July 08, 2021
Bestselling author Michael Pollan tries to get more out of life by temporarily giving up…
DACHER KELTNER This is the Science of Happiness. And
I’m your host, Dacher Keltner. Our next set of episodes are almost ready to go.
But right now we have a podcast bonus for you. It’s a special we put together
with some of our episodes about happiness and well-being at work, where we give
you the latest insights and scientific studies on how to handle stress at work,
how to connect more with your co-workers, and how to find flow and productivity
in the work that you do.
EMPLOYEE 1I think the
coolest thing about the workplace is actually this rooftop garden. I actually
come out here to kind of connect nature.
EMPLOYEE 2 The founder of
the company addresses you by name, asking you how your day is going, on a daily
EMPLOYEE 3 On Tuesdays we
get together with some other people and we play ukulele for a while.
EMPLOYEE 4 What’s so cool
is my relationship with my co-workers, during work and after hours.
EMPLOYEE 5 Having
holidays off and weekends off. That’s a big deal to me. ‘Cause where I used to
work before, I had none of those.
EMPLOYEE 6 What would
make me happier? I would feel happier at my job if there was less bureaucracy.
EMPLOYEE 7 Better
EMPLOYEE 8 Better pay.
EMPLOYEE 9 Less
EMPLOYEE 10 Being in
charge and making a difference in other people’s lives would be amazing.
EMPLOYEE 11 Is that
possible? Are you guys telling me I can have that? [laughter]
DACHER KELTNER: This is the Science of Happiness at
Work from PRI, Public Radio International. I’m Dacher Keltner, professor of
psychology and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC
Berkeley, and host of the podcast the Science of Happiness. I’m also the
co-instructor of a new online course called The Science of Happiness at Work.
Half of our waking hours are at work. So our happiness and well-being depends a
lot on how we feel about our jobs. Studies show that strengthening skills that
support a sense of purpose or engagement, resilience and connection improves
our happiness at work. We’ll provide some science-tested tips and exercises and
hear from guests who’ve tried them, whom we’ll call our happiness guinea pigs.
And then we’ll talk about the science behind why these practices work. I’m
joined by Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director at the Greater Good
Science Center, and my co-instructor for the Science of Happiness at Work
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Dacher, thanks for having me on
DACHER KELTNER I want to start on a more personal
note, and I don’t mean to embarrass you, but what was your worst job ever?
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Oh, man. So my worst job
[laughter] was door-to-door canvassing for the Clean Air Act in Berkeley.
DACHER KELTNER I think I signed that form.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Right? I mean, I really care
about the environment. I was obviously drawn to this ideal, to this mission.
The mistake was the organization matched me up with somebody who, on the very
first day, as we’re walking down the street, starts to smoke. And I was like,
‘Hey, how can you be smoking cigarettes and then walk up and talk to someone
about clean air?’ It just seemed so contrary. It’s not my finest strength to
ask for money anyway. So, yeah, I didn’t last very long at that job.
DACHER KELTNER [laughter]
I hope you’ll last longer at your current job. You know, as science director,
you’re developing this class on the science of happiness at work. What are some
of the big themes that you’ve taken away personally? You think, ‘Wow, this
really, this is an enduring truth.’
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS You know, I think that it’s not
particularly new but it’s always a really important reminder that we have go-to
techniques for handling stress I think stress is the biggest issue. Being over
scheduled, being pinged and notified throughout the day is a really huge part
DACHER KELTNER Well, Emiliana, stress and anxiety,
and even crippling anxiety is, at work, is something our first happiness guinea
pig really struggled with. Dan Harris, who’s at ABC News, turned to an exercise
that we know really helps with stress to find peace.
DAN HARRIS [music]
Shortly after I got to ABC as a young, ambitious reporter, 9/11 happened and I
spent a lot of time after 9/11 in war zones. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, the
West Bank, Gaza, Iraq six times. And when I got home from one of those runs in
Iraq I got depressed without knowing I was depressed. I was having trouble
getting out of bed, and I felt like I had a low-grade fever all the time. And I
did a very dumb thing, which is I started to self-medicate with recreational
drugs, including cocaine.
DAN HARRIS ABC News. This
is Good Morning America.
DAN HARRIS I was anchoring the news updates on Good
Morning America—that’s the person who comes on at the top of each hour and
reads some headlines. And I had done it before, so I didn’t have any reason to
foresee what was about to happen, which is that I was overtaken by this big
bolt of fear.
DAN HARRIS Health news
now—one of the world’s most commonly prescribed medications may be providing a
DAN HARRIS My mouth dried up, my lungs seized up. My
heart was racing, my palms were sweating. I couldn’t talk.
DAN HARRIS …people who
take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statens [struggling] for at least five
years may also lower their risk for cancer. But it’s too early to prescribe
statins slowly for cancer production..
DAN HARRIS It was horrible. You know, it feels like
you’re dying. You know, the body’s freaking out. The mind is freaking out
because the body’s freaking out. And then the body’s freaking out more ‘cause
the mind’s freaking out; it’s just a spiral. And then the whole time it’s just
compounded by the fact that millions of people are watching, you know? And I’m
thinking, ‘My career is going to end,’ and so I had to quit right in the
DACHER KELTNER Having a panic attack in front of
millions of viewers set Dan Harris on a path to seeking help for his depression
and anxiety. He found it with meditation, which he says makes him at least 10
percent happier, which is also the title of his bestselling-book and podcast.
Dan, it’s great to have you on the Science of Happiness.
DAN HARRIS Great to be on. Your thinking has been
very influential on my thinking. So, nice to be connected again.
DACHER KELTNER Thank you. We’ve been doing a lot of
research on getting veterans outdoors into nature and their profile sounds, in
some ways, like your profile, which is, you know, you see the atrocities of
war. Maybe you’re affected physically or you affect somebody and you turn to
self medication and tough stuff follows. What was your first taste of
DAN HARRIS I was reading a book by John Kabat Zinn,
Wherever You Go, There You Are. And I don’t know why, I just said, ‘You know
what? I’m just going to try this now?’ And I got up off of my chair and didn’t
tell anybody, because it would have been very embarrassing. And I went into the
room, locked the door and sat on the floor and started to meditate—
DACHER KELTNER [laugher]
A closet meditator!
DAN HARRIS I was a closet meditator. And you know,
that first experience is really intense because you just see how crazy you are.
And that’s the point, actually, you know, people often think that when they sit
to meditate and realize, ‘Oh my god, I’m just so all over the place.’ It’s like
trying to hold a live fish in your hand; it’s really hard. People think, ‘Oh,
I’m a failure, I can’t do this.’ But actually, no, seeing how crazy you are is
a victory, it’s hugely important because when you start to see how crazy you
are, that craziness doesn’t own you as much. And so I understood that seeing
that you’re distracted means you’re doing it correctly.
DACHER KELTNER Yup. ‘You are not your thoughts,’ says
John Kabat. How did this kind of immersion in meditation and the contemplative
approaches, how’d it work with your anxiety?
DAN HARRIS There’s been a bunch of science looking at
meditation; I think it’s still very much in its early stages. And one of the areas
where I think the research is the strongest is around meditation’s benefits for
people with depression and anxiety.
DACHER KELTNER I agree. I totally agree.
DAN HARRIS And the mechanism, from my personal
experience, is right around what you said before, that we are not our thoughts.
So anxiety is future-oriented thinking. Worrying, handwringing and you—through
the boosted self-awareness that one gets through meditation—you start to
realize, ‘Oh yeah, this is just—these are just thoughts.’ Maybe they’re
connected to reality, or maybe not. Or maybe even if they’re connected to
reality, I’ve thought about it enough, it’s time to let it go. And that is
DACHER KELTNER Yeah, I agree. What did you build up
that led you, in terms of a practice, that led to 10 Percent Happier?
DAN HARRIS You know, I think there’s this sub
conscious assumption that happiness happens to us; that it’s dependent upon
external factors like the quality of our childhood, the quality of our work
life, our marriage. All of which are super important. But in fact, what the
science is showing us is that happiness is a skill that you can work on, that
you can generate, just the way you work on your bicep in the gym. And you know,
we spend so much time on our bodies, on our stock portfolios, on our cars, on
our whatever. And almost no time on the one filter through which we experience
everything, and that’s our minds. And so the idea that the mind is trainable,
that these qualities that we want: happiness, peace, generosity, compassion,
patience—that these aren’t factory settings that can’t be tinkered with, that
these are actually skills—that is a really radical and empowering notion. And
so I see that as the common denominator of everything I’ve done.
I embraced mindfulness meditation. I like mindfulness
because, while it is derived from Buddhism, it is thoroughly secularized and
there’s no metaphysical claims, no religious lingo. You know, I started with
five to 10 minutes a day of basic mindfulness meditation, and I ultimately kind
of went to a half hour a day, and then a couple of years ago I took a big leap,
which is I moved to two hours a day.
DACHER KELTNER Are you serious?
DAN HARRIS Yeah,
which is going to sound impressive, but it’s actually not so impressive once
you know that I—my rule is I can do as many doses as I want, as many CITs, to
use a meditative term of art—as I want throughout the day wherever I want,
whenever I want, and my goal is just to accumulate up to two hours over the
course of the day.
DACHER KELTNER Now what are all your colleagues out
of New York City, and the hard-charging world of media, what are they sayin’
about Dan Harris?
DAN HARRIS What
are they saying behind my back? I don’t know. I mean, people certainly make fun
of me to my face. But it’s become a lot less so. I started meditating before it
got cool so that actually—I took a lot of crap for that. Now, you know,
meditation’s kind of mainstream and I get people making fun of me when I’m, you
know, being a jerk, which I definitely still have the capacity to do. You know,
people will, with relish, point out the deviance from my core principles. So
yeah, it’s kind of mixed.
DACHER KELTNER Yeah. Well It’s good to hear that it’s
penetrating. Even in New York City.
DAN HARRIS We have a meditation room at ABC News on
the 13th floor of the building, right around the corner from my office, and I
had nothing to do with setting it up.
DACHER KELTNER Wow, impressive.
DAN HARRIS And George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts,
many of my colleagues are meditators.
DACHER KELTNER Ah, excellent. So Dan is our guinea
pig. You chose the loving kindness meditation. Why did you choose this
DAN HARRIS You know, I would say that the thing I
notice the most about my interior life is—well, one of the things I notice the
most—is that I definitely have a strong streak of anger. I actually recently
wrote a book in which I talked about my grandfather, who was a really angry
guy, Robert Johnson and now I actually have a little name when I notice myself
getting angry. If I catch it, I can just say, ‘Oh, there’s Robert.’.
DACHER KELTNER That’s interesting.
DAN HARRIS It’s a little cartoonish, but it it really
works to just not be so hostile to my own hostility and to see it before I do
something that, you know, ruins the next 48 hours of my marriage or whatever.
So my practice is the Loving-Kindness practice, and the way it works is you
systematically envision beings, people or animals. So you start with, usually
you start with yourself, that’s the classical order, you envision yourself and
then you repeat silently four phrases to yourself. ‘May you be happy, may you
be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease.’ And then you move on to a
benefactor, somebody who’s been a mentor, something like that. In my case I
usually rotate one of my parents, my brother. A dear friend, that often is, you
know, a pet or a child. In this case, my child, whose three.
DACHER KELTNER Aw, congratulations.
DAN HARRIS Thank you. Yeah, he’s diabolical. [laughter]
And then we move on to—there’s no place for this in the traditional order, but
I often slot my wife in right here. And then the next one is supposed to be a
neutral person, somebody you see but often overlook. And the next one is
sometimes referred to as an enemy, which sounds a little harsh for me so often
it’s sometimes referred to as a difficult person. And then finally, all beings,
everywhere. And I’ve tried of late, but in many ways accelerated by your
assignment, to just really trying to do it every day. And there’s always anger
there to work with.
DACHER KELTNER So let’s talk about that part. What
was that mental state and process like?
DAN HARRIS So you’re envisioning the person and
you’re trying to wish well. My first instinct is, ‘I don’t want this person to
be happy. This person has caused me a lot of suffering, and I don’t want her to
be happy,’ that’s my first instinct. But that’s just another thing to be
mindful of. That’s just Robert Johnson. Mindfulness—which is what we generate
through the basic mindfulness meditation of watching your breath and then when
you get distracted, you start again—that boosts your mindfulness, your
self-awareness, and then this practice is a compassion practice and they
intertwine really nicely because you can be mindful of lots of things that come
up while doing a compassion practice and that can supercharge the whole thing.
So I see, ‘Oh, that’s just Robert Johnson being vindictive,’ and so over the
course of repeating these phrases for the difficult person. Then I think some
of the anger, you can see it for what it is and let it go, and really connect
to the fact that—you know, and this is not my phraseology, here I’m stealing
this from generations of teachers, but—every living being shares at least one
thing in common, which is we all want to be happy. You know, we all have basic
needs. And once you cut through some of the personal history that I may have
with this difficult person, you can, through this practice—which I often refer
to as Valentine’s Day with a knife to your throat which, you know, it’s a very
annoying practice, but it is effective and there’s science to show that it’s
effective—you can start to cut away, let that other nonsense fall away and
connect to the core connection there and the anger will come back as soon as
I’m done with the practice and this person happens to cross my mind again. The
anger can be right there, but it’s a little different.
DACHER KELTNER How did it feel different in this
case? Did you feel like you kind of had shifted your perspective on the
DAN HARRIS I think it’s a process. It’s not magic.
You know, it’s not like you do it once and it’s—it’s you, over time, are
shifting, continually shifting and then reverting because some new outrage
happens and you get angry and say the thing that you shouldn’t say or whatever,
but it’s just a process. But it makes you better. I mean, this is why I am so
married to this whole 10 percent happier idea which is, you know, that there
are no miracle cures here. But over time you just start to marginally improve.
DACHER KELTNER So you’ve been one of our real
champions of the contemplative approaches, but you feel, on occasion, you
encounter kind of the PR problems that meditation has. What do you think the
biases against meditation are?
DAN HARRIS Well, I think they’re starting to go away.
Really, I do because I think that we now have all these aspirational figures in
athletics and entertainment and science who are normalizing the thing folks who
were unaware who just think it’s B.S. This is, I think, a smaller and smaller
group all the time. And I think the answer to that is pretty simple which is,
you know, the way to deal with this misconception is just to talk about the
science and the fact that it doesn’t, you don’t have to believe in anything,
you don’t have to join a group, you don’t have to sit in a special position.
The other is, among people who want to meditate, there is this sense that,
‘Well, I can’t do it because I can’t clear my mind.’ It’s important to point
out to people that the whole game in meditation is not to clear your mind;
that’s impossible. If you sit in meditating and all thoughts evaporate, you’re
either enlightened or you’re dead. The point in meditation is not to clear the
mind, it’s to focus the mind for nanoseconds at a time, often on your breath or
something like that. And then when you get distracted, start again and again
and again. And that is a bicep curl for your brain, and this is what shows up
on the brain scans.
DACHER KELTNER Yeah. No, well put. Well, Dan, thanks
for being on our show and thanks for being our Science of Happiness guinea pig.
DAN HARRIS Huge
DACHER KELTNER So Emiliana, Dan really took it upon
himself to start practicing mindfulness practices. Really felt like he boosted
his happiness and reduced the stress he called the 10 percent. How do you think
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS A
Loving-Kindness meditation practice puts you into an emotional and mental state
that engages what I would call care and nurturant systems in the body and
brain. In the body, this is the vagus nerve, and the vagus nerve is the core
parasympathetic influence on the heart. What it does is is it slows down our
heart rate every time we exhale. This is something you might recognize as
happening spontaneously when you feel relief. You see a snake, you turn your
head. It’s actually a stick. You take a long slow out breath. [sighs] That is
you spontaneously engaging your vagus nerve. That puts you in a state of calm;
it also activates your kind of attunement towards social input. Work is about
human relationships. A Loving-Kindness meditation practice puts you in a
position to address that social dimension of work more effectively and more
DACHER KELTNER Yeah, that’s what I like about the
mindfulness literature, is it’s this adaptable mental skill or practice, and it
can help you with anger, it can help you with anxiety or fear, it can bring out
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS In a funny way, many
mindfulness practices draw your awareness away from your own tendency to be
self-focused. That awareness of our own thoughts and feelings sort of releases
habitual reflexes to latch onto thoughts and feelings. If we just notice them,
they tend to kind of move along and allow us to experience the next moment more
readily. If we’re focused on ourselves, whether we’re confident about a project
that we’re doing or feel threatened that it might fail. All of those sort of
self-focused habits of thought actually take away from our ability to attune to
others, and to work well with others, and take others’ perspectives into consideration.
DACHER KELTNER It’s really counterintuitive, I mean,
we think that mindfulness might make us more egotistical but actually, like
you’re saying, the studies show it makes us less self-focused and sort of opens
up our mind to other people’s ideas and inspirations. We’re going to take a
short break but up next we’ll learn about how saying just two words can boost
your happiness at work.
You’re listening to the Science of Happiness at Work from
PRI, Public Radio International.
PETERSON EMPLOYEE 1 like
to appreciate Mr. Sinclair. Who else comes and greets you every morning says
good morning to all your staff. [snaps]
PETERSON EMPLOYEE 2 I’d
like to acknowledge Frankie. He’s stepping it up back there, for the most part.
He got caught up on a lot of stuff. Sending out stock orders about 10 a minute.
PETERSON EMPLOYEE 3 Dustin,
thank you for staying over yesterday. He’s on a special project emptying out
containers so we can return them. [clapping]
DACHER KELTNER Those are employees at Peterson Trucks,
a commercial trucking company in Northern California. In the spirit of
gratitude they were giving acknowledgements to each other for the good things
that are happening at their work and the kindness that they’ve received. You
know, when you and I teach out in the work world, Emiliana, I mean, this is one
of the defining themes that we hear about, right, is people talking about how
important appreciation is and just being seen and acknowledged. Why it’s so
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS One of the biggest reasons that
people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. And one just kind of
slam dunk way of making a person feel valued is to tell them that you value
them. And workplaces are funny because there’s this other ethos that we don’t
actually have to be thankful at work, because there’s the kind of monetary
DACHER KELTNER ‘We’re making money.’
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Right. ‘I don’t have to thank
you; I’m paying you.’ And there’s a particular episode of Mad Men that really
highlighted that dynamic.
DON DRAPER It’s your job.
I give you money, you give me ideas.
SECRETARY And you never
say thank you!
DON DRAPER That’s what
the money’s for!
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS That’s a really unfortunate
scenario, right? Because it’s just not true. People don’t work from their sense
of true effort and heartfelt passion for the money, right? The money matters,
it helps us live, but we really care about the people that we’re working with
and the contributions that we’re making and we need to be acknowledged.
DACHER KELTNER Adam Grant’s a professor at Wharton
and host of his own podcast, WorkLife, and has done really compelling work on
the power of gratitude at work.
ADAM GRANT Francesca Gino and I studied a call center
where they’d actually, they’d run a natural experiment where a leader that none
of the callers had ever met came by and visited. And she just showed up to
thank the callers for the work that they did. In this case they were working
for a university, you know, trying to bring in alumni donations and yeah, the
job’s pretty stressful and you get rejected all the time. In one of the call
centers we studied, the rejection rate was above 98 percent. It felt like a
context where people were experiencing the opposite of gratitude [laughter]
right, instead of feeling appreciated, you know, they left almost every call
feeling just devalued. And we wondered what would happen when that leader came
in, if it made a difference.
It wasn’t announced beforehand and so it was just that some
people happened to be on shift when she came, and others didn’t. And so we were
able to compare the performance of the groups that had her visit and thank them
with those who didn’t. And we found that just that short visit with a thank you
to the average caller spiked more than 50 percent in the number of calls made
per week. We thought that gratitude might have an effect, but we didn’t expect
it to be that strong.
We were curious about whether there were, you know, there
were some other factors that might be influencing it, like maybe it’s not the
gratitude, maybe it’s the fact that a leader showed up and noticed you and paid
attention to you, regardless of what she said. And we did these these fun
experiments where I had sort of cobbled together some sentences from the worst
job application cover letters I had ever seen into sort of the ultimate
horrible job application cover letter. Anyone reading this would immediately
say, ‘Wow, there’s a lot I could do easily to make this better.’
You know the setup was that this is, you know, an initiative
done by the career center and we’ve learned that peers are good at helping each
other and we want to study that process. And so we have the student, Eric, who
submitted his cover letter. And what we did was we had them edit, and, you
know, write in all their feedback and send it to an Eric e-mail address. And
then afterward, we just had him reply by saying, ‘I received your edits,’ or by
saying, ‘I received your edits, thank you.’ So we just added just a few words
of gratitude. Then a few days later, we had another student reach out and say
‘Hey, you know, I was wondering if you could give me feedback on my cover
letter.’ And just being thanked by Eric increased helping in response to that
next request from a different student. When there was no thank you, about a
third of people helped again. When there was a thank you, two-thirds of people helped.
DACHER KELTNER So Emiliana, what do you make of this
finding of Adam Grant’s about the benefits of giving or expressing gratitude at
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Yeah, I mean it really
highlights how much people need to feel connected to the overall project that
they’re contributing to. So in this case the telemarketers needed to hear that
they were effectively contributing to something that mattered and that the
other people who are benefiting from it appreciated that really was a
DACHER KELTNER I’m also struck by just how important
our everyday language is too, you know, just inserting a thank you here really
has big effects.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS In terms of what gratitude is
doing, you know, I think humans have a vulnerability to being a little bit
DACHER KELTNER Yeah, especially in the US.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Well, yeah.
DACHER KELTNER Especially self-individualistic.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Exactly. And then also just
because we are in our own bodies and in our own brains and what we remember is
what we do. And so over time we can sort of begin to dismiss or get used to
what other people do that actually contributes to our own success. There’s the
classic studies of couples where if you ask, you know, ‘Who does how much
housework?’ And everybody says, ‘Well, I do 70 and they do 30.’.
DACHER KELTNER Well that’s true in my home.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS [laughter]
Well then you’ve got 140 percent the housework getting done at your house;
DACHER KELTNER I don’t understand your math.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS [laughter]
But anyway, the point being that when we say thank you, as the person saying
it, we’re acknowledging, we’re reversing that bias towards being so
self-focused and instead reminding ourselves that other people are so important
to all of the goodness that we enjoy in life. They play a role. Without them,
we wouldn’t be where we are. And then as a person being thanked, you feel like
you matter, you’re being seen in that moment and that affirmation is
motivating. And especially at work, you feel like, ‘I don’t want to be here if
nobody cares that I’m here.’ But if I’m here and people are saying, ‘Hey, what
you’re doing is really helpful. It’s getting our whole organization in the
direction that we want it to go.’ All of those things really matter.
DACHER KELTNER You know, I’ve been struck, teaching
gratitude for 15 years to people out in the work world, just how nuanced and
subtle it can be for the great practitioners of gratitude. You know, it’s just
like putting a coworker’s name on slides. You know, stopping by and saying
thank you, writing a card. One of the things that we know from the science of
happiness is that when we feel acknowledged and appreciated, it counteracts
stress and fear and you know when you apply that basic idea to the workplace,
what it tells us is a culture of acknowledgement and appreciation creates the
conditions of being willing to take risks, being willing to venture into the
unknown, not worrying about failure as much. And our next guinea pig really
tried this, he ventured into an area that he really had a lot of fear of
DACHER KELTNER Adam Edwards is a competitive kayaker
and a member of Melanin Base Camp, an organization working to diversify outdoor
adventure sports and experiences. Adam, thanks for being with us.
ADAM EDWARDS Thanks for having me. Excited to be
DACHER KELTNER So Adam, you grew up around alligators
and sharks and you’ve camped in Alaska and you’ve been close to grizzlies. But
I read in a couple of articles you read for Melanin Base Camp that you have
this deep seeded fear of being eaten. What’s that about?
ADAM EDWARDS I think it’s a completely rational fear
[laughter] for a human being on a biological level; maybe not as a human being
living in a modern society. Yeah, I just have a really deep respect for things
that are more powerful than me and growing up fishing in Florida, watching a
lot of Discovery Channel, reading a lot about megafauna, and just as a kid I
was really into zoology. Like I was afraid of something so I became really
fascinated with it.
DACHER KELTNER Wow. It seems like you have this theme
in your life, or this motif of these fears pop up given your activities and you
go and face them and build a life around them. So tell us about the practice
that you chose.
ADAM EDWARDS So the practice I chose was Overcoming a
Fear and kind of seems a little bit like a sensitization. Basically when I was
reading through it it was kind of like identify a fear and then incrementally
work yourself up to facing it. So I chose public speaking.
DACHER KELTNER Huh. Why’d you choose that one?
ADAM EDWARDS I feel like even after years and years
of my chosen career—I’m a kayak instructor and like it still provides me with
a lot of stress, and not positive stress. It still actually scares me quite a
bit. So I figured that was one that hey, I still needed, obviously still need
work on this. I want to try another way of addressing this.
DACHER KELTNER Yeah, you know, Adam, you’re not alone
in fearing public speaking. Apparently, you know, when you ask people what
they’re afraid of, like these national surveys, number one is death and number
two is speaking publicly. It’s pretty pretty universal and in fact, one of the
ways that we study stress is we bring people to a lab and we say, ‘Hey, guess
what you’re going to do here, you’re going to give a public speech,’ and they
freak out. Now, I’m a scientist and I have to measure your fears here. So
you’ve told me about sharks and alligators and bears. So here’s the question.
What’s more fear-provoking, speaking to a thousand people, or swimming near a
ADAM EDWARDS Oh, man [laughter]. I could probably
swim near the shark.
DACHER KELTNER Oh!
ADAM EDWARDS I’m instantly thinking like, ‘Well, it’s
not like a great white.’ And this is semi-controlled? Like if they’re both
controlled scenarios, I’d rather swim near the shark than speak to a thousand
DACHER KELTNER [laughter] You got some work to do.
ADAM EDWARDS Yeah.
DACHER KELTNER So what’d you do?
ADAM EDWARDS So I set up teaching another Whitewater
Kayaking class where I could kind of maybe try that new way of addressing the
fear of speaking to groups of people. Basically, in the weeks prior to the
class I kind of spent more time soundboarding with my coach instructor about
what we were going to say, and practicing it allowed me to simplify a lot of
things and I found that actually lowered my stress level because that’s where a
lot of the stress in public speaking comes from for me, is my brain’s going
really fast and I’m coming up with things to say, and I’m coming up with things
to say, and then, you know, it starts to tumble. I get lost on tangents and
then I kind of just shut up for a while as I’m like, ‘Oh no, what do I do?’
DACHER KELTNER Blushing and sweating and
ADAM EDWARDS Yeah,
yeah. I usually, if I have to speak in front of a large group of people, I’m
definitely one of those folks that’s like dark clothes only because I am
DACHER KELTNER Let’s
play a clip of how your class went.
ADAM EDWARDS Let’s talk a little about safety and
fear management as on the river. And I will be creating scenarios today that
will try to heighten your stress level a little bit. Just so you’re aware
that’s going to happen at some point. But I won’t tell you when it’s happening.
It will just happen. So. Yeah. I’ll turn it over to you for a little bit. You
had some thoughts, or I can keep orating. It’s nervous energy. [laughter] It’s
just going to spill out of my face.
DACHER KELTNER So how’d it go?
ADAM EDWARDS It
went really well, actually. I got a lot of, we got a lot of really good
feedback from our students. We had a really good dialogue and they kind of
relayed that the way it was presented helped them kind of be like, ‘Hey, this,
like all of this stuff is manageable.’ And that’s basically the best I could
hope for coming out of a class like that.
DACHER KELTNER Yeah.
Given what your experiences were with this facing fears practice, how would you
just give wisdom to a friend, you know, who’s going to go give a public talk?
What would you say?
ADAM EDWARDS I would say really like investing the
time in putting your thoughts down prior was super helpful. And then practicing
saying those things, and running that by like a close friend or a spouse or
someone that you’re comfortable speaking in front of really like, you know, as
a dry run, just like that repetition makes it easier and easier each time it’s
DACHER KELTNER Nice.
You know, I know in the broader literature on facing anxieties, like just
breaking stuff down and just laying out the practical concrete steps you’re
going to take is pretty good stuff. Do you think just coming full circle with
the Melanin Base Camp is part of the idea just more broadly to take on fears
and transcend them?
ADAM EDWARDS At least for me personally, it
definitely is. Because a fear of public speaking is not just, you know, if I
have to stand in front of a crowd, it’s public speaking in this day and age
like includes posting on your social media, like actually utilizing the
platforms that we have available to us to express our ideas. I have a huge
anxiety with that. So being a part of Melanin Base Camp is both like amazingly
uplifting and really fun for me and it’s also, I would say it’s a positive
stress now but is definitely also a stressor where putting my thoughts and
feelings on very divisive issues and personal experiences out there for
everyone to see and read and comment on and respond to. So it’s inviting a two
way section of public speaking, which I think is, to borrow the term now,
there’s a lot of uncomfortable conversations happening and like Melanin Base
Camp is creating a comfortable way to facilitate those conversations.
DACHER KELTNER Whenever I teach human happiness I
always end with the challenges that our culture faces at this moment. And I
really like your phrase positive stress. And I just want to say thanks, Adam,
for the work you’re doing at Melanin Base Camp and expanding accessibility to
the outdoors for people of color. It’s one of those developments that gives me
hope. So thanks.
ADAM EDWARDS No problem. Thanks for having me on.
DACHER KELTNER So Em, we’ve learned a lot in the
science of happiness about facing our fears and doing things that help us
overcome them. What do you make of this literature and why Adam, our guinea
pig, sort of stepping into his fear of public speaking, had so many direct
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Stress at work is one of the
biggest challenges that people face and stress is often tied to a certain kind
of fear. A fear of failure fear, fear of being inadequate, fear of being
disliked. What it does highlight is how social we are, how concerned we are
with reputation and public speaking is a quintessential case of presenting
yourself and being evaluated. That’s something that’s inherently stressful.
What we do know is that often the thoughts about the fear, the perpetuating
rumination about the fear is more problematic than the fear itself. A natural
response when we feel fear is to try to avoid it. ‘Let’s just not do that. I’m
never going to pitch any ideas.’ Well hey, if I never pitch any ideas at work
I’m not going to have a very productive fulfilling and growth-oriented work
experience. So, for me, to handle that fear in a way that serves my potential
success at work is going to be really important. And the practice that Adam did
to manage a fear at work of kind of successively exposing himself to that
particular circumstance and observing that there was no dire consequence,
right. We can do public speaking. And we can do a bad job. And typically people
don’t come after us with hatchets and torches.
DACHER KELTNER So one of the really ironic properties
of, you know, the fact that when we anticipate social interactions it’s filled
with fear and, ‘Oh, my god, you know they’re going to, my pants are going to
fall down. [laughter] I’ll become a fool.’ But when we’re actually there, people
are relatively polite and have good things to say.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Most of the time people are
really nice. Some scientists looked at what happens when workers attempt to
think about their fear in a different way. So maybe you have a fear of public
speaking and is there a possibility that you could reframe that fear to be a
passion? ‘I really, I desire to be a terrific public speaker.’ Well, when the
team got participants in this experiment to do that, to reframe their distress
or fear as a passion, and then looked at how the others were interacting with
them thought about them, they found that those who did reframe their distress
as passion were perceived as more competent, and they just generally were more
well liked. In fact our brains really liked taking risks. Our brains want to
learn, and they want novelty. We want to develop into someone different today
than we were yesterday. It’s part of the human experience. So when workplaces
stifle that by kind of accentuating fear of taking risks it can be really
problematic. So I think it’s wildly important for organizations to create a
climate where people are safe and comfortable trying new things and learning,
taking risks and innovating.
DACHER KELTNER Really interesting broad cultural
change that’s being observed. Many different continents, lot of different
sectors of work over the past 50 years is where we’re moving out of this
top-down, coercive model of leadership and—
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Command and control.
DACHER KELTNER Right, workplace ethos, if you will,
to a more collaborative, horizontal type of approach, and that really suggests
that we’re moving away from, kind of, fear in some sense.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS We could do well to figure out
ways to diminish it.
DACHER KELTNER We’re going to take a short break, and
our next happiness guinea pig, Tanzina Vega, host of the radio show The
Takeaway, tried one of my favorite happiness practices, the active listening
exercise. You’re listening to the Science of Happiness at Work from PRI, Public
We’ve been talking about the ways that we can increase
happiness at work and some of the science tested practices that get us there.
And our next guinea pig Tanzina Vega, host of the radio show The Takeaway, did
the active listening exercise with a colleague. Tanzina, it’s really a delight
to have you in the role of guinea pig today.
TANZINA VEGA Thank you, thank you. Willingly, yes.
DACHER KELTNER [laughter]
You chose to, as a guinea pig, one of my favorite exercises which is active
listening. What was the practice like? What did you do?
TANZINA VEGA I was supposed to sit down with someone
for at least ten minutes and have a conversation with them, or they were going
to have a conversation with me and I was supposed to listen and not just let
things go right over my head, but really listen. And some of the ways that you,
they’re supposed to show listening is by asking questions, being empathetic. I
was with Dana Robertson, who’s one of our producers, and we sat in the studio
here and we did not—I didn’t even have notes on a computer, like it was just
on a piece of paper, the time required, like everything was, you know, no
distractions, no phones coming out, no Twitter, nothing. You know, just this
person and this story. It’s hard. And I’ll be honest, there were times when I
wanted to be like, ‘Oh my god, then what? But wait a minute!’ You know, like I
wanted to jump in and I thought, ‘No, don’t do that. You know, you’ll mess up
the exercise and then science of happiness will think you’re a failure.’.
DACHER KELTNER It’ll crash [laughter]. We’ll give you
a C-minus in happiness.
TANZINA VEGA Right,
I can’t have that on my record, you know?
DACHER KELTNER No! [laughter] So why did you choose
TANZINA VEGA Well, I do a lot of listening for my job
and I think sometimes, I don’t know if it’s sort of the way my brain works, I
think I’m a New Yorker, I tend to be thinking about multiple things at the same
time, all the time. And especially in news, you know, we’re constantly pivoting
from one thing to the other. And so I think in general, even though I use this
skill in my day to day life, in my professional life how good am I really, at
listening, right? And it was sort of a test to see well, am I really that good
at it? I mean, I can ask questions, I can have a great conversation, but that’s
not the same as listening.
DACHER KELTNER So Tanzina, you know, let’s listen to
a bit of your active listening practice with your colleague Dana.
DANA I knew since I was basically like in
preschool, my brother and I both knew we were adopted. After my mother passed
that I decided I was going to do 23andMe and Ancestry.com. First of all,
surprise number one, when the results came back I found out I’m 60 percent
European and 27 percent African.
TANZINA VEGA Now,
DANA Yes. [laughter]
TANZINA VEGA So in that moment, that’s different from
what you thought originally. How did you feel?
DANA I basically broke down. I was upset about it.
Just, you know, I’d had this perception or this feeling in an African-American
family, in an African-American community, sort of really embracing that and
that being my life, that larger percentage through everything that I’d believed
and that I had even seen in writing, out the window. I mean, it said both of my
parents were black. If I’m 60 percent white, that’s probably not true. So the
Ancestry matched me to a very close relative. We believe that we’re actually half-sisters.
Same father, who is white, who lives in Arizona. And [laughter] she says that
it was not necessarily a consensual relationship that he had with her mother.
But I decided I was going to send a card to him and basically say, ‘This is my
name, this is my birthday. This is where I was born. Do you want to be in
contact with me, check yes or no. If no, can you please send me the name of who
my mother might be?’
TANZINA VEGA That’s a really heavy thing, isn’t it?
DANA It is. I’ve bought the card. I have the
card, the stamps, everything. I have not done it yet. I’m not quite sure why I
just don’t bite the bullet and do it.
TANZINA VEGA I mean, I can understand the confusion or
even the the uncertainty. That’s a hard thing to decide to do. I mean, what
happens if he says—are you ready for what could be on the other side of it,
for the yes or the no?
DANA I’m probably more ready for the no than I
would be [laughing] for the yes.
TANZINA VEGA Is that what scares you?
DACHER KELTNER I have to ask you this, Tanzina,
because this is your job, and the active listening practice comes out of the
nonviolent communication tradition, which is really influential in schools and
so forth where, you know, you paraphrase what people are saying, you ask
questions, you use your body and words to express empathy. You don’t give
advice, which, is that tough?
TANZINA VEGA You
know what? The giving advice part wasn’t. I find unsolicited advice-giving
really annoying when it happens to me, and so I try to be as mindful as I can
unless the person is asking me for advice. I just tend to shut up and not. So
that was one of the easier ones for me to do.
What was hard? I’d say the like just allowing the
conversation to happen and not wanting to jump in at times and be like, ‘Oh,
wait a minute. But, you know, but what about this?’ And, ‘But what about that?’
DACHER KELTNER This
exercise, which is really about friendship and dignity and respect in
conveying, you know, your appreciation for the person you’re listening to. What
was it like for you to do this exercise?
TANZINA VEGA I think that what we miss, we being
Americans, we are more connected, quote unquote, in some ways and we’re so much
more disconnected from each other. And I think about all these trends in
loneliness and everything else and I just think about how often is it that
we’re able to sit down and really understand somebody and you have moments of
vulnerability. So having that conversation like that with Dana, who I haven’t
known for very long either, is vulnerable and it’s intimate. And I miss that.
You know, I think we could use a lot more of that.
DACHER KELTNER One of the most amazing scientific
findings on this is there’s just something powerful about looking into
somebody’s eyes, so powerful that there’s data showing when I look at a
friend’s eyes or a child’s eyes it activates oxytocin release, which is this
neuropeptide that is distributed in your brain and your body that helps you
take care of people and connect. So it’s a very deep thing we’re missing. So
one of my favorite quotes related to active listening is about Abraham Lincoln.
And it’s a quote by Thurlow Weed, who is a journalist. I’ll paraphrase but he
says that Lincoln sees everybody who comes to see him, hears all they have to
say, and reads whatever is written to him. So he just was always listening
actively. So how are you going to pull this off in your position? [laughter]
TANZINA VEGA No pressure, no pressure. Thanks. One of
the most frustrating things as a journalist, most recently during, you know,
after this election was the fact that I don’t think the media was listening.
They were hearing it but they weren’t listening. They didn’t take seriously
enough a lot of the language that was being used. I’m glad to see more
journalists getting on board with good reporting; that doesn’t mean partisan
reporting, it means you’re calling this what it is. And so I do read e-mails. I
do read tweets. I do try to engage as much as I can with people and I take this
DACHER KELTNER You’ve written about stereotype threat
and all the racial divides. Sexual harassment, you know, including in the
media, which has been rampant, speaks to this gender divide. Do you think
listening is part of how we go forward?
TANZINA VEGA Oh, absolutely. And I don’t think enough
listening happens, I think unfortunately, especially to women, and especially
to women of color, to poor people, and the elderly. Who we listen to as often,
you know, who has the most power or who has the most money.
DACHER KELTNER We’ve done a lot of research on class
and ethnicity and power and we consistently find women tend to be more
empathetic, better listeners, they don’t interrupt as much. You probably heard
about that finding about the Supreme Court where men are interrupting women in
the Supreme Court. Do you think your upbringing and your class and ethnicity
had something to do with your—what do you think?
TANZINA VEGA Yeah, absolutely. I do think that that
is a big part of it. And there’s always this weird dynamic between being—you
know, women I think in general, but Latinas in particular have the stereotypes,
when you think of them, are you’re either not so smart or you’re just this
hyper-aggressive, you know, can’t shut up kind of thing and it’s so—so I think
that has a role in in how we feel about communicating. So I think there was
also a struggle to understand how much I could say when I could say it. I think
the implicit message is to women, people of color, poor people, you know—and
at one point I was all of those things—is that your opinion doesn’t matter. No
one really cares what you have to say. And that’s expressed at different
levels, even in the professional world. And I think this is where you have
things like micro-aggressions. People might not even be aware of the fact that
they’re not listening to you, or not taking you seriously. But just implicitly,
they don’t. And so I think that, for me, it’s been always tricky like do I—as
I do sometimes tend to interrupt people, and I will say that, and that is one
of my failings, which was, you know, something that I do think about, but it’s
also because I’m always trying to figure out when’s the right time to say
something, or if I get really excited about something, you know, can I just
burst in and say it? But also, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve said, you know what,
I do need to claim my space and my voice.
DACHER KELTNER Absolutely. Just that analysis reveals
the complexities of power, right. That, you know, just in the simple act of
whether you contribute to a conversation or not. You know, one of the things
that gives me hope right now is looking forward to the themes that are going to
emerge in this listening that you’re engaging in. And I can’t wait to see where
you take your thinking and the work you’re doing in the world.
TANZINA VEGA Dacher, thank you for asking me to
DACHER KELTNER So Em, one of the really striking
things that emerges in Tanzania’s experience and this really common phenomenon.
She wasn’t listened to. And there’s just this remarkable science of how people
from more privileged backgrounds or more powerful backgrounds just aren’t as
good at empathy and they don’t listen as carefully. We’ve done a lot of science
in our lab that happens in almost every work context and here to really kind of
take a close look at this issue of identity and diversity in the workplaces is
Jingjing Lu, who’s a former professor of psychology at the University of
Washington and now working in the private sector.
JINGJING LU I think the fundamental aspect of feeling
safe—so people talk about psychological safety, and what they really mean is,
I think, at the root of it, is just a sense of belonging. The research shows
that when you feel like you don’t belong, and when you’re at constant vigilance
around whether someone is going to question your belonging, your competence,
even the mere presence of you being in a meeting. You can imagine how that
affects your cortisol levels, never mind your mood and your energy. It creates
a lot of anxiety. So, for example, I have colleagues who are black or Latino in
background. If they are constantly asked, ‘What school did you go to?’ Or,
‘Where did you last work?’ And it’s asked in a tone that’s really about vetting
their credibility. ‘Have you earned the right to be here?’ That is a very
different environment in tone than a conversation where you feel like you
belong and can start performing because you feel like you can fail without
losing or draw or credibility. It’s a place where I can make mistakes, learn,
grow, and in that context and I can show up as a much more authentic self, more
energized, much more creative, and do all the risk-taking that’s required to
learn in fast-moving environments. Oftentimes, people of color, as women of
color, are playing a game of survival. We want to aim higher. Get beyond just
trying to keep our heads above water. We should be playing for a game of
DACHER KELTNER I know, it’s almost as if when we
establish these norms and convey that we value creating the safer work
environments, it yields a lot of benefits.
JINGJING LU That’s right. So it’s really about
finding those leaders in those industries who will lead the way. I mean, really
putting the resources where it’s at to recruit and to then also create these
inclusive environments so that we cannot just do the bias trainings, which I
know are very popular right now. It’s no longer going to be about just
representation numbers. We’re really looking for where are the opportunities for
there to be success? Build a sense of openness and trust. And that is the
precondition for truly, a sense of belonging, which you need before you can
actually start achieving and performing. We know from research that on a really
complex issue, that diverse teams perform better than non-driver teams.
DACHER KELTNER Really?
JINGJING LU From a cognitive perspective, yes. So if
you get two different teams, they’re solving a really hard problem, let’s say
they’re tackling obesity. Which, you know, you can take it from it’s about the
size of the Coke can. It’s about the lack of sidewalks and neighborhoods.
Diverse teams will solve the problem faster because they can combine novel
ideas more quickly and they get unstuck more quickly because they have
different vantage points. If you give us a problem, we will tackle it
differently. Not just because of our training and our work experience, but it’s
also because of our life experiences that are deeply formed because of how we look
to other people. Bringing all that in together really impacts the way that we
categorize information, the way we problem solve, even the ways by which we
define a problem. So if you really are going to try to crack the next
machine-learning algorithm or AI, what’s the fastest way to do that. Create a
team and a condition of safety so that all those different vantage points show
up quickly, and then can work with each other.
DACHER KELTNER Yeah, it’s interesting how deeply, you
know, something you’ve thought a lot about for a long time, culture, shapes,
you know, not only how we eat and think about, you know, social life but also
how we reason and how we solve problems and what kind of science we might do.
JINGJING LU Yes. We were doing studies that showed
that when you compared East Asian college students to European American
students we saw really profound differences in how they process even visual
information. One that was really stunning, where we were looking at animations of
fish in the foreground and in the background, lots of detail. And in that study
we were saying, ‘Well, what are we paying attention to?’ Turns out the European
Americans are paying attention to the focal objects and could describe with
great exquisite detail like, ‘It’s a dorsal fin, red and orange stripes on this
fish.’ And the Japanese students were really trying to pay attention to
relationships, so they were a lot more able to answer with accuracy questions
about, ‘Well, that large fish was to the right of that stone.’ [laughter] I
mean, just stunning.
DACHER KELTNER Knowledge about the context.
JINGJING LU Yeah, exactly. And that’s visual
processing, never mind different kinds of reasoning that we have too.
DACHER KELTNER Jingjing, you know, one of the things
that you and others have been interested in is how culture really influences
what we think of as happiness, right?
JINGJING LU I mean, I think it comes up when we think
about, in workplaces, how we think about trying to maximize an engaged
workforce. Is there well-being, are they satisfied, are they happy on their
team? So some of the research I did with Phoebe Ellsworth really is around
trying to understand what does it mean to be happy if you come from different
cultural environments? We know from, for example, Judeo-Christian contexts that
oftentimes people are trying to maximize their pleasant affect and really
minimize their unpleasant effect. And really that is the key to happiness. And
we find that in actually Buddhist context, or ones that are influenced by
Confucianism and Taoism that really happiness is this balance between positive
and negative affect. So I think even the sheer idea of employee well-being,
employee engagement, as these workforces become more global it needs to be more
nuanced to really understand what it means to have an engaged workforce.
DACHER KELTNER So Em, now that we’re nearing the end
of the show I have to ask you this question.
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Yeah.
DACHER KELTNER Let’s go back to that worst job you
ever had, which was canvassing for the Clean Air Act with that compulsive
smoker and you had the great fortune of quitting so if you couldn’t quit, and a
lot of people are in this situation, where they’re in work that isn’t
gratifying and to pay the bills they have to keep going. So what would you do
if you couldn’t quit that job?
EMILIANA SIMON-THOMAS Yeah, you know, it’s such a
great and challenging question and I think there are really two angles to my
answer, and one has to do with what I would do personally, myself and I think I
could start the day with a more mindful setting of intentions. So I really do
care about the environment. So is there a way I could really think about how
whatever I’m doing, whether it’s fun or tedious, feeds into that aspiration?
That’s something we know helps, reframing your anxiety or distress as a
passion, setting an intention. The second part of the answer, I certainly think
I could have done and would have, had I had no opportunity to leave that job,
brought it up, right? Bring up to this colleague of mine, ‘Hey, you know, I’m
upset by this circumstance where where there’s smoke happening in this same
time that we’re talking to people about clean air.’.
DACHER KELTNER Yeah, you know, it’s these simple
practices of remembering why you’re doing the work you’re doing and then
handling the conflicts and the sort of confli