study first came out, this was 75 years ago, 85, 85 years ago, um, it's quoting your probably your talk. from Ted now, um, when the study first came out, was it the intention to focus on the development of happiness or did it have a broader scope, well, it was to focus on positive development, so there's the word positive because

most

Some of the research done up to 1938, when the study began, understandably focused on what's going wrong in human life. because we want to know what goes wrong and then how to help people, so it was a little radical to start with two studies that we did: a study of Harvard undergraduates and a study of inner-city kids in really difficult family situations , but both The studies were how young people stay on good development paths and what are the predictors of prosperity and that's why they were radical for the moment, yes, because even this is radical for that moment, but even in my medical education there were a limit place. to think about positive psychology because it was all about pathology, what can go wrong?
That's how you help someone with depression, anxiety, although we can describe anxiety as a positive symptom because we're putting energy in, but, for me, I felt like I was getting really good at taking patients from the negative side to things. to a correct baseline, but then they would be flat and not enjoy it and essentially I started thinking about it from a PTSD model where someone is so worried about having an episode where they have When a flashback happens or something very negative, they try to silence all their emotions, but when they silence their negativity, they also silence their positivity and essentially you become a very unhappy person by doing that and I felt like modern medicine was really focused on creating a flat line.
Do you see that happening in your education as a psychiatrist and now as someone who studied human development well? There is a famous quote from Sigmund Freud where he said we want to turn neurotic misery into everyday unhappiness and many of us are trained as psychoanalysts. and many of us said that all we can do is the best we got every day in terms of happiness, no. Actually, I mean, a lot of our work has focused on what helps people thrive, not just what keeps them on a flat line. welfare and do you think we need more of that in terms of investment in research?
I think so because it is not linear between unhappiness and happiness either; There are so many components that make the rich life right and that's why we want to find out how we find them. elements that make Rich's energizing life interesting even to combine with the things that make us unhappy because there's always a little bit of both in life, right, yeah, and you know, which scares me a little bit when I think about some of these investigations that have been done is that Nowadays we always want to break things down, so it's a fundamental level, I mean, what was the conclusion of the study?
Give me three lessons and I'll incorporate them and then what ends up happening is similar to what happened with self-esteem in the '90s, where some research was done and it showed that egoists who were successful had high levels of self-esteem, so he said, " "We're going to pour self-esteem and admiration into people even those who aren't being challenged and are thriving, and we saw the negative drawbacks." Do you think about that when you're developing the studio or changing the studio? Yes, because one of the things that happens when you study thousands of lives over decades is that you realize that one size never fits all, there is no quick fix for almost everything that is right in So what we are studying is the complexity of the many different paths that people take physically, emotionally and socially, so I think one of the difficulties of transmitting this science is that we can't say that these are the quick fixes and Do this and you will be happy forever.
You know that's not who we are. So how do you communicate your results well? When I gave that TED talk seven years ago, I thought my colleagues were going to reject me. I mean, you know. I'm an NIH-funded researcher and I prided myself on being serious, but I felt like, gosh, we're not telling people what we know, we're publishing in journals that no one reads, so the first challenge was really how to? We could communicate what I've learned in a way that is accessible and usable to people, so most of the statements in that Ted Talk are actually findings from magazine articles and I had to figure out how to translate them into normal language and a lot of what we have done.
This book is actually about doing that and we have also mixed in real life stories from people to help them improve. How does this play out in the life of an individual person? But a lot of it has been this kind of wonderful, interesting exercise of translating the highly technical language of my research life into trying to talk to real people, of course, that's the constant challenge of being on social media trying to take evidence and make it reasonable, relatable, interesting, culturally relevant, even one of those. scenarios where you took a bit of evidence or data and tried to translate it for the book.
What is one of those lessons that you translated so that we had a statistical interaction between marital satisfaction and daily perception of pain in older adults and older couples? and a statistical interaction is a complicated thing to do with fancy statistics, but really what I had to summarize was that people who felt more pain each day had lower moods, but if they were in better marriages, their moods They didn't improve. down on the days when they had the most pain, that's the practical description of the statistical interaction, yeah, okay, but very, very good, and then from that, can you extrapolate and say, based on this So our recommendation would be to look for a happy marriage or is that what it is? too far in your opinion, no, it doesn't go too far.
I mean, really what we discovered was that it doesn't have to be marriage, but that the people you met were not only the happiest but the healthiest physically were the people who had the best connections. with others and what we are saying is that we have seen in thousands of life stories that the people who stay happy and healthy are the people who have these right connections, so yes, please go out and make connections and let us help you discover how to do that because there's research on how connections are made more easily and again we're trying to bring evidence to our discussion about what you could do about it in your own life and I could see a cynical saying, well, yeah, we knew that. that we knew that having good friends and happy marriages makes us happy, but at the same time I will reject those cynics and say, well, we also know a lot of things like that, yes, that we are not found. statistically significant in the research, were there any things like that that stood out to you that weren't statistically significant that you thought might have been?
And by the way, when I gave that Ted Talk I thought people were going to sit there. in the audience in this little elementary school auditorium where I gave it and did well, but the surprise really was that people stayed healthy or physically healthier, but you're asking an interesting question: were there things that turned out not to be? Admittedly we assumed it was true, one of them was actually the idea that there are big gender differences between men and women in how important we feel relationships are and how we are in relationships, when in reality we went back and looked at thestate of the art. in relationship research, women are somewhat better than men at making connections and valuing them, but in Gen, the gender differences really aren't that big, that relationships are also very important to men, that men behave somewhat differently in relationships than women, um, so that's one of them another and this is actually one of the big takeaways from our study is that we studied a really disadvantaged group of people on the opposite end of the privileged spectrum. , as people who not only grew up in poverty but in homes that had a lot of problems and then Among Harvard undergraduates we did not find that Harvard graduates were happier throughout their lives on average than inner-city kids. city ​​and that seemed useful to know and it certainly had nothing to do with how much money they made.
It didn't have to do with becoming famous, I mean, you know we had JFK in our studio, Ben Bradley, editor of the Washington Post, and we had some fancy people and the whole group was no happier than the disadvantaged group and that seems really important. for name yes, how did you do it? what data barometer did you use to measure happiness we use a lot of them, first of all we ask them how happy are you and we ask them again and again, but we also ask their partners, right, we ask their children, did you find synergy in those responses? sometimes no, often yes, but sometimes there were big disconnects, in fact there is a story in the book, the story of a man's life. who thought he had the best marriage and the best relationship with his children and he was so happy and his wife and children said this man is totally out of touch, we can't get him to be real with us, to be present with us and that's why he doesn't had no idea how it appeared in the world, well we found that in some of ours, but it seems that for the majority, if the person judged their satisfaction to be high, the people around them felt the same, yes, largely , yes that's fine. largely yeah, absolutely fine, I would have thought it could have been a lot more sporadic, but it's okay, I'm sorry, and then you were, you were okay, we're all, you know, we're all blind in a way to ourselves and you know, but by and big people know if they're happy and that relates to how other people see them and then you were going to say some other variables that you were measuring as a form of happiness, yeah, so we brought people into our lab.
We deliberately stressed them out and then saw how quickly they became covered in stress. It's like cold water immersion experiments or like, oh not really, but it's the Trier social stress test and what that entails is, first of all, telling someone in five minutes. You're going to give a speech to a group of judges and it's going to be a speech about yourself applying for a job and then you're going to have to give the speech to these stone-faced judges, that gets your heart rate up and after that. After you finish we ask you to subtract the number 17 again and again from the number two thousand.
I want to tell you that it is an easy task and every time you make a mistake, which everyone makes quickly, we make you start over and people. They get really nervous when their heart rate goes up, so what we wanted was some way to stress people out reliably, and then because the experiment was to see how quickly they recover from stress, so we did measures like heart rate variability. heart rate, blood pressure and galvanic skin response. watching over and over again that doesn't sound like measuring happiness, but what it measures is how well you manage stress and return to balance, which we think is a really important component of well-being, so it was the physiological response to stress and recoverability.
Yeah, okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Were there factors that worked? You mentioned gender differences. You mentioned the fact that there wasn't a change depending on someone's fame, their money, their status, was there something that worked in reverse? that you really expected to go the other way, like we often think that becoming famous will keep you happy and you actually saw the other pattern emerge where becoming famous would actually hurt you. Any pattern like that arises in reverse, well, certainly, fame was such. pattern because people lost some of their privacy when they became famous and they lost the ability to move as freely in the world as people who aren't famous, especially if you're president, yeah, yeah, and then of course I had a lot of unhappiness in other ways of his life, in fact, we did a video on the YouTube channel talking about how every president approved of Medical Sciences behavior and I remember part of my presentation was that JFK actually had many medical conditions at the same time. time like out of everything, terrible back pain, Addison's disease, yeah, there were several things, so yeah, I wonder how fame played into that, yeah, I don't know, I don't know and I know Ben Bradley had a lot stress in your life um and uh, and I can only tell you about those two people because they've made it public.
Otherwise, I have to keep the identities of all our participants confidential. Why would someone tell us private things about his life if we were going to spread them? everywhere, yes, the participants who are still involved in it are happy to participate. Was this something you know in life? When we say we do something challenging, we always look back with admiration, as if we have overcome something. This became a bonding moment for the people involved, so when we approached the second generation, all the children, the brochure that we sent them was that their parents helped us, and 75 of the children participated with us ? an inordinate rate, that's so high, because they knew this was important in their families, but we asked our original subjects, how being in this study affected them and some people said that your questions are a bother, but most people said this.
It's been a really important element in my life because I knew that every two years you were going to ask me to think about where my life was going and that made a big difference for me in how I lived my life and I think I know it creates this scientific problem because at observe people, we are changing them if you were giving them feedback in the middle of the study that we weren't giving, so how is that changing them? If I ask you, how is that? If you know that, I'm going to ask you, let's say every two years, tell me what the last two years have been like.
You're going to carry that in your head. You're going to think about how my life is because if you think about it, most of us don't think much about our lives. lives and I can tell you, as a psychiatrist, that there are some very unpsychologically minded people wandering around, many, many, not introspective, not introspective, not thinking about Well, what would happen if we took a whole group of people, many of whom were not particularly introspective, and we would say we want them to introspect regularly? I'm sure that makes a difference for us and touches on whether it's medical care or mental health care. a factor too, yeah, yeah, that's interesting.
I wonder how that impacts and also to understand it. How about culturally? How culture has changed in those 85 years. That has to have a big impact. Whether culturally, there is a depression or a war. something like the civil rights movement, yes it changes with digital media, any patterns emerge with any of these social events, well what we did was ask about the big domains of life that remain constant, so health mental, physical health, work relationships, but then we would also put in questions about the big social trends that were happening, so we would ask a question like um and this was my predecessor, what do you think about the Vietnam War while the war was on?
March? What do you think of these hippies? I tried marijuana, you know? um and now we're asking we're collecting data even as we speak and since the second generation almost the entire first generation has passed away but um we're asking now along with the usual questions about well. -We are asking what your experiences were like during the pandemic and we are also asking you how you use social media and what your participation is in the digital world, so again we are trying to take some of the important things. that are emerging in our culture and we ask about it and there is some pattern to it, obviously it's too early to meet about the pandemic, but from things in the 70s and 80s it has become clearer something about how society affected happiness levels, you already know.
I don't know, the impression that a lot of data has given us is that people were more concerned in the World War II generation about living a life of purpose and it doesn't mean that people aren't concerned about that now, for supposed. but this idea of ​​being famous for being famous, those kinds of things did not exist, they simply did not exist and people would have thought it was absurd, right, yes, then you know, because they had had a Great Depression in which they had seen themselves and all their neighbors fight. They had been in the war.
Most of Harvard's men went to war. The men in the inner city were too young, but you know, they had seen these huge cataclysmic events and to them it was like, how do I live? a life that works and how can I raise a family that's healthy and that kind of stuff. I'm always so torn between these traumatic episodes, whether on an individual level or whether we're approaching the level of calamity of the Great Depression or World War II. On the one hand, they're so traumatic, so many terrible lives are lost that we never want that for society and at the same time there's again this level of post-traumatic growth on a societal and individual level that happens where we're like wow.
Look at the good that we haven't even looked at that comes from a situation like this, how do we wrap our minds around something like that? It's a great question. I mean, I think that's how life is. I mean, I think we. We will continue to be challenged, right, we know, yes, I mean what is going to happen with climate change, what is going to happen with the singularity when AI is in charge, right, what is going to happen, how are we going to deal with that, then you know the question. Will we have the means and resources to face these big new challenges that we've never faced before or will there be trauma, so there will be post-traumatic growth when you basically have enough resources to not feel overwhelmed by a challenge?
There is only trauma when you are overwhelmed, right, and that is why we are all wondering: will we be overwhelmed by climate change? Will we be overwhelmed by AI that will take over our lives? We don't know at the species level. EB, yes, well, because if overwhelmed, we are extinct, yes, yes, yes, that is the only indicator I have that makes sense because the number of lives lost in World War II you could say that we were overwhelmed, but we didn't. We were, I mean, we survived, we survived and The number of lives was enormous, but there was a huge number of people to continue with the question: what is going to happen now?
And I don't think we know. I mean, if the planet falls apart, literally collapses, then maybe this, you know, people. we wonder if it's our time to go extinct yeah, I don't know and in that case yeah, what are you and I doing here talking about happiness, really, growth and development, really, um, do you see any problem with the fact that Is this research for adults? The development studio began so many years ago that it was initially only for men. Initially there were two groups of men. Do you think that the principles that we were learning are still applicable to those who live in Mongolia, to those who live in Africa, to those who live in New York City?
Is it still very useful? We care a lot about that and have tried to make sure that what we are publishing in our science is not just specific to our sample of white people in 20th and 21st century Boston. So we've had to look at other studies to make sure that other studies corroborate at least our basic findings, so it seems really important and with that said, the surprising thing we found is that the basics of Being Human don't differ that much. there are many things that differ, but the basic concepts, the essential elements of human life do not differ, what is your opinion on the fact that there is a crisis of reciprocity in the field with some social science research that has been done in last?
Oh, replication, yes, yes, it's a problem, we all have it, why do we have it, you know, at my job and actually they have these systems now where you record your hypotheses beforehand, you say what analysis you're going to do. do if you then do something that is more exploratory. You are very clear, I think it is a really good advance and what it means is that we are clearer that we have not manipulated the data to find something significant because the journals are not going to publish non-significant findings, yes. um, but the replication crisis is big andum, you know, I think over time certain findings emerge and they keep coming back.
I mean one of the things we do, for example, I do a bunch of data analysis and I find something and I get I'm really excited and then I tweak it a little bit and the finding disappears and then I'm like oh no, this is probably one of those. coincidences, so whatever you want to do you can do it with your own data and also by looking at others. From people's findings, you want to see if a finding is so strong, if a signal is strong enough that you can analyze it in different ways and the signal keeps coming, and that's what we try to do because otherwise Otherwise, we have so much data we could just throw out. our data, yes, of course, and draw whatever conclusions you want, oh my God, and weird, yes, I can tell you some of the strange and statistically significant findings that we have had, what is the strangest thing, what is it, that longevity from your maternal grandmother is the strongest predictor. of your own longevity turns out not to be true, but that is something that is a correlation that yes, wow, okay, yes, but that shows how you can weaponize data as much as you can use it forever, absolutely yes, this is a personal statement.
What I will do within the pandemic from the beginning I expected the world to treat this as a moment of trauma and show signs of post-traumatic growth after the fact, much like we are talking about here with these other cases and yet I feel that that was not so. It doesn't happen, do you feel that too? I think it's too early to say, oh, it's really okay, so, and I also think it's going to be very different for different people, so we know that, in particular, the levels of mental illness have skyrocketed, you know, addiction, depression. anxiety um and we are in a crisis because there are not enough mental health professionals there is not enough care for the people who need it what happens then what happens not only to the people who suffer but what happens to their families, what happens to their children When children grow up in homes where levels of depression and anxiety are higher, where addiction is more common, we simply don't know.
On the other hand, there has been this acceleration of work in the digital world which is kind. of interesting, I mean, I do psychotherapy every day, um, and if someone had told me three years ago that you could do meaningful psychotherapy on Zoom, I would say they were completely crazy, well, why is it happening, you would think it was because We're not in the room, you can't connect any body language, all that and kind of emotional communication like what leaks out when we're on a digital call, we don't really know, I mean, we know that some emotion is communicated, but I don't know what aspects of emotions and other non-verbal behaviors are communicated, we just don't know.
I think there's some good research coming out to tell us more about that, so I thought being in person is essential, it's part of the core of what heals people in psychotherapy now I'm not so sure, but you know, that's what What I love about being a researcher: you're surprised when you're wrong, which is funny because I think society as a whole has created a higher level of mistrust because sometimes science has been wrong or changed, yes, and I guess even At some point they call us flip flops, but we're not, we just let the evidence guide us and thank God we're wrong.
I mean we've had so many, you know, there's so many erroneous theories that then need to be clarified, refuted, you know, being that we're not flip flops, we're doing science, it's not that reality, you know, reality is out there. What must be understood is that our ways of understanding change as we change. Speaking of understanding our realities, what are some misconceptions that you frequently hear about happiness? Well, one is that if you're not happy all the time you're not doing it right, you know there's this fantasy that we all have that if I do the right thing I can be happy all the time and I'll be fixed I'll be ready then I'll be fine and that's not it. the truth of no one's life in some way again, I'm stating the obvious, but in some ways it's important to name it because especially with social media, for example, we get these messages, you know, if you look at the selected lives that we show each other on social media like I don't post my photos when I wake up in the morning and feel like I have no idea or like my life is going nowhere.
I choose, you know, photos with my family and beautiful beaches, and we know this rationally. but at the same time you look at those feeds and you're like, "Oh my gosh, everyone else is having a great life and I'm the one who has all these ups and downs and confusion, so I think it's really worth naming this, you know, happiness." ". It's a momentary thing that comes and goes and that's what one of my teachers said said it's like happiness is an accident but we can become more accident prone we can build a life that makes it more likely that we will be happy most of the time something you mentioned with social media and the way we present ourselves in certain ways can make people less happy because they are contrasting and comparing a concept you mentioned in the book: lurking people who look at social media frequently but don't comment. .
They don't engage, they don't publish, they often have higher levels of dissatisfaction. Do you think that's the reason? Well, I think it can go back to what you were saying about comparison, which can be that and I work particularly with some young adults. in therapy and what they will report is that they can't help but scroll through other people's Instagram feeds and then they may feel like they are plummeting, they may feel their mood drop and usually what they describe is comparison and What we do know from research is that the more frequently we compare ourselves to other people on a given day, the less happy we are, so trying to get out of that mode of comparison would hopefully include moving away from that passive scrolling through selected lives of other people, a practical fact.
Here you have to know how to do it: just disconnect from social media or look with commitment or look with intention or something like that. Yes, there is some research on this. There is a psychologist named Gene Twangy who suggests with some data that when actively. participating in social media with other people is energizing and our well-being can increase and when we passively consume it decreases, so I think what every listener could do is a little test to test yourself, so spend time doing something you normally do . what I do on the Internet and you know, spend 10 to 15 minutes and then check it out with yourself.
Do I have more energy? Do I have more hope? Do I feel more open to the world or am I more closed? Am I a little more depressed? more exhausted, you know, and if it's the latter, stay away from those activities. It's complicated on social media because, especially specifically with what you're talking about, this kind of introspective, do I feel good, do I feel happy, do I feel in an energized mindset because a lot of times on social media? The media bombards you with a ton of information, whether it's science-based, technology, new iPhones, my phone, whatever, many times, to feel better, we consume content that may not be accurate but matches how we feel. because it's a validation, yeah, yeah, almost when a friend comes to you and tells you they're going through a tough time, you can choose to be compassionate and just listen or you can be a truth seeker and help them see if they're wrong. this situation and challenge them a little bit and depending on that person, you could choose one of those two strategies as an individual who is trying to evaluate what he is doing if we just look at happiness, do you think we can really get sidetracked and fall prey? to misinformation and online deception, well, yes, absolutely, I mean, that's what clickbait is designed to do, you know, you know, the problem is that all of this is designed to get our attention and keep it because the more they keep our attention, the more money is made right and therefore the possibility of being deceived and led down dark paths is really great, but we can also check it with ourselves.
I mean, it may be that I sit in a bubble, an echo chamber, that is, what I do sometimes. I find myself, you know, looking at media that validates my perceptions and makes me feel angry at those other people who are out there doing those bad things, but then I know I feel worse, so even though they tell me the things that I already believe , I'm starting to feel worse. I'm starting to feel more closed off. I'm starting to feel more gloomy about life. What I've learned is that I need to stay away from that in particular, yeah, it doesn't matter whose opinion you know, if you know if it's Fox News or MSNBC, they both do.
I feel terribly interesting and yet they have the highest audience of absolutely because they know that anger and victimhood sells, you know, um, yeah, that's very true. I was going to ask about the general field of positive psychology. I have read books on the subject. flow that we talked about before um Dan Gilbert, who even wrote a blurb in the back of the book about him, is there something in the field that's going on as a trend that you don't agree with overseas? I think what we always do is oversell the next thing, right? the new thing and that's really the problem, I mean, for example, positive psychology has been a great corrective to a lot of the Doom and Gloom psychology that I was trained in, and that's great, and then positive psychology became oversold like the best.
Since sliced, all-purpose bread is fine and that's what we tend to do we tend to oversell the next shiny thing, how do you think it's oversold? Well, because there is real suffering. There is real pain. There is also a turn towards sadness. A turn towards that. It is beneficial that this is healthy, because positive psychology, when taken to an extreme, can hide and suppress negative emotions and potentially develop narcissism. Well, yes, yes, exactly, so I think it's not that positive psychology is a problem, it's overselling. can happen, I mean, there was an overselling of psychotropic medications, psychopharmacology was going to be the panacea for everything before that, it was psychoanalysis that was going to be the panacea for everything, we just do this, you know, and that's really that's human behavior and I've been as guilty as anyone you know, is there anything to learn from that, maybe we, an industry, from how we protect ourselves from doing that and stop ourselves from doing that, we just keep bringing in other voices? which you seem to do very well.
I try to do that and I even recently had Deepak Chopra sitting in the chair where you're sitting and, to be honest, I wanted to have a very direct discussion about some of the things I think. He has discussed things in the past that were questionable at best and I wanted to be critical and found it difficult, if not impossible, to do so given his ability to move the information-flooded conversation forward without being able to narrow it down to a specific topic. . and as you know in medicine or health, when we need to discuss something, the moment we move the target to another variable, the discussion is lost, and I have yet to figure out how to do this successfully.
I know it's really hard and especially when you're around you know Deepak is a lovely man and that's the other thing and you're a good guy and you don't want to be mean to a guest, of course, but you could invite other voices to say Okay, tell me some other points of view. Just as you know, you can invite other people to say. Alright. You know Waldinger's work is about the importance and centrality of relationships. What are some other obstacles? Know? What are some other points of view? because there really are and they need to be heard and I think you probably won't be able to do it alone as a kind and responsible interviewer and as someone as well-versed as you in this field, what are some?
Counterpoints to your point of view, sure, one of the things we found is that good relationships are associated with staying healthier and being happier, but then the problem is that when you lose your health you don't have the energy or the state mood of wanting to get closer to other people, which means you become more disconnected, so there's a kind of vicious cycle that can develop in the other direction, um, and that's one of the things that's important to name, which is not just one-way. relationship where you just get those good relationships and you'll be healthy and happy and you'll be ready.
No um, I was going to ask a question about you. You mentioned that there are some insights into how to create these relationships. A fundamental guide. What is it? that guide for people who maybe feel alone, especially after a pandemic, yes, some of the research is about how we form new relationships when we don't have them, when we don't have them or want more and they find that when we show up next to the same people repeatedly, we are more likely to connect, which is why the water dispenser at work or the coffee machine becomesiconic, yes, of course, because you happen to run into people, the other thing is that if you, if you join a club or volunteer for a cause and you do this, you introduce yourself to people you don't know, but over and over again What happens is that you have something in common with these people, something you love to do or a cause you like. passionate that starts a conversation when you might not have one, so one idea is to try doing things that you love to do or are interested in, do them together with other people and see if that is a way to develop new relationships, The other thing that they What we discovered is that being of service to people is really good for us, it makes us feel worthwhile, it makes us feel like we matter, you know, and there are a lot of people who are isolated and feel that the The world does not want them and does not want them.
I don't count and it's very helpful to take stock of what I have to offer so you know if you have a chance to read to a child or tutor a child in arithmetic or writing. You know, hey, you know you can. do that and everyone wins, they have these shows where they pair seniors in retirement homes with preschoolers and they and they just all are totally excited, preschoolers love it, seniors love it , TRUE? at a food pantry, some of these things that you can use your energy to help, they make us feel better about ourselves and also put us in contact with people who love us, yes, I see that happen a lot, especially my patients who work in the healthcare environment despite high levels of burnout, feel like they matter and want to do it for others, yeah, something I talked about with a pretty popular math PhD of all things on the podcast has been about monogamy and how Dating apps and the availability of options create the paradox of choice or that there are so many fish in the sea that no one ends up settling down and that dating apps can be problematic for monogamy and then we wonder the difficult question of whether monogamy is the The right answer for us is whatever the research so far on adult development has clarified about whether or not monogamy is the right game for us.
We haven't figured out anything at all, so we were the ones who started with the World War II generation, I mean, they were all about monogamy yeah, everyone got married there. We weren't gay because gays didn't exist in that generation, right? You know, unfortunately everyone had to be locked down, yeah, so we don't have anything to say about it. Actually, with our second generation, they are Baby Boomers. probably less polyamory in that age group, my wife is a couples therapist, she's a psychologist and she's seen a lot of polyamory in younger generations, so the bottom line is we haven't seen it yet, I don't know, yeah, that's it. interesting because even when we say polyamory we mean a relationship between multiple people, yes, but I think what we're seeing now is more the lack of connections that are formed, so it's not even polyamorous, it's just open and flexible and without a basis of Who is your person like I heard you talk on another podcast where you said who you can call in the middle of the night?
You may have a lot of dates to go on and a lot of sexual experiences, but you may not have the right person. call more because there are a lot of those surface level relationships, and what we think is that everyone needs someone who is their right person and one or two people who they feel are their safety net, it doesn't have to be a relationship romantic, but just someone in the world um, yeah, and I think that's something we've done wrong, but not entirely wrong with the research in the past, at least from the way I see it, we would say that at a Family with two parents is doing well. father and mother we see that when it's a single parent there are more difficulties, higher levels of trauma, etc., etc., and then we realize that it's not a mother and a father, it's just the fact that there are two right parents , so our definition was incorrect. but the director was still right and in the same way that we would say that a good marriage where someone is there for you is really important, well, as you say now, it's not just about a marriage, it's just about someone be there for you.
Right, our definitions of how we define those people, I feel like they've changed, because it's really about the emotional connection, in fact, when there's a child development researcher, Michael Rutter, who was asked what's the most important factor? in the healthy development of a child. He said that every child needs at least one adult who is crazy about them, and that's what you know, it's not talking about who that adult is or what gender or what their relationship is, it's just the emotional connection and that drives a lot of connection. in many ways, yes, the next point I wanted to talk about is the current field of psychiatry as it stands, what I'm seeing, I'll tell you from my practice as a family medicine physician that many patients are being taken medications that I don't feel that have been properly vetted and maybe not even blame the individual providers, maybe it's the broken system that's putting pressure on providers to help as many people as possible, but I can begin to explain the Adderall numbers . prescriptions being sent, the number of antidepressant medications being sent before discussing with the patient whether or not they would benefit from therapy, whether or not they truly fit into the depression category or are just struggling because their friend died two weeks ago and We're creating pathology out of a normal human experience, right?
Do you see that pattern from your specialized side? In fact, I see it all the time, so my specialty is psychotherapy. I'm kind of anonymous. Yeah, yeah, I've never heard that in my world, yeah, like I'm almost a dinosaur, yeah, and what that means is I use medications in my practice, but I'm much more likely to do that if someone's not in um. , uh, not in. danger, right, if someone comes to me depressed or tremendously anxious, I say let's talk a few times and see what happens and so many times the symptoms will subside that the mood will improve if they are depressed or the anxiety will subside by just venting and We talk and then We often never use medications because they don't need them.
However, primary care doctors are so stressed that they have very little time and if someone comes in and is suffering terribly, you don't have time to talk for 50 minutes. minutes you know or more and you hear about their life, so it's all too easy to write a prescription that sometimes works and then of course sometimes it doesn't, and that's where we're stuck, the medical model and the pressures of the system leave us taking. inadequate attention from many of the people who come to see us, yes, I would say that there is no one who practices in my world, that is, in my referral network, so to speak, and does what he likes.
I have never sent a patient to a psychiatrist and asked them to do psychoanalysis or therapy or anything. I know CBT and DBT, everything I know, so it's hardly available to people and in the same way I'm lucky to be able to practice medicine without time limitations in a community health center because I'm lucky to have a career in media where finances are not important to me. I can spend so much time with a patient and help them because that is my goal. That's not a reality for most people, so I don't even know how to guide you. people who are already struggling and who may not be motivated to find an appointment and call five different offices to see which insurance company is still accepted by their doctors.
I know, I know. I mean, the idea would be that you in your primary care clinic could do a warm handover with a psychologist or a social worker or even a psychiatrist who could come and say hello to a patient that you're concerned about and really see if there's a way to engage. a conversation that could lead to some treatment. some necessary treatments that are very difficult to perform, there are some health centers that are structured that way, but most cannot be. Yes, well, we have a collaborative team, like a behavioral social worker and a behavioral psychologist in our practice, who We have access to that, yes, but when I look generally at what people are talking to me about that are not in my network, they are few things they have to go through and the obstacles they absolutely have to overcome and it especially worries me. with the younger generation they are getting used to taking a pill to solve everything and being in the media puts me at a unique crossroads to witness these worlds and something that I have postulated on my channel is that those who are at the lowest levels Spheres on the socioeconomic ladder get bad attention because they don't have access, they can't afford medication, logically it makes sense, but on the other side of things, rich people who are in the media and who are successful are famous, They also receive a poor level of medical care because they are promised excessive things.
They give them quick solutions that are not. They have viral infections for which they receive antibiotics because they require them. It is a consumption model. Do you see that happening too? Yeah, how do you see VIP patients getting bad care? And, in fact, it's been interesting for me because, you know, as I get older and I advance in my career, I get some VIP patients and the first thing we have to establish is that I don't care about their fame I don't care about their wealth No I care you know we have work to do and some people don't like that and they leave and other people are relieved, it's like okay, so you'll treat me, yeah, you're not going to sell me anything, you're not going to sell me anything, and you know, because we make bad decisions when we're in awe of a patient, that's a problem, yeah, yeah.
I see that happen a lot and I'm worried about the repercussions of even focusing on the Adderall crisis. Everyone in the media, not everyone. I can't say all of them. It's amazing how many people in the media are taking Adderall and I don't think there's an unequal distribution of ADHD and those who are successful in the media like I just don't think that's it, no, I mean, one of the things that I've seen at the encountering the media more thanks to this book is that the media moves very fast. that there is so much pressure and that it is some kind of Beast that has to be fed, yes, you know, every day, yes, every hour, sometimes that is what creates that feeling that I have to be able to concentrate, I have to being able to focus all the time and I'm sure that's what makes some people look for focus medications that will help them focus even though that's not what their bodies need, yes have you seen any alternative medications, treatments, supplements, Do you know what mushroom formulas have?
They have peptides that some researchers talk about, have you seen any evidence that any of these things have been shown to be beneficial? Because I'm just a skeptical monster when it comes to here. I'm also a skeptical monster. I haven't seen anything, yes, something. A great nutritionist on NPR once said that this whole vitamin and supplement industry, this multi-billion dollar industry, basically ends up creating really expensive urine for people, yeah, that's true, you know, for the water soluble one, at least exactly because , are you familiar with her? uh, Andrew Huberman, I know him, yeah, Stanford, uh, very popular blowing up right now in the YouTube gaming podcast game and some of the concepts that he teaches are just as valuable as an amazing teacher.
I learned from him, my friends learn from him and these are people who don't. They're interested in medicine and they're learning really good concepts, but at the end of the day, when we recommend these supplements on these podcasts and explain peptide regimens for good sleep and that's if you don't take cold showers or you don't do this I feel like everything which is is feeding a business entity and then also an anxiety entity, yeah, because it's almost like you don't do this shame, right? And it's this search, I mean people. I've been selling snake oil since time immemorial, yeah, you know, because we have this longing for a solution, and there are many conditions in life that we don't have solutions for, that's true and that's what you know, so the Social media is just the next place where you know it's like playing, it's being played and sales are being recorded, it's very true, my TED talk is not as popular as yours, but it was basically on a tedx forum where the issue.
I know and the name of my talk was don't be afraid to say I don't know as a medical expert because many people are sure in areas where we still don't have answers they promise you miraculous things they sell you things talked a little about the psychology of influence, how they use celebrities and familiar faces, much like in your study you use the psychology of influence for Good by saying, hey, your family members were involved in this, so you should be too, yeah, yeah, Yes, and that is, frankly, what I do on my channel. I try to learn from those who are master marketers who sell nonsense, see what they do well andthen I try to use it to use evidence-based medicine and teach evidence-based medicine.
Yeah, and I think that's part of the kind of work that's done at Harvard, well, that's the hope that I'm talking about and we really fight a lot in this book to make sure that the claims that we make have solid, solid backing. with evidence, so we've even had to stop the editor from putting a certain subtitle that was going to claim too much right, so we're really trying hard not to go beyond what we can legitimately claim, although Ted Drew is tempting, it's tempting because people want you to do it. they want you to do it and you're excited about it, yes, this is your passion, this is your life's work, so I understand that something else that you do in your life's work that is not psychoanalysis or psychiatry, there is some kind of priesthood that I have. read about it, tell me about it because I'm very interested in learning about it, I'm a Zen practitioner and have been for almost 20 years and meditation has been a wonderful addition to my life and I started studying with a teacher. and finally I decided that I wanted to be ordained a Zen priest and then at the same time, over time I became a Zen teacher, so now I'm officially a Zen teacher and all that means is that I teach Zen. and I meditate um and as a priest it's a vow of service so you know, my vow is to help people where I can um and it runs the gamut from working with Zen students to working with my therapy patients to performing weddings and funerals and I just do all that.
Wow, what is it that Zen is a form of Buddhism? If Indian Buddhism, the original kind, and Taoism in China had a love child, it was Zen, okay, so it's essentially a kind of take on Buddhist philosophy. the philosophy of impermanence and the interconnectedness of everything and no fixed permanent self, all of that and then combining it with Taoism, which has a lot to do with an existential perspective on being alive in the world and finding a path of equanimity and a path of purpose and intention. In the world, what does that mean to the average person?
How would that help them? Well, I say I worry less about stupid things than I used to. Well, that might be, you know, I get it. I can see faster when I'm worried. someone else was invited to do something and I didn't do it or something that you know or you know uh someone else is having a different kind of life and maybe I should have taken that path or you know, compare the feeling of being less than than what Zen helps me do is see that as the normal arising of the garbage in my mind and that everyone's mind does it and that it is okay and I can see it arise and disappear and move on and to achieve that or practice that you must do meditation, yes, and what type of meditation do you practice, do you recommend because I know?
There are many different types and styles and do you have something like that or do you just do it and it doesn't matter what style? Well, Zen meditation emphasizes simplicity, so I sit and focus on my breathing, just watch my breath go in and out, um and Sometimes I don't just watch the breath, but I open my awareness and pay attention to everything. The sounds in the room, the feel of the air on my skin, everything that reaches my consciousness. Basically it is about being present in what is here and now. and that includes thoughts, so in Zen we teach you to know that thoughts are not the enemy, you don't banish them, you can never banish thoughts, that's why it is a very simple form of meditation, there are many other forms and many others. schools of Buddhism and also meditation practices that are not Buddhist.
For me, Buddhist philosophy has been one of the most useful ways of making sense of the world and that is why for me the spiritual part of Buddhism has been as important as the particular meditation technique. , how come you think? In our modern medicine today we talk about mindfulness, we don't really teach it to medical students, to residents, to our patients, why do you think it's hard to do it if you sit down and just focus on? your breathing your mind is going to start speeding up we call it monkey mind okay if you're a medical student and you're used to getting A oh, I can do this right actually what you're going to find is that meditation is something you don't do you feel good your mind starts racing you never master it it's a lifelong practice and so it takes a kind of reorientation to say it but the whole practice is just coming back to the present moment when your mind wanders when your mind has been wandering for 20 minutes just when you remember to come back, that's a hard sell for us achievement-oriented people who want to do well on exams and want to master the skills, but even they don't necessarily like to teach it to medical students, but rather teach the premise. from Zen Buddhism Taoism two students to bring their patients because we tell our patients to make lifestyle modifications that are not easy if I tell a sedentary patient to tell them they should do 150 minutes of modern intensity exercise per week, that's what we recommend.
That's not easy either, especially considering the fact that they get off the couch. This will also be complicated, and yet I don't think any class has taught me that this is something I should recommend to my patients. Yes Yes. you taught it at Harvard no, you're kidding, I mainly had to keep my Zen life quiet, oh yeah, in the closet, why, well, because I'm a scientist, you know, at Harvard Medical School it's one of those Pretty conservative institutions now that it has become. It's trendy right now, you know, but I really needed to come out and be very honest about my Zen life for my own good.
I never thought I'd hear that you really had to hide the fact that you were meditating. I'm not. I'm sure I had to hide it, no one told me, but no, you felt it, I felt it, yeah, I felt like people would think I wasn't serious, I was a little too courted, you know, you know, sure, uh, and that's why It's taken me a while. to feel comfortable enough that now you meet people that you meet casually on a Monday say how was your weekend and I say well I spent the weekend at a retreat oh what was that, you know, I mean, I would never have said that, do you believe?
Evidence-based medicine needs to catch up with that foreign yes because it is in the realm of prevention. Of course, if we know that it's like the exercise that you recommend to your patients, that prevention is much more powerful and valuable than the cure that we do after the fact, um, so yeah, I mean, I think we really want to try to do That's what we want to try to do. They teach this to kids from preschool to elementary school and they love it if you learn that. It is a resource where they can simply sit and breathe calmly with their eyes closed.
When kids learn what it's like and they can feel calm, they love it and they'll ask their teachers if they can do it right, you know, wow. Okay, so this is something that we can start very early, we don't have to wait until adulthood and problems start for us to start activating. Yes, last question. I give you a Harry Potter style Rod magic wand, what do you have? You could change one. What's happening with our current health system, what are they changing? I would be hugely supportive of babies and children and the people who care for them, that's what I would do because it's the best long-term investment. health your education your emotional development and that means supporting parents and you know and all that, if you do that, it pays off in terms of lower rates of crime and addiction and, um, difficult social services, social services and social support for families and young children, that's what I would do and it's good that there is data on this, so there is an economist James Heckman, who published a paper in science, economists don't usually publish in science, he did this analysis in a big way. number of studies and his question was for every dollar we spent. investing in supporting people of a certain age group, where do we get the biggest reward when people reach their 20s in terms of self-sufficiency and all that?
And what he discovered was that investing a dollar in children from zero to four years old had much more impact. than investing money and insurance in any elderly person, that doesn't mean we shouldn't, of course, yes, yes, but it means that, if we really took care of young children, young children and the people who take care of them, there is a lot of money economic. profit let alone the social game, well you know why insurance companies don't like to pay for preventive care even though the same principle applies, yeah, why I don't know, oh, because throughout the whole life in our hybrid model in the United States it is unlikely that a patient will.
They have the same insurance company after five years because they change jobs, companies change, so they never see the benefit of investing in prevention, whereas if we created some kind of insurance policy, etc., etc., look how much family medicine doctors are starting. to be validated properly, so unfortunately I think one of the main reasons why they don't invest because it has a lot of value, is like if men get pregnant, a lot of things would change, yes, exactly, and healthcare also exactly. Great, doctor, thank you very much for your time. I hope you enjoyed the conversation.
I really did it, it was a lot of fun. Amazing, so to find happiness, go out into the world and do something you love along with others and those lifelong relationships will follow one of My best relationships are the ones I have with my 140-pound Newfoundland bear dog. Click here to see how I make it in my New York City apartment and, as always, stay happy and healthy.

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