July 08, 2021
Bestselling author Michael Pollan tries to get more out of life by temporarily giving up…
Monica Campbell Growing up, my mother is from Nicaragua and my father is from the United States and I was born here in the U.S. And summers were spent traveling back to different parts of Central America, where we have a family. So, you know, we road-tripped and saw all sorts of tiny, crazy scenes growing up, you know, civil conflict in the eighties in central America.
And I think the idea of moving across borders became very natural to me and also planted a lot of questions about different ways that people live. Many times, I think we try and find like, “Well, why would that person be leaving their country?” Or, you know, “Why are they doing this?” Why would you be doing this?
Turn the question back around, right? If you were in this situation, you know, what would be your goal? What would be your long-term goal? This idea of like, I’m thinking about the life of my children, even if I don’t have children. Where do I see my life? Where do I see my family? Where do I see stability? And, I think that is something that’s very universal.
Dacher Keltner She’s reported from Europe and Afghanistan to Latin America and the Caribbean and her stories have ranged from covering Cuba’s literary underground to Central American teenagers migrating alone through Mexico. Today, Monica Campbell’s a senior immigration editor and reporter at The World, a daily public radio program that spotlights international news.
I’m Dacher Keltner. and this is the science of happiness. Monica joins us after trying a practice to explore her goals later, we’ll look at which types of goals bring us deeper. Happiness. Monica, thanks for joining us today.
Monica Campbell You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me.
Dacher Keltner So you chose to do the goal visualization practice for our show, where you identify and write about a short-term goal that you want to achieve in the next few days or weeks. It’s based on studies showing that even small goals can make us feel more engaged in our lives and less depressed. Can you walk us through the steps what’d you do?
Monica Campbell It’s not terribly complicated, but my goal was, or still is, to read to read books, novels nonfiction. And I feel like, especially with this past year with, with the pandemic that reading has become impossible. And I think that there’s been this emotional, physical exhaustion throughout this year where sitting down and reading a book is just, it can feel, you know, like our attention span has been cut as well. And it’s very difficult. And I found that I was not reading last year. And as somebody who lives in the world of stories and words, It’s like my oxygen has been taken away in some ways, and I wanted to bring that back with this.
So my goal was to start reading a gun and make it not a luxury, but really a priority as much as, you know, going outside and taking a walk or having, you know, a meal and enjoying that and not having it be something that feels like, you know, oh, I’ll squeeze it in, but actually I need to do that.
And at a time when I have the least personal time in my life when I’m feeling the most taxed by my job in my life in many ways, where what we’re reporting on is emotionally taxing. And I don’t know how I did. I don’t know what is the measure of success?
Dacher Keltner So, first of all, how did, what did you do? How did you actually take action to achieve this goal?
Monica Campbell What I did is I looked at my day and I actually scheduled it in, I mean, I, I’m not really a good planner calendar person. I have like my work schedule, right and my Google calendar and all the Zoom calls and all that sort of thing. But beyond that, beyond my work day, that’s where everything falls apart.
You know, I know what I need to do. I know I need to put my kid to bed. I know I need to get them fed. I know, you know, it’s, it’s really, that is the second job, right. Is to be a mom. Other than that, it’s just whatever else I can squeeze in. So self care or mental care, or my mental health just kind of goes by the wayside.
And I think that’s just so typical with everybody I’ve spoken to. So I scheduled it in and I was really quite militant about it. How much time? Well, my goal was a half hour a day.
Dacher Keltner How’d it go?
Monica Campbell It was a not so great for a whole week. Kind of, uh, disrupted with what happened at the Capitol. Very long work days.
And then before that with, you know, post-election, which really didn’t end, then we have the holidays, which I worked through because I worked for a daily news show. So we don’t get, you know, the two weeks off at the end of December or that some people do, you know, a lot of people don’t neither do we. So it was really challenging. And I would say it started to pick up a little bit at the beginning of January, and then we had, you know, this chaos.
Dacher Keltner So did pursuing this goal make you angrier? Because sometimes pursuing happiness undermines it, right?
Monica Campbell I hadn’t thought about it that way. It definitely made me acutely aware of how I got to really muscle through. If I want to do something like no, I’m going to shut the door and I’m going to read this book and it’s important. I actually wanted to kind of telegraph that to my family and particularly my child to let him know, like, this is important to me to do.
Like, I’m sitting here reading and I need to be left alone while I’m doing this. I think he sees, you know, especially this year when he was at home a lot, he sees, you know, mom and dad are working, they’re in front of a computer. Okay. And then there’s the television and we’re cooking. And so when we had free time, That it was either with him or we were doing something that we had to do.
And I wanted to show him very explicitly that reading was something I really enjoyed. Like this is mom enjoying something, sitting with a book and that’s something I saw a lot growing up and I think it’s, uh, you know, it’s something we’re kind of losing, right? So I just want, wanna make sure that he sees that it’s just as interesting to read a book as it is to watch something on television or, you know, go to the park and play around that, that quiet stillness and not having pictures in a book as well, I think is interesting that you create pictures in your mind and isn’t that interesting. And that’s something he’s wondered about. You know, like mom, those books don’t have pictures and so hopefully, maybe it will, uh, be something that penetrates him or influences him perhaps.
Maybe, I don’t know if we shouldn’t be influencing our children all the time, but…
Dacher Keltner I mean, that resonates with me so powerfully, you know, in this COVID era too, around our kids a lot more and they see us throughout the day. And we’re wondering about the signals, like kids are not seeing their parents relax or just read or reflect, you know, and I worry about that.
So did you make progress?
Monica Campbell So I finished a book, which was amazing.
Dacher Keltner Congratulations. So what’d you pick?
Monica Campbell I picked, it’s called Lives Other Than My Own, which is by Emmanuel Carrère. He’s a French writer. What I liked about this particular book is it is a book that’s journalistic, it’s non-fiction, it’s a memoir.
But he’s a writer who is not easily categorized. He’s known for fiction. He’s also a filmmaker. What attracted me to this particular book is that he’s writing about lives that are not exactly notable, you know, kind of ordinary people that he nearly stumbles upon. And then creates these kind of like spontaneous narratives and stories about them, true life and dives in, and just reveals so many layers about people.
Dacher Keltner Sounds wonderful.
We know from a lot of research on goals and that if you have goals, you know, you feel more enthusiastic. Maybe you have a little bit more dopamine release, you’re energized, you get more optimistic. And at the same time, you know, when you have a really busy, you know, 20 hours a day life, like you do it, you can struggle right, to build that into your day and schedule it. So how’d it go for you, you referred to a week of it being hard, but did you feel like you had satisfied this goal of more relaxed, pleasurable reading?
Monica Campbell You know, I learned a lot and yes, I feel like there’s so much that I need to tick off very concrete things to do on a daily basis.
And, I felt like picking up this book, nourished me in a completely different way. There was a tendency this year to chill out by just watching a show at the end of the night with my partner. And that has become actually as a result of this exercise, I said, you know, at least twice a week, instead of turning on Amazon and Netflix and the show that we’re addicted to.
You know, for a half hour before we start to get tired, let’s read. So that’s something that we actually tried and we were successful a few times. So trying to actually have it be more, not just about a goal for myself, but for my family. And that’s been rewarding, but it’s a different type of nourishment, you know, obviously reading it’s it’s escapism, but you’re visualizing things in your brain.
And I feel like we’re such, you know, I’m looking at a screen all day. The last thing I want to do is look at another one. So I’m appreciating reading again in this time of my life. When I feel like attention spans are so short and I feel like I’m just in that world where, you know, Twitter and social media and stories that have to be very short sometimes it just can feel so lovely to lounge and to just immerse myself in a longer, longer read.
Dacher Keltner You know, one of the things I love about your description is, you know, you’re covering politics, you’re working hard, you’re covering these morally significant issues, you know, with a world at stake in some ways and then you’ve chosen this goal of shifting to pleasurable reading and a different kind of nourishment like you said, did anything about that transition or this effort surprise you about the experience?
Monica Campbell I thought I would have a hard time. Paying attention and that I would get easily distracted. And I actually found that I could be reading while there was noise around me, you know, while my kids like running up and down the house, yelling or screaming about, you know, having fun and I actually find that my attention and my focus is really sharpened because I have to block so much out.
I enjoyed that kind of deep focus and being able to block out a lot, because I have always kind of been able to work in a lot of different environments, which can seem a little chaotic at times, but I’ve never really read in an environment where, you know, it’s just, there’s just a lot of noise around whether in my head or physically.
Dacher Keltner Yeah. Wow. Well put. What advice would you give to people who have this kind of struggle of like, “God, I just can’t get 30 minutes of relaxing reading or calm in my life?”
Monica Campbell So I found what worked was announcing it and saying, “Hey, this is what I’m doing. It’s really important to me to read. If you guys want me to be somebody you want to be around, I recommend that we work together as a family so that I can do this just as much as we all do our things.”
So I kind of sold it as like, when I say I’m reading tonight between 8:00 and 8:30 I’m reading, and I secure that time. That’s time. I’ve scheduled. And it’s important. I mean, that really seemed to work. It’s kind of like a family plan, so yeah. Getting the group buy in on it and, uh, that’ll be a lot less grumpy if we’re able to all kind of do our own little things that help us to sort of unwind.
Yeah. So that, that was a tip. And then I wake up pretty early and I continued waking up early on a couple of weekends that felt like not because I had to get up early to attend a meeting, but that I wanted to get up and do some reading. And I was really energized to do that. And it’s very easy. It’s quiet time right, in the house. So yeah, just finding those, pinpointing those moments when you know that you’re not going to be going against the grain so much and building it in, then.
Dacher Keltner I love what you said, you know, about announcing it because in this new era of parenting and I suspect you may be part of this, like, we are so interested in our kids’ own motivations and interests, we forget to tell them what we like or want and there’s real value in that, you know, in the science of happiness, the literature, really for 20 years or so, really sort of focused on what are the different practices that you can do, you know, go outside for a walk or write about gratitude or set some goals. And now the field is moving to this interesting question of, well, does the practice kind of align with your values, you know, and or does it misalign?
You know, sometimes when I teach, like ‘it’s great to get outdoors’ and somebody’s like, “God, I was raised in New York City, I don’t like being outdoors, you know?” And I’m wondering within the goal setting literature, there’s this nice research showing that what really matters is that the goal you try to enact fits your values, what you care about.
Do you think that choosing this reading for pleasure fit some set of values you were hoping to embody a little bit more?
Monica Campbell Well, I mean, that’s why I want to read is to explore and be challenged because I enter people’s lives unannounced often and with this license to ask a lot of questions that might seem really personal. And I always wondering if I’m getting something terribly wrong or right. You know, and you just don’t know that unless you just keep exploring and learning and questioning and wondering, and it just can’t be, you know, limited to our workday or even our interactions with our neighbors or our friends. So in a way, books are a portal for that, of just seeing that there’s no such thing as a one dimensional way of looking at people.
And that’s just what I’m always terrified of doing is presenting people in some way that is fitting into some sort of box or a peg or a frame and amazing writing hopefully just tackles that in a wonderful way.
Dacher Keltner God that is so wonderfully described. One of the things I’m always curious about with these practices is like, how did it stick with you? Did it, as you started report on another story, or think about the political complexity today, did that sort of pursuit of reading pleasurably shape, how you move through the world?
Monica Campbell I mean in a way, one thing I am taking away from this exercise, which, you know, I’m not going to stop reading, right? This is a lifelong goal, but is, it is a reflection of how I’m doing what’s going on in my life, right in my world and in the world is if there’s a hard stop and it’s not happening for three days because the world is moving in a direction that you know is just not allowing for it.
Well, do I let that takeover or do I still try and make it, you know, where are the priorities? Right. So to what extent am I surrendering to the outside elements? Right. And not saying, you know, I know there’s a crisis happening right now in the world and I have to pay attention to it, but for my ability to do this work and, and be well. I do need to take care of this part of my life as well.
Monica Campbell I mean, that’s foundational, like in the hard-charging, you know, do good in the world work. You got to take care of yourself.
Dacher Keltner Yeah. Well, Monica, I want to thank you for your work and all the amazing reporting you’ve done over the years on immigration and immigrant life. nSo thanks for being on the show.
Dacher Keltner Well, thank you so much. I really appreciated this.
Dacher Keltner When setting a new goal for yourself, which kind will have the most impact?
Kennon Sheldon The kinds of goals and morals and values that your parents wanted you to have.
Dacher Keltner More on the science after this break.
Kennon Sheldon If your happiness goes up, is that just temporary? Is that just a blip? Is it just a mood or can it go up and can it stay up?
Dacher Keltner Kennon Sheldon is it professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.
Kennon Sheldon And the conclusion there is that it’s difficult to go up and stay up because it’s homeostasis. We have a genetic set point of sorts and we tend to go back where we started.
Dacher Keltner It’s almost like pumping up a tire in order to stay happy, but the tire’s got a leak in it.
Kennon Sheldon And you have to keep pumping air into it or else the tire will go flat again. And so I think about goals and our attempts to improve our lives as kind of like pumping up the tire.
Dacher Keltner Setting and then pursuing goals can help us become more motivated and productive and feel less depressed, but not all goals. Only the ones that we really value, that create space for growth.
Kennon Sheldon You should be trying to identify your talents, your creative interests, to develop them, to learn more about them, to express them. You should be caring about others at the same time, as you are kind of progressing yourself. If you manage to select these deeply felt goals that are interesting intrinsic motivation, there’s been a lot of advantage has shown, like you’ll try harder. You’ll try longer. You’ll experience more meaning along the way.
Dacher Keltner You’ll also cope better with setbacks in a recent study, Kennan and colleagues had people set goals and then imagine an obstacle.
Kennon Sheldon And we found that if you’re pursuing a goal, because it’s interesting and meaningful, then you think the bad things aren’t going to last and the good things are going to keep going.
Dacher Keltner People who prioritize goals that aligned with their values were more optimistic about their future setting.
Kennon Sheldon Setting a goal is way more effective than people tend to think that it will be. People are afraid to set goals because now they’re pinned down or maybe they’ll fail and maybe they shouldn’t bother.
But there’s this kind of magic thing that happens when people set goals is that it primes, non-conscious thought to look for answers to the current problems. So you’ll be thinking about something else and then suddenly, boom, you’ll get this thought or make this connection. And you realize it’s the solution to some issue you’ve been wrestling with.
So when we crossed the Rubicon from what should I do to, this is what I’m going to do. We get a whole bunch of help from our minds.
Dacher Keltner I’m Dacher Keltner. Thanks for joining us on the Science of Happiness. You can try the goal visualization practice on our Greater Good In Action website at dot berkeley.edu. Do you feel like you’re at a crossroads in life searching for a new purpose? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #happinesspod.
The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX, our senior producer is Shuka Kalantari. Production assistance from Jennie Cataldo and Ben Manilla of BMP Audio. Our associate producer is Haley Gray. Our executive producer is Jane Park. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh.