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Episode 117
The Doctor's Farmacy

The Science Of Creating Happiness

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Over 40% of college students report feeling too depressed to function on a daily basis. Over 60% are overwhelmingly anxious. This was not always the case. 

COVID-19 aside, what is it about our modern times that is leading to stress instead of joy? One of my observations is that we’re meant to be human beings, not humans doing, yet we’re constantly just trying to get things done, to accumulate more possessions, to achieve power and success. 

But we can reframe our perspective of what matters and focus more on simply being—on sitting, listening, noticing—to improve our happiness and satisfaction in life. Today’s guest on The Doctor’s Farmacy, Laurie Santos, is the perfect person to talk to about actively working on increasing our happiness. 

Laurie and I kick off our discussion with her experience living on campus at Yale and what the current generation of college students are experiencing. Our culture has misguided us to what creates happiness and without consciously recognizing it we can get sucked into the consumerism and never-ending comparisons on social media. 

Social media doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing, though. Laurie’s experiences with her students have proven that most of us could stand to change our relationship with it in one way or another and that we’d notice a positive outcome in our attitude and attention.

Laurie shares that, as humans, we’re more successful in creating happiness from experiences, and not things, because they help to form our identity. The acts of helping others and practicing gratitude are also foundational to improving happiness. Writing down or even just thinking about things you’re grateful for every day can have dramatic effects on how you feel and interact with the world. 

Happiness doesn’t have to be something you have or you don’t—just like our health, it’s something we can work on. I hope you’ll tune in to learn more about embracing nutritious lifestyle habits that promote more joy and contentment in your own life. 

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

In this episode, you will learn (video / audio):

  1. When Laurie began to notice the mental health crisis among her students
    (2:15 / 2:18)
  2. How we are misguided about what will make us happy by our culture and our intuition
    (5:29 / 5:32)
  3. The happiest countries in the world and one likely reason why the United States doesn’t make the list
    (9:06 / 9:09)
  4. How happiness is created through gratitude practices and serving others
    (12:14 /12:17)
  5. Using social media and our technological devices more productively
    (22:46 / 22:49)
  6. Hacking your stress through your breath, diet, and more
    (40:21 / 40:24)
  7. Exercise your compassion muscle and fight compassion fatigue through metta, or loving kindness meditation
    (44:31 / 44:34)
  8. Creating new habits and rituals to build happiness
    (50:40 / 50:43)
  9. Ways in which the coronavirus pandemic is changing and affecting us
    (55:05 / 55:08)
  10. Post-traumatic growth
    (57:57 / 58:00)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Laurie Santos

Laurie Santos is a Professor of Psychology and the Head of Silliman College at Yale University, as well as the host of the critically acclaimed podcast The Happiness Lab. After observing a disturbing level of unhappiness and anxiety among her students, she began teaching a course entitled “Psychology and the Good Life,” which quickly became the most popular course in Yale’s history and has also reached almost 2 million people from all over the world online. Although she’s now best known as a “happiness expert,” Santos’s research explores the much broader question of “What makes the human mind unique?” and often includes comparing the cognitive capacities of non-human animals to humans.  

Transcript

Dr. Laurie Santos (00:00):
Gratitude gets us to be a little bit more future oriented. So not only does it feel good and boost our wellbeing, it also helps us make healthier choices in general in life too.

Dr. Mark Hyman (00:13):
Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman and that’s farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. And if you are unhappy, depressed, trying to find the meaning of life or trying to figure out how to survive this crazy pandemic of COVID-19 and lock down and all its psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences, this conversation is going to matter to you because it’s with an incredible thought leader in the space of happiness. Laurie Santos, who is a professor of psychology and the head of Silliman college at Yale university and she’s the host of one of the top podcasts in the world, The Happiness Lab, which is an awesome title.

Dr. Mark Hyman (00:47):
And you saw so much unhappiness in your students and anxiety and you decided to teach a course called psychology and the good life, which turned out to be the most popular course in Yale’s history and has reached almost 2 million people from all over the world through an online version through Coursera. You are known as a happiness expert and your research explores lots of questions including what makes the human mind unique and includes comparing our cognitive function and happiness with that of nonhuman primates and some other animals like dogs. So quite a diverse background. And looking at your story Laurie and your work, I can’t help but think that somehow you were influenced by Buddhism and that there’s … you’re this Yale professor, but underneath it you’re sort of like a kind of meditation guru, spiritual guide that is masquerading as a university professor in an ivy league college. So how did that happen and what drove you to sort of come to the conclusions you came to about life, your life and just happiness in general?

Dr. Laurie Santos(01:58):
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think part of it, it’s actually honestly less Buddhism. I’ve come around to Buddhism more recently. It’s more stoicism, which I think is in a different-

Dr. Mark Hyman (02:07):
Marcus Aurelius.

Dr. Laurie Santos(02:08):
Yeah, exactly. A different age of philosophy that I think has lots of similar wisdom to Buddhism actually, framed a little differently but very close. But no, but the journey for me really started in this new role that I took on as head of college. So Yale’s one of these weird schools like Hogwarts in Harry Potter where there’s like colleges within a college, there’s like the Slitherin and Griffin door and kind of thing. So I’m head of Silliman College, but that means I live on campus with students. Like my house is in the middle of our big courtyard. I eat with them in the dining hall. So I was really seeing students up close and personal. So even though I taught at Yale for like 18 years, I wasn’t really in the trenches with students. And that meant that I was kind of missing this mental health crisis that was imploding around me and I just kind of wasn’t paying attention to it.

Dr. Laurie Santos(02:49):
Right now nationally, there’s over 40% of college students who report being too depressed to function most days. And over 60% say that they feel overwhelmingly anxious and more than one in 10 has seriously considered suicide in the last year. And so this was what … I mean, this is true nationally, but it was what I was seeing in the trenches at Yale and I was like, this is just incredible. It’s so different than when I went to college. And it’s not what some people think it’s like, a couple of snowflakes who can’t handle getting a B plus. This is like a national crisis where suicidality is that high. And so I kind of just retrained in some of the scientific work on wellbeing. I was kind of like, “Well, what do the experts really say about quick and dirty interventions that are evidence-based that I can get these students to do to try to deal with some of this crisis?”

Dr. Laurie Santos(03:32):
And so I kind of slapped this whole class together with a lot of this stuff thinking that 30 or so students would take it. And so you can imagine my surprise when I walked into a concert hall filled with my students because over a thousand students, one out of every four students was trying to get into the class. And so it was a little surreal, but I think it showed us that the students are voting with their feet. They don’t like this culture of unhealthiness and feeling so overwhelmed. They really wanted to do something about it. And I think more to the point, they didn’t want like platitudes. They wanted some evidence based approaches to feeling better and I think that’s what the class offered.

Dr. Mark Hyman (04:05):
Incredible. And you talk about the elements of happiness that are quite different than what we have in our culture, which is consumerism, accumulation of stuff, money, power, success. And you talk about something very different, which is the power of investing in experiences that may be fleeting, but actually provide lasting value. And that is far more important than getting stuff and you sort of looked into why that is for human beings. And I remember when I was in college and my best friend and I were really close. And his mother, once when I was at his house said, “Mark, the secret of life is happy memories.” And so I had this sort of bifurcated choice every time I was making a decision about what to do.

Dr. Mark Hyman (04:58):
Was this going to end up being a happy memory or was I going to forget about this? If I was going to kind of … So I followed my way through college on Mark Twain’s advice, which is I never let my, what was it? I never let my education get in the way of learning or something like that. What was that quote? I forget. But it was great. I found that to be really helpful and it’s sort of guided my whole way of being. And I think it’s led to a fairly high level of happiness, but it’s not something we are trained to do. So can you talk about that and what were your discoveries about that?

Dr. Laurie Santos(05:29):
Yeah. I mean, I love the way you put it. This is not what we’re trained to do because I think that there’s kind of two parts of the training, right? One is all this cultural training, what is my culture telling us? What is my culture telling me is like a good path to happiness, right? And I think right now it’s obvious it’s success, it’s money, for my college students it’s perfect grades, it’s the perfect body. It’s like it’s not about health and vitality or just presence or good memories. It’s about getting the marks of like what is successful in a capitalist culture. And so that would be one thing if it was correct. But I think all of the science suggests it’s absolutely wrong. And there’s a couple of different markers of it.

Dr. Laurie Santos(06:05):
I mean, one is what’s known as the Easterlin paradox, which is this economics paradox where folks thought as GDP goes up, happiness should probably go up in a country over time and so on. And then it turns out like not so, right? Like absolutely not. So right. If you look at the amount of stuff Americans have had over the last few decades, since the 1950s, our houses have gotten bigger, we’ve gotten more stuff, we’ve gotten more gadgets. But if anything, happiness overall has kind of gone down and risk of mental health and associated dysfunctions has gone way, way up, including things like loneliness, right? Which is like a huge marker of health. And so we’re kind of doing something wrong culturally, but that’s not the only spot our intuitions come from. I think an even bigger issue isn’t just that we have advertisers telling us to take on this cultural path to capitalism.

Dr. Laurie Santos(06:52):
We also have internal intuitions that like money is going to be good, right? That we just think that buying stuff and material possessions are the way to go. And I think it’s those internal intuitions that we really need to work on. We basically just have really strong incorrect intuitions about what we’re going to like, what are going to form good memories and it causes us to take action in the world. We’re putting work into feeling happier but we’re kind of doing it the wrong way. It’s not like people aren’t trying, they’re actively trying, they’re just kind of getting it wrong. And so I think that’s one of the reasons that learning about the science of happiness can be so powerful is that the science can show you like, no, no, no, no. If you actually study how happy people become happier, they’re not doing that stuff. Like our intuitions about it are wrong.

Dr. Laurie Santos(07:36):
And then specifically on the experiences point, there’s lots of data to suggest that if we want to be happier, we should really be investing in experiences not things. And part for, it’s actually lots of reasons. One is it things stick around and you kind of get bored with them over time. A bad feature of human nature is that we’re subject to adaptation. We kind of just get used to stuff. But most experiences don’t last long enough. If you go to a good concert or you take a vacation, I don’t know about your vacations, but mine aren’t long enough. They’re not like a new car or an iPhone, it’s not going to stick around for very long and that means they’re not subject to adaptation. But a bigger thing is that experiences seem to connect us socially in ways that material possessions don’t, right?

Dr. Laurie Santos(08:16):
Like it’s hard to have a fun conversation about your new phone with a friend, right? But if you went on a cool vacation or you saw a cool concert, you can talk to people. Experiences let you connect with other folks. They also form part of our identity. If you kind of learn a new language or go to this cool concert, that’s kind of part of you. But you look like a jerk if what’s part of you is like a really cool coat or like a really nice pair of shoes. Its kind of a sucky thing to have as part of your identity. So yeah. So I think that’s just one of many different tips that come from the literature that sort of violate our intuition. We think like a good buy is something that’s going to stick around and that will last for a long time. But in practice, while being wise, that’s just not how it works.

Dr. Mark Hyman (08:57):
Yeah. So you’ve been studying data-driven happiness, which is pretty awesome. And [inaudible 00:09:02] like people, most people think that even exists as a field, but that is your field. I wonder if you’ve looked at Bhutan, which measures its gross national happiness and I’ve been to Bhutan and it’s an incredible place where most people are far, far less well off materially than we are. Really have very, very little in terms of possessions or material goods. A very, very basic life and yet the level of happiness is off the chart compared to the rest of the world. Can you share a little bit about that, what you’ve learned from it and what insights we might have about our own happiness?

Dr. Laurie Santos(09:35):
Yeah, I think there’s lots of variants across countries in terms of happiness where some folks self-report, and different countries self-report like really high happiness, whereas right now in the US not so much. It doesn’t correlate with the stuff you think it correlates with like material wealth overall in a country. It does correlate with some structural factors like inequality, it turns out is really bad for happiness. It’s one of the reasons I think the US takes such a hit is that we’re such an unequal nation. But it really seems to hang on different countries’ practices. And so surprising Bhutan is up there, but not like one of the highest ones. The highest ones tend to be Scandinavian countries, I think Denmark, Sweden and that kind of thing. Places like Costa Rica. So really close knit Latin American countries are pretty good and they tend to have a couple of features in common. Right?

Dr. Laurie Santos(10:23):
I mean, first kind of getting to a lot of the stuff you talk about on your podcast, they tend to be eating stuff that’s like, they’re really close to the plant sources and comes from their kind of native environment and stuff. They also tend to spend a lot of time being social. So they have rich community ties, lots of other oriented behavior, but they’re also kind of present. Like they spend a lot of time savoring, being in the present moment. Scandinavian countries have this idea of Hygge, the H-Y-G-G-E, that a lot of folks have made a lot of just like kind of comfort and take savoring in these cold months. And so those are the kinds of practices that we know empirically seems to boost that wellbeing.

Dr. Mark Hyman (11:00):
So savoring, that is quite a concept. It’s something that we are not good at. We rush through our life. We rush through our food, we rush through experiences, and we don’t actually stop and smell the roses is essentially what you’re talking about it’s just be. We’re human doings, not human beings for most part. And then happiness comes from actually just being and noticing and watching and sitting. And I was interviewing Senator Bill Frist who was the former Senate majority leader and he was telling me about sitting on his porch, on his farm up in rural Tennessee and just noticing what was going on in front of him, the birds, the bees, the animals, the leaves, the trees. I mean, just all of the things that were going on all the time that he never took a moment to savor. And now that we’re all sort of stopped, locked down and have more spaciousness in our life, it is a time of more savoring.

Dr. Mark Hyman (11:48):
And I think, and while it’s also a time of incredible stress for so many, I think it also sort of waking us up to, wow, do we want to go back to normal? Because I mean, the normal that we had is not what is going to create the most wellbeing or happiness for us. And I think that’s really striking to me. And you also share a little bit about the attributes and behavioral actions that you can take to actually create happiness. And now more than ever in this time of COVID-19, I think a lot of us are struggling. And you talked about simple practices like gratitude for example. Talk about gratitude and why that is so much better than commiserating. Like, oh yeah, our life’s miserable. And like misery loves company, that whole thing I think. How does gratitude provide an antidote to that? And how do you even practice gratitude?

Dr. Laurie Santos(12:36):
Yeah, I mean I love bringing up this idea of misery loves company because I think when we hear that quote, we think is about like, well, when you get misery you kind of love it. But I think it’s the opposite. It’s like when one person’s miserable, there’s emotional contagion, right? Other people pick up your misery. So you probably felt that if you’re around somebody who gripes all the time. That can feel depleting when you’re around a person like that. And so gratitude is kind of the opposite. It’s just this emotion where you’re taking time to count your blessings, just feeling thankful for the good things in your life. And happy people, the research suggests, do that naturally. So people with high self reported happiness tend to spontaneously bring to mind all the things that they’re grateful for which suggests that it could be powerful.

Dr. Laurie Santos(13:16):
And so now you need an experiment. You need to force people to experience gratitude and to think about things they’re grateful for. And the research shows that if you get people to do that, and they just like scribble down three to five things they’re grateful for at the end of the day, all of a sudden their happiness starts to increase. In fact, you can get significant increases in happiness within about two weeks. And so then there’s a question of why does it work? And I think it works for a couple of reasons. One is that gratitude feels really good, but there’s also evidence that as a social emotion, it’s kind of doing something evolutionarily. I think this is something we forget that our emotions aren’t these annoying things that kind of stick around and make us feel, that are bad. They’re like for something.

Dr. Laurie Santos(13:54):
And the research suggests that gratitude is for what researchers call self-regulation, right? It’s there because you want to help someone. It’s there for cooperation, which sometimes means foregoing your own benefit to help someone else. And there are studies suggesting that people who feel more grateful or if you can make someone feel grateful, they’re more likely to do things that benefit their future selves. So they’re more likely to save for retirement in these little experimental scenarios, they’re more likely to choose things that allow them to eat healthier over time because it feels like less of a sacrifice.

Dr. Laurie Santos(14:24):
Gratitude gets us to be a little bit more future oriented. So not only does it feel good and boost our wellbeing, it also helps us make healthier choices in general in life too. And it’s totally free. Another thing I love about all these interventions, you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t have to buy a gratitude app or something like that. It’s just, you just think stuff and it just can be completely free and a nice boost for your wellbeing.

Dr. Mark Hyman (14:47):
Like a little gratitude journal or the [crosstalk 00:14:50].

Dr. Laurie Santos(14:50):
You can get a nice notebook, but you can also just scribble it down on scrap paper, just think about it. And so, yeah, I think that’s another way that a lot of this work is sort of anticapitalist, right? It’s like if you really understand what the science is telling you, no one’s going to make money off this stuff. Right. Most of these tips are just completely free.

Dr. Mark Hyman (15:09):
Yeah. It’s not about buying more stuff to be happy. It’s about being and noticing it.

Dr. Laurie Santos(15:14):
Yeah, accepting the [crosstalk 00:15:15].

Dr. Mark Hyman (15:15):
I remember being really unhappy as a teenager and early on in college, and I remember sitting down with my best friend in his little apartment and had a futon and pretty much nothing else and a few clothes on the floor. And he said, “Mark,” he said, “If you have enough food to eat and clothes on your back and a roof over your head, the rest is gravy. The rest is gravy.” And that little mantra has guided me and it shifted my whole perspective about life. So everything is gravy pretty much. And for some people, they don’t have enough food. They don’t have a house, they don’t have enough clothes. And that’s fine. And then those are the sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But once you’ve got those met and or the most part, most of us do, then everything else can be perceived as a blessing or as gravy.

Dr. Mark Hyman (16:01):
And if we do that, it really changes the quality of our experience, the quality of our happiness, the quality of our interrelating with the world. And I think I never thought of it before, but you’re right. When you come from that frame, you’re more likely to be engaged with others in a positive way, more likely to be of service, more likely to think about creating goodness for others in your life. And that’s a very also powerful strategy, which seems paradoxical. Why would being of service and helping others actually lead to happiness? It just seems, doesn’t make sense to most people.

Dr. Laurie Santos(16:33):
Yeah, totally. And I think-

Dr. Mark Hyman (16:34):
It’s like me, me, me, me instead of you, you, you, you, you. Right.

Dr. Laurie Santos(16:36):
Exactly. And I think it’s our own personal intuitions, but it’s also the culture, right? Especially now in the context of coronavirus, if you look online it’s like well treat yourself during the crisis or self care, like self, self, self. And again, if you look at these findings and again, what the findings do is they just go out and find happy people. Researchers find these happy folks and like what are you doing? And they find like, oh maybe that’s what we should all be doing. And when you look at actually happy people, they’re not focused on themselves. They’re doing nice stuff for others. So controlled for income, happy people give more to charity than unhappy people. And controlled for, it’s hard to control for it, but controlled for sort of set amounts of time, happy people are volunteering, giving their time more to other people too.

Dr. Laurie Santos(17:19):
And then, so now that’s like a correlation. Now you do the research where you say, okay, let’s force not so happy people to do nice stuff for others and see if that bumps up their wellbeing. And when you do that, when you force people to give more money to charity say, what you find is that they get happier over time and that’s true no matter what your income level. In fact, Liz Dunn who’s a professor at UBC has some data that even if you go to rural parts of the world where people can’t put food on the table, if they’re donating more money to charity, even in that horrible financial situation, they’re happier than if they’re not. And so there seems to be something really fundamental about becoming other oriented, like doing nice stuff for others. And I think it kind of comes out of this attitude of like, if you can really share with others, it sort of convinces you that you have enough yourself.

Dr. Laurie Santos(18:04):
And it forms really strong social relationships, right? You can believe that you’re in this web of a community that’s going to protect one another. You know you have other social connections that you could go to when you’re down. And so it can be … again, we don’t realize the power of it and I don’t realize the power of it, right? I teach this class, I know all these findings. If I’m having a super bad day, my instinct is like I’m going to do something nice for myself or buy something or have a good experience myself like get a massage or something. I’m not thinking, let me gift a coworker a massage. I know I’m supposed to do that now, but that’s just not a natural intuition. But if we want to be happier, we have to overcome those natural intuitions to kind of follow what the science suggests.

Dr. Mark Hyman (18:45):
Yeah, so you went to Harvard and there was a guy there, E. O. Wilson, who I mean, I’m sure maybe you took your class with, did you?

Dr. Laurie Santos(18:52):
Yeah. Not only took a class, but my freshman year of college I took a class with him and I got so excited that I went to his office hours, this like kind of dough eyed two week in freshman. And I think he thought I had something important to talk with him about and I didn’t. And so he was like, “Well, can I show you pictures from my recent trip to Japan because I just got them.” And so I sat with E. O. Wilson and he showed me pictures of his trip to Japan.

Dr. Mark Hyman (19:14):
That’s amazing.

Dr. Laurie Santos(19:14):
Yeah, he is fantastic.

Dr. Mark Hyman (19:15):
Well, he wrote a book called The Social Conquest Of The Earth, about the interdependence we all have on each other for survival. A human being out by himself in the world or herself won’t last very long without our social network and community. And we are so interdependent on each other and most of us don’t realize that. And I think now more than ever with COVID-19, we’re realizing that our behaviors impact our entire community, our family, our nation, our global pandemic. And that that’s why in some ways we’re staying home is not just to protect ourselves, but for this social contract we have. And I think that is incredibly ingrained in us from an evolutionary point of view.

Dr. Mark Hyman (19:52):
And also from a biological point of view, it’s fascinating to see the benefits of altruism. As a doctor I’ve studied what are the benefits of altruism on the brain and it seems to activate the same reward centers in the brain as heroin or cocaine or all the sugar. So rather than eating a cookie, do something for somebody else and you’ll get a hit of dopamine and pleasure that is much better for you and longer lasting. So I think it’s these acts of service. How would you guide your students and people who are listening into ways of acting that can activate this and that are doable for people in their average daily lives?

Dr. Laurie Santos(20:33):
Yeah, I mean, one of the ways to convince people is just honestly to show them the science, right? I think people kind of understand the evidence. If you see the graph of your wellbeing, if you’re regularly doing acts of service, you’re like, “I want to be there on the graph, not here on the graph. So let me bump this up.” But then I think you just need practical tips. And I think right now there’s this really interesting opportunity in this context of this crisis to do more stuff for other people, right? Many of us are experiencing one of two different windfalls right now. So some of us have a tiny financial windfall, right? We’re not paying to go out to eat as much or we’re not buying our morning coffee. We’re not paying gas for our commute. Right. Like we can-

Dr. Mark Hyman (21:09):
Although my wife made me buy a latte machine, an espresso machine [crosstalk 00:21:12] that was like a … I took a hit on that one.

Dr. Laurie Santos(21:16):
For those that are … but we forget. I mean, just like four bucks a day or something, that could go to help a local business, that could go to help someone in need. But even if you’re not having a financial windfall right now and latte machines aside, many of us are not. Stocks are plummeting, people are losing jobs and things, but sometimes even people in those situations have a different windfall, which is a temporal windfall, right? They’re having a little bit more time, maybe you’re not spending time on a long commute to work or maybe you’re not working, right? What can you do to use that time to help other people? Can you call an elderly neighbor or call a friend? Can you advocate for PPE for healthcare workers or do something political?

Dr. Laurie Santos(21:55):
If you don’t like the way this crisis is playing out, contact someone about it. These momentary little windfalls can be used for positive effect to help other people. We just forget that that’s there and there’s a little bit of a startup cost, right? If I have a little bit of free time, it’s just easier to flop on social media or read something stupid. But you could actually use it for something that’s much more in some sense, nutritious for your wellbeing. I use a lot of metaphors about food because I think again, there’s this kind of opportunity cost. Some ways of spending our time and some behaviors are a little bit more nutritious for our wellbeing than others. It doesn’t mean you always have to make the nutritious choice, but if we’re not kind of feeding ourselves nutritious behaviors at least some of the time, you know there’s going to be a problem.

Dr. Mark Hyman (22:38):
I love that idea. It’s sort of like nourish happiness. How do you nourish happiness? It’s such a great concept and most of us don’t think about that directly. And I think you mentioned social media and I know in your class, you tell your students for a time being to delete all their social media accounts as an experiment. Why is that important and what do they find and what is your experience?

Dr. Laurie Santos(23:01):
Yeah, I mean, so in full truth, there’s actually not much really good data on social media and whether it affects happiness mostly because we can’t do the right experiments, right? There’s no controlled condition. There’s not like college students today that have not interacted with social media and don’t want to. This doesn’t exist. We’ve inadvertently put these tools in the pockets of 6 billion people without really understanding how they’re going to affect our lives, our wellbeing, our attention, all this stuff. Right? And also with the caveat that social media is just a tool that we could use for all kinds of different things. The problem is that the way we tend to use it allows us to do things that don’t look a lot like the behaviors we know map onto happiness.

Dr. Laurie Santos(23:41):
So take a social connection. One of the things that we know is super important for happiness. In theory, these tools should be great for social connection, but in practice they’re often at the opportunity cost of social connection. I remember sitting in a restaurant looking over at different tables of families who all have their … they’re together as a family in this setting that for millennia has been used to allow humans to connect really closely with the people they care about and they’re all privately on their own devices doing things.

Dr. Mark Hyman (24:07):
Yeah. I just wanted to tell you a quick story before you go on. I went to Google to give a talk and I got a tour after and I walked around and there was a lunch room. And when I met with the human resources folks there, they said one of the most important requests was for more connection with each other. They felt isolated, alone and they wanted more interaction and connection. So I walked around campus and over lunch I walked into this room where people were sitting on a couch on their computers. It must have been 30 Googlers, they call them and I’m like, “Is this the silent lunch room?” And they’re like, “No, it’s not.” And they were all literally sitting next to each other on their computers, disconnected from each other. And it was just the most funny, strange experience I’d had.

Dr. Laurie Santos(24:51):
And it’s not just Google. I mean, this was one of mine was shocking observations when I became a new head of college, is that I walked into the dining hall, which in college I remember is like the loudest place on campus. You know what I mean? And it’s not so much that it’s dead quiet, but it kind of feels more like a library because they all have these big Bose headphones on and their little things. They’re sitting at tables altogether, completely disconnected. And then you have 65% of college students report feeling very lonely most days. And they’re around hundreds of other people that they could connect with. But the startup cost of having that first conversation can be tough and it’s just much easier to go online. And so I think of a lot of the kind of social connection we get on social media is sort of the NutraSweet of social connection. It kind of feels like it’s sort of like that and it’s easier to get and stuff.

Dr. Mark Hyman (25:40):
I love that.

Dr. Laurie Santos(25:41):
But the other thing is that it … We know that not social media per se, but I think just devices in general, because I think you don’t have to be on Facebook. Your email, games, the internet, like all the stupid stuff on our phone is just as much of a culprit and stealing our attention. These things are known to affect sleep in part because of things like blue light before we go to bed. But just the attentional opportunity cost of like, I know I’m supposed to go to sleep, but I just want to scroll through one more page of Reddit. Again, these things might feel fine but there can be a real opportunity cost. One of the things we teach about in class is this funny feature of the brains that there’s like this interesting disconnect between the stuff that we really like in the world.

Dr. Laurie Santos(26:24):
The stuff I would say we find really nutritious, we really get some benefit out of and the stuff that we want. There are literally different circuits in the brain for wanting and liking, which you see dissociate most strongly in the context of addiction. So like an active heroin addict really craves, really wants a drug, but when they finally get it, they’re habituated to it. So their reward system doesn’t even fire for it that much because they don’t even like it that much. And then I see disconnects of the opposite way. There’s stuff that we really like in the world. I think that really hard cardio session or like putting the work in to have a really nutritious meal or gratitude or social connection. All this stuff we’re talking about, but we don’t have circuits that crave it, right? There’s not, our dopamine system kind of misses that. And so-

Dr. Mark Hyman (27:05):
And people get addicted to exercise. I know I’m like that. If I don’t do it, I get depressed.

Dr. Laurie Santos(27:09):
That’s true. I think there’s a big individual difference there because I exercise, but I wish my brain could develop a craving for it. And in the same way I crave like sugar or like a heroin addict craves heroin. But yeah, so I think we have to … and I think one, but there is one way to hack the system and that gets to this stuff we were talking about before with Buddhism that one way researchers are finding you can hack the system is through mindfulness, right? If after that activity that you find really good, you take a moment to realize like, huh, when I was scrolling through Reddit that didn’t feel super hot, but when I had a really nutritious, deep conversation with a friend, that felt better.

Dr. Laurie Santos(27:45):
When you kind of force your brain to notice that what you’re feeling, that can kind of remind your dopamine system, wait, wait, hang on. There is a reward there. Let me update what I want to create in the future. And so this practice of mindfulness researched by folks like [inaudible 00:27:59] and colleagues at Yale are showing like can help us update the craving system. It can help us kind of come to terms with the fact that even though I thought I wanted this before, it’s actually not as good as I thought. And even though I didn’t really think I needed to seek this out, I noticed that it feels good. Maybe I should bump that up in my own behavioral repertoire a bit more.

Dr. Mark Hyman (28:16):
So when your students did this digital detox, what do they report? Do they love it, do they hate it or they feel like they get withdrawal and seizures? Or they just-

Dr. Laurie Santos(28:24):
Yeah. Yeah. Many, many, many people report withdrawal at first. I think that’s the strongest. Withdrawal, but also like noticing their own behavioral tendencies that [crosstalk 00:28:34].

Dr. Mark Hyman (28:34):
I mean, people can’t even walk into another room without their phones. It’s like I got to bring my phone with me everywhere I go. And if you don’t have it, like if you go to the kitchen or living room, it’s like where is my phone, right? It’s like a weird thing. It’s like an appendage.

Dr. Laurie Santos(28:45):
No, it’s super, super hard. For my podcast I interviewed this woman, Katherine Price, who has this wonderful book called How to Break Up with Your Phone and she suggests putting like little hair band or an elastic on your phone so that every time you go to use it, you notice this thing. And it can just make you a little more mindful of like, wait a minute, I didn’t even realize I was picking it up. Right. She has this wonderful acronym she calls WWW, which is like, what for, why now, what else? What was I even picking up for? Why did I need to do it now? And what else could I be doing? And having read her book and now using that technique myself, I can watch it’s like, what for? It’s for nothing or is it just I was just anxious or I just was like momentarily fleetingly bored. Yeah.

Dr. Laurie Santos(29:28):
Even in social situations, like having a conversation with some friends and I have this momentary feeling of boredom and I’m already, this is my already reaching for the phone. And it’s like is that going to be nutritious in the context of this otherwise good conversation? I think when you think about evolutionary history, never in the history of our species have we had a stimulus that’s so compelling as this object. Our brain knows that on the other side of that phone is every cat video on the internet, my email since 1999, porn, good recipes, politics and our president’s Twitter feed. My brain knows that and it’s making opportunity cost to realize I’m having a fun conversation with my husband, but is that as good as every cat video that could be out there? I don’t know. And so it’s taking an attentional cost that I think we don’t realize a lot of the time. And I think that cost is stealing us from presence that would normally be bumping up our wellbeing.

Dr. Mark Hyman (30:24):
And those students, are they happy after a little bit, after they go through withdrawal and the seizures?

Dr. Laurie Santos(30:30):
Yeah. So some of them once they get through, often they report just like having just super awareness of it. Like I didn’t realize how much I was doing it. Some of them stick with it, a lot of them like any addict kind of go back to it. But I think hopefully they go back to it with a little bit more mindfulness. So some of them do say that they end up deleting the apps that are most problematic. So after having done it, it’s like well, I didn’t really get rid of Snapchat because that’s my lifeblood in the college these days. But I got rid of that one video game that was stealing my attention or I noticed that Instagram specifically was making me feel bad, so I got rid of that.

Dr. Laurie Santos(31:05):
So I think they come out with a little bit more awareness and that’s really the goal. It’s not to say shut off your social media forever because that’s probably not realistic for most of our lives. Phones and these tools are not going away. It’s more just finding a slightly more mindful relationship with some of these devices and techniques and apps and things.

Dr. Mark Hyman (31:23):
Yeah, I think it’s true. I love the NutraSweet analogy. It’s really like fake sugar. It’s like fake social interaction. And it’s almost like junk food for the soul as opposed to soul food for the soul. But I think-

Dr. Laurie Santos(31:35):
Yeah. Because it’s hard to like … I think one of the domains where I notice this a lot is like in interactions with strangers. So there’s lots of compelling research suggesting that one of the positive hits we get to our mood is like the quick chat with the barista or somebody in the coffee shop line or someone on the street. Right. And when we have our phones out that we just don’t do that as much, mostly because we just don’t notice those folks as much. But also because it’s just easier to go check my email than it is to strike up a conversation with a stranger. There’s a startup cost to that. And device makers have made going to our phones incredibly easy, incredibly addictive. They’ve basically made the startup cost to zero. Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman (32:15):
So are they the new drug pushers?

Dr. Laurie Santos(32:19):
I think they know. I mean, one of the main companies that was working on different apps and sort of developing stuff for Facebook and Google was called Dopamine Labs. They know what they’re doing.

Dr. Mark Hyman (32:30):
So for people listening who don’t know what dopamine is, it’s an amino acid that your body makes that stimulates the pleasure center in the brain. So when that gets activated, well it’s activating with sugar or-

Dr. Laurie Santos(32:42):
Cocaine.

Dr. Mark Hyman (32:42):
Heroin or cocaine. Right. So it’s like, wow, that’s a scary title for a digital lab.

Dr. Laurie Santos(32:48):
I mean, another compelling fact is that if you look at some of the main makers of some of these devices, they definitely don’t let their kids use them. Like Steve jobs wouldn’t let his kid have access to an iPhone. So I think those are telling, right? I think people know what they’re pushing and the power of some of these things behind the scenes. And I think a scary thing is we think about moving forward is like is the next version of the iPhone going to be more addictive, more pleasurable, lower startup costs than the one now? Yeah. The next round of apps that we all get taken by, are they’re going to be even more compelling and interesting than Facebook? Yeah.

Dr. Laurie Santos(33:22):
Not only are these things not going away, but the machine learning algorithms that they’re using are getting more sophisticated at stealing our attention and getting more individualized to what’s going to compel me, Laurie Santos and what I’m going to look at and that’s scary. And I think our one way to combat that is to just mindfully be paying attention to what they’re doing so that we’re using these devices in ways, again, that are a little bit more nutritious.

Dr. Mark Hyman (33:46):
I mean, should they be regulated? Are they dangerous for our wellbeing and happiness and health?

Dr. Laurie Santos(33:51):
I mean, I think there’s a worry that they’re basically cigarettes. We are, the way we were thinking about cigarette regulation before we really knew about cancer, right? I mean, if you look at … Again, it’s hard to have really good RCTs, right? Because you can’t look at people who don’t. It’s not like smoking where there are some people who just don’t do it, right? Like it’s just everyone’s doing it. But correlationally, if you look at things like rates of loneliness, rates of anxiety and so on, they begin spiking around 2007 which was right around the time of the iPhone and their first smartphones came out. So I don’t know, it’s hard, but I think definitely, again, it’s not that they’re bad in and of themselves, it’s that they need to be more nutritious.

Dr. Laurie Santos(34:32):
And I think that companies know this, right? Now iPhones, if you look online, your iPhone will tell you how much time you spent on your iPhone and that’s not so that you can use it more. I don’t think anyone’s ever looked at that measure and they were like, “Man, I need to spend more time on my phone.” Right. They put that on there to help you. And so my hope is that these companies, because they don’t want to be cigarette companies, because they don’t want to be regulated, are going to slowly put some stop gaps in to help people. But their business model is our attention. So it’s tricky.

Dr. Mark Hyman (35:00):
I think that’s a good trick for people to track their pickups. I was sitting next to a friend of mine in a lecture, she was constantly picking up her phone. I’m like, “Give me your phone.” I grabbed her phone and I went into the settings and I looked at screen time and it said how many pickups. And she had like more than a thousand pickups and it wasn’t even the end of the day. I’m like, “Okay, check this out. This is not necessarily giving you the quality of experience that you want.” And right now I think there’s this paradox of social distancing but need for more social connection and isolation. How do we handle that? How do you advise people in the midst of all this that that happiness is derived from social connection, interaction, not necessarily social media, but now we’re in the social distancing, which seems like an antithesis of what we really needed right now, which is more connection.

Dr. Laurie Santos(35:45):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean I think this is a spot where you need to think about using the technology we have more nutritiously or what’s your other nutritious option, right? The most nutritious option for social connection might be getting together with friends through touch. That’s no longer nutritious anymore because it’s very dangerous for our physical health. Right? And so the next best thing is the kind of social connection that we’re having right now, in real time. If it can’t be in real life, we can do it in real time. And the brain kind of responds to in real time as though it was in your life. If I’m looking at you and seeing your facial expressions, you’re hearing the intonation in my voice, that works pretty well. And so finding ways to use that to connect with other people can be really powerful.

Dr. Laurie Santos(36:25):
But I think we need to also think about how we get our social connection and try to use technologies to mimic that. I think we all know we can use technologies like this for say a business meeting or something very formal. But the stuff we’re missing is the informal stuff. Like somebody to pop over or like while I’m chopping my vegetables or the quick hi on the street. And so what I’ve been encouraging my podcast listeners to do is to try to find ways to use these technologies more informally. It doesn’t have to be a very formal thing you’ve set up, just call people or text them like can we zoom while I’m chopping my vegetables or I’m going to do a yoga class online, do you guys want to hop on and do it with me? That sort of thing.

Dr. Laurie Santos(37:01):
Those kinds of informal things can be really powerful. But the good news is I think a lot … if you can pay attention to how you’re feeling after these things. I think a lot of us are setting up new ways to connect that field really good and we might want to incorporate into our real life afterwards. Like my mom lives in a different state and she has COPD, so I definitely can’t see her during this time, but I’m very worried about her. And we’ve started like weekly zoom dinner nights. We just never hung out that much. But now we have this kind of nutritious moment. I have friends in different time zones, my college roommates who are all over the place. We’re doing like these zoom spa nights together and we haven’t, the four of us gotten altogether in forever, but we’ve been doing that once every two weeks.

Dr. Laurie Santos(37:45):
And so I think or like shared exercise classes, right? It’d be weird to meet up with friends in different time zones to go to an exercise class together, but we can do that with these technologies. And so I think these are habits that hopefully we’re going to put into place now. They’re going to help us through this crisis when we’re done. I hope we keep doing some of these things even when I can be together with the people in real life socially too.

Dr. Mark Hyman (38:07):
Yeah, that’s true. My wife’s birthday was recently and our family’s in New Zealand and Arizona and Utah and here and there and everywhere. And I secretly coordinated a surprise party for her and got her blindfolded and brought her to the table, made a nice dinner and then opened the computer and I hit the button and everybody was there from all over the world. And we had like a prolonged hour and a half dinner together where they were hanging out. We were just chatting and having conversation, everybody sharing and it wasn’t like just all together, but it was pretty sweet. And yesterday I had a couple of my friends who I haven’t seen a bit who are struggling mentally with what’s happening to the world and had lots of questions for me as a doctor.

Dr. Mark Hyman (38:45):
And so we had this great conversation and hang out and it just was awesome. It was really nourishing. And so I love the idea of distinguishing between nourishment that you can get through technology and things that are depleting or disconnecting. And I think that’s an important distinction that most people don’t make. And I think this is sort of highlighting some of the ways that we haven’t thought of using technology to do this. My nephew’s in Israel, my niece is in Houston, my daughter’s in Utah, my son’s in New York, I’m in Massachusetts. So once a week we have a zoom hangout and we just like nothing about anything. Just like how you doing? What’s happening? It’s like, how are you coping? And it’s just so great. And we never did that before. So you might never see each other every, every few months or maybe a couple times a year we’ll get together. But now it’s like, okay, we get to be in each other’s lives in a different way.

Dr. Laurie Santos(39:32):
And the flip side, I think we need to notice what feels, because again, it’s going to vary and it might vary throughout the day. Right. Again, I love this kind of nutritious time that I’ve been having with my family where we get together over zoom calls. But there was one week we did it that just that day at work, I was just on zoom all day. I think I was sitting literally in the same chair and staring. And by then I was like, “Actually this isn’t nutritious anymore. Now I just need to take a break and go stare at the trees outside my window, just I need something else.” And that’s why I think especially in this time, we just need to be paying attention to what we need. I think a thing about this crisis is that we’re going to be hit by it in different points. There’s going to be points where we feel uncertain or depressed or points where we feel lonely. I think noticing those emotions and honoring them and trying to nurture them in whatever way is going to feel nutritious can be really powerful.

Dr. Mark Hyman (40:21):
Yeah. And you also talk a lot about stress and how that impacts us. And it’s sort of the antithesis of happiness, right? When there’s high stress, your happiness goes down and you talk about how do we use simple tools to enhance our happiness and well being like meditation?

Dr. Laurie Santos(40:39):
Yeah. I think there’s different ways to hack our stress, right? There’s getting rid of the stressors, which in daily life I think is a good thing to do. If you have a stressful job or you’re going through a stressful period, there are ways to get rid of those, but that’s not always possible. And I think for the main stressor that a lot of us are going through right now, we can’t snap our fingers and get rid of COVID-19 and it’s probably going to be with us for longer than any of us really want to admit. Right? And so we need to find ways to hack our stress response that don’t involve getting rid of the stressor. And the good news is that biology gives us one good way to do this, which is through our breath, surprisingly.

Dr. Laurie Santos(41:13):
And so quick, quick primer on the autonomic nervous system for folks out there, we have this sympathetic nervous system that’s basically our fight or flight response. That’s us freaking out to the uncertainty of the virus and its scariness. It’s causing our chest to get tight and our breathing to move around and our muscles to kind of clench in and basically shutting off all these functions we need like [inaudible 00:41:33] function and sleep and digestion and things like that. We can’t get rid of the stressor that’s causing this fight or flight response, but we can trick our bodies in some ways to make the thinking that it might have gone away. And we do that through our breath, right? So if you’re running from a tiger that’s attacking you in full fight or flight mode, you’re not going to stop and take a deep belly breath. You’re just not going to be able to do that.

Dr. Laurie Santos(41:54):
But if you stop and take a deep belly breath during Corona 19, which we all can do, your body’s like, well hang on, maybe we don’t need the fight or flight system anymore. Your vagus nerve kind of kicks in and that can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is sort of the rest and digest, right? So it’s one kind of … we don’t have many hacks on our autonomic nervous system because it’s mostly unconscious. Thank goodness. It’s helpful that it kind of goes on its own. This is one hack we can all use.

Dr. Laurie Santos(42:17):
And I have been telling listeners, there’s a lot to just make sure, especially if you’re kind of in panic frame, take time to just do three deep breaths. Like when you’re upset, it can sound pedantic for somebody to be like, “Just take a deep breath,” but there’s science to it and it really can make a difference. It’s especially a tip that I’ve been giving first responders who I think they’re so busy, they can’t do much to kind of hack their happiness right now. But a deep breath in between working with patients in a scary time can be really powerful.

Dr. Mark Hyman (42:47):
Yeah. You just made me take a deep breath. I once heard Tony Robbins speak and he talked about this concept of changing your state to change your mind. And I really focused on that a lot in my own life and I found all kinds of ways to do that. One is meditation, one is exercise, one is yoga. Another one I use is hot and cold treatments, whether it’s just a hot shower and a cold shower, or it could be I have a steam shower in my house and bathtub and I fill it with ice cold water and I go hot and cold. That changes your state and your physiology. It discharged the stress. Avoiding actually foods that cause a stress response. So most people don’t understand that sugar increases adrenaline and cortisol, which are the stress hormones.

Dr. Mark Hyman (43:32):
So even if you’re relaxed and happy and you eat sugar, your body thinks of it as a danger, as a stress response. So changing your diet to lower your stress response is important. So I focus on all of these ways to change your state. And I do it on a regular basis because I like everybody else, I get stressed, but I’ve learned over the years how to discharge my stress and change my state. And I think it’s a really important practice. Now, whatever works and maybe it’s just laying down on the couch with your spouse and snuggling, just cuddling is a great stress reducer.

Dr. Laurie Santos(44:02):
Yeah. If you have people in your house, a hug can be an incredible powerful state changer.

Dr. Mark Hyman (44:07):
Yeah, I mean, I’m not a cat person. My wife loves cats. We got these cats and I have this little cat Yoda and he just always liked to snuggle and he just purrs and it just like, I feel relaxed and happy afterwards. So whatever it is, it’s your dog, your cat, your Guinea pig, whatever makes you happy. But I think that concept of changing your state is what you’re talking about to deal with some of this. And now we do need to know how to do that. You also talk about this idea of Metta meditation, which is sort of a Buddhist concept of loving kindness meditation and how powerful that is. It’s a different type of meditation than we normally think of. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and how it connects to happiness, compassion and not being overwhelmed?

Dr. Laurie Santos(44:48):
Yeah. Yeah. So this is, it’s a practice that’s basically, it’s called the Metta or loving kindness, which I wish there were better terms for this stuff. Because especially scientific minded people can be like, that sounds really cheesy. Loving kindness meditation? This is what we’re doing?

Dr. Mark Hyman (45:01):
Yeah. You’re going to lose your tenure at Yale if you say that too much.

Dr. Laurie Santos(45:04):
Yeah. They didn’t do the branding right. But what this meditation is, is it’s a practice where you’re trying to exercise your compassion muscles. Because functionally what you do is you sit, you kind of do the same thing, sit, close your eyes in a nice quiet space and you think about the people in your life you really care about and you just extend them kindness and compassion. One way of doing it is to just think of a person and think, may you that person be happy, may you be safe, may you care for yourself joyfully. Just extend these kinds of positive things. And the goal is to kind of feel what it feels like to do that. Some people describe having a warmth in their chest. Some people don’t feel anything, but the key is to do this.

Dr. Laurie Santos(45:41):
And the typical practice is you start with individuals that are really easy for you, like a kid or a pet sometimes is super easy for folks to extend kindness to. And then you kind of gradually work up to folks that are harder and harder, maybe that annoying coworker. Go slow and get there. You also have to put yourself into the mix at some point. And for some folks extending compassion to themselves is easy, sometimes that’s hard. But the idea what the research shows is that there’s amazing effects of this practice where it basically is building up your muscle of compassion and allowing you to turn it on and off really systematically so that if you need to have this other oriented emotion, you can turn it on. And the research also shows that the emotion of compassion is interestingly different than the emotion of empathy.

Dr. Laurie Santos(46:24):
So empathy is really kind of feeling other people’s pain. But if you’re constantly taking on other people’s pain, you can get really burnt out, which is especially true for people who are first responders or healthcare professionals, especially in this time of COVID-19. If you’re experiencing the suffering of these people who are dying alone on ventilators, that’s going to burn you out really fast. Whereas if the emotion is compassion, which kind of like gratitude a little bit is like other oriented. It’s like let me sacrifice myself so I can really make sure you’re going to be healthy and safe. It turns out that people who practice these kinds of … people in healthcare who experience compassion rather than empathy end up burning out less. So this loving kindness meditation is used now as an intervention to prevent compassion fatigue and burnout among healthcare professionals.

Dr. Laurie Santos(47:08):
There’s also a wonderful evidence that people who are expert practitioners at this technique, like say Buddhist monks who do this kind of training for hours a day, there’s work suggesting that if you look in areas of the brain that kind of feel other people’s pain and feel other people’s compassion, they can kind of turn it on and off almost linearly. So you can give them instructions, like feel 40% compassion for the people in this sad video. And you can see their brain response sort of titrating linearly [inaudible 00:47:33]. This is some work by Tania Singer and her colleagues. So it’s a really powerful practice and I think it’s useful during COVID-19 for a couple of reasons. One is even if we’re not first responders, a lot of us are taking care of people who require some help, right? Like kids in our house who we are experiencing the compassion fatigue of teachers for the first time or elderly relatives who need our care, people who are actually sick.

Dr. Laurie Santos(47:56):
We also need to extend some compassion to ourselves. I think one of the strangest things about this time is that a lot of us are just beating ourselves up. Because we lost our job or we’re not doing well at the work we do have, or we’re not really great parents or we’re not cooking as healthy during this time or we’re not-

Dr. Mark Hyman (48:13):
Being productive.

Dr. Laurie Santos(48:14):
Being productive, right. We’re not at our max. And I think that it’s one thing to kind of feel that way, but it’s another to beat yourself up. If you had a compassionate friend, they would be like, “Dude, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. We’re in a global pandemic. Chill.” Right? But we forget that we can extend that kind of compassion to ourself. And there’s evidence that this practice, in addition to kind of helping you not kind of burn out when you’re dealing with other people’s issues, can also help you not burn out as much when you’re kind of taking care of yourself too.

Dr. Mark Hyman (48:43):
That’s true. I mean, I think it seems paradoxical that compassion is the doorway to happiness because it’s other focused instead of self-focused. But it is actually the foundation of Buddhist teachings, which is the cultivation of compassion through things like loving kindness, meditation. And you can just Google. Just Google loving kindness meditation and there’s a little script that you can get started with. You can modify it, but it’s the same framework. And one of my friends, Daniel Goldman, who coauthored with Richard Davidson Altered Traits, talks about these Olympic meditators who have been practicing these technologies for thousands, tens of thousands of hours over their life. And their brains are different and their ego structure, this part of the brain called the default mode network gets quieted down, which is what keeps us feeling separate from others and the parts of compassion and connectivity and sort of being one with everything. That kind of joke, it’s sort of like I’m one with everything.

Dr. Mark Hyman (49:38):
It’s like the Dalai Lama was apparently asked once on an Italian TV show by the news reporter, “What’s the Dalai Lama’s favorite pizza?” And he was like, “One with everything.” And the Dalai Lama was like, “What? I don’t really get it. What are you talking about?” So I think that is, it’s interesting that the science of happiness, the science of brain function and structure and these ancient technologies are all sort of merging in the 21st century to teach us actually that maybe they figured stuff out. I mean, it’s fascinating to me that these cultures which were so materially poor like Bhutan and Tibet, and so devoid of some of the material comforts we know and have that we think create happiness actually didn’t focus on productivity in the outer world, but creativity and productivity on the inner world.

Dr. Mark Hyman (50:27):
And so they were inner space explorers and developed incredible wisdom about how to access these traits that are reproducible. And then now we’re understanding. So these all sound great, but one of the challenges for people is how do you get this to be a habit? And habits are hard and building new rituals are hard. So how do we teach people to build these habits and to create these rituals that can rewire the brain?

Dr. Laurie Santos(50:57):
Yeah, I mean that’s like the real challenge, right? Is that in my happiness class, the students hashtag, there’s all these hashtags for social media despite the fact I’m telling them not to go on social media, but they hashtagged it hardest class at Yale. And that was not because the class itself was hard. It’s like putting this stuff into practice is really hard. But one way is to kind of harness the power of situation. So if we know anything about the science of habits, cues matter a lot. Think of the drug user who sees their old place where they used to get drugs and now all of a sudden the cravings come back and so on. But we can hack our own cues to form new habits. And this was one of the reasons that I like the idea of the fact that so many people are sort of jumping into my online class and trying to learn about the science of happiness right now because for better or for worse, the time of COVID-19 for many of us is one where our cues have completely shifted, right?

Dr. Laurie Santos(51:45):
We’re in the house in a different way now. We’re starting our days differently. We have different people around us. All those cues are ones we can use to start new habits. And there’s some lovely work by the psychologist, Katy Milkman at Wharton Business School that shows the power of what she calls the fresh start effect. When our cues are different, that’s a moment where you can say, “Oh, let me plop in a new habit now because now I got these new cues that can convince me like when I go downstairs and say make my morning coffee on my new latte machine because I don’t go to the coffee shop anymore, that’s the time that I meditate.” Right? And I never had that cue before. It’s a cue right now and I can use it. And so I actually think this is a great time, again with some validation that it’s the global pandemic.

Dr. Laurie Santos(52:25):
Don’t beat yourself up. This is not like full Instagram level wellness time. Right? But it is a time that because our cues are different, we can start some new baby step habits. So if you’ve never tried meditation, maybe use your new morning cues to try to set something up, right? If you and your family haven’t practiced gratitude before and now that you’re in the house in a different way, set some time to set up a new gratitude ritual where you express one blessing around the dinner table or something like that. It’s weird, but because of this new situation, it’s actually a time for lots of fresh starts, ones that hopefully can stick around once this crisis finishes too.

Dr. Mark Hyman (52:59):
Yeah, I think that’s it. I mean, I think we’re trying to figure out how to implement things that are going to be lasting. I did want to ask you a question is after you began studying all this about happiness and learning about the science of happiness, has your happiness increased and what have you done to actually implement some of these things? And what are your challenges and what are your successes?

Dr. Laurie Santos(53:19):
Oh yeah, definitely, definitely it has improved. I mean, I was not naturally a happy person. I kind of naturally have very strong intuitions in the other direction. Still, even after knowing the science, my intuitions have not changed. It’s just my behavior has changed. Right. Because I kind of know what I’m supposed to do and how to set situations upright. But yeah, no I mean just even on standard self-report wellbeing measures, my wellbeing has gone up. I think what I’m doing differently is I’m behaving differently. I’m making much more time for exercise. I’m making things like meditation non-negotiable. I’m taking control and trying to be mindful of situations and I kind of have to do that because I’m now this happiness girl. If I’m not doing it, people are totally going to call, my students definitely will call me out on it.

Dr. Mark Hyman (54:00):
If I get seen eating a bowl of ice cream or a couple of donuts, I get in trouble.

Dr. Laurie Santos(54:06):
Yeah. We did an episode of a podcast with a kind of health professional from my hometown who runs this wellness blog and is a cardiologist himself. And he said sometimes he has this craving for a burger but he can’t go out and ever have one because if anyone ever sees him eating a cheeseburger, he’ll lose all his credibility. But there is something great to that. Right. Another thing we know allows for habits to stick is some social support and some social pressure, right? And so those can kind of nudge you in the right direction. But no, I think it’s been, it’s all of that stuff, but it’s also that this stuff has created really new meaning in my life in the sense that people really need these tips, right? And people are really struggling.

Dr. Laurie Santos(54:46):
I think in COVID-19 but we also weren’t flourishing before that. I think we’ve gotten away from all these ancient traditions that got it right and are in a structure of capitalism that’s systematically pointing us towards things that are not going to make us happy. And I think seeing the science and knowing the kinds of things you can do better can be really powerful.

Dr. Mark Hyman (55:05):
So what do you hope that lasts that we have learned from this lock down in COVID-19 pandemic that has changed us and that you hope it sticks?

Dr. Laurie Santos(55:17):
Yeah. I think-

Dr. Mark Hyman (55:17):
Because what you were saying before is that the normal before was not leading to happiness. In fact, it was generating massive unhappiness. So how can we shift that?

Dr. Laurie Santos(55:26):
Yeah, honestly I think there are lots of things. I think again, validating this is a global pandemic, people are dying, people are losing jobs. But I also think there’s lots of blessings. First, I think a lot of us are seeing a different kind of way of socially interacting with the people who are closest to us, our families and things like that. Again, if you’re alone, it’s a different story, but people are reporting like I kind of feel guilty about how much I’m liking having my kids around where they’re not at school, right? I’m kind of feeling guilty about how much I like being in my house. People are discovering cooking for the first time probably because you can’t go out and get fast food and things or probably because people are bored. They have more time. And one thing we know is that when people experience a little time affluence, they get more social and they end up doing more creative kinds of habits like cooking healthier food and things.

Dr. Laurie Santos(56:10):
I also think that this crisis is causing us to miss the things we really do miss. I think a lot of us are realizing we didn’t notice how much we cared to see the people in our lives. We didn’t notice how much we cared for being outside in parks or just being able to be around other folks. And once this crisis ends and it really will end in a different form. I mean, again, it will go on for a while and we’ll be different afterwards. But once we are allowed to go back to those things, I think we’re going to experience them in a much more joyful way than we did before. Because so many of us were adapted to things that we took for granted. Like I could have my students in a classroom, like I could see my mom, I could get a latte, I could walk around without a mask. I could grocery shop without fear.

Dr. Laurie Santos(56:53):
Those were not, like those were fragile. They were much more fragile than we thought. And I think once we get them back, I think we’ll be able to savor and be really grateful for things that we absolutely took for granted before. Like I can’t believe I wasn’t joyful at getting my latte every morning, that I just like that was just a thing I took for granted. And now once we finally get it back, I think we’re going to appreciate things even more.

Dr. Mark Hyman (57:16):
I think that’s a great note to leave it on, that we need to think about savoring as a recipe for happiness and that we miss the things that we miss and when we get them back, we need to continue to savor them. And I think it can be as simple as just noticing and paying attention. It can be practicing gratitude, practice every day. It can be loving kindness meditation. It can be just what are three great things that happened to me and sharing with your best friend every day and have a little exchange you do. So I think there’s all kinds of ways to do that, but we’ve created a world where savoring is almost absent and dissatisfaction is rampant.

Dr. Laurie Santos(57:54):
And I think what we’re going to notice even more now, I mean, we often talk about post traumatic stress, but the psychological research suggests there’s also a lot more post traumatic growth than we talk about, right? When you get through something awful, you appreciate things differently on the other side. You see meaning differently on the other side, you have stronger social connections on the other side. And I think we are collectively as a world going through a crisis that can lead to a lot of post traumatic growth if we let it.

Dr. Mark Hyman (58:21):
I love that. Post traumatic growth syndrome. I’m down for that. We all need it. Well, Laurie, thank you for your amazing work. Everybody should go and listen to The Happiness Lab, Laurie’s podcast. It’s just rife with wisdom and incredible guests. And I just think she’s a light in this dark time. And you can just find her work all over, her Ted talk. She’s just, her course on Coursera, which is the … what is it? The science of wellbeing?

Dr. Laurie Santos(58:49):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Mark Hyman (58:50):
And just check it out because we all need a little bit of more joy and happiness and find ways to get there. So Laurie thank you so much for being on The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast. If you’ve been listening to the podcast and you love it, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you. Share with your friends and family, they’re going to need it right now and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and we’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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