March 26, 2018
Do memories of your past affect your happiness today? Susannah Cahalan was young and…
Grace Arevalo: My dad was going to college for football but then he was hit by a drunk driver and he broke his hip and wasn’t able to play again.
In elementary school I played flag football and I played with pretty much all the guys. I was team captain. I was responsible for like making the playbook and my dad would help me with that.
Before one of our big games he was really excited for me to be able to play in that game and to do well, which I did. And then I came home from the game and found out that he had passed.
I was in third grade.
I continued playing that season after he passed and it was something that I played to feel connected to him.
When it came to high school, freshman year I tried to play but I didn’t get any e-mails about how I could play like the summer workouts. And then I was just afraid sophomore and junior year. I guess I thought people would think that I’d do it for attention or something like that. I was just scared of what people would think. And it sounds really silly thinking about it now.
Senior year, it was so important to me to be able to play football. Really just get that connection one last time because it’s not like I can go and join a college football team. And I knew that if he was still with us he would want me to do it.
So when I put the pads on and then I slipped the practice jersey over them, I felt like a football player. Like that was the first time that I felt like I could fit in and it was harder for people to pick me out amongst the guys just because we all wore the same uniform, we all look the same. And it was in that like, uniformity, that I felt my dad. He had been a part of that too.
It’s kind of like a tingly feeling that you get, like a wave just kind of washes over you and you’re like, I’m not necessarily alone. Or he would be happy that I did this. Or like, I hope I’m making him proud.
Dacher Keltner: Grace Arevalo became the first girl to play on the line in her high school football team’s history. Before she headed off to college, she stopped by to be our happiness guinea pig.
In every episode of our show, we have a guest try out a research-based practice designed to boost happiness, resilience, kindness, or connection and then we dive into the science behind why it actually works.
Dacher Keltner: Grace, thanks for being with us.
Grace Arevalo: Thank you for having me.
Dacher Keltner: So Grace, you’ve had this very unusual, and enduring, and deep sports experience in high school. So you played football?
Grace Arevalo: I did.
Dacher Keltner: What position?
Grace Arevalo: I was on the line. O line and D line.
Dacher Keltner: Seriously? What was that like?
Grace Arevalo: It was exhilarating. It’s something that I’d never thought I would really do.
Dacher Keltner: Wait a minute, let me back up. You used the word exhilarating. What do you mean?
Grace Arevalo: It’s a rush.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah.
Grace Arevalo: Yeah, like especially during games. There’s this one time—it was my third game that season—I was playing on the D line, and I broke through. Like I got through the line. Like I didn’t get a sack or anything, or a tackle, but I got through.
Dacher Keltner: Did you push some guy to the side?
Grace Arevalo: Yeah, I just split him and then just went right up through.
Dacher Keltner: It felt exhilarating in that moment?
Grace Arevalo: Yeah, it was like wow. I’m an actual football player now. I’m not just a punchbag. I played rugby, I’d been in a scrum before. So I knew what physicality was. But it’s different when you’re going against guys who are like have the whole testosterone boost thing and they’re like trying to prove their masculinity and stuff by knocking you on the ground. This experience I had, where I was like thrown on the ground, and then was like, trash-talked, basically. And I was like, Oh no!
Dacher Keltner: What did the guy say?
Grace Arevalo: He was like, “come at me bro”. Like that kind of thing. Like, “get up, your helmet’s squeaky clean”. You don’t get playing time, boy, and stuff like that. He didn’t know I was a girl. And he didn’t find out until after the game. So it was definitely an awakening for me. I was like oh, like I have to actually hit this guy now. I got to go back.
Dacher Keltner: So Grace, how’s this sports experience shaped who you are?
Grace Arevalo: Sports has taught me discipline, self-confidence, teamwork. You’re part of a team and everybody has to contribute in order for this to work. And learning how to work with people who you might not agree with. But you have to be able to perform alongside them in order for the team to do well.
Sports definitely is an avenue for like, I guess, navigating life. Like it teaches you so many different lessons that are applicable in the real world, and not just on the playing field.
Dacher Keltner: One of the really interesting properties of our podcast is we offer people these exercises that science has tested and looked at and tends to in rigorous scientific tests, give people a little boost in happiness. And what’s interesting to us is why people choose particular practices. You chose the purpose challenge. We know from a lot of interesting survey data, and I actually find it a real source of deep optimism that younger people like you, they’re really more interested in purpose than in making a lot of money…if I were to just ask you what does purpose mean to you as a teenager going off to college, what would you say?
Grace Arevalo: Yeah, I was actually having this conversation with a friend last night about careers and what not. Like she was saying that her goal was to find happiness and just be happy with what she’s doing. And that’s kind of where I see our generation going, like really trying to find a purpose, with not only with their lives, but what they can do for others. And how they can really make their mark on the world.
Dacher Keltner: Nice. Sort of a shift. Just be thinking about how your work orients to the well-being of others.
Grace Arevalo: Exactly. So looking outside of ourselves for our purpose.
Dacher Keltner: Why did you pick the purpose challenge?
Grace Arevalo: Yeah, I chose the purpose challenge because it was geared towards young people. To really understand how other people my age think, or like what people think that we think about. I think going off to college and what not, there’s a lot of change that’s happening in my life. And so finding like a purpose and like a goal to strive for amongst all like the chaos that comes with the change is definitely something that I’ve been looking for. And so doing the purpose challenge has definitely helped.
I think I’ve spent a lot of my adolescence defining myself based on the different roles I’ve played. Like being an older sister or like being the responsible person in the family kind of thing. I had to grow up pretty fast and become more of like a super older sibling slash parental influence. And so being able to move across the country and have like a blank slate and be able to redefine myself is definitely something that is new and is scary but it’s also like liberating at the same time.
Dacher Keltner: You know, it’s so interesting that you say that Grace, cause you know, I teach college. And the seniors who are graduating are sad to be leaving college but there’s this deeper question of, you know, what’s the purpose that they’re heading towards? So it’s good that you’re thinking about this now. So tell me about the practice. What did you do?
Grace Arevalo: Yeah. So the practice is a series of six days worth of activities that go from emailing mentors to analyzing different videos and quotes and just really taking the information that you gained from those and applying them to your future.
I think the first activity was the one that really struck me and that was just emailing a couple of adults in my life who I respected and I wanted to hear like what they had in mind for me and like talking about my strengths and weaknesses and where they see me going. And so I did that with Coach Banks.
Dacher Keltner: Why did you choose your coach?
Grace Arevalo: I chose my coach because, he’s a very well-respected person on campus.
Dacher Keltner: A little bit of fear that he produces in his players?
Grace Arevalo: Yes. He can be fierce.
Dacher Keltner: But lovable?
Grace Arevalo: Yeah, he’s definitely lovable if you get to see that side of him. Like he’s the Dean of Academics, so he’s in charge of punishing people. So there’s kind of the whole fear factor when you get a note from him or when you have to speak to him. But yeah, getting to know him by playing for him, having conversations with him during the season I really got to see a different side of him. And yeah, he’s become almost like an uncle figure in my life.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah that’s really cool. Let’s hear a bit of what Coach Banks thought your strengths and weaknesses are:
I think her talents are in the fact that I hear the term coachable only think of like someone who is kind of brainless. I think it is someone who’s able to take instruction and apply it directly, which I think is not an easy skill to have and I see that as a talent for her. I think her strengths are her own character. How she handles situations and deals with things. I think she has to put herself in the position where she can be a leader. I don’t know if she always does that. I think she has a tendency to kind of stand-off and kind of let things happen and then slowly work her way in. I think if she was a tiny bit more assertive I think it would be completely different for her. I think if you take that attitude you will be very, very successful in what you want to do.
Dacher Keltner: Grace, what was it like to hear your Coach’s thoughts about you?
Grace Arevalo: It was definitely moving. It was very powerful because a lot of the stuff he said that were my weaknesses was stuff that I definitely see as my weaknesses too, and stuff that I’ve been really wanting to improve upon, was his goals for me.
Dacher Keltner: So one was I think you should be a little more assertive.
Grace Arevalo: Yes. Be more assertive.
Dacher Keltner: Because you’re understated and modest.
Grace Arevalo: Yeah.
Dacher Keltner: So is going on a podcast a form of being assertive?
Grace Arevalo: I would say so, yes. This is definitely out of character for me.
Dacher Keltner: What struck you about that comment?
Grace Arevalo: Part of the reason I didn’t join football earlier, which is one of my regrets, was because I was scared of what other people would think. And I think becoming more assertive definitely would have helped me then. Like if I didn’t care. And I knew most of the guys anyways, so I don’t know why I cared particularly. But I think if I had been more assertive in those moments years ago, then I would want to say, that I would be almost a different person now.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah. You know it’s interesting, they’ve done studies of what makes for great presidents, and they kind of figure out the qualities and the social things they do. And you know, you take people like Abe Lincoln, who are modest and come from a poor background, and navigated this really complicated time, and one of the unifying themes for great presidents is, they’re assertive. They may not feel it, but they try stuff. They’re bold. I would say playing football is pretty bold, Grace.
Grace Arevalo: Well, I think from playing football and like seeing the community’s reaction, where it was basically just all support, I think I definitely gained a lot of confidence. And so I see myself definitely being more assertive in the future. Cause that’s one of my goals for college. Is to take advantage of different opportunities that I have and not let it slip away like I did with the years that I could’ve spent playing football.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah. You know, part of this purpose challenge, is so important, not only for young people, but throughout life is to go to trusted people and have them give you feedback about where you are and where you’re going, and you sought out some sort of opinions of Coach Banks. I think he used the word “You’re really coachable” which I take as a very deep form of praise. Which is, hey there’s this team and system and you’re part of it. You’re part of something bigger than yourself. Did his words sort of stir a sense of purpose in you or make you feel like, “yeah, that I’ll do. I’ll work on that one.”
Grace Arevalo: Yeah. So one of the things he said for me that he sees me doing in the future, he talked a lot about playing the leadership role.
And that’s something I always kind of inspired to do. I’m a toe-dipper when it comes to getting into the pool, and like taking on more responsibility and like becoming a leader. And when he talked about me possibly like starting a non-profit and like running some company, I was like, yeah, you know, I could probably do this. It gave me a sense of confidence, and a confidence-boost going forward and looking into careers and looking into future career aspirations.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah. So you said earlier, like the experience you did it a couple days, this sort of purpose challenge and writing about it. Is it sort of staying with you? Did it shift your feelings in any ways?
Grace Arevalo: I think the purpose challenge has helped me recognize not necessarily my individual purpose but like different purposes that I could have or different purposes that I could serve. It’s opened my eyes to different avenues of not necessarily career but of different things that think I would be good at. So trying something new in terms of a major or encouraging me to take a different class that I might not take or just being more outgoing almost, because it’s helped me to self-analyze, and be able to take what I’ve learned from that and hopefully apply it to the future. And so giving me a purpose in that sense.
But yeah. I have a good feeling that this challenge and exercise will stick with me.
Dacher Keltner: Well Grace, I have a very distinct feeling that you’re going to be giving a lot of purpose to other people around you, so it’s been a delight to have you on our show and to get the voice of such a thoughtful, assertive, or increasingly assertive, and deep, and kind person. So thank you for being here.
Grace Arevalo: Thank you so much for having me.
Dacher Keltner: Support for this podcast comes from Best Self. Happiness isn’t just a feeling, it’s also a habit you can nurture by practicing rituals and strategies that make you feel good. If you’re looking for a practical way to bring more mindfulness and gratitude to your life, check out the Self Journal. This powerful tool combines positivity with productivity performance, to help you find fulfillment through work-life harmony. Use the journal’s goal-planning to work towards a target thats meaningful to you. The weekly pages help you plan ahead and reflect on the past week. So the important things don’t get lost in the chaos and the daily pages empower you to be mindful and intentional with your time. There’s also a reflection section, where you can collect your wins and create a written record of successes. Through Self Journal, you’ll access a system that creates more happiness through gratitude, reflection, and mindful use of time. Take a look inside bestself.com/scienceofhappiness and save 15%. That’s bestself.com/scienceofhappiness to save 15%.
Dacher Keltner: So Grace did a happiness practice that I think is on a lot of young people’s minds and really people of any age, which is what is their purpose in life? And she went through this interesting process of inquiry where she kind of took stock of what her values and strengths are. She got some feedback from her cherished coach and then she integrated into her identity. She really was doing a practice that’s based on a lot of neat, new science on what we call purpose or what is your core value and how you’re applying it in a situation. Or you might have it broaden out and talk about it in terms of meaning. Which is what is the animating value, or purpose, or strength that really is driving your life narrative forward?
The purpose challenge was developed by Kendall Cotton Bronk a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University. She studies how young people discover their purpose.
Kendall Cotton Bronk: We have a lot of research that finds that leading a life of purpose is associated with all kinds of physical indicators of health. Things like better cardiovascular functioning, better sleep, even longevity. People with purpose are happier, they’re more satisfied with their lives. And then it’s also associated particularly with adolescents with indicators of academic success. So things like grit, and resilience, and self-efficacy. The second clear finding is that the experience is pretty rare, actually most young people do not report leading a life of purpose. Only about 1 in 10 early adolescents report leading a life of purpose.
So in our lab we were looking at those two findings you know leading a life of purpose is a good thing but it’s actually a pretty rare experience.
Dacher Keltner: Kendall discovered some really interesting findings in her studies with young people.
Kendall Cotton Bronk: One thing that really surprised us in our research on purpose was that gratitude was actually a means to fostering purpose.
We created and tested a tool kit and that became the basis of the Purpose Challenge. We also tested a second tool kit, though and this tool kit had activities that didn’t ask anything about goal setting, nothing about your values or what you wanted out of life. None of that. Instead the activities were all around gratitude. And so we had young people do things like you know every day for the one week write down three good things that happened today we had them write a gratitude letter to somebody who you know had really helped them in their lives.
It actually fostered purpose slightly better than the purpose fostering toolkit. And I think the reason is that you know when young people or anybody really spends time thinking about the blessings in their lives and the people who have blessed them they sort of naturally inclined to start to think about how they want to give back and how they want to use their skills to contribute. And that can take the shape of pursuing a purpose in life.
Dacher Keltner: If you or your kids would like to try the purpose challenge go to purpose challenge.org where you’ll find lots of tips and information on discovering your purpose and then call us at 510-519-4903 and let us know how it went.
I’m Dacher Keltner. Thanks for joining me for the Science of Happiness. Our podcast is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRI, with production assistance from Jennie Cataldo and Ben Manilla of BMP Audio.
Our producer is Jane Bahk.
Production assistant is Lee Mengistu.
Executive producer is Jason Marsh.
Special thanks to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.Our original music is by David Michelle Reddy.
You can learn more about the Science of Happiness and find related articles, videos, quizzes, all kind of stuff on our website Greater Good and shoot us an email. Tell us what you think about what you heard. Send it to email@example.com.