Bryant Terry Okay, hold on a second. All right, let’s do this.
You know, coming out of 2020, where our whole family was sheltering in place: my wife was working from home, I was working from home and both of our daughters were distance learning. Then having the whole family here—there was a lot to negotiate and work out and, you know, some bumps in the beginning.
But It was interesting because, while we were here all the time, we were busy and we were kind of in the mode of, just transactional ”You get that done? Have you done this?” And, you know, getting the kids situated. I realized that we could be here all the time together, and we could actually not be spending so much time together.
Dacher Keltner The idea of time and how we spend it is always on our minds. Deadlines. Schedules. The persisting feeling that we just don’t have enough of it.
I’m Dacher Keltner. Welcome to The Science of Happiness.
Today we’re joined by James Beard award-winning chef, activist, and author Bryant Terry. Bryant is the editor of Black Food, a new book celebrating the culinary traditions of the African diaspora. His schedule is packed thanks to the book launch, so he tried a practice to carve out some time for the people he cares about. Later in the show, we’ll learn how giving some of our time to others can change our perception of how much time we actually have.
Bryant, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness.
Bryant Terry Thank you so much for having me on.
Dacher Keltner Congratulations on your latest book, Black Food. You know, one of the great tragedies I think of American food culture—agribusiness and the like—is people lose a sense of culture and home by being disconnected from food. And I’m just curious, what was your childhood like of black food and what’d it come to mean for you and who’d you learn about it from?
Bryant Terry You know, it’s always important for me to recognize my ancestors, my grandparents, from whom I learned a lot about the seed to table cycle. A lot about the fundamentals of cooking. When you hear black food, people are thinking soul food and what are they thinking of when they think “soul food”? The big flavored meats, the overcooked vegetables and the sugary desserts that one might find at a soul food restaurant. But, I want to remind people when you peel back beyond those—and I’m not denying that either of those are part, a subset of this larger cuisine—but I don’t want people to forget that the the dark, nutrient-rich leafy greens like collards, mustards and turnips and dandelions and sugar snap peas and whole beans and black eyed peas and heirloom tomatoes and kale, all these things are part of our traditional diet too. I really want to expand people’s vision of what our food is.
It’s slow food. That movement comes from Western Europe. And you know, I always say when my grandmother spent all day Saturday preparing for Sunday supper—that’s slow food. She was doing slow food cooking. So, yeah, enough respect to all my ancestors upon whose shoulders I stand.
Dacher Keltner Yeah. And it’s so good to bring it to public awareness. It’s wonderful.
So for our show, we asked you to try one of the activities on our Greater Good in Action website, and you chose one called the Gift of Time. It’s really simple: you pick someone you care about and you devote some time to them, either by doing something with them or doing something for them on your own. I’m curious why you chose this practice.
Bryant Terry Just in 2020, I decided that I needed to be very intentional about spending time with my wife, carving out time to spend with both of my daughters separately to give them some love. So this practice, it was right on time and in alignment with what I’ve been doing informally. But it was nice to just have a reset, and I’m glad that I did it because I’m holding it now as something that I want to, at least once a month, kind of refer to this and be very intentional about spending time with both of my daughters. That’s how I split it up. I was like, I’m going to do this. I’m going to be very intentional about spending time with Zenzi, my seven year old, and Mila, my 10 year old.
Dacher Keltner And what was it like? What did you guys do? What did they think about Dad spending some extra time with them?
Bryant Terry I let them lead. I wanted to do whatever they wanted to do. Whatever they felt would be a joyful moment with me. And so, with my youngest daughter, Zenzi, who is a really talented visual artist and singer, we drew together. That’s what she likes to do. She’s like, “Baba, come draw with me.”
We were in her room. She started by drawing a unicorn with wings. And so, that was the process that we often go through when we’re making art together, is kind of a back and forth. I like to let her start and then I’ll pepper in what I want to do. And, we just kind of continue in that way. So, she drew a unicorn. And then I put text on it, “PMA”. Positive Mental Attitude. So, it’s something that I’ve been stressing since our girls were young: PMA. Then, she colored the wings pink. And I think I, you know, colored the head pink and green and yellow. And then she got a magazine and started cutting out some stars and other celestial bodies. It was cool because it was one of those things that I didn’t want to stop. I was having fun and time was kind of flying by. I don’t know—it just felt a little metaphysical. And, you know, we were doing this. I mean, it’s a unicorn, for God’s sake. And then we had the unicorn flying out of space. The whole thing just felt kind of cool and it was fun.
Dacher Keltner Awesome. And how did you spend your time with your older daughter?
Bryant Terry My oldest daughter is a musician as well. We started her at cello when she was three. So she’s been playing cello since she’s three. She’s 10 now and then she started piano when she was eight. She started weekly tutoring with a producer down in L.A. and she’s learning about hip hop, beat making and music production. And so, she’s been very secretive about it.
She’s making all these beats and learning all this stuff, but she doesn’t really share it with us often. And so it was very cool because I just felt like the closeness—us connecting and feeling more of a bond than we have over the past several weeks, maybe months. She was open to sharing, so she had played me a few songs that she composed—one that she said she’d been working on for three years. She’s been working on this song for three years and she played this beautiful song with me. So it’s just, the moments were very simple but special.
Dacher Keltner You know, I think one of the struggles of the Science of Happiness is to capture, Bryant, what you just described: you’re sharing this time and you’re looking in each other’s eyes and hearing the voice and there’s this, almost, it’s this transcendent state and you just feel something different. Time stretches out. How would you describe that? What do you make of it?
Bryant Terry I agree. I found that even when I went in with an intention of my set time, “We’re going to spend 10 minutes together because I got to jump on this other project or whatever.” Oftentimes, it would extend to half an hour, an hour, and it did feel like time was melting away because we were being so present with each other—really present. I think we can all relate to this as parents. You could be with your kids, but you’re thinking about the work assignment that you have or you’re thinking about what you’re making for dinner. And I was really intentional, just like, let me shut out all the distractions. What I have the tendency to do is if I’m with them and we’re hanging out, when I think of that thing, then I’ll get up: “Oh, I got to go email David” or I got to add a note to that recipe. And it was just so nice, feeling like I didn’t need to do anything but just being with them.
Dacher Keltner You know, I have to tell you one of the things I do with my older daughter, Natalie, is we go backpacking. We went on this trip and I was out of shape and coming out of COVID. She was blazing ahead and we had our goal on one thing and I didn’t quite make it because I was out of shape. I got so tired and we sat on this rock by this lake and and just had time, you know? And it was the most important experience I had in the last few months. Just sitting, like you said, and connecting and finding time.
Bryant Terry Yes. Like, if I’m not carving out at least half an hour to just connect with my children, then what am I doing all this for? I think it helped me prioritize and understand that I have agency and control over my schedule, and if it’s something that’s important to me, then I need to just carve it out. And that was—I didn’t mention this—but you know what, I actually did: I put it in my calendar. I was very clear that I need to schedule this in and not just kind of like “if it happens.”
So, scheduling it in among the many meetings and interviews and everything—that was so crucial. I almost felt like I need to be doing that just in general, not just for the practice that I did for this conversation. But I do that with everything else. I’m scheduling my haircut, I’m scheduling it. “Hey, you need to start packing for your trip tomorrow at this time.” So, I need to be just having standing times where I’m just hanging out with my girls.
Dacher Keltner One of the really interesting discoveries in anthropology is one of the most sacred things you can give is food. Because, in our history, food scarcity was real. And when you gave food, you gave life, right?
Bryant Terry Bingo.
Dacher Keltner And Bryant, I know you’ve got many dishes up in your recipe book, but what’s your dish that you like to give to people to give them time?
Bryant Terry Oh, let me tell you, this is the one I like. So let me just say that I often encourage people to think about cooking as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Dacher Keltner Wow. No way.
Bryant Terry Yeah. And I talk about cooking as meditation. But, a complaint that I’ve heard from many people over the years about my body of work is that, “Oh, the recipes are too complicated. They take a long time.” And, I admit, many of them are labor intensive, but it’s because I’m really trying to encourage people to make everything from scratch. So, one thing that I encourage people to do is just think about when you can carve out time to actually go slowly and be present with the process of making food.
I get it. I know sometimes at the end of the day, you’ve got to get food on the table, you’ve got to do everything. I get it and I get people work a lot. But when you can carve that time, I think that it’s so beautiful when we can just engage in cooking without any rush and be like, “I’m just going to sit here and just slowly dice these onions.”
And so anyway, all that to say is the recipe that I feel like is a gift to myself, but also to other people—I have this recipe in my book Afro Vegan. It’s slow-braised mustard greens with caramelized tomato onions. It’s really in the spirit of my approach of cooking as collage. And so, mustard’s a staple in southern African American cooking. You see them throughout the diaspora. The greens are simmering. I’m caramelizing my onions. I add my sugar, my tomatoes, and that tops the greens and gives it some aggressive tomato and just the acid that we finish it off with—I think it’s a habanero vinegar. And that dish is multilayered: the flavors are popping, the stories are powerful, and it’s just a really cool dish.
Dacher Keltner I’m salivating, man. That’s too good. Thank you so much for your gift of time. Thank you for your recent book, Black Food. Thank you for your activism. What an honor to speak to you, and thanks for being on The Science of Happiness.
Bryant Terry Thank you so much for having me on. It’s been a pleasure.
Dacher Keltner Sharing our time with people we care about can bring such joy. But when we feel really busy, that can be hard to do.
Cassie Mogilner Holmes If we gave some of our time, would we feel time-richer? Would we feel like we had more time?
Dacher Keltner More on the science, up next.
Welcome back to The Science of Happiness. When we feel like we don’t have enough time in our day-to-day life, it can be hard to show up for the people around us.
Cassie Mogilner Holmes As I’m rushing around in my office like, “Oh my god, I have too much to do.” I don’t even stop to say hello to my colleagues.
Dacher Keltner Cassie Mogilner Holmes is a professor of marketing and behavioral decision making at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Cassie Mogilner Holmes When we feel time-poor, we are less kind. We spend less time to help other people.
Dacher Keltner Cassie and a few other researchers wanted to find out what happens when we go against those instincts, and instead spend our time helping someone else.
On a Saturday morning, they asked a group of volunteers to either spend 10 or 30 minutes doing something kind for another person, something they weren’t already planning to do.
Cassie Mogilner Holmes We assigned the other set of folks, “Spend either 10 or 30 minutes today doing something for yourself that you weren’t already planning to do.”
Dacher Keltner That evening, they followed up with everyone to find out what they did.
Cassie Mogilner Holmes One person, I remember, spent the time to write a letter to their grandmother, whom they hadn’t spoken to in a while to make her feel better. Someone said that they helped their friend pull up the tile on their bathroom floor. Another went down the street and at the park spent that 30 minutes picking up trash to help the community look better.
Now, in terms of how people spent time on themselves, it was all these wonderful things too. It was people pampering themselves, taking a bubble bath, relaxing on the couch, watching TV or reading a book, going outside, going for a jog.
Dacher Keltner Next, everyone completed an online survey
Cassie Mogilner Holmes “How expansive is your future? How limited is your time in your future?” Questions like that to get this understanding of how much time they felt like they had.
Dacher Keltner The people who did something for someone else reported feeling like they had more time.
Cassie Mogilner Holmes And that was irrespective of whether we instructed them to spend 10 minutes or 30 minutes. So, irrespective of how much time, irrespective of whether they gave their time to someone they knew well or were kind to their neighborhood by cleaning up litter, we saw that those who gave their time felt like they had more time.
Maybe by slowing down, stopping to help others, it could make us feel like we have more time because it makes us feel very effective in how we spend our time. And that feeling of self-efficacy might make us feel like we have enough time to do all those things that we need to and want to do.
Dacher Keltner The Gift of Time practice is easy. Think about someone you care about and spend some time doing something for them. Even 15 minutes. A letter, a meal, a conversation. Try it out and let us know how it went by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. You can find instructions for the Gift of Time practice and others like it online at ggia.berkeley.edu.
This episode was produced by Haley Gray. Our Senior Producer is Shuka Kalantari. Our associate producer is Kristie Song. Sound design by Jennie Cataldo at BMP Audio. Our Executive Producer is Jane Park. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.