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Welcome, welcome, welcome to armchair expert experts on expert I'm Dan Shepherd, joined by Monastir Miles man.


Hi, how are you doing? Good. It's a sunny day in Los Angeles. It is. We had a little rain yesterday and now the sun's back. Today we have Laurie Santos, who is a cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University. You know, she has the most popular class in Yale's history on happiness. And she is also the host of the podcast The Happiness Lab. So everyone should listen to that. She's very fascinating and has such good tips for wellness, for feeling happy, especially right now, especially right now.


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He's in chains. Hi, first and foremost, please excuse our tardiness now that two minutes was really well, we had a little conversation.


We're in Monica's apartment and she was looking at first, let me say, I'm always the one that's late. So this is not to throw her under the bus. But she was doing some things I said, I think we're getting close to one. And she said anything four minutes or under is fine. What's your stance on that? Yeah, I think four minutes are under.


As academics, we always have this window for class. It's usually like a six minute window, right? Oh, can the students leave at my school? The students could, like, leave after ten minutes if the professor didn't show up.


What's so messed up is so my undergrad institution had it that you could leave early like that was like you left before then. But then the Yale institution like it was switched. And so it was like this weird culture shock of like some people showing up early and some people leaving early and kind of messed up.


Laurie, we're so excited to talk to you. And you came to us by way of what I think is a God living among us, which is Malcolm Gladwell. He emailed me and said, you really need to get hip to Laurie. And let's just take one second to talk about how much we love Malcolm. No, Malcolm is fantastic. I think I met Malcolm for the first time. I was like a new assistant professor. I just started up at Yale and he was doing this dinner party with one of my colleagues.


And the whole time I was just like Malcolm Gladwell. This was like right when I think the tipping point had just come out and I was, oh, God, among men, you know.


Yes, APACS. Gladwell As I was learning about you today, Laurie, I got really excited because you've done a ton of primate work.


Yeah, I did psychology and anthropology, but it was like anthropology side major.


Unofficially, you got a B.A. in both biology and psychology from Harvard.


Yeah. Although it was kind of a little bit of like a trick, though, because they just they just started this new joint major. And so they hadn't really worked out like which classes you needed to take yet. And so I managed to get a biology degree from Harvard by taking the minimum possible amount of biology classes, which is embarrassing now. And I try to teach things like genetics because I'm like, you know, that stuff, ECGs, whatever, just keep it going.




Did you have a lab as part of that? I did some lab stuff, but not that I remember super well. Mostly I did animal behavior stuff that was like my main thrust in biology, which tense the monkey work.


What was the genesis of you're working with animals or studying animals in relation to human psychology?


Well, it actually came out of a hatred of running human experiments. I started doing work when I was like a freshman working in a lab that studied humans. And we were studying this thing called implicit memory, which is does this phenomena that the stimuli that are in your world are kind of affecting you without realizing it? You know, so if I give you a list of words that are all related to elderly people, you can kind of prime that without you realizing it.


Right. But the whole point of this effect is like you're supposed to not know what's happening, but it's something we teach. We teach like in the intro psych class. So I you know, a freshman, Laury, you go in to try to test implicit memory in these freshmen who are taking a class about implicit memory. And at the end of every study, I'm like, did you have any ideas about what the study was about? And everyone was like, was it an implicit memory study?


And was like, yes. And then we'd have to throw out their data. And so part of the move to go to animals, I was like, animals don't have hypotheses about what the study is about. They're not like messing up my data with their big conscious thinking brain. And so that was part one.


Yeah. So let's digress for a second. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Anthro, which is like they're studying humans for one hundred years and you just almost can't study humans. And we're trying to figure out the study you're a part of. And you're and you're almost probably trying to be a great subject and help the professor or person doing the study get the results they want. Like it's all we're too conscious of all the things, right?


Yeah. And it's super. I mean that. And it's like super hard to get it. Why humans are really like because of all these cultural influences. Right. Like if I want to study the human, it's hard to not be studying the American human or the Zimbabwean human or like, you know, your culture prevents me from knowing what's really built in to being a human. And so so monkeys for both of these reasons were a breath of fresh air, like they don't have all these cultural influences messing with them.


And they definitely don't know that they're in your study. They don't want to do a good job in your study.


Sometimes it feels like they might actively not want to do a job.


You study Shern, I listen to your podcast and there's a couple of different areas and I really wanted to explore and I'm kind of obsessed with status. So many primates are highly social animals were the apex of social animal. Right. And so we have so much hard wiring and evolution to make us cohesive in a group and I think we're largely unaware of it. Right. So I do wonder, even in your your primate studies, like your Capuchins. Right.


They're very smart. Did they ever interpret your status as being like Alpha? Do any of the people conducting the experiment become the alpha? Not so much with my guys, because status wasn't that much of a thing, like they had their one alpha male and so on, but researchers in chimpanzee labs report this all the time. In fact, what's super interesting is you get cultural differences in these different primate labs. So the chimpanzee labs in, say, Japan, the chimps are really clued in to who is the high status researcher.


So if you come in and you're like Joe freshman, like I was in that experiment, the chimps will just, like, dominate you and you can't get them to do anything or whatever. But then the PI, the like, principal investigator, big head honcho comes in and all of a sudden the chimps are like, oh, gosh, I'll do everything you want. And so it's like the chimps are somehow just such a cool question. They're somehow implicitly picking up on the human status.


It's not just like we're all higher status. It's like, well, some of the humans might be higher status, but like some of them are completely low ranking and I should just abuse them.


Yeah. And the conclusion would have to be that we're sharing so much non-verbal communication that they are able to witness how we look the length of time, who has the floor the longest. They're probably just aware of it subconsciously, as we are aware of it.


Yeah, I mean, they're not looking at people's academic titles like somehow we're giving off these cues that we don't even realize, which is so fascinating. It is.


It is. I love it. OK, so let's go through your history a little bit, because I always like knowing why people gravitated towards the thing they did. So you're from Massachusetts? I'm probably saying that wrong. I have a hard time with that word. And your dad is from a chain of islands that I would have only known because the Canary Islands are close. Yeah. So my dad's side of the family is from Cape Verde, which is a set of islands off the coast of Africa.


Very few people in the US are from Cape Verde, but they tend to like cluster in cities that were big, like sea ports or whaling ports in particular. So like the whaling ships would kind of go around Africa. They would sort of stop and fuel up in these tiny islands off the western coast of Africa called Cape Verde and then Cape Verde. And they were like, I'm going to get involved in this. This seems like a great lucrative enterprise.


And so they wound up kind of in Massachusetts, like my hometown. New Bedford is the town of Moby Dick. Right. So it's like, oh, whaling town, you know, back in the day. And so so you get these kind of tiny clusters in seaports. But but it's sort of an African Portuguese mix. I'm like biracial by nature, but even more biracial because, you know, one of one of my sides is already biracial by nature of the way those islands work.


And mom was a guidance counselor in the school you actually attended in Massachusetts. Yeah, that's right. And so she she always really loved education and kind of wanted me and my my brother to, like, go off and, you know, get the best education we could.


She kind of instilled that in us from a really early age where you delivered a serious check off the box. You know, that was always a passion of hers, but it wasn't necessarily something everybody in my town did like. I don't know anybody else from my town who, like, went to Harvard or like went to Ivy League schools and things. So it's kind of a it was kind of a strange thing to do to kind of double down.


It was like a working class town, I assume.


Yeah, because, I mean, it was when it back in the Moby Dick days, it was the richest town in the U.S. But, you know, wailings, not like a super huge industry anymore. There wasn't new industry that kind of came in.


Yeah, I never see the whalers on the Forbes 100. I know they don't like the little stock up. Yeah, so. So, yeah. So it wasn't in a town where a lot of people went off to these schools, but. But it was awesome. I mean it completely changed my life. It, it's nowadays when I advise high school students, you know, I'm like education is the way to completely transform what your opportunities look like.


It definitely worked for me.


But why were you drawn to psychology? Because I have a really offensive theory on most psychology majors, which is generally they're from a pretty fucked up home and they kind of wanted some answers or they themselves feel drifting, a little confused, upset, and they need some answers. What was your motivation? Yeah, I wasn't as fucked up. Maybe that's because I never wanted to do clinical psychology. Like I never wanted to be a shrink or help people.


I was just fascinated by people. I was like one of these nerdy kids who, like your the mom was always like, go, go play with your friends. Like, stop hanging out with adults. Like, I just wanted to kind of be watching people and pay attention the whole time.


Are you the oldest? I am the oldest, yeah. Totally. Yeah, yeah, yes. I was always a psychologist even before I was technically an academic psychologist.


Yeah. And it sounds like your interest is in interest. I share, which is like I'm deeply curious about why people do the things they do like more than any other thing like it, most specifically why I do the things I do, because so often I think I know why. And then upon closer inspection, I don't know why I do it or I have to learn because there's all these biological impulses in the mix.


There's there's ego, there's culture, it's so dense. How much stuff is contributing to our decision making? Right. Do you think you know why you wanted to know why people work the way they did?


People are just weird. Like we're weird as organisms. Like there're no other species on the planet that is kind of like us. You know, we should be just one of billions of other species or there should be some species that are kind of like us. You know, we're just even our closest living relatives are smart, but they're not making podcast's or having our. Around them, like communicating, like sharing ideas that are in my head with your head like no other species, does this were like so weird.


But at the same time, we're also just, like, not good at understanding our own psychology. Self insight is a problem for our species, even though we're so smart. And so I think that was something that always fascinated with me. And then I think I was drawn to the discipline to be like, I'm going to figure this out. And then what the discipline taught me is, like, know, what's built in is just all these biases, all these stupid strategies, intuitions that are just completely wrong and leading you astray all the time.


Thanks a lot. Natural selection, like what are we, you know, wait around for? This sucks. Yeah.


For me, the tastiest thing I can learn, and it's why I love Malcolm Gladwell is almost his entire work is in pursuit of debunking a very commonly held intuition. And that is a deeply fun thing about psychology, but also a deeply frustrating thing about psychology, because we get that our intuitions are wrong, but we actually don't have fantastic solutions for fixing those intuitions, like the mere act of realizing like, hey, my intuition was wrong before, it doesn't immediately update it, which means you can be like an expert psychology and have like the years of training that I do and still suck at life and still have really bad intuition.


Oh yeah, I still get it wrong all the time.


Do you think that humans actually don't know if this is true, but I think it is that humans have the highest emotional capacity than other animals. So we get blinded by those in a way that others don't.


Yeah, I think we're I mean, part of the problem is like we're carrying around these sort of like old school emotions and tendencies. You know, some people call it our lizard brain, but I don't know if that term is fantastic. But basically, like we're carrying around this old school architecture in our minds at the same time as we have these really smart frontal lobes that can be used and do all this stuff. But the interaction between those just doesn't work.


There's also all these just ways that our brains are shaped that just make no sense whatsoever. Now that I'm doing work in the happiness space, one of the ones I've been super interested in recently is so it turns out that the circuits that govern wanting in the brain, like how much what you crave and what you go after are just completely different than the circuits that govern liking, like where you're actually going to appreciate one day. So I know, like from your history, DAX, you probably know this.


You see this a lot in the context of addiction. Like your craving and the wanting systems, like go get this drug or go get this thing, but then you get it and you're like, I'm super habituated to this. This didn't even work. Right. And the system doesn't update. I mean, it's just like not working in the way that we think. And then the flip side is true, right? Like there's all these things that feel really nice when I do them.


You know, for me, it's like meditation or like a really hardcore exercise. But I don't have, like, a craving like I do for, you know, like a sugary snack or like a drug user would have for heroin. I just have to, like, force myself to be like, no, no, no, it's going to feel good, like just force yourself to do it. But then I like it and I'm like systems.


Why can you just frickin talk to each other like everything would be so much easier. Yeah.


And is that because the chemistry that the frontal lobe saying I have to imagine that the frontal lobes kind of in charge of the pleasure behind meditating are things that are, you know, are productive and positive for your future. In a sense that the chemical actually isn't as strong. Is that reward centre one that is like fakie kill all those things? There's just no comparison in the strength of those, right?


Yeah, part of it is that, like, there's just certain things that without the dopamine system, that's that reward system. Like, you know, heroin is basically kind of almost like synthetic dopamine in certain ways, like drugs mimic these chemicals really well. So part of it is that the chemicals are different for the good stuff that we really like. But part of it's just like the systems are different. So the lighting system is registering information, but it's not updating in the wanting system.


And that just means there's this disconnect. There's actually cool kind of techniques you can use to try to get it to update better what actually is mindfulness and sort of taking time to pay attention. You know, if you are really mindful about what you like, you know, after meditating, you're like, that feels really good. I feel really calm. Now, you can kind of get your wanting system to notice a little bit because it's like, oh, wait, there was a reward there, like Spetz, a little dopamine, like I should update things.




In my experience, because I'm a very big proponent of exercise that I actually mentally have to link the negative thing that's very, very powerful for me. So it's like I know what I feel like in the absence of exercise, and that almost has to be my motivator versus the marginal uplift in my mood after I exercise. Yeah, I think both of those are super important. Yeah. For me, for me, it's noticing the good parts afterwards, which I tend not to do at this wonderful yoga teacher once, who at the end of a practice would take a moment when you're in Shavasana, it'd be like notice how you feel right now, like really notice how you feel and if it's different from how you felt when you started or whatever.


And again, my liking systems like, wait a minute, this feels nice. Like we should do this again. You know, we should get together again. I totally agree with you.


I've had that that that sensation post yoga where I'm like, wow, this is the sedative I always dreamt of when doing drugs.


Yeah. It's one of the many tools we don't employ when we're feeling bad. I mean, there's evidence now that like a half hour of really strong. Cardio can be as effective as a prescription of Zoloft, which is one of the leading anti depression medications, but, you know, psychiatrists don't prescribe, you know, exercise of people. They prescribe pharmaceuticals. So we forget that there are other things that can give us those hits, especially if we're paying attention to the benefit in the end.


Yeah, I think the NHS right in England, they years ago stopped prescribing SSRI inhibitors for people with mild depression and instead prescribed access to a gym or some kind of, you know, trainer related exercise that did yield in the long term. Better results, which is fascinating.


It's tricky because I almost feel like the liking system is attracted to things that take time, that are slow processes. And the wanting system is like a quick fix. Yeah, totally. If you can get a, you know, heroin level banged your dopamine system, the wanting system notices that and it really likes it. Right. But yeah, the slow burns, you know, it doesn't notice as much, but but again, it's so frustrating when you think evolutionarily because like, I don't know if every quick hit evolutionarily was like the thing that we really wanted.


Like, I don't you know, natural selection could have built in some slow burns that had to go after them, you know, but somehow it never did.


So you get the BA in biology and in psychology and then you get your master's in psychology and then you get a Ph.D. in psychology, all from Harvard, Monica, Harvard, Hirahara, Harvard.


We love it.


And you have the distinction. We interviewed Tal Ben-Shahar. And I do think it's interesting right out of the gates that he teaches the most popular class at Harvard, which is on happiness, and you teach the most popular class in the history of Yale, which is also on happiness.


Yep. So what I would glean from that is like we all we want to be happy, right?


I mean, yeah. I mean, I think that's like exactly the right intuition. What's also funny is that Tahl did this about a decade before I did. You know, his class was huge and famous at Harvard. And then, you know, he went off and became a popularizer and did other things. And then many years later, I did the same thing and got all this press for it. And what was funny was in every article I got interviewed for, I was like, you know, this is like my idea.


Like there are other schools that did this before me, but somehow it never makes it into the media. But yeah, I think people really want to figure out what they can do to be happy, you know, and I think in this day and age, people really want evidence based strategies for what they can do to be happy. You know, these days, I think students aren't as much drawn to the humanities or great literature to explore this question of how to live a good life.


I think they're like, what does the science say about living a good life? You know, give me the neuroscience of the good life. And so I think that's part of what drew people to my anthills class, which I think is a fall. I think my read is a lot of the stuff in science right now is just validating what great literature and philosophy told us before and good religions and things like that. But, you know, bracketed.


I think the way students want is they don't just want, you know, to hear what somebody did. They're like, show me the graph that this makes my anxiety better and then I'm going to do it.


So to that exact point, I watched you on the news recently in reference to covid, and you had given five tips on how to feel good in quarantine. And I got to say, four of the five or like tenants of AA and I was like, isn't this interesting that like, some of these things are known, but they do eventually take data to be recognized as real. So your first tip was deep belly breathing, right?


Yeah, this is important to explain because I think people can sometimes get pissed off when I give this tip because everyone's had the experience of, like, you know, getting really mad at somebody, like just take a deep breath and be like, you know. Yeah, but but scientifically, we know that this is one of the few ways we can hack our autonomic nervous system. So quick biology lesson, even though I didn't really take the right biology classes, but I got enough to do this, you know, for this podcast.


This is for you. But your sympathetic nervous system is your Firefly's system, like it evolutionarily is built so that when there's like, you know, a lion about to jump out and attack you, you can either freeze or flee like it's ready to, like, tighten your muscles, get your heart beating fast. And to do that has to shut down all the other normal systems like your digestive system shuts down your immune function, shuts down, your sexual system shut down is just like runaway right now.


We are now in the context of covid and in the context of lots of life stressors, just like activating that Firefly's system constantly. Right. It was never made to be on Rippey like a YouTube video that keeps going. It was meant to play the one two minute spot and then shut off. But we don't do that. And in the context of covid, I think it's really hard to shut off because this crisis isn't going away. The one way our bodies have to hack it, other than actually shutting off the threat, which isn't possible, is to to regulate our breath such that our bodies think the threat is gone.


You know, if you're sprinting from a lion, you cannot take deep breaths, right? You're just like just breathing and you're like running a marathon. Right. But if you just, like, really slowly take a deep breath, then your mind is like, well, hang on, there can't be a light. We're not running away anymore. There's no lion. Activate the vagus nerve. And once you do that, you kick in. The opposite system, which is the parasympathetic nervous system, that's what's like the rest and digest turns back on your immune function, turns on your digestion and all that stuff.


But the key is that the way you you kind of turn it into high gear, the way you turn on the rest and digest is actually through your breath. That would happen naturally if the lion ran away and things went back to normal and it was chill, you'd be taking deep breaths, but you can kind of force it and sort of hack the system. So the statement that, like, usually pisses people off of like, just take a deep breath.


I'm like, no, no, no. This wonderful neuroscience is like hacking. Your autonomic nervous system totally works. Your breath and your heart rate in your brain are all connected up. And, you know, there there are a few ways to hack the system because it's good you don't want to have full control over your autonomic nervous system because, like, you might not turn it on when it needs to go on. But this is one way we can do it in a nice way.


And it has these corresponding effects on our her on what we're thinking about, on what we're able to think about. Lots of evidence that those kinds of breaths can reduce anxious thoughts. Right. Because, again, your mind's not just like a threat, threat, threat, threat, threat. Where's the line? It can like, you know, scale back and focus on the stuff we want to focus on.


I'm just now realizing it as you explain it. I think that's part of the major appeal to me for motorsports. You're exercising this exact same thing. So every single turn is a challenge and every single turn has the the stakes of death potentially, I suppose. So it forces you to be in control of that panic so that you're doing your best thinking and you're staying calm wallet and just lap after lap of almost mastering that, of pushing that feeling aside and keeping yourself aware and calm and making good decisions.


And there's something very rewarding about that.


You know, a lot of people kind of get a high from it, but also self report being like almost Zen afterwards. Right. And I think that ability to, like, shift back and forth can be really powerful because we definitely do like things that put us in, like death situations. This is another stupid, weird thing about human nature is that we love sticking ourselves into awful negative emotions. Situations like, yeah, I'm a huge I'm a huge fan of Halloween and I love watching these haunted houses that show the, like, snap videos of people like freaking out when they're getting scared.


If you showed those pictures to an anthropologist who study fear, they'd be like, these people are miserable, but these people pay like sixty bucks in some cases to have someone do that to them.


Why is that? I talk about that on here a lot like what is happening there. I think when we have fear of things, we want to get as close as we can to the thing we're afraid of, but in a safe way so that we can process it like work through it. So I think that's why we enjoy murder mystery shows, because it's like it's our ultimate fear, but we're consuming it in a safe environment. We know we're safe, but we get to experience enough of it that we can kind of comprehend it.


I don't know. Give us no reason.


There's not I think people are still fight about that. It's actually a great mystery. My colleague here at Yale, Paul Bloom, has a whole book on this about how pleasure is kind of weird. Right? But that's one of the theories. It's like we're sort of practicing what those things feel like. And that's true for fear. That's true for sadness. Right. Like, why do people watch depressing movies? You know, why do people watch, you know, Terms of Endearment or something like really super, super sad.


That's dumb. Like, that doesn't feel good. Right. But we like to engage those things like fear and sadness, even disgust or pain. Sometimes all those people who eat the really hot hot chili peppers. So it's almost at the point of really hurting your mouth, but not that bad.


I'm going to ask you out so much. I told the story once on here, but I have this very distinct childhood memory of coming up on a pile of horse poop in the woods. And I could not stop staring and it was making me sick and I hated it. And yet I just did not even walk away. And then I had to go back and look again and again to the brink of throwing up. And I have no clue why that was happening, but it was a good 15 minute exercise and just Grossi myself out.


Yeah, look, you have to say read. It's, you know, like a pleasant thing. I really dig this stuff. That's weird. Anyway, yet another feature of the mind. But yeah, back to the breath. I think regulating your breath, controlling your sympathetic nervous system is a way that we can make the threat not as threatening right now. And I use it. I can watch myself kind of get really anxious if panic rolling on Twitter.


And I've just been realizing, like, OK, this is a time did you just like three deep breaths and afterwards you just you feel so much better. Yeah, OK.


Number two was do acts of kindness and of course, for in a way that is like be of service, you have to be of service. It's a tenant. So tell us the advantages of doing acts of kindness. Yeah.


I mean the advantages are huge and I think our culture just really doesn't realize and this is another spot where I think our intuitions lead us astray, but also our culture. Like right now it's all about like treat yourself like self care. Like as soon as covid kicked in, it was like article after article about bathtub's self care, which is like, again, it's not the bathtub's are bad. But but the point is there's an opportunity cost to do stuff for other people.


Right. And so there's all these data suggesting happy people do nice stuff for others, equated for income. They're happy person. You tend to give more to charity. You tend to volunteer more. And there's some lovely work by folks like Lasdun and others that show that if you force people. To spend their money on other people, they end up happier than if you force them to spend their money to do something to treat themself.


Yeah, well, OK, so an explanation of that is my real problem is thinking about myself and all my needs and then craving. But when I'm helping you, it's nearly impossible to be thinking about my own desires and wants. And so I'm just stepping out of that, craving it like it forces me to stop thinking about myself. And I find great relief and not thinking about myself.


No, totally. I think as we get inward focused, you know, again, this is what the Buddhists, again, getting back to ancient traditions, realized about desire. As soon as you satisfy it, it's just going to come back. Right. And so that, you know, the craving is just going to be a vicious cycle that you can never get over. But the hit that you get from helping somebody, you can kind of do that again, like you get the sort of sort of warm glow, as scientists call it, from kind of helping other people.


This is the sort of happiness that we get from doing nice things for others. It just kind of feels good. So it both gets you out of your head. But it's also that you get kind of a double reward here because, like, it feels good to help another person. And then the research suggests it also helps your social connection. Right. Because often the people who are helping are a social relationship that is going to give back to us, you know, the service that you're doing in AA, which is often with other addicts.


You know, those people could help you when you're in a tough time. So you're developing these meaningful, important social relationships, which is also reciprocity.


Yeah, exactly.


Yeah. We we had this discussion the other day about being charitable and whether that's just ego or not. And I was arguing no. And you were saying everything stems from a selfish perspective. I'm of an andron point of view that you can't do anything on planet Earth that's not selfishly motivated. Now, you could have different selfish motivations that have outcomes that are beneficial to all but that you did.


There's just no way you can pretend that is this organism on planet Earth, you're not first starting with your own desire, I guess.


Yes and no. Right like that is borne out by an evolutionary perspective. Natural selection would hopefully not be leaving stuff in that was actively bad for our own reproductive success. It just wouldn't do that. Right. But that might not be the motivation in your head when you're doing it. And so as anthropologist, you probably remember these biologists distinguish between what they call the ultimate level, which is like why is it selfish for your own survival and reproduction versus what's the approximate level which is like what does it feel like to you right now in your head?


Right. And so, you know, if you think about why you might want to have sex with somebody at the ultimate level, that is always about getting your genes into your next generation. Like, that's why the instincts there. But at the proximate level, you're not thinking about babies.


Like you're probably thinking about like boobies or like, yeah, I didn't even they didn't even know that made a baby for years or when or why or. Yeah.


And so my guess is like doing nice things for others when people have this motivation works the same way. Right. Like selfishly natural selection is like, oh, help other people because reciprocity and you'll get all these goods later. And this is so great. Whereas the proximate level were like, we just feel better if we do nice stuff for other people or we just really are motivated to do nice stuff for other people. So. So in some sense it can be both and like that's good.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think there's there's diminishing returns when we satisfy ourselves so I can buy the perfect house and then I can buy the perfect couch and I can make the perfect meal and I can have the perfect wine. And a certain point I'm just going to max out on things I can do for myself to amp up pleasure. It just keeps falling off. Whereas every person you help in the gratitude that you experience, that's not a diminished return.


It doesn't kind of run out.


Yeah, and I think this is something that happiness researchers are just starting to figure out, which is like so everything we do for our self has this adaptation. The researchers call it hedonic adaptation, right. Where it's like, you know, you buy yourself a new phone and it's awesome for the first week. But then, you know, over time, you just get used to it, you know, buy a new motorbike. And the first time you ride it, it's great.


But then time number 87, you write it, you're just bored with it. But what's weird is that acts of kindness that we do to other people don't have that feature, I think, because they're like individual, like there's a moment you do act of kindness and then you do another one. Like you just don't get the adaptation to doing more of them. Each one is as good a hit. And so you kind of end up helping yourself by investing and doing nice stuff for others because you just it's not as subject to this adaptation over time.




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OK, the third one was focused on what UCU control, and this is one we stole, I mean, honestly, it's stolen from pretty much every ancient tradition, like, you know, the ancient Stoics or these Roman folks who really wanted to control their emotions. You know, the first chapter in Epictetus, who was one of the main Stoics book, is there are two things in life, the things you can control and the things you can't control.


Right. Like totally serenity prayer. And then, you know, the Buddha said this wonderful parable about control. The second arrow that I use all the times is one of the things that's been getting me through this crisis a lot. So the story goes like this. So Buddha's asking his followers, if you're walking down the street and you get stuck with an arrow, like somebody shoots you with an arrow, is that bad? Everyone says, yep, Superbad is like, all right, if you're walking down the street and then you get hit with the first arrow and then someone shoot you with a second arrow.


Is that worse than just the first arrow? People say, yeah, two arrows are worse than one. And so then the Buddha goes on to explain the first arrow is out of your control. Like, that's the circumstances in life. That's the like shit happens. Right? But the second arrow is on you, like that's your reaction to it. That's if you have a drink when things are bad or you yell at your partner or you like just are mad and stew about that one email for the whole day.


Like Buddha points out, that's on you. And so they just don't stab yourself with the second arrow. Right. And so for me, in this crisis, I've been just like trying to figure out where are these spots of second arrows. Right. You know, the information on the Internet is scary, but the fact that I chose to look at it for four hours and not go to bed on time, that's on me, right? Yeah, but there's real power in realizing.


I mean, I think it's also helpful for addicts. Right, because I can think, you know, addiction and craving all that stuff can feel out of control. But when you realize your reaction to the craving is in your control, then you're like, all right, game on. This is a thing I can work on. This is me. I can do this, you know, so powerful.




And then my favorite thing before exercise and healthy food, you know, we forget that what we put into our body affects our brain and sleep is another one in this kind of category for our healthy immune function. We need decent food and some exercise and good sleep, but we need that for our mental health, too. You know, the exercise is giving you these natural highs of pushing your body, you know, moving your breath around, giving yourself a threat, kind of revs up the sympathetic nervous system, but in a healthy way that shuts off when you're done, like is just good for us.


And I feel like we need it more than ever because we need to promote our mental health during this time. But also a lot of us, the exercise we normally did before is harder now. You know, even people who are kind of sedentary, you know, probably like walked around the neighborhood or like walk to the car to drive to work. And they got out of the car and walked around. You know, I think the Internet takes the step.


Counting is broken. Like there's some stuff counting universe where they're like, why are we off by order of magnitude this month? What's going on? You know? Yeah. So, yeah. So I think we get to double down on good and good cardio and good healthy exercise right now.


Well, and there was an article in The New York Times yesterday that I read about the value and even short like even five second bursts of exertion. What it does to your body is it actually helps break up the triglycerides. I realized, like, oh, there's so many ways to fuck up. So I work out for an hour that day, but then I sit for about eight hours. And if you don't get up every couple hours and kind of move that body, which you would do at work, you jump up and you'd run to the elevator or whatever you would do.


That cycle of like little blasts are actually end up having no impact on how many triglycerides you have the following day, which is like, oh, great. So now I got to think about that. Like, I got a workout. And then I also got to, like, just jump up and sprint across the room every, you know, hour.


Yeah. Yeah. Although the good news there, I mean, I agree it's like work to do that. But the good news there is like it doesn't actually take that much time. You know, it could be that every hour we had to do like a half hour, you know, every half hour and half hour off. But like, bodies don't need that much. They just kind of need. Yeah.


Stuff. So that is true. OK, now five, this is one of the few things I think is absolutely magic on planet Earth. Like, there's no reason that this has the cascading effect that it just does. And that's gratitude. Number five.


So gratitude, this is another one, this super countercultural. We are not in a grateful society right now. We're in a grapey society right now. I see this in my students. They're all obsessed with Meems. I don't know if the Mayan culture has pervaded household. Right. But like, you know, they complain about the dining hall. They complain about this and they complain about that. And it's just like the culture they're consuming all time. But happy people don't do that.


Happy people are spontaneously grateful. If you ask happy people how their day is going, they don't list all the bad things. They list the good things. And there's research showing that we can hack that ourselves just by like forcing your brain to go to the good things which we can all do just by thinking of a few good things that are happening in our life. But the consequences are huge. So one of the consequences of gratitude, for whatever reason, is that it helps with self-regulation, which is basically like saying no to the tempting things in our life.


So people who are more grateful, even who are facing things like addiction and so on, do better off facing temptation. Dave Testino is a professor at Northeastern. He has this idea that these social emotions are for cooperation. Right. And so if they're for kind of. Taking care of somebody else's need ahead of yours, so when you're grateful, you're kind of thinking like, oh, all these blessings I have right now, I could do something for somebody else.


Like I'm good. Right? And so it causes you to be OK with self-sacrifice a little bit. So people, when you put them in a grateful state, are more willing to save money for tomorrow rather than spend it today. They're better able to forego temptations. You don't think that like, oh, this the three things I'm grateful for and it helps you avoid alcohol, but like the data suggests, magically it does.


Again, it's all very primitive, which is if you're coming from a scarcity mentality where you're very aware of all the things you do not have and you're focused on the things you do not have and you want, you feel like you don't have enough. So of course, you can't share you don't even have enough for you.


But if you're regularly reminding yourself of all the, you know, amazing things you have, then of course you feel like you have some to spare.


That's exactly right. And like I think the idea is that all our emotions are for something. We don't just feel something. They're kind of motivating us to do something right. And gratitude is the emotion that we think is like part of motivating us to cooperate is like, well, you know, because if somebody does something nice for us, they reciprocate or something. We feel grateful. You know, we're like, oh, that's great that somebody did it.


And the idea is natural selection, dude, somebody did something nice for you. You got this benefit. You better give it back before they, you know, stop wanting to be your cooperative partner. You better jump into that. Yeah. There's a symbiotic relationship that you need to nurture because you're benefiting.


Exactly. But the consequence in our kind of proximate system is like we just have more resilience. You know, we can forego temptation. We can just allow ourselves to do the hard goals that we really want to do, but that take a little bit of work somehow magically scribbling down. Three things you're grateful for every day helps with that. A claim is like just the experience of that can make you be like, ah, this is a hard problem, but I'm ready to face it, which is crazy.


I mean, it's crazy that the act of scribbling down the few things we're grateful for can give us that resilience. We have this, like superpower that's just sitting there that you could we could use whatever, but we kind of choose not to do well.


It is it is the great challenge of all mental health issues as you're asked to do something in your worst state. So the time you need it the most is the time you have the least amount of willingness to do anything or appetite to do anything. And I get it. It's all the things are like self accelerating. And that's why in my life I always say this in shares, which is like my body's never in homeostasis, ever, never has been.


It's always getting worse or better for me. It's always accelerating up, adding things that are making me feel better or I'm just slowly losing ground. And then I had the ice cream. Now I sleep in now and then just going downhill and then I crash and burn.


Then I got to reclaim the mountain, you know, just for me, I'm I'm never in a state of just like contentment, happiness there individual differences of people who feel that more than others.


But the signs suggest that that's just true for everybody. My colleague Nick Epley, who's a professor at the University of Chicago, has this analogy. He says, happiness is like a leaky tire. You know, like it might be puffed up for a while, but it's slowly going down. And then you got a, you know, experience some gratitude or do some exercise or do something nice for somebody and kind of pump it back up. But this idea of happily ever after, we just like hit some level and we're good.


That's never true for any good thing in life. You know, like if you're trying to get gains at the gym, you don't just, like, do leg day on Thursday and you're like, all right, good. No more like day like.


That's the analogy I always use. Like, we seem to all of us understand the paradigm of physical fitness, which is like there's no last rap with sustained great body for life. It's just an endless pursuit and our mental health is the exact same.


Can I do virtual quick to talk about Meems? Because, you know, I think it's actually related to this because at the beginning of covid, Meems, were everywhere. I mean, I'm not into that generally, but I got so into it was like sending them to my friends and excited to see the new one of the day that everyone was passing around. And it felt weird because I was like, I don't do this. But there was something about feeling connected to people that like, oh, they're going through the exact same thing that I am.


I relate to that. I relate to that. I relate to that. And you're like laughing because it's so dead on. I didn't look at that as, oh, people are complaining. I looked at it like everyone seeing each other right now. And yeah, I think this is this is tricky. Right, because we do get that out of me. We do get that out of griping. You know, if you let me tell you about this coworker I hate and you'll be like, oh my God, let me tell you about Co we kind of share that and we are in this weird time where, you know, it's not just like my problem that I want to gripe about and you have to listen, like we all have the same problem, like literally all over the world we're all facing the same problem.


And so I think we can get some connection out of the great thing like it is a benefit of it. But there's an opportunity cost of a different way to connect, which is through the gratitude. Yeah. So this other emotion of just expressing what you are thankful for can be really powerful, especially if you do it to other people. You know, there's evidence that if you if you're a manager and you work on a team, you express gratitude to your team.


It can increase their performance by one and a half times, there's actually some work by Adam Grant, who I think you have to work with back in the day.


Yeah, but that's crazy that, you know, the simple act of expressing gratitude to people can be so powerful. There's one study by Marty Seligman, but it might be kind of one of those studies where it's like a particularly big effect in the one published study. But I think it's really huge that the act of writing a gratitude letter to somebody can significantly bump up your well-being for over a month. So, you know, genuinely writing a heartfelt letter of thanks to someone can be that powerful.


And I think, you know, the griping feels good, but like it's a it's a quick fade. And I think at the end, we're kind of like, you know, sometimes you can if you do it too much and it's not the funny kind sort of sticks with you. And so, yeah, on our season two of our podcasts, we did a whole episode about griping. And I want to find like expert level griper. So I brought in the guys from Reply all that podcast.


Yeah. Alex Goldman. And so I forced them to do gratitude letters. And what was funny was, you know, they were you know, it's really countercultural for them, but they were feeling it, you know, they felt good afterwards.


OK, so I listen to an episode of Happiness Lab podcast, which is your podcast, which is under Malcolm's company, which I didn't even know he had until I listened to yours, which is exciting and makes me want to explore all their stuff.


But you had one on grades and as a parent of two children and we're like, we're just getting in the canoe and starting to paddle down the stream of this whole weird thing. There was so many fascinating things and they even the history of it.


Let's just start with the name.


As soon as I heard that the guy who virtually invented the ABCDE system, albeit it was written in Latin and it evolved to that, his name was Ezra.


And I just started thinking the only as far as I know, we're like hyper intelligent and I want the Freakonomics guys to study that name.


I don't know that that is so fascinating because I'm here now, but really a major, major side part.


But Mr Ezra created grades. He didn't know what he was doing. This is Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, back in the eighteen hundreds. And he had just had his students have an exam because before that there were no grades. Like grades aren't even that old. They're like only a couple hundred years old.


You inherit this structure and you can't even comprehend what instruction and learning would be without those grades.


And I think it's just crazy. I mean, yeah, I mean, basically, they just like thought you wanted to learn. Right? Like, that's why you went to school. Right. So you're motivated to do this. Stiles had this moment. He was like, I should probably just write down how they did. You know? And what was interesting is two things. One is if you look at his grades, he did Latin for, you know, kind of perjuries, which was bad and for different Latin levels.


But the highest level there was the what the most kids got, like there was grade inflation even from the moment grades. Right. Which is kind of interesting. But the other thing is that he didn't tell his learners about their grades. It was just kind of for his private like, how did I do as a teacher, you know, who got it, who kind of didn't do so well. Right. And I think all of that has changed a lot.


Not only do kids know their grades, but they're obsessed with them. You know, I'm not sure how old your kids are. You're just on the start. But you already they know that grades are a thing and that they're being evaluated. And I mean, they get evaluated in like preschools. They get their little, you know, how well they shared and all this stuff. And I think, you know, it matters for them. Right.


And it matters for parents. Right. Because we kind of soak up this culture where grades mean a lot.


Well, in that selfish way is where really it's a reflection of our own ego, like we're doing a good job or we're doing a bad job. So it's like now we're inheriting these stupid grades.


Exactly. Exactly. And I think a lot of parents react incredibly strongly. We're seeing this now at Yale. We're in the midst of this pandemic. You know, people don't have access to Wi-Fi. They're in these yucky situations. Many institutions just said, you know what, no grades this semester just pass, fail. Everything's just pass, fail. And we get parents who write to us fighting about this. That was like my kid was on the verge of a minus this semester and he can't get it now.


Like, what can I do? Like, I pay seventy five thousand dollars and I want my kid to like, get away this semester. And you're like, we're in a pandemic. Like, yeah, people are dying.


Your kid's a minus is not, you know, but by law you're magna cum laude. And I was magna cum laude and is a cornerstone of my self-esteem. So I can relate.


That's true. It's true. I did put that on the CD. I did with them, as you know. It's crazy, though, is that I think especially in the current time, the data is suggesting that the grades are doing more harm than good. Like what they are doing is they're reducing the student's intrinsic motivation. So every time you stick in extrinsic motivator on something now, you're not doing it for the love of it anymore. You're doing it because you're getting some other reward misstepped tracker we were talking about.


Right. You might just start because it's fun to walk around, but as soon as you get, like a Fitbit that's kind of grading you are giving you stars are giving you a ding when you do a good job. You know, if you experience extrinsic rewards like I do, all of a sudden it's like it's not about the steps anymore. It's about the good beep at the end or something like that. And then I get obsessed, right?


It doesn't feel good anymore. You want to, like, compete with other people. You know, it's no longer about what it started, which is it would just feel good to move my body now. It's like it's a thing. There's a wonderful David Sedaris essay about this. And then he calls it like the Fitbit brain where he gets a Fitbit and he start freaking out and waking up super early to get his steps in there, like not hang out with the people he cares about and is really obsessed.


And then it breaks. And then he kind of realizes, you know, all this craving that he had for numbers that were like stupid. But but functionally, we in our society have turned learning into that. Kids like learning just for learning sake, like it's fun to do puzzles. It's fun to learn. It's fun to get better when you slap a grade on it. It's like saps the desire that kids would naturally bring to this otherwise fun activity and makes it kind of yucky.


It makes it about the grade. And there's data that grades increase the desire to cheat. So it makes kids cheat more, because if it's all about the grade, if it's not about learning, just do it the quickest way possible. Even if it's a little dastardly. There's evidence that grades make students take on less hard assignments because like, if you're just doing it for the grade, you know, pick the easy book. Why would you pick the long one?


Like, pick the super easy one to get the easy grade. Right.


It was the gentleman you interview because he was so man that I enjoy listening to him speak. He has such a handle on this thing. And he said, you know, we tend to blame the students were like, oh, they don't even want to learn. They just want the A. And it's like, well, no, the system is set up to get A's. That is the incentive. So what are you talking about? You're disappointed that they didn't read The Iliad instead of Catcher in the Rye?


Of course they did.


Because the A is the incentive. It's the goal. Yeah.


This is this guy Hachiken. He hates grades even more than I do. Was a strong a very strong statement. But yeah, I mean, his data really suggests it's making kids not just that they hate learning like the best kids the kids get the best grades hate learning the most, which is just tragic. And they also have the lowest levels of happiness as well as the lowest levels of self-esteem and optimism. Right. And so this pursuit of grades like should be I mean, you think the nerdy kids who get the A's are the kids who really love learning, but these days it's not.


It's the opposite.


They're the ones who are the most miserable in this great job of pointing out that. So if you give people three letters and you ask them what word that is, what does that anagram and then if you give them you gave us a three letter one, a five letter one. And what's great is I was doing it real time and so is Kristen, because I was on the toilet listening to it loud and she was listening to and once you get to a nine letter word, so there's a sweet spot in learning.


Right. Which is if it's really easy, it's not that fun. If it's kind of challenging, but you can get it. It's really fun. And then if it's too hard, it's just not fun. And why pursue it? But the grading system will actually steer people into wanting to do the three letter anagram because they will get an A4 and that is now the outcome they want as opposed to the pleasure of being challenged and then and persevering.


That's so rewarding and fun, but lopsided upsides. That system or that's not even why you would do it anymore. Exactly.


It's both not fun. And you end up engaging in practices that make you learn the least, you know, like like imagine if we did this like for fitness. Like, you're like I'm just going to, like, lift the Lois way over and over again because, like, I can do my ten reps. Right. But you never challenge yourself. You just don't progress. Right. And I think what we've done is create a system where it's not about progress, it's not about them loving learning.


It's not even about their mental health, because we're seeing, like, you know, huge hits and happiness because of grades. It's really about some arbitrary thing that we want kids to do. And I do think it's a little bit about like parental kind of ego in that arbitrary thing that your kid is doing, too, which is even more dangerous.


I think what is in a name has no value only in its relativity that a B exists. Right. There's no way doesn't mean anything. I could define it any way I'd like so long as it's above a B. Yeah. So implicit in that to me is comparison. It would be great if an AI meant something that you would achieve some level that we all respect. But in fact it's just that you beat the rest of the people or that you beat the beat.




If you go up, up, up, up, up stream, that's this huge bit of hardware we have that we're social and we're all obsessed at all times with our status in our group. We have anxiety about where are we in this huge group. And this has been compounded by the fact that we used to live as a group of one hundred people and now we're living in is a group of seven billion people. So our anxiety level is only, you know, went up exponentially because we don't know where we fit in this.


So then we come up with this arbitrary architecture to allow us to figure out where we're at. Do you think social hierarchy is so at the base of all this stuff? Oh, yeah, definitely.


And I think it's one of the reasons students are so much more anxious now. Right, is that, you know, before back when I went to college, like I was, you know, quote unquote competing with like other people. But, you know, I was doing my best. Now, I think a consequence of the fact that literally anybody can get into a school like Yale if they have certain grades, you know, your income doesn't matter.


Your prep school doesn't matter means these. Kids are competing with the other billions of kids out there, and that is really anxiety provoking, and there's this perception that the spoils of the war are really high. And so kids are forgoing their sleep, their mental health, all this stuff to get perfect grades, to get into a place like Yale. And then they get there and they're kind of miserable. You know, it's kind of back to the Titanic adaptation that we talked about.


That moment that they find out isn't really a great moment like the students at Yale when they get in these days, they don't get a letter like I got back in the day. They click on this little link online and they get a little video. It says that you got into Yale like welcome to the class of twenty, twenty four. And it's like places like Bulldog, Bulldog Bow-Wow plays a song. And so there are videos online. If you watch this, this is kind of some feel good, wholesome meme, kind of like students clicking on it and finding out like screaming and being excited.


Yeah, well, students often report is the moment after that click when they're really excited. They have this like, incredible emptiness because it was like that was all I was working for. Like I didn't really love chemistry or any of my stupid extracurriculars. I was just trying to get this moment to get in. And now it happened. And now I'm like, OK, there's a rest of my life like, what's what's the next carrot like? Oh, yes, extrinsic reward, you know?


And you're probably now evaluating the the effort versus reward, like, wow, that was four years of effort and it was for that forty second moment. Is that a good cost benefit analysis.


And they and they're hopping right back on that treadmill because now they're like, all right, now I got to go to Yale where this, you know, spoils of the war even higher and they haven't figured out. Do you actually love chemistry? You know, maybe you to be a photographer, maybe you'd really love to be a janitor.


We don't know, you know, no ninja and then graduate top of your class and then get the best job and then get promoted to the best position at the job.


It never what's driving all of it is this primate's status thing. I was so flattered to get to give this the speech for the anthro class at UCLA last year or the year before.


The thing I pointed out is like if I go to the Hollywood Bowl to watch a concert. I may be in the seat that is absolutely optimum for sound, for visibility to the stage, all these things, but I will throw out all of the objective things that are good about that seat and I will evaluate while there's three rows ahead of me. Those three rows are people that have higher status than me. They paid more. So they have jobs that, you know, for whatever reason, I'm now uncomfortable because with the simple knowledge that there's three rows that are better than mine, even if they're objectively not better than mine, we have higher ARCHEY hardwiring that is just killing us.


In my only suggestion to anyone, there was. Do not compare yourself to anyone else, compare yourself to previous versions of yourself, that's the only comparison you should be allowed to do in your life.


I mean, this is one of the worst hits on our well-being that you can have, which is that our well-being isn't about our absolute position, amount of money, you know, happiness level, whatever. It's about a relative amount of money, happiness level and so on. And that means you can be objectively killing it, but still feel really awful. And one of our podcast episodes, we tell the story of McKayla Maroney, who she was a gymnast who won the silver medal.


And she was a meme for a long time because she made this thing called The Face. She was on her silver medal platform. And I think she was trying to like kind of hold back how pissed off she was. And she's made this, like, figure away, obviously super pissed off.


And so you can ask the question, like, she just won the silver medal. Like she just, like, won an Olympic medal that proves that she is better than everybody else on the planet except one person. And it turns out that that is enough to make you feel really awful.


Oh, that's heartbreaking. And actually, there's studies on this. This guy, Tom Gilovich, he's a psychologist at Cornell. He actually looks at videos of silver medal winners and codes like their amount of smiling and finds that they're not just, like, less happy than the gold, but they're actively showing emotions like contempt and disgust and sadness.


So it's like but what's really weird about it is that in this kind of gives us some hope about how to deal with the system, is that if you look at the bronze medalist, they're actually super happy, like in some cases happier than the gold medals, because what's their social comparison like? They were not going to get the gold. They were like many seconds away or their score was really shitty or whatever. But they're thinking if I had just, like, screwed up a little bit more, I would not be on the stand.


I would be like everybody else who didn't make it. And so their reference point, which is the kind of science term for this, is like everybody else who didn't make it, whereas the silver medalist reference point is the gold. And this is where kind of the insight comes in about how you can deal with this, which is that we can't control that. We experience reference points that's just built into our primate heads. But we can sometimes take action to shift those reference points if we pay attention.


You know, so our natural reference point is, sadly, because of our negativity bias, the one that makes us feel really crappy, that's like what our brains naturally go to. But you can actually shift it. You know, if you're in the Hollywood Bowl, you could be like, hang on, let me look at the thousands of rows behind me. Yeah, yeah. Like, oh, my God, this is really great. And so gratitude is one of these techniques actually that allows us to pay attention and be like, hang on, I could actually be back there.


You do the reverse counterfactual and that can it doesn't make you feel as good as the bad comparison, makes you feel bad, but it can kind of stop that negative social comparison a bit. Yeah.


There's this great book. I don't know if you've read about the broken ladder and it's all about income inequality and it talks about there are cultures that, you know, kind of consistently down compare and there's cultures that consistently up compare. And us, of course, is like the apex of comparison.


Yeah. And it does take work. I mean, our natural reference point is the one that makes us feel pretty bad about ourselves. And what's amazing is it will totally shift depending on like what metric you're using. Like if you're in the act or metric, it's going to be like Brad Pitt. But if you're in the like, motorbike metric, it's going to be Valentino Rossi. OK, Valentino Rossi, you know, this is the sad thing is you can get objectively as good as possible, but there's still going to be and this this is, I think, where we make where modern technology.


You know, we want to talk about how we can shape our modern world to fit with our evolution. Our modern world really screwed this up. Right, because, you know, fifteen years ago, we still had this architecture that was causing us to socially compare in these dumb ways. But we didn't have people's stupid Instagram live profiles with this like curated perfect body and content and lighting on all this stuff in 70 deleted photos for the ones that get on there.


And that makes us feel even crappier and even worse because people aren't posting all the bad motorbike days or the bad acting days and now they're just posting the perfect stuff. Oh, yeah.


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One interesting thing that you said you did in your happiness class, having explored grades and recognizing the outcome, you what do they call it at Yale Credit D..


Yeah. So it's kind of like what a lot of schools are doing now with pass fail, except Yale had this one distinction where it had what's called credit D fail because it's kind of hard to like get a D like it's really hard to fail a class at Yale in all honesty, like you basically have to, like, not show up at all. And so Credit D is like you either get credit, which is basically like pass or you get a D and fail.


And so it's just it's like a slightly harder thing than pass fail because very few people actually fail, you know, but you could get a D. if you're really kind of screwing around. And so yeah. Credit D normally like when we're not in covid time, that's the grading system is Stamford Pass fail.


I'm not actually sure I'm OK right now. Pretty much every university in the country is pass fail. I think again because of this crazy grade stuff, because, you know, people are in the midst of a pandemic. They don't have wi fi, their family might be sick, they might be immunocompromised, but they still can't shut off this desire for the external reward enough to be like, you know what, screw it this semester. I'm not going to care.


They'll like drive themselves into mental health dysfunction to kind of fight with it. And and it was tricky on campus because this sort of idea of sort of promoting universal pass or pass fail became the sort of social justice charge that like this was the way we protect people who are like in these bad circumstances and blah, blah, blah, which I get. This is because we have a broken system. If you're in a bad situation, just, you know, screw it.


No one's going to care what grades you got in spring of 2020. Everybody is going to look at that semester. Oh, yeah, that's OK. No one's going to care, right? Like, yeah. You know, and so the fact that people couldn't stop caring, I think is a symptom of this awful culture of grades that we're in right now.


Yeah. And so so you've been in this world of academia for the last twenty five, twenty seven years or something. Probably you anecdotally from what you've seen is there is an increased level of anxiety and depression. Yeah. It's just been ramping up. Oh yeah.


Year after year like shockingly so. And a big spike in the last five years. That's both my anecdotal experience and what the data really show. Yeah. Just the level of like suicidality and just extreme anxiety. It's just kind of heartbreaking, you know, when you see these students just are going through just real mental health anguish and they're like eighteen.


And there's some different explanations, right? None of them are facts yet. They're all theories. I think we had Jonathan Haidt on. And, you know, the parenting is being questioned over the last twenty years and the lack of coping mechanisms parents allow their kids to acquire and the challenges and all these things. So those are kind of well documented. And I think there's validity in all of them. But also, you know, like it or not, well, you and I can rage against Instagram for the next 5000 years.


It ain't going anywhere. People like I like Instagram, even when it makes me feel shitty. So it's not going anywhere.


Life's not going to slow down. There's just going to be more technology.


So then the question becomes like you're not going to beat it. So how can we adapt to it? The mere notion you said it needed your TED talk like you flew to that location, you didn't flap your arms.


You're doing things you shouldn't do. You get in a car, you go 80 miles an hour.


That's not a natural pastime for a primate. So our brain is just it's ill equipped on so many levels to to be a part of a group that's seven billion in size. That's not how we're supposed to do it. What's in the future that we could do? Do you do you have these?


I think, honestly, other people are more optimistic. Usually I'm optimistic. But for this I'm really scared. Right. Because I think we still don't know what this technology is doing to our psychology. And I'm actually less worried about social media. I mean, I think everything you've said about social media is true. It makes us horridly social come here. Even in these domains we don't care about like somebody today posted this awesome, like lentil soup. And I was like, I suck.


Like, why didn't I like it? I feel bad about myself of a little soup like that.


You're a Yale professor and you're like, you're a fucking failure because you can't get soup.


And so so like that's aside. And I think we all get it. But what we don't get is what technology is doing to us in ways that we don't notice. And that's the research I'm most scared by, because it's not just that social media is really tempting for us and distracting for us. It's like all the technology on the other side of that phone. Right. And so, you know, our brains, as you know, crave stuff that's cool.


And we've given a stimulus that is completely unprecedented in the history of the human species. Like never have we had access to, you know, the Library of Alexandria, every cat video on the Internet, all this porn, you know, celebrity like newsletters, all the emails I've ever gotten since 1999. Like my brain knows that's on the other side of my iPhone. You know, I might like to be enjoying this conversation with my husband, but there's part of my brain that's like I bet this conversation isn't as good as at least like thirty percent of the cat videos are like maybe we should check the porn right now.


And so we like to think we have brains that can shut it off.


But the new data are starting to suggest that. A mere presence of phones is screwing us up in all these ways we don't realize. Liz Dunn, who is a professor at UBC, has been doing lovely work on this, finds that if you have your phone out in a waiting room, she does these experiments where she brings people into like a fake waiting room and you can have your phone out or away. They've collected it before. You're not really even using it.


But what she finds is that people smile 30 percent less at the people around them when their phone is out, even if you're not using it. If you look at enjoyment of activities and presence, like, say, you get a massage and again, you're not using your phone, it's just there. It's like reducing your enjoyment of the massage. And it makes sense. Why? Because there's got to be part of your brain that's like, no, no, no, pay attention to the massage.


Don't go on. Read it right now. Like, no, there's probably nothing on Reddit. This is this constant kind of distraction and it's a constant stimulus. Let's face it. It's like designed to be better than most of the stuff in the real world. You know, having that nice cup of coffee, playing with your kids, the Internet is cooler than that. It just is. Right.


I can tell you from experience, cocaine gives me a level of serenity and contentment because my brain is just so satisfied. The phone is the only thing I can say that even compares to that where where two hours can go by. And I don't question anything about what I got to do. I'm just in my experience, self is just fulfilled on a level that really can only be compared to cocaine because it's designed to be like cocaine, like it's designed on the premise of a slot machine.


I mean, the folks who do a lot of the original designs for, you know, how these algorithms work and so on are called dopamine labs. They they are on to something of what they're doing. They're not idiots. But I don't think we know the outcome of the experiment of putting that kind of slot machine in six billion pockets around the world and what it's going to do to social connection, what it's going to do to mere presence of paying attention to what your life feels like right now.


I think we just don't know. And so my one hope about what we can do to do better is that Internet companies don't want to be the cigarette industry, like Facebook doesn't want to be a cigarette industry. The iPhone doesn't want the cigarette industry. They know what it's doing to us, but they also know that they have to maintain this safe balance where they want us to be addicted to it, but not get so bad that government regulators come in.


Are we all say, like, screw it, I'm going back to my flip phone.


And they're also in competition for in the attention economy. They can only be so good or they're going to lose out to the other competitor. That's exactly right, too.


And so I think they're kind of starting to build in things, you know, like your iPhone now tells you how much time you spent on your iPhone. Right. And I think nobody ever looked at the iPhone like listing. It was like I should I really like slacking on the iPhone today. Like I should I should I should say on Instagram a little bit more today. Like, that's not why they put it in there. So so my sense is they are trying to help with this.


They are trying to give us tools. And so my sense is that the future is that ultimately we're going to need some social norms to navigate this stuff, better norms about when we use our phones, how present they are in our lives, how much we're allowed to kind of forgo normal social interaction to do this stuff. And we'll have that and families will have that and workplaces. And I think once we build those norms in as a society, maybe we'll will get better, you know, kind of like smoking.


All right. You can do it, but like not on a plane, not, you know, in schools. Not in the hospital. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So that's the hope. Yeah. Utopian future would be one where it's normal that when you go to a friend's house. Oh yeah. We don't do that during this time. We put that away and it's well I guess we'll take brave people at the beginning to to get the ball rolling.


But yeah, I would love it if, like, I got invited to a game night and it was like, hey, phone free game night. Yeah, I'm there. I'll leave my phone in the car, you know. Yeah.


I think we need we need somebody to make like cooled structures for our house, new pieces of IKEA furniture. That's like the phone holder, you know, like when you walk in somebody's house and there's like the shoe area, you take your shoes off. There's also like you slide your phone in it and it like closes and you can't see it. And then you just have your day and have your normal social interaction. I don't know. We need we need more of that stuff.


The problem is when phones are stealing our attention, they do it in a way that's blind to us. We don't often notice, like we don't notice the smiles. We're not making it, the people around us or the conversations we're missing with our spouses because we don't notice what we don't notice. Yeah. And so I think we need more awareness of what these technologies are doing to our attention and to our social relationships.


It's like what you said at the beginning, how students now they want scientific proof as to why they should do X, Y and Z. They're not just going to take it anecdotally. There's going to have to be a lot of studies about exactly why this is harmful, like why we know tobacco is smoking as harmful as opposed to like just watch less TV. No one's watching less TV. You know, we're going to have to have some proof. Yeah, I hope we can get.


I agree completely. And then the problem is that that's really hard because Yeliz was smoking. There are some people that didn't smoke, whereas. Right.


Who you study only grandparents is the control group.


We're like that one guy from your work that's a freakazoids still has a split vote. Like, I don't want him to be a measure of like. Human rights groups. I don't trust anything that any data derived from that guy was a psychopath. Well, Laurie, I think everyone should check out Happiness Lab podcast. It's so great. And it very much in the vein of Malcom's thing because it immediately reminded me of the great revisionist history episode about how useless LSAT scores are in the success of an attorney, ultimately career wise.


I loved hearing that and it's in that vein. It's great. Is there anything else you want to tell us about that we should check out?


No, that's great. Go check out the Happiness Lab podcast. We get a new season coming out and also a bunch of episodes on covid-19. If you want special help for how you can stay mentally healthy during this crazy time and also enroll in your class at Yale, you know, it seems easy to get in.


Well, I'd like to.


Yeah, it turns out turns out we did put it online completely for free. So it's a hundred and seventy thousand people immediately signed up.


Yeah. We've had amazing we've had two million in just the last couple of weeks. I think people are down for it at home and want a few things to do and are focused on what they can do to be happy.


Well, how do people sign that? What where where do they go for that. Yeah.


So that is that Coursera dog and it's called the science of well-being. The Science of well-being. OK, fantastic. Well, Malcolm wasn't wrong. You're awesome. We love you. We hope you'll come back and talk to us as you write more, learn more and come up with more theories. Would love it. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks, Laurie.


And now my favorite part of the show, the fact check with my soul mate Monica Padman. Fact check, take two. All right, we're recording fact check number two, let's start with some admissions by Dan Shepard. There's two whoppers.


I'll start with an admission. First, I was late today. Oh, I didn't care. Normally not late, and I don't like it.


It just made me happy because I was like, oh, she knows what I'm feeling like when I'm like, it was a rough. So I literally just can't. You can't get out of that damn house.




And then it just spills messes up your most beautiful blue sweat tracksuit internet or step on your macho with your stink. Oh my God. It's almost too much to go on. It is so mission number one, which I already made on Instagram, which is and by the way, I didn't go back and listen, but enough people voted that there was consensus that 50 Cent was doing exactly as you would interpreted this thing.


Thank you for that admission. That's very big of you.


And then secondly, I didn't have Korona. I got an antibody test and I didn't have it. Wow. Yeah. To my disappointment, I should have it. You didn't have it.


No one in the house had it now. Yeah, well, I mean, if one person had it like the rest of us would have. So it was really an all or nothing anyway. It was. But Yarl's test came in really fast. Here's another frustrating thing is I got a prescription. Then I went to this quest place in a grocery store. They took my blood.


I had to go to the grocery store.


Well, that's where it was that it's inside of a von's very where to get your blood drawn at Vollans. But I don't like that there's blood at the grocery store. That's a side note. And then I didn't get my results for like four days, maybe five. But then you guys took a test that you got the results in five minutes. Ten minutes.


Yep. And all of you were negative for antibodies. Yes. But I was still holding out like, well, maybe I got it when I was in Colorado or Texas and I just, you know, passed through me by the time I got back. Even though your theory was we all had it last year. Yeah, well, in the year. Yeah. And it's just it's not the case. It's not the case. It's not the case.


And I've never had it. I was pretty excited. No, no, I was not excited. But I was I was saying that the whole time you were you that I think we had it. Yeah. And I felt validated. Sure. Of course it feels nice.


Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Big time. But I do of course wish I had it. Yeah. Me too. Yeah me too. Without knowing. Hmm.


That's the dream as best case scenario. You don't even know you had it. Yeah. You still had it. Inexplicably long stretch of diarrhea that day.


That is true. That is true. Sometimes it seems like that's everyone's makes.


It is. It is Holling now. Oh no. Oh yeah. Oh my God.


It's such a fun part of you. Jan, you when you're at your mom's house, you had like six days of uninterrupted.


You think that I have no memory of. I know. It's so weird. I have total memory.


I have I keep a journal though for you. So anytime you say something I market in there.


I don't remember like being with friends and then having to go to the like. I would remember that that would be traumatic. It would be memorable.


Yeah. There's so many kinds of diarrhea, right. There's like food poisoning, diarrhea, where you literally can't be away from a toilet. You can't be more than like 300 feet from a toilet at any moment. And then there's just like, oh, you went in the morning, it was Lucy Goosey. And then you went again in the afternoon and it was maybe straight water.


That's diarrhea, but you could still carry about your business in that version of it. That's often what I'll experience for a little spell. Like, it's not unmanageable. It's very manageable and civil.


If it's only diarrhea in the morning, OK, you don't count it.


I read it. Sure, yeah. OK. Anyway, I have to know you got to keep it up because everyone talks about their poop with their friends. They do. I don't know, I don't talk about it with my other friends if I'm being honest. Oh you don't know.


Oh it's almost all I talk about with my friends and I don't think a lot of people do. Oh, all right.


Do you enjoy talking about your cycles? My fly. No, no, no, you're you're brown cycles, I don't like talking about it in public. Yeah, OK. I think it's an extension of the vulnerable theme because it is so vulnerable. It's the grossest thing we do. I know. But at the same time, like sometimes I really think about it. Yeah. And I'm like, it's not gross. You put food in and then it turns it into this thing.


It's steam.


Yes, it stinks. So this is so gross.


Well it's repellent so that you don't monkey around in other people's ways and pick up diseases. I think it's evolutionary.


But if you trust that someone else is in a disease carrier like your family members, it's not as gross.


Still pretty, pretty gross. It's still pretty gross. Maury, time out before this. Oh, antibodies. Antibodies. Did it affect your position at all, knowing you know for sure you didn't have it didn't pass.


Yeah, well, I will say, you know, this speaks to confirmation bias. I'm holding up like a three percent chance. I think the tests were flawed, but that's low. I'm ninety seven percent accepting of the outcome.


This is a bit hypocritical also, because if I've said that. Yeah, you would not like it, you would say if you said ninety seven. No, no, no, no. If you if you said 97 percent and you're only holding out three percent, hope that the test will be revealed. That's how you make decisions beyond fifty one percent.


OK, I think that would have elicited your reaction if I said that to you. You're also a fan of glimmers of hope.


If the tests were positive. I need you to really step back and think about the scenario in which all the tests came back. We had it and I said, OK, but there's a there's a very small chance that this is wrong. You would not like it. I know it.


Yeah, I want it. I want it. But if you said three percent, at least go like, oh, you're acknowledging the truth. OK, yeah, I'm acknowledging the truth. Yeah. I just have a fantasy that somehow still we could have all had it and not worry about it.


Don't you think most likely one of the tests would have come back.


Yes, I do. Yeah, yeah I do. But you said is it change my position on it? Oh yes. I mean, it does in that I'm like before I was traveling through the city doing things simply for you guys, like I had the I have the gloves on in the mask. And it's really just for you guys. Yeah, it's not for me. I'm not worried about it.


But now I'm like, oh, I could catch it still. So, yes, there's another variable now that I think, oh shit, I could still catch this again, which is tricky because I'm not afraid to have it. But then the the Hellfire I would you know, if it could be figured out that it was I who had tainted the group, then. Yeah, I would, I would hate that.


Yeah. I guess what it does do though is and I've learned this lesson before, I thought I knew who robbed our house one time and I was so convinced of it. And then it turns out I was wrong. That was humiliated with the notion of how wrong I was. Similarly, I am not humiliated, but reminded how wrong you can be and feel, right? Yeah, for sure. You're trying your hardest not to gloat, aren't you?


No, I did a good you did a great job. Yeah. I don't want you to feel bad though. I know you don't. I actually forgot all about it. Oh you did. I was not like I wonder if he's going to tell everybody. I haven't even I totally didn't even think about it because I knew you already knew in my heart that we didn't have it and I knew in my heart we did.


That's what I'm saying. It could have gone either way. One of us was bound to be completely wrong and it was me which I'm owning anyhow.


So I hope everyone's doing well. Me too. Lori Santo's Lori. I know in the episode you start talking about names a little bit because you were talking about Ezra being. Oh yeah. And then you said and like your name, Lori, like every Lori I know is so fun. I was like. What are you talking about? I was specifically thinking of like this Laurie and my Groundlings class, that was really fun and then whatever. Laurie do I now.


What is Laurie Short for? Lauren Lawrence. Lauren.


Lauren. Oh, wow. I think. But you know, Laurie Bell, Laurie is short for Lorelai, which I love because of Gilmore Gilmore Girls. I just think that's a beautiful name. It is. Lorelai, I really have tons of strong feelings about Lori, but I have very strong feelings about Ezra. I know. And Justin. Justin's the other name. I have such profound. You do? Yes. What do you feel about it?


Well, so the coolest kid in my school was just to shore and he had moved from California to elementary school. So he's from California. And he he was the first to have the lead pin striped denim jeans, which became really popular like the next year. And I had of his time. Yes.


And I clocked like, oh, this motherfucker was one year ahead. And then my cousin Justin LaBeau was like the coolest guy I ever knew. He was sponsored as a BMX freestyler. Then he was sponsored as a snowboarder and he was in a band I loved. He was just the coolest. And his name was Justin. And then I met a few Justin's.


And they're all cool.


I guess many Justin's. I don't recall like Justin Wilman, the magician is very cool and he does magic for humans, magic for humans.


Yet he is a slick dude. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he's very well. Yeah, it's a strong name. It is Touhy. Next time we make a P baby, if it's a boy, we could name it Justin.


That's an interesting thought because I would be more inclined to name the baby like Ezra because I think maybe the baby will be capable of like genius. Yes.


Highly intellectual pursuits, but doesn't have the physical shape to perform any kind of athletics or dancing or any of the things that would make you cool.


OK, your idea of cool is so specific. It's like cool. It's like you can do really well physically.


I think it's cool to be smart. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But but but but just again the Justin Xinyu are more like they were chill. They, the babes loved them. They were great at everything. They were like all the guys like them.


Well maybe our babies very likable. Yeah. It's just our baby is gelatinous. Right. Or it's a little that's disgusting.


It's it's in liquid form. It's not in solids liquefied.


It's not gelatinous. OK, God, it's going to get some gelatinous than it's SonoSite. Yeah. Oh I know.


And it's sick. Like we have no experience with children to know what their symptoms would be like. I guess if it got gelatinous it's already jaundice looking so you could never determine if the kidneys were shot.


It that's kind of part of its charm that in spite of looking so unhealthy, it thrives. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.


It'd be nice for our baby to have a little brother or sister.


I could see a baby being one of the X-Men. I don't know a ton about X-Men, but one guy's in a wheelchair. Right. And he like makes all the metal fly around. Like our PBB could be very powerful in a superhero world. Yeah, I see. That could even be the leader of the whole gang. Oh, my God. Just sits in a toilet bowl. They come to it, they come to a toilet bowl that it lives in a fancy toilet bowl, probably like a crystal clear toilet bowl so that they can see him without having to lean over the toilet bowl to communicate with him.


When I renovate my house, I have to make sure to make all the toilets translucent glass toilet.


Yeah. Hey, all right, Lori. She talks about this psychologist, Liz Dunne, who's doing all this research and says if you force someone to spend money on other people, they're happier than when they spend money on themselves, which I thought was really interesting. And so I looked up. She has a TED talk and it was really worth listening to. And yeah, it says that. But it also like they did this experiment with kids, like it starts even when you're two, they bring these two year olds in and there's like a bowl of goldfish.


They give them the goldfish and they're very happy. Of course, you're so cute. And then they have the stuffed monkey and they say like, oh, there's no not love for the monkey. Can the monkey have one? And they all like say, sure, and then give him one. And then they've like mapped their response to after they receive the goldfish and after they give the goldfish away and the kids are happier after they've given it away.


Oh. Which is interesting. Yeah. But OK, so this TED talk was she had already put out the research saying that and the TED talk was basically like I put out this research and then I was like, but this doesn't apply to me. Like I don't really give to charity and I don't really want to go. Yeah. And. She was like, maybe there's something wrong with my research, so she went back in and basically the new conclusion is the benefits spike when the people feel that they have a sense of connection to those that they're helping and that they can easily envision the difference that they're making.


So they did this experiment where they asked people to donate to either UNICEF or this organization called Spread the Net, and they picked those because they have the exact same goal. OK, but because UNICEF is like this big, well known charity and people don't really know exactly where things are going and spread the net give like a very specific motivation, which is for every ten dollars, they provide one bed net to a child with malaria. You know, the more money people gave to spread the net, the happier they felt after.


But with UNICEF, the emotional return on investment was flattened. So it matters if you feel like you're connected personally.


Well, it's also the kind of the Paul Bloom empathy thing. It's like you've got one kid, one that I'm like and I can relate to that. Yeah. Once you get into UNICEF, it's like a billion people. It just gets diluted. Your feeling of impact.


Yeah, but even if you donate a thousand dollars, you then know, like, oh, I did this, you can like really connect. Yeah. You go. I got a hundred kids bedmates. Yeah. Passement. So anyway I thought that was interesting. It is. OK, so you said the article in New York Times said five second bursts of exertion helped break up triglycerides. Yeah. Four seconds of high intensity exertion repeated periodically throughout the day might counteract some of the unhealthy metabolic consequences of sitting for hours.


Epidemiological studies indicate that most American adults sit for at least 10 hours a day, a total that is likely to have risen now that many of us are home all day.


Yeah, in quarantine. I think I'm sitting like 14 hours a day.


Really? Oh, sure. I think you are, too. I'm moving about. Are you okay? I mean, I said a lot because I'm by my computer so much, but I get up to get snacks. Yeah, I changed location a good bit.


When you're changing locations, sprint there. Yeah. That'll break up your triglycerides. Sprint into the kitchen to get your goldfish. Oh OK. But make the sprint.


Last four seconds will be sprint in your living room going to circle and into your kitchen.


OK, I take four seconds. Yeah. Yeah. In particular, multiple hours of sitting can contribute to a rise in the bloodstream of fatty acids known as triglycerides, probably in part because muscles at rest produce less than contracting muscles due of a substance that breaks up triglycerides. And they do this whole experiment with this basically the stationary bike that they invent and they have these athletes come and do these quick exercises and it helps. But they they're still working on this.


And the bike is not like available. Right. So it's just saying probably good to first around a bit. Yeah. Do some versing. Yeah. Decs. OK, so you talked about you guys both being magna cum laude. I kept my mouth shut. I thought maybe you are going to bring it up, but you didn't. And then I didn't want to brag, but I'll brag now, OK, that I'm assuming. Right. That is nice.


Yeah, it's nice. Yeah. Hello. You were summa at Georgia, so.


Yeah. You know like probably cumulating at UCLA now. OK, no, not at all.


You asked if Stanford's pass fail and. It's not I mean, it's not it might be right now during Corona, but it is not generally. Yeah, but I did read this article in The New York Times about these past veils and a lot of students, and she was saying this are particularly concerned because they're trying to raise their grade point averages in their final year or two of college to qualify for a law, medical or business school. So I do when she was saying it all is like that is crazy, but I do kind of get it if it matters in, like, their next step.


That sucks. Yeah. Yeah. I guess it affects the next step. But when I had heard that Stanford was pass fail and maybe I just read something that it was being proposed, the argument was the people that got the Stanford are already a students. They've proven that. Yeah, right. So what is the point? They made it. Now they can just learn, which I think is cool. But I agree it poses this issue about when they want to go elsewhere.


Well, yes and no.


I mean, I think if you enter college and it's pass fail and you leave in it's pass fail, that's fine. That's like the standard. But right now, it's like if you have one year left and you have a grade point average, it's just that right now your grades aren't lifting it at all. You're trying to bring your grade point average up. You can't. That stinks. I hope everyone passes in conclusion. In summary, we hope everyone passes.


That's all for Lori. That's it. Yeah. OK, well, we loved her. Yeah, she was great. And again, I was really fascinated with how many of her five things were principles of a shared that in my meaning. Yeah. And then someone then went and watched her shit and we're like, oh yeah. It's, it's, it's all the same stuff is so cool. Yeah. All right. All right. Love you. Time for a nap.