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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hello, hello, you may have noticed that people in the mindfulness meditation world are often at pains to point out that what we're teaching is not a breathing exercise. The goal is just to feel the breath as it naturally occurs if you've chosen to breath as the thing you want to focus on.


However, and this is not something we spend much time exploring on this show, there is a ton of evidence to suggest that actual breathing exercises can have powerful benefits physiologically and psychologically. That is one of the things we're going to talk about today with Emma Seppala, who is a lecturer at the Yale School of Management and Faculty, director of the Yale School of Management Women's Leadership Program. She's also the science director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.


And she's the author of a book called The Happiness Track How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success. As the title of today's episode suggests, we're going to talk about three big takeaways from happiness research. One has to do with the aforementioned breathing exercises. The other has to do with the power of nature to impact your mind. And the third has to do with social connections, something many of us are sorely lacking in this pandemic. One, a little audio note before we roll the interview, during this recording, my regular mike decided to crap out on me, so we had to call in a backup recording file.


So the audio on my sound may not be as rich and baritone as normal, but it's totally fine. But just wanted to call that out before we get to it. So here we go now with Emma Seppala.


Ever great to see you. Thanks for coming on. Thank you. That's nice to talk to you again. I know I haven't seen you in a minute. So, so many topics we're going to cover in this interview.


You suggested we start and I'm always happy to take your guidance since I know you and trust you. You suggested we start with what science is telling us about emotion, regulation and resilience. Yeah. So what do we know?


Well, I think it's been a big topic on a lot of people's minds this year. Just given the amount of stressful stimuli that have been sent our way during the pandemic beyond. What's really interesting is, you know, no matter who you talk to from whatever country, you sort of ask, like, what have you been taught to do with your big, bad, negative emotions? Inevitably, people will say, well, bottle them up, stuff up, down, suppress them.


You know, that's kind of the general message that we've received in school growing up in the workplace, that you're not supposed to let your emotions out. And, you know, there's good reason not to always let your emotions out. Obviously, you don't want to let your rage out in the workplace or something like that. But if you look at the research on suppression, which is what most people tend to do, you see that actually it makes things worse.


So, for example, if you're feeling angry, already plays a number on your system like heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, inflammation increases in your body, or your stress response is activated when you suppress all of those systems actually increase in intensity. So anger already plays a number on your body, but when you suppress it, it's negative impact becomes even worse. It's like shaking up a soda bottle. So that makes sense. It does.


But you just said we don't want to let your rage out of the office. So what's your what's the move other than to suppress it?


Right. So it's really interesting. You know, another interesting thing about depression just before I talk about that, is that so let's say why do people suppress?


Because they're trying to maintain the relationships with other people. Right? It's like I'm not going to let my rage out. I'm just going to bottle it up so I can maintain sort of a semblance of civility with this person. And I'm talking to. But the problem is that let's say I were suppressing rage right now and I trying not to show it.


Your heart rate would increase and you might not intellectually understand why, but you wouldn't you would start to feel uncomfortable around me are physiological empathic intelligence is just is far more rapid than our intellect can understand. So what happened there is that you would register at the inauthenticity physiologically and we register inauthenticity as a threat. You see that?


So it's so ironic, right? So we suppress our emotions to maintain our relationships. But when we suppress, the other person feels uncomfortable. I mean, I think we've all had that where you're around someone and you don't know why, but you feel uncomfortable. Now if you can't explain it, I just want to back away from this person. Chances are they're being inauthentic. You're registering it as a threat. You want to back away. And if you look at the research on suppression and relationships, people who tend to suppress a lot, their relationships are negatively impacted over time.


So what to do? I mean, I think you probably have heard about this a lot. And the psychological research on reappraisal and sort of cognitive reframing of a situation looking at things from a different perspective is what most of the research has been conducted on. You know, sort of like you get the parking ticket and then you think, oh, well, I'm just going to consider this a donation to the city because I kind of like the city.


So a lot of the research shows that really helps it like decreases activation in the emotion centers of the brain, helps you calm down all of that good stuff. It's basically applying wisdom to the situation. But and this is something I kept bringing up because I was in an emotion regulation lab and grad school with an emotion regulation scholar who's one of the top scholars in the field. And I kept bringing up what about when you're having really intense emotions?


I think we've all been there. What have you ever tried to talk your way out of it? Really strong emotion. Does it really work? Right. No, I mean, talking can be really helpful, but it doesn't make it go away, per say, if it's really strong.


In my experience, you and I both have six year olds and we could see two when in the middle of a tantrum, like it's not a good time to sort of have a logical discussion about what's going on with them. Right. It's like their emotions so strong. So what happens at the level of the brain is that when you can use reappraisals successfully, you're using your prefrontal cortex to kind of down talk the emotion centers and calm down your body.


But if the emotion is super strong or you're super stressed, then the emotion centers sort of a highly activated what happens? You have less access to the reasoning capacities of your prefrontal cortex.


It doesn't deactivate it, but it lowers your ability to use it. And that's why we can't talk ourselves out of, like, big rage, big anxiety, big fear, big sadness, big grief.


In those moments, it doesn't help. And you know what's even worse? Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, like, oh, just calm down?


Like, are you right? Of course it's the worst.


It doesn't work. So that's the big question. Right. So then what the heck do we do at that moment? And so any ideas? Suppress that the right answer.


Yeah, so, you know, this has been really interesting to me because I was I have always thought, well, there's got to be a different way because it doesn't work. We can't use our intellect all the time and like psychologists or so top down like to just want to you should be able to think your way out of everything, like I think therefore I am and all that. And it's like, well, it doesn't always work. Right.


So that's one of the reasons that I spent so much of my research career looking at breathing is what we found is that when you can actually change your breath and calm your physiology, then you regain access to your ability to think. And that helps a lot.


One of the stories that always comes to mind around this is that my husband walked into the room about seven years ago. I turned to look at his face. I was like, what's wrong? And he said, Jaquiss in an IED. And Jake is one of his best friends who was a Marine Corps officer in charge of a Humvee, the last Humvee in a convoy going across Afghanistan.


And it all the vehicles pass safely, except as it drove over an improvised explosive device in that moment of shock, you know, when the dust settled and he could see and he looked down, his legs almost completely severed underneath his knees.


And I don't think we can even imagine what that feels like, not just the excruciating pain, but like the shock, the pain, the noise, everything.


But anyway, in that moment, he remembered something he'd read about in a book for officers about what to do in times of wartime crisis.


And it had a very short and simple breathing exercise. And somehow, by some miracle, he remembered it. He started to engage in that breathing exercise. And because he did that, he was able to sort of regain the ability to think clearly, to do his first active duty is to check on the other service members, which he did. And then his second active duty was just to give orders to call for help.


But it even gave him the presence of mind to tourniquet his own legs and to think of propping them up. But then he fell unconscious. But he was later told he would have bled to death and died if he had not done that. And he's alive and well in the US today as prosthetics on both his legs because he lost both of his lower legs. But that example is so profound to me and one of the reasons I've been so inspired to do more research on that.


So what does your research show around the value of? Deep breathing. So, I mean, just looking at first that the basic research on breathing, so when you breathe in your heart rate increases and your blood pressure as well, when you breathe out, it decreases. So does your blood pressure. And actually, if you do a simple exercise where you're lengthening your exhales like making them twice as long as your own health, you're going to start to notice if you were wearing a blood pressure cuff, you would see that your blood pressure starts to slow down.


So what we're seeing is just at the physiological level, it is one of the most immediate effective techniques that we can use to calm our body. When you come your body, you can again regain that ability to think clearly, which is our struggle.


And we have emotions, right? Because when we have those strong emotions, we can't always think clearly.


Let's take anxiety, for example, our fear, which has just been so prevalent this year, if you're a lot in sort of a trust stress mode, is that you perceive everything through the lens of fear which can save your life in certain circumstances. But in other circumstances, it really restricts your vision, your perspective on what's possible, just your perspective in general, because we know that stress makes us very narrow in our perspective.


The other thing is there's a study that looks at the impact of breathing on emotions. And so you probably noticed this.


I mean, if I notice that your emotions change your breathing, I have noticed that and I have noticed the opposite, that there was a recent guest we had on the show who mentioned something called strong breathing to me, just taking a deep breath and then making sure the exhale is twice as long. And as you exhale, blow out as if you're blowing it to a straw. Yeah. And I actually now start every meditation session with that because I notice that my chest is usually tight.


I'm breathing in a shallow way. And if I can just start, it also does just do it through the day. I'll just try to do it surreptitiously. I may do it during this interview in a way that people can't see because I just notice it changes my emotional state and it changes the way the body feels as well.


So to make so much sense to do before meditation to one of my favorite studies looked at breathing and emotion. So I had people come into the lab and they made them feel different emotions and they looked at the breathing pattern. And it's not for each of their emotions. They evoked the breathing. It was different. So you could think of examples, you know, like fear and anxiety or breath is faster. You know, if you think of little kids running in the sprinklers in the summer and they're deep breathing through their bellies, like joyful breathing and sobbing, laughing, those are other examples of breath changes with emotion.


So that's what they found, right. For each emotion was a different breathing. But I think the second part is the coolest part of the study. They had different people come in and they gave them the breathing instructions that corresponded to the emotional scene in part one of the study.


So they basically said breathe in a way that would mimic how you might breathe if you were angry. Yeah, except they didn't tell them that.


So they saw that, like the anger breathing was like short and shallow and whatever the details were. So then they would bring the second group in and they had them breathe in that way. And then they asked them, how do you feel?


Do you say yes?


So what do you think they found that you can change your breath and experience the emotion that is associated classically with that breathing style? Exactly.


Yeah, I think this is a revolutionary study for me because, you know, it's so hard to change our emotions and it's so hard to talk our way out of our emotions when they're very overwhelming.


But with our breath, we can we live in a time and age when we want things to be fast, efficient, like tools that work.


And this is probably one of the most efficient ways to change your physiology and thereby change your state of your mind and make you more resilient.


So how do we do it? I mean, I described Straube breathing. I hope I described it correctly. If we want to do some breathing exercises to because we're so old and I am hard pressed to imagine there are people who aren't sold. What do we do?


Yeah, I mean, there's different ways. So I mean, the breathing exercise you describe to us is a nice one. But really the simplest thing, if some are just to take one thing away from this is the simplest thing is just to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe it right. Wherever you are, but ideally do it with eyes closed.


And the other thing I mean, it's nice to learn a longer breathing practice to that.


You could just sort of do every day. A couple of research studies that we've done with a breathing protocol for. The first one was with veterans, and this is a number of years ago. But year veterans with trauma who for whom therapy and pharmaceuticals hadn't worked very well for their post-traumatic stress. And many of them were living in their basement drinking, smoking pot just to get to sleep at night, like sometimes and ask them, like, how's your sleep at night?


Know, just laugh. You know, they're just like I just lie on the sofa, wait for the morning to come.


I was just really intense. We were trying to figure out what kind of sort of practice can we teach them to calm them down. We were thinking of doing a mindfulness practice, but then the VA we were collaborating with, they said we're getting a lot of dropouts. People aren't sticking to the practice. So we thought maybe we should try a different approach that goes right into the physiology. And that's where we decide on a breathing protocol.


So we did it one week. Breathing protocol, gas guy, breath meditation, which they learn of different forms of breathing and over the course of a week, and then we wanted to see what's the impact? And so what we saw was that the group that went through the class, as opposed to the control group, their anxiety normalized. And we even saw physiologically because we had we measured their startle response and we saw that the more they said that their anxiety normalized, the more we actually saw it physiologically.


So they weren't just saying it to make us feel good. They were physiologically responding with less of a startle response, which is usually very elevated for people with trauma.


And the surprising thing, though, was the one month and one year later those results were maintained. So we weren't expecting that at all. But it's as if that breathing protocol had to sort of acute healing impact really on their trauma. We still don't really know how that works. But one thing we know is that memory is really malleable.


And we know that anxiety and trauma in particular, it's like the memory of the past still living in front of you, you know, and so you're not able to move forward, kind of like when you start a new relationship, but you're haunted by the old one. So when you engage in some breathing practices that relax you so deeply, sometimes those memories will come up. It did in the case of some of these veterans, that memory would come up while they're in this very deeply relaxed state.


But there by that relationship to the memory changes, because usually if that memory comes up, they would be in an anxious state sweating back in the moment. Right. But now it came up in a moment when they were in this deeply settled place. And we think that changes the relationship to the memory. And so that's what they would say a lot with. You know, I remember everything that happened, but I feel I can move on now. So.


Yeah. And then we ran a similar study this last couple of years at Yale with stressed undergrads, a different form of a different population of anxious, sort of or prone to anxiety students. And we looked also at different wellbeing interventions. And the one that had the strongest impacts was the sky breath meditation that the breathing practice. Again, we think because it goes that physiological level and thereby brings about that calming response in the body, in the mind as well.


So you found this guy breathing was more successful in reducing anxiety than traditional meditation? Yeah.


So we looked at three different interventions. We had an emotional intelligence intervention, which is it was just mostly a cognitive intervention. So and the other one was a traditional mindfulness based stress reduction program. And the third was sky breath meditation. If you just looked at just the numbers, all of them benefit the students in some way for sure. But when we looked at each group compared to the control group, the one that had way more results was the breathing.


We can only hypothesize as to why, but we think it's because there's something about going right into the physiology and triggering that calming response, triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest to digest that has a sort of profound psychological effect on stress resilience. Colleagues at Harvard also ran a similar study with a cognitive intervention and the sky breathing intervention. And they found that physiologically, when placed in a situation of stress, people had done the breathing, responded with less of a stress response to what was about to happen as opposed to the other group.


So it's interesting. It's sort of a different approach.


You know, I think the traditional psychological approach is to go top down from the head and then regulate the body. And here we're looking at a different sort of paradigm about going through the body and then calming the mind.


It's really interesting. Can you say a little bit about what Sky Breathing is? Sure.


Guy Breathing was taught for like 40 years or something like that. This is through the Vedic tradition, more yoga based tradition originally taught by Ashrafi, Ravi Shankar. And it's a series of breathing practices to include some traditional pranayama, but also includes sort of the sky part, which is that it's rhythmic breathing practice that can learn over like two or three days. I can just speak really from the scientific perspective, is that it seems to have this really powerful impact, especially for anxiety.


And also there's some research on depression for it as well.


So sky breathing is a breathing protocol, a skill you have to acquire over a couple of days as opposed to what you described earlier, which is anybody could do with no training, which is said close your eyes and then just try to breathe in deeply and make sure the exhale is twice as long as the deep in. Exactly.


So what I would recommend is that, you know, everyone sort of remember that they have this tool breathing and their back pocket that they can use any time and lengthening their exhale is going to help, especially if they close their eyes, do it for five minutes, 15 minutes, going to start to really notice a settling in the system. And then if you want to go deeper or have struggled a lot with anxiety or sleep problems or trauma, things like that.


And, you know, learning a breathing protocol is a really great next step.


I find the notion of going right to the physiology to be really compelling. But I know you've. Studied Buddhism. I'm curious, I would imagine the Buddhist critique would be yes, that's all incredibly important, which is why some schools of Buddhism do incorporate deep breathing as a way to calm the body and by extension, the mind down. However, if you really want freedom, you need to develop mindfulness and compassion and wisdom. You need to be able to see that everything is impermanent, that there's no solid self, and that often those insights give rise to a natural and contrived compassion for everybody to suffering.


Do you think that's a legitimate critique?


Well, I don't think it there would be a critique. I think it's a compliment. I think it's essential. You know, you can have all the breathing and mindfulness practice in the world, but if you don't engage with wisdom in some way, you want to have a way to frame your life right. It's so critical. And we also know that the compassion aspect is so essential for well-being. There's just so much research showing that it's so, so essential.


But it's also a natural byproduct of having a more settled state of mind like you're you are going to be more heartful when you are more mindful. I mean, we know that also from studies and thinking of that one study that you probably heard of, where there were different meditations, practices that were compared to one another, and to look at who is going to get up and help the person who's got who's on crutches, you know, the study I'm talking about.


Yeah. And it didn't matter what kind of meditation they practiced, those who had practiced meditation were more likely to be compassionate. So it really I feel like compassion is a natural result of you being at your best self, which you are when you're in this more settled, mindful place. And I think the breathing practices are maybe a slightly different path to the same place. Like I know that for our study, mindfulness was one of the outcomes we measured.


It was a strong outcome that that we studied with the Yale students. One of our outcomes is mindfulness, and it was highly significant. So it was a result.


And then also, you know, sometimes people feel like I've tried this type of meditation didn't work for me. So I guess meditation doesn't work for me. And I'm like, no, no, no, no. Like, find the shoe that fits you. So I personally love meditation, have been meditating for 15 years, and I'm just so grateful for the practice. But one of the reasons I got interested in breathing to begin with is that I was in New York during 9/11.


You were probably as well, right?


Right after on the day of 9/11, I was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, covering a story. And then I drove directly to where Flight 93 went down in a field in Pennsylvania. So. Oh, my gosh. OK, then I went to New York. Yeah.


So I'm glad you weren't there on the day I had moved to New York two days prior, so.


Wow. Yeah.


And I didn't understand why every single morning at eight thirty eight after that I had like such strong anxiety that I just didn't know it was happening to my body honestly. And I found that breathing was what really helped me.


I tried so many things, including going to Bikram yoga like every day, and I tried to sit and meditate. I was too anxious.


And so it was after learning to breathing that I noticed a real impact. And then I didn't think about it for many years until I started wanting to do research with veterans with trauma.


But that's why I always tell people, find the shoe that fits for you, but don't stop looking if that makes sense in terms of the contemplative practice that's going to help you most.


I completely agree with the final issue that works for you, don't stop looking, do something. And I strongly believe even as somebody who hasn't done sky breathing or any breathing protocol, that if that's all you do and you're a better person, a happier person because of it, great. The world is benefiting. Just going back to this, I called it a critique from the Buddhists. And again, I'm not picking a side here personally, although maybe a little.


I just you said it's the same way. It's a different way to get to the same thing. And I'm just wondering, like, could you from deep breathing, get to the insights into emptiness and impermanence? That is advertised in the Buddhist tradition. It's interesting. I mean, I've actually had this conversation with a couple of monks, one of whom is Geshe Damadola. I don't know if you know him. He is one of the Dalai Lama's translators.


And I was asking him and I was like, OK, what's the difference between the Vedic and the Buddhist tradition? And he said, it's so my Newt, it's almost nonexistent.


And I was like, OK. And he had actually tried this guy Reath meditation and asked him about it.


And he said, it takes you to this space of clarity, he says. And he was saying it takes you to a deep space of meditation. And I was sort of surprised he had learned that because I thought I mean, professional monks, Geeshie I mean, why would he learn a different practice?


But he said he had been curious and I was very open and childlike about it. Yeah, I think openness and the right meaning of the term child, like not like our six year olds at their worst child like, but yeah, the positive aspects of being a child. I aspire to both of those. So consider me open. Just going back to the top of this discussion. We were talking about emotion, regulation and cognitive reframing can work, but for really powerful ones, breathing can be a way to short circuit the cognitive capacities that might be degraded by the limbic or amygdala activation that can come from a powerful emotion.


That's super well said. And also, you know, you were talking about wisdom. And so I think of reappraisal is like trying to apply wisdom. Right. And so in those moments when you can apply wisdom because you are freaking out or you're really triggered you really being pushed your buttons or you're completely out of your comfort zone, how do you apply wisdom? You know, sometimes you can feel like, oh, gosh, I'm so like I've learned all these things.


I've read all these things, I've heard all this wisdom. And look at me now. I have no better than my six year old, you know, those moments trying to go into, you know, coming your physiology so that you could try and regain access to that wisdom. That's all I could think of it. Yeah, I think that's great and I like to think of it that way. And I just again, my limited exploration of this strawberry thing in both formally for a few minutes before I start practice and just in a free range way throughout the day has been really nice.


Much more of my conversation with Emma Seppala right after this. Everyone likes shopping online, but searching for coupon codes can be a bummer, so make saving online a breeze with Capital One shopping Capital One shopping is a free tool that instantly searches for available coupon codes and automatically applies them at checkout. Just download Capital One shopping to your computer and let it do the work for you so easy and you don't even need a Capital One card to use it. Capital One shopping.


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Where I was going by going back to the top of the conversation is there was a word that had also come up when we were talking about emotion regulation, which I'm wondering if it's the same concept or a different concept, which is resiliency is resilience. The same thing is being able to ride your emotions without being swamped by them, or is that a different skill?


Such a wonderful question. I think emotion regulation is part of it. But resilience is also from a physiological point of view, is how quickly and also probably from a wisdom perspective, how quickly can you bounce back from whatever just happened to. So things are going to happen to all of us. They happen to us all the time. They're going to continue happening to us. How quickly do we come back? How quickly do we get out of the.


Maybe the drama in our own minds, although the moods and whatnot, and I think that's where contemplative practices can be so powerful, but it has a physiological component, has a psychological component, and it has an intellectual or wisdom component. I would say. So training and resilience can include, but is not limited to emotion regulation.


Yeah, I think meditation, breathing, yoga or in any really any activity that brings you back trains your parasympathetic nervous system. So I think that we're so used to training our sympathetic nervous system in our society, in our culture, we complain about stress and we worship at the temple of stress. You know, I can't be productive unless I pump my adrenaline up. I drink more coffee, I do it over schedule myself. I wait till the last minute to get things done.


Do you know it's sort of this misconception that's out there that productivity equals being in this high adrenaline rush and it's the reason people are so burnt out. 50 percent of people are burnt out across industries in the workplace.


Seventy five percent of people are disengaged, disengaged. We're facing a real problem. But the question is why we are constantly in this sort of love, hate relationship with stress and it's not serving us right. So there's a stress researcher at Stanford called Bob Sapolsky. Have you heard of him? I have.


Did he write why zebras don't get depressed or don't get ulcers? Yeah, it's such a great title.




So, you know, I remember him saying once you're supposed to feel stressed, five minutes in your life right before you die, that's it. So the idea that, you know, you're being chased by a predator and you're about to die and in that moment, your stress response kicks in to save your life. Right. Blood to your muscles, to pump your immune system, to get you really sharp cognitively so you can save your life. And then you either die or if your life is saved, you go right back to grazing like nothing happened to you.


You know, very relaxed. Why? Because in that parasympathetic extremely relaxed state is where you rebuild yourself, you regain your resources. It's so powerfully restorative for your body. And yet we have we're overly trained and activating our sympathetic nervous system. We're not trained in the parasympathetic which side. And then there's a reliance on alcohol or other ways to just sort of bring yourself back down. And yet that then comes with other problems. So so I would say, you know, that's a really interesting phenomenon that's happening.


And I think that maybe one of the reasons meditation has become so popular, we live in a time of extreme sort of stress and extreme activity. And so we need an extreme activity to balance that which is doing nothing.


I'm so glad to have you because there are so much ground we can cover when it comes to, as you said before, bringing yourself down, but in a good way. Bring yourself out of your head, out of the dysregulation. And I know you've spent some time looking at the research around a modality that we haven't yet discussed, which is access to an exposure to nature. What have you learned in that zone?


Thanks for bringing it up. One of my favorite topics of all time. I mean, I think, you know, if you think about our ancestors, we lived in nature with nature constantly. It has an enormous amount of benefits for us. So any exposure to nature benefits your psychological health. It also benefits your cognitive abilities of attention and focus. It benefits your compassion and empathy toward others. It also benefits your ability to innovate. And if you look at across countries, across industries, what's the number one trait that leaders look for its incoming employees, its ability to be creative?


And we all have that. If you go out into nature for three days unplugged, you come back with fifty percent more creativity, 50 percent fewer days.


Just think about how creative are, you know, with all the problems we're dealing with in our world. Wow. If everyone had access to 50 percent more of their creativity, there would be a lot more solutions coming up for us. Right. By the way, when we worship at that temple of stress, when you're in a stressed state, you don't activate your innovative potential, by the way, because if you look at the brain's ability to come up with hot solutions or creative, innovative solutions for problems, go in.


Does that happen just for you down? If you think about it, when do you come up with your best ideas?


Well, I've only recently seen the wisdom and what you're saying, which is because I've long believed that in particular for writing, I needed to just nose to the grindstone and hammer away at it, hammer away at it, completely ignoring the fact that my best ideas always come on meditation, retreat or in the shower or some relaxed moment and so on in the process now of retraining the way I work and putting in a lot more meditation sessions and playing with a cat or my kid in the middle of work because the work is better, I'm less miserable.


It's so true. Right. And if you look at the research on this, neuroscientists looked at when Dupee. Come up with these aha moments like you were saying, like in the shower, playing with your cat or taking a walk, and what they found was that. Those innovative ideas come when your brain is an alpha wave mode, so that means it's not intensely focused and it's not so, so, so relax that it's almost asleep. It's in the in-between mode, which you could think of as a meditative state of mind.


And that's when we get our aha moments. And that's why people get them in the shower. That's why people get them while they're jogging or while they're out or while they're not intensely focused on anything. It's interesting, again, right. We live in a society where if you are not being productive every moment of the day, you're wasting your time, that it is an idea that's out there. People, even when they're not at work, they're thinking about work.


I should be doing this. I should be doing that. But when you are taking time off to be idle, to be relaxed, your brain is an active problem solving mode. So I hope everyone to remember that next time they take a day off or take a vacation like your brain's an active problem solving mode, give yourself a break already. This is a fascinating thing about nature, is that some people are like, well, I live in a city and it's a pandemic.


Like, what am I supposed to do? I can't go anywhere. It doesn't matter if you can go to your little city park has a similar impact. You can't go to City Park. There's no park near you. OK, well, if you have, you know, like a plant on your desk, it has an impact. And let's say you have no windows, no plants. OK, so even if you have a picture of nature on your wall or on your screensaver, it has an impact.


And that's just how profoundly connected we are to nature, even though many of us have sort of lost that connection. But it has that profound of a psychological physiological impact on you to be exposed in any manner whatsoever. Just so you live in the city and you're in an area where there's not a lot of parks just walking outside, I would imagine I've noticed that walking at the moment. I walked out of ABC News back when I used to go to the office.


I always felt better. That's not a knock on ABC News. It just means it's sitting in the doors all day. I become hyper focused on my issues where soon as I hit the outdoors and it wasn't nature outdoors, it was 60 Seventh Street in Manhattan. I felt better. Yeah, no, absolutely.


Having visited you a couple of times with the studios, there were also not many windows, if any. Right. So that as well, being able to just get outside and being exposed to natural light and so forth has a huge impact.


You said before that spending three days in nature had a 50 percent increase on creativity. Does that mean you need to literally be sleeping in a tent or can you just be in a place where you're outdoors much of the day?


I think it has to do with just being outdoors much of the day, but also being unplugged. So you could be sitting in nature and staring down at your phone the whole time. Right. So that's not the idea. They were I literally unplugged and so your mind can can become so much more expanded and access so much more of your creativity than when it's narrowly focused through sort of intense concentration that we do even when people have time off right there on their phone scrolling through social media, that's still intense concentration.


You're still not allowing your mind to access other parts of its consciousness, other parts of its abilities to capture ideas in novel ways.


I mean, I have been bowled over by the amount of creativity that comes on, summoned, unbidden, often unwanted while on meditation retreat just. Yes, because I have a ton of time in nature of letting my mind. You know, there's a certain amount of training of the mind that's going on. But at some point you get to the top of the hill and you're just kind of rolling down and you're not working as hard. And that's when really interesting things happen.


I have had the experience of coming over retreat and looking at my notes and it's complete nonsense. But more often than not, actually my best ideas have come in that context.


I don't know if you know the story of the Beatles and how they use the creativity. Yeah, tell it.


Yes, I've heard the story about that. They asked the Beatles were meditating Maharishi and India and they asked him, hey, like all these song lyrics, I don't remember which who asked about all these song lyrics are coming while I'm meditating. What do I do? And he said, you open your eyes, you write down the lyrics, you close your eyes, keep meditating.


And so now I don't feel bad. And I did. Sometimes I do that, too, because I'm just like you. Like I get so many ideas. Sometimes whole articles will come to me while I'm meditating. I'm like and I sit down and write it. I'm meditating. But my like my book, The Happiness Track, I just it was on the hills of San Clemente where I was living, was hiking every day. And the whole chapter would just come to me and I'd go back home and write it.


I think we've probably everyone has had that experience of just, you know, how am I going to get my kid to eat vegetables?


Aha. You know, while you're jogging or whatever you just realized I'm going to make this recipe or I'm going to do this. I have other things I want to ask you about, but before we leave nature, are there other areas to explore here that I failed to guide us to?


There's some really interesting books I would recommend. There's a book by Florence Williams, which is more recent called The Nature Effects, where she talks. She summarizes the research quite nicely. Richard Louv wrote a book called The Last Child in the Woods, which is a bit of a classic sort of sad title, but really reminds us of how are our kids growing up? Are they being exposed to nature? Like what is their world? Is it just always concrete?


Is it always a screen? Like what could we do for our children if we were to bring them into nature? What would we do for our family if we spent time in nature? You know, so there's some really great books out there to explore. And I think especially in the last couple of years, some wonderful new books on nature that I really highly recommend reading. I found that when I read them, it's very relaxing just to read about it.


And the reason I'm recommending this is that you're not going to read about this that much in the public sort of spheres and sort of popular journalism. And the reason is that there's no PR agent out there pushing nature research on people because no one's going to make money off of it. So no one's paying a PR agency to do this. You're not going to see the articles. Right. But do it for your own sake that explore that topic for your own sake, I would say, because it is so profoundly healing for humans to be in nature.


Again, this does not require buying new boots or getting on a plane. It can be just going to the local park to take it a walk in your neighborhood, plants in your house.


So I don't know if you've gone to a plant store recently, but when you go when I've gone out there, just like we're constantly getting sold out because of a pandemic and people staying home, they're turning their apartment into a little jungle. Why not?


I love it. OK, so the next area to discuss in terms of what the science is telling us about human flourishing is social connection. What are you seeing there? That's of interest right now? Obviously, we're at a time where I don't think it's a we've run this global, unregulated experiment on ourselves. What happens when you reduce social connection in a pandemic? And I do not think it is a coincidence that we see spiking anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide.


So clearly, this is a pressing issue right now. And perhaps and this is somewhat optimistic, I hope we take this lesson away from the pandemic that we need each other. But what's interesting to you in this realm these days?


Well, we've known for many decades that social connections are greatest need after food and shelter, period. It is our greatest need for psychological and physical health, for longevity. We've known that for decades. And we've also known pre pandemic that there's a loneliness epidemic that has been going around the world in the UK. They even have a ministry for loneliness. There's even some scientists looking into developing a pharmaceutical intervention for loneliness.


I mean, that was pre pandemic. And so here we are and like you said, global, unregulated experiment. I think a lot of people have suffered obviously from this. So here's the good news, I guess from a research perspective, is that when you look at the research that shows all of the negative impacts of loneliness, which are actually quite severe, loneliness is worse for your health outcomes than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. And when you look at the research on social connection and all of its enormous benefits for psychological, physical health, immunity, recovery from disease, longevity and so forth, if you look at what about it, what about the connection leads to these benefits or what about the feeling of disconnection leads to the negative impact?


It actually has nothing to do with how many people you are around every day.


That's the good news. It has everything to do with how connected you feel on the inside, what predicts all of the the things that the research has shown is your subjective feeling of connection. And this to me goes back to meditation and so forth, because I think we've all been there where we've been in a crowd and felt lonely, like maybe even even at a Thanksgiving dinner with family. And you feel alone, you don't feel connected or you are alone in your apartment and you just did a loving kindness, meditation or something, and you're feeling connected to the whole world or for some reason you feel that sense of belonging.


So if you look back on that, like what is it that makes us feel connected or disconnected from other people regardless of circumstance? It has also a lot to do with stress. If you're very stressed, if you have any negative or more stress, anxiety, depression, they're connected to feelings of self focus. We know that from research. When we are in a negative state, we are more self focused, probably for good reason. Right. Because at its origin, stress is supposed to save your life.


So when you're stressed, it's better that you're focused on yourself rather than spacing out so you can save your life. Many of your stress chronically, you focus on yourself, you're less likely to connect with others. And when you do connect, less likely to connect successfully because you're focused on yourself, if that makes sense. So that's why practices like any of the practices that really help trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, invest and digest your calming response. Those are the ones that put you back in that place where your your best self, where your your true self.


And in that place when your cup is full at that place, that is when you feel a greater sense of connection. It's on those days when you're feeling a really good mood. You know, the sun is shining. Something nice happened. It's also when you notice, oh, you know, I'm just going to hold that door open for another few seconds, let that person through our own depths and drop their groceries. Let me just go help them and let me just take some time and help this person.


So, again, it goes back, I think in part I mean, I can't say universally, but for sure the ability to manage our stress impact the state of our mind and the state of our mind is what we're talking about here in terms of the benefits of connection.


It's so interesting, the paradox, the seeming paradox here, that self care, self love, even self compassion, these that one could assume on some level could lead to massive spikes in solipsism and self centredness actually make you more available. Yeah, I know.


Isn't that so interesting? Yeah. Oftentimes people think, oh well I don't want do all that. That's selfish or meditation is somehow selfish and self-absorbed. It's like actually chances are it's going to make you a better person. It's actually an act of service for others because when you show up having to take care of your stress levels, you show up available, you show up at your best self. So what do you recommend for people out there listening to this and saying, well, I can't see my grandchildren or I can't see my colleagues, I can't see my friends, how what do I do about social connection?


I mean, I know the science, but that just makes me feel even more disempowered. Right.


You know, every time I think for me or I think, you know what? Wait a sec. What can I do for someone else? What can I do for others? What can I do for my grandchildren? Maybe I can send them a package. Maybe I can do something for you at that moment. Shifting the perspective, because you know what? Loneliness hurts like hell like we know. And the level of the brain loneliness is the parts of the brain that are activated in loneliness, overlap with the parts of the brain that are active during physical pain, like we know it hurts like hell, but because it hurts like hell, that is an opportunity when you can you feel you have the strength.


But it also gives you strength to turn that pain into what can I do for someone else? How can I use this painful experience to understand that others have also have this pain? And what can I do for them? OK, I'm having this pain. I'm alone in my apartment. But you know what? I know that the person next door is alone. Their apartment, they're feeling the same pain. And you know what?


I think I'm just going to drop off some chocolates at their door anonymously or some other, you know what I mean? Like, it doesn't matter what it is. But I have to say, I mean, personally, I've had this experience, too, from me. I'm a writer. So things come out in writing. I remember that, you know, I was feeling a real strong loneliness. This was not true in the bedroom at gunpoint. And then I wrote an article on loneliness and I just wrote it and I wrote about different aspects.


And then I had people thanking me for writing the article. So I think we all have an opportunity in whatever way works for us to try and also understand and learn from the pain and help us come up with solutions for how we can help others. And in that moment, the pain transforms as well.


It's counterintuitive, but really and compelling that one of the best answers to loneliness is service. Yeah, and I don't want to reduce it to that either.


Obviously, everybody is in their own situation. This one thing that can help, I should say. Yeah, yes, I think that's fair there. We're not pitching silver bullets, but it is a thing that can help if it's available to us as a modality.


Yeah, I mean I mean, look at the signs of happiness for a couple of decades now.


If I were to reduce it to one sentence, I would say the happiest people who are fulfilled over the long term, not just short term highs long term, are the people who balance a life that is characterized by compassionate altruism, balanced with self compassion and the self care peace that those are the people that are resilient over the long term and also most fulfilled and healthy.


And so, I mean, I've only recently come to understand this because I, I somehow thought that the fact that I had self interest made me a monster, you know, like cloven hooves, retractable jaw, monster, because I was ambitious and ambitious. But actually, as I believe was Bill Gates once said, there are two great and peacefully cohabiting. Human drives, and they are to follow your own interests and advance your own interests and to help other people, and actually these can be mutually reinforcing.


Yeah, definitely.


And because of your ambitions and you have made a difference in a lot of people's lives. And so sometimes you can also think, well, where does that self-interest come? It was placed within me for a purpose. Yeah, and then you have such a big heart, you know, that it's hard to distinguish what is motivating you. Is it wanting to help others or self-interest? I would say it's a very, very big dose of wanting to help others there if you're not fully employed by Yale at this point.


I can also employ you as my.




Let me ask about one last area of the science of of happiness that I know you spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about and helping other people with, which is building organizations that function safely and humanely. What are the headlines here from what you've seen and studied?


Well, it's interesting. I mean, the way that organizations, companies have been run over decades is, again, this idea of self-interest as like motivating people with money and benefits and things like that. How do you gain loyalty? Just pay more money. That's not real loyalty. Right. Like, if you were to think right now, like, who are the people you're truly loyal to? My guess would be that there are people who were there for you unconditionally at different points in your life, right?


Yes. Those are people that you never forgot their acts of kindness and support toward you.


And so that is where loyalty truly comes from, is those human interactions. And so if you ask people, do you prefer to work in a workplace where you make more money to a place where you're happier, people say happier. And then if you go deeper, I do like, well, what does that happiness at work mean? It means positive social relationships. So most people spend more time at work than at home. I mean, although these days you may be at home, but they're still working.


But anyway, you get my drift. But the point is, our need for positive social connection is so profound, it doesn't matter if you're at work or not. For example, your boss has a direct impact on your heart health, blood pressure, risk of heart disease and heart attack. We're so physiologically connected in our relationships this matter if they're professional or not. And so it's a relatively new field of research called positive organizational scholarship that looks at this.


And they are finding that those organizations characterized by compassionate leaders, positive interactions, cultures that are characterized by forgiveness, by trust, by integrity, by humility, do way, way, way better than traditional organizations. It's really the workplaces of the future. Not many people know about this research yet, but they will. And over time, organizations will become better and happier places that then have employees that are happier and therefore families that are happier and healthier.


So it's really a wonderful field of research. That is what's needed is really what's needed right now is finally have what you just said.


Actually, rhyme's quite powerfully with what we were talking about right before it, that there's this overlap between self-interest and other interests. It will be in the self-interest of companies to run humane organizations because they will impact the bottom line. And that's so true.


And it goes back to what we said earlier to you about remember when if you hide your anger, the other person's heart rate increases. It has to be authentic because we register an authenticity, a threat, which is where leaders are going to have to do their work. They're going have to do their internal work. They're gonna have to show up and look at themselves in the face to do their meditation and and know themselves in order to show up as a positive leader authentically.


Man, I can tell you, though, it ain't easy, always fun because I have done some of this work and. Well, let's not sugarcoat it.


Right. It's hard and yet it's inevitable right now. I mean, what's the alternative? Right. What's the alternative of facing your own self, of getting acquainted with your own mind? The alternative is. Living a life where you're not truly engaging with your own self, right, I mean, maybe filling your life with a lot of other things, but not really and truly seeing, you know, what your full potential is when you say doing your own work, which is important for leaders to do.


And by the way, I think we should define leadership broadly because it doesn't mean you're the CEO, although that's great, but it can mean you're running any team or even a team member. You're still in the leadership, I think, as a holistically understood would include almost everybody, if not actually everybody. When you say doing your own work, what is that look like to you?


Well, going back to the emotion thing, it looks like not running away from yourself, first of all. I mean, I think it's just really easy for you not to want to face the discomfort of whatever happens within you and just to mask it with, you know, alcohol, shopping, whatever name your favorite activity to sort of escape from the realities of your own mind.


Right. So knowing yourself and healing yourself, you know, you have traumas, you have anxieties, healing yourself, going through that. And it is challenging to do. And yet when you've done it, you're free every time you become more and more free from those shackles that have been holding you back. What's the area, in your opinion, of happiness research where there are the most unanswered questions? I would say spirituality probably because scientists do not want to go there because it's not scientific and so they don't want to ask those questions, and yet human beings, a large percentage of human beings, engage in some spiritual practices, are interested in spiritual practices.


And yet, because it's within the realm of science, scientists feel like they can't study that. So you're missing a huge, important piece of human civilization. I think that is the part that has not been studied well because of that sort of scientific bias against looking at that, which is too bad really so far.


Anyway, I remember this is nearly 20 years ago, maybe 15 years ago, I met the guy who wrote Bowling Alone, which is about the sort of social atomization, loneliness, the fact that we American culture and global culture and or Western culture, let's just say the community has really fallen apart. And that includes organized religion. And he also had some data. I met him at a conference and I was talking to had some data that showed that friendships made in church or in any sort of spiritual context were supercharged friendships.


And that I mean, I've just seen in my own life, from my friendships through meditation and Buddhism, I don't know if it counts as church or what his research parameters were there, but those friendships are different.


Well, that makes sense. And that ties back to the positive organizational research, too, because in those sort of more spiritually oriented organizations, they're based on fundamental virtues of honesty, authenticity, trust, integrity, because that's sort of many of the principles that are taught in those contexts. And so when you start a friendship from that place, you're immediately starting it from a place of authenticity as opposed to maybe a friendship that you start at work where you're a little guarded, where you don't know what they're thinking, you don't understand the politics.


You don't know how much you can disclose, you know, whereas I feel like oftentimes in a spiritual context, you're going to you're already meeting in a place where you're sharing sort of deeper private parts of yourself, which is your spiritual life.


That's such an interesting idea, because I can see at a time when organized religion. It doesn't have as powerful a draw for many people as it used to. Where, you know, in some ways work could become church if done right, where you share a common purpose, you're deriving meaning from the same things, you're on the same mission. And if the atmosphere is properly orchestrated that you feel like you can truly be yourself.


Exactly. I mean, that is if you can create a sense of belonging and family in any organization, you're going to create that same breeding ground for authentic relationships and and trust, which, by the way, ties into the ability to be innovative to. So employees who feel trusted like trust in their environments and they feel like they belong and they're valued, they're going to be way more innovative because they're going to trust that they can go out there on a limb, that they can share some crazy idea that it won't get shut down or punished.


But that will be celebrated even if it's a wacky and won't work. But as a consequence, you get also that innovation which leads to human flourishing.


You know something? I've learned the hard way as somebody who has a penchant for being dismissive, is that when you squash what's called psychological safety, the freedom that people feel, the comfort that people feel to speak up, then you hurt not only other people, but you hurt yourself and the output from the team. OK, so before we go, everybody who wants to learn more about you, how do they do?


So I have a website, which is my name, Dotcom, and I have a book called The Happiness Track. And I'm on social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn.


Thank you so much for doing this. It was a pleasure. Thank you. That it was a really fun. Thanks again to Emma. By the way, the name I couldn't remember during the interview was Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone. Robert, if you want to come on the show, let me know. Speaking of this show, it is made by Samuel Johns Kashmir. Kim became a Maria Wartell and engine plant with audio engineering by ultraviolet audio.


And as always, a shout out to Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen from ABC News. We'll see you all on Wednesday for a brand new episode with the meditation teacher, Bart Van Mellick. We're going to talk about how to use meditation while you're talking to other people. I wrote at Verlinden about a nine page analysis of what I thought his situation was from best case studios and ABC audio listened to in Plain Sight. Lady Bird Johnson, a new podcast about the power of a political partnership, one that somehow doesn't show up in the many, many accounts of Lyndon Johnson's presidency, told through ladybirds own audio diaries and available now on Spotify or your favorite podcast app.