Sam Dugan We got a puppy, which is great and awesome and she is a total delight. It’s also chaos, just given work and having two dogs and one of our other dogs is very, he’s a difficult boy. And so it’s a lot of like, where is Pinto? Where is Tonka? Make sure the baby gate is shut. Make sure the bedroom door is shut. My husband, Nate, he’s, you know, like the last person I should be cranky with, but I was not so nice to him. I was very short and just snapped at him when he didn’t deserve to be snapped at. And I was like, This was your idea. You wanted a puppy. I didn’t want a puppy.
Dacher Keltner What did he do that made you snap at him?
Sam Dugan I think he just existed incorrectly, probably.
Dacher Keltner We’ve all been in that place. You’re at the end of your rope and you say or do something you end up regretting. All you need to do is say, I’m sorry, right? Not quite. A real effective apology takes much more than that. I’m Dacher Keltner. Welcome to The Science of Happiness. Today we’re exploring the art of making good apologies and how mindfulness practices can help. Later in the show, we’ll hear about how cultivating mindfulness can change our thoughts and feelings in ways that might actually make us more likely to apologize when we’ve done something wrong. More on that up next. Welcome back to The Science of Happiness. I’m Dacher Keltner. Imagine you’re in a conflict with someone you care about and you know exactly what to do to smooth it all over, apologize. But sometimes that can be really hard for us to do. Our guest today is Sam Dugan, a public defender in Salt Lake City, Utah. She and her husband, Nate, were actually on our show last year when they tried a practice where they chronicled three funny things that happened to them each day. This time, Sam tried our Making an Effective Apology practice, but with a twist. We added on a Mindful Breathing practice to the start of it. So first, you use your breath to center yourself in the present moment, and then you go through the steps of apologizing. You know, I know you’re really working hard, Sam, and things are stressful, but thanks for coming back.
Sam Dugan Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Dacher Keltner I loved your show on laughter and it was so fun to hear your guys’ shared laughter. But now you’re turning to a different issue in the realm of happiness, which is making a mindful apology. I’m curious, who did you decide to apologize to and why that choice?
Sam Dugan Yeah, so I decided to apologize to my husband Nate, for a myriad of reasons.
Dacher Keltner Beginning with.
Sam Dugan Beginning with, so, we got a puppy and she is a total delight. But it just adds more stress, which I know can sound sort of trivial. But like, that is our life right now, is we have three dogs and we work a lot. We have been together for a long time, too. And so I think it’s—
Dacher Keltner Since high school.
Sam Dugan Yes, since high school. And so it’s sometimes easier to be just not as mindful about like being kind to him when he should be the person I’m like the most kind to.
Dacher Keltner So I have to ask, though, we’ve got to get into the instigator of this apology. Was it like something specific that he did and said, or didn’t say, or was it just the fact that he exists that led you to apologize?
Sam Dugan Yeah. So honestly, it was just the fact that he existed. I was just stressed out with work and sort of building up to this trial and had a lot of stuff going on and then coupled with not really sleeping very well and then adding an additional puppy to an already sort of chaotic dog situation.
Dacher Keltner And before we walk through the exercise, what was the moment in which you thought like, maybe I should apologize for snapping at Nate for his existence?
Sam Dugan I was sitting at our kitchen table and it was evening and I think I was working. I think he brought me something and I had a realization of like, you know, Sam, you have not been your best self.
Dacher Keltner Aw. The steps for this practice are to first acknowledge what you did, provide an explanation, not an excuse, and then express your remorse and try to do something, if possible, to make amends. We also added a mindful breathing practice to all of this. How’d it go?
Sam Dugan Yeah. So I did a box breath, which is where you inhale for x amount of seconds, hold it for x amount of seconds, exhale for x amount of seconds. And I did seven because I like the number seven. And so, inhaled for 7 seconds, held it for 7 seconds, and then exhaled for 7 seconds. And I did it a few times. I didn’t do it 10 times because that felt a little long for this level of apology.
Dacher Keltner I forgot what I was going to do.
Sam Dugan Yeah, but it was, I mean, breathing is just so helpful. And you certainly feel, or I certainly feel my stress level decrease after about five box breaths. It was helpful to take the breaths, be mindful because it puts you in your body more, which also I think makes you feel a little more vulnerable because you’re not like dissociating from discomfort. But it’s nice too, because it’s something you can do anywhere and it doesn’t require skills. You literally just have to breathe and be aware of it. And that’s cool because it’s accessible to anybody. And then I was like, Come here, I need to apologize to you. And then I recorded it.
So, Nate, are you ready to be apologized to?
Nate Orbock I’m all ears.
Sam Dugan You’re all ears? Um, so, we got a puppy the day before your birthday, and it’s been very stressful because we now have three dogs, which is a lot of work. And one of those dogs is a puppy, which is a lot of work and has thrown off my sleep schedule. And I have not been very kind to you and I have been. Sorry, Pinto’s moaning in a very strange way.
I just acknowledge, like, I realize that I have been stressed out. Like, here is sort of the reasons why I’ve been stressed out with work and then I’m not sleeping.
I have not been very kind to you these past few weeks because I feel like you’re not as anxious as I am about the puppy. Don’t laugh. About the puppy and Pinto, and I’ve yelled at you and been short with you, which is not kind or fair. And so I am sorry that I have yelled at you on more than one occasion about the puppy and not doing what I think you should do. So I apologize for that, and I will work on being more mindful and less critical. And everybody’s schedule is messed up because of this. But it’s also very cute because the puppy and Jilly are playing at our feet right now, and it’s pretty adorable. So that’s my apology. I sort of identified my behavior and my role in it. And rather than being like, I’m sorry I’ve been rude, but you did this, this and this, like, it was your idea to get a puppy.
Dacher Keltner I love those apologies, where it’s really an accusation.
Sam Dugan Yes, the non-apology apology. I did not say, this was your idea. I just said I have been stressed out and as a result, I have been taking that out on you. And that was not cool of me.
Dacher Keltner And then comes the part of expressing remorse. And, you know, we’ve done research where like, non-verbally, if you sort of look submissive, people will forgive you. You’re just showing like, God, I really am sorry about this mistake I made. What did you do in terms of expressing remorse?
Sam Dugan Yeah, nobody wants to feel like a shithead. And so I think it’s really important as humans in general for us to kind of sit in that discomfort a little bit, of like, you, you did a harm. And whether that’s a small harm of you snapped at your partner or, you know, a big harm like you end up in court for some sort of crime, it’s important to sort of sit in that and understand that not all the time you’re going to be this awesome person.
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
Sam Dugan And you, that’s part of the human experience, right, it’s, you make mistakes, but it’s how you deal with that conflict, I think, that helps define relationships. So, it felt natural to that extent, but it’s also not fun.
Dacher Keltner No.
Sam Dugan I mean, I don’t like that part of myself. I don’t like that I am quick to snap at my husband, who I love very much. So I’m not proud of that.
Dacher Keltner No I know. I hear you, Sam. So the last step in the practice is to make amends, which can be anything, really. It’s just an effort to repair the situation. How did you do that?
Sam Dugan I don’t think I asked, like, for suggestions or if there’s something that I could do different in the future, because Nate would just say, no, just don’t do that. I said that, you know, I would imagine it’s not fun to have me just sort of be on your case and not treat you well. And I will be much more mindful going forward that even when I’m stressed, it doesn’t mean that I get to take it out on you, because I think, unfortunately, we tend to treat the people who are closest to us, we’re more likely to lash out at them because it’s safe, which is sort of paradoxical.
Dacher Keltner It is. It’s one of the great paradoxes of the intimate life.
Sam Dugan Yes. Yes.
Dacher Keltner Was there anything awkward about doing this with Nate?
Sam Dugan Yes, it was a little awkward, which is so funny because.
Dacher Keltner Why?
Sam Dugan You know, I was thinking about this, and I think that me in particular, I feel very primed to apologize for, like, stuff that doesn’t matter or things outside of my control. And I think, particularly as a woman, I’m often feeling like I have to apologize for things that I don’t need to apologize for, or like, sorry I’m late, sorry I did this. Or like, sorry I bumped into you, or sorry for that. Or, is that okay? Sort of like, checking in on things. And so I’m not often mindful about apologizing because I just sort of do it as a routine as opposed to doing it for the purposes of reconciliation, if that makes sense.
Dacher Keltner Totally. I mean, what’s your thinking about that? Because you’re, you know, you’re a woman in a highly powerful context of the law. And, and yet, like you said, you know, Sam, like, often women are more polite. And being polite and considerate often involves more apologies. And yet, at the same time, we want to make sure that it doesn’t cost us, it allows for more authentic apologies. How do you grapple with that?
Sam Dugan I think I grapple with it is the.
Dacher Keltner Or you have yet to figure it out.
Sam Dugan Yeah. I mean, I try to be more mindful of it too, of like, why am I apologizing for this thing? Am I apologizing because it’s I mean it or just because it’s a place filler. But it also makes me wonder, like, do I need to go around thinking about apologizing all the time, every time I say something wrong?
Dacher Keltner It’s one of these complicated gender questions.
Sam Dugan Yes.
Dacher Keltner My final question, Sam. I’m curious how it felt for you and Nate as you guys moved through the apology, and after.
Sam Dugan Nate is like a man of few words. And so it was cute, at the end of it, he was like, that was a nice apology, thank you. Because usually Nate will not be like on me about stuff. He just sort of lets it go. And so I could tell it meant a lot to him that I had the metacognition in the moment that I had sort of been like a shithead for a few weeks, for lack of a better word.
Dacher Keltner That is a scientific term. The measure of shitheadedness.
Sam Dugan I think that apologizing is a different form of intimacy. You’re telling this other person, one, I care about you enough to say I’m sorry. Two, I’m sort of seeing you and you’re seeing me in a vulnerable place, because I think people don’t like to really apologize. We can apologize for bumping into people or like, sorry for the misunderstanding, whatever sort of stupid thing we write in emails professionally. But to actually apologize to somebody is a level of vulnerability that most people are uncomfortable with. And it’s hard, even in long term relationships, to be vulnerable like that.
Dacher Keltner What a great phrase, that apologies are this form of intimacy through vulnerability. Well, Sam, I know you’re at the end of a long week and it’s been tough in the court and with the new puppy. And thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.
Sam Dugan Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Sana Rizvi How do we get people to apologize? And since there are these barriers, can these be mitigated by the concept of mindfulness?
Dacher Keltner More on the science of mindfulness in apologies, up next. Welcome back to The Science of Happiness. I’m Dacher Keltner. We’ve been talking about apologizing. How doing it can make us feel really vulnerable, but ultimately it makes our relationships stronger. Our producer Haley Gray spoke to Sana Rizvi, a professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, about how mindfulness might make us more willing to apologize.
Sana Rizvi Apologies are immensely beneficial. They can restore harmony from the perspective of victims. They can reduce anger, aggression, promote forgiveness. Now, despite the fact that apologies yield positive outcomes, some offenders choose to withhold them.
Haley Gray Dr. Sana Rizvi wanted to see if practicing mindfulness could change that, and make people more apt to apologize. She recruited 120 undergrads to do an online experiment. They had to recall a time they wronged someone else.
Sana Rizvi You know, with a friend, a family member, a romantic partner, or a colleague.
Haley Gray Then they were split into two groups.
Sana Rizvi Mindfulness or mind-wandering.
Haley Gray Half of the students were instructed to complete a 15-minute guided practice in mindful breathing. The other half were given a mind-wandering exercise.
Sana Rizvi They listened to a 15-minute recording that repeatedly asked them to think of whatever came to their mind.
Haley Gray Then, they did a survey.
Sana Rizvi Where they indicated their willingness to apologize to the individual that they had transgressed against.
Haley Gray So, how likely are you to say sorry to someone you hurt?
Sana Rizvi When they were led to focus on their breathing, they were more willing to apologize.
Haley Gray Dr. Rizvi wanted to put it to the test, so she asked everyone to write an email that they would hypothetically send to the person they’d hurt. And then her team analyzed what they wrote.
Sana Rizvi So, do people say, I apologize, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done this?
Haley Gray And it turned out they did. Dr. Rizvi’s team found more of those apologetic phrases in what the mindfulness group wrote.
Sana Rizvi If you were in the mind-wandering condition, it was the complete opposite.
Haley Gray This may be because mindfulness reduces our negative, self-focused thoughts and emotions. When we’re in a conflict with someone else, that negative, self-focused frame of mind can make it harder to apologize.
Sana Rizvi Mindfulness fosters apology because it reduces the offender’s negative self-focus. It opens doors for these, perhaps sense-making processes that allow us to consider the needs of victims. Now, you know, when I try and apologize, I try and be in the present moment and, you know, engage and reap the benefits of apologizing, so to speak.
Dacher Keltner Thanks Haley. Next time on The Science of Happiness.
Jeremy Fogel Mindfulness practice gives you more of an ability to regulate your emotions, to be present, to think about each situation you’re facing as a unique situation. And I think those are incredibly useful skills for judges to have and they’re not skills that are taught.
Dacher Keltner I’m Dacher Keltner. Thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. You can find instructions to this practice and learn more about the art of apologizing and how mindfulness can help in our show notes, and also at ggia.berkeley.edu. Share with us at email@example.com or use the #happinesspod. Our executive producer of audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer is Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. 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.