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When’s the last time you made a good memory — intentionally? Our guest tries a practice in cultivating positive experiences and taking time to savor them.
How to Do This Practice:
1. Do an activity that you enjoy doing alone.
2. With a friend, do something that you enjoy doing with others.
3. Do something that you consider personally important and meaningful.
4. Then take a step back and really think about these three events. Write about how they make you feel. Talk about it with a friend, or just really think about it.
Today’s Science of Happiness Guests:
Deandrea Farlow is a member of the Bay Area Freedom Collective, a home by and for formerly incarcerated people, which provides resources and support for their re-entry.
Learn more about Bay Area Freedom House: https://www.collectivefreedom.org/
Meg Speer is a postdoctoral researcher in the SCAN lab at Columbia University. She studies how autobiographical memories and positive thoughts affect our brain function.
Learn more about Meg and her work: https://tinyurl.com/yf39acwk
More resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
Five Ways Nostalgia Can Improve Your Well-Being: https://tinyurl.com/veeraw6u
Listen to our episode, “How to Make Time for Happiness” https://tinyurl.com/yhf39awt
Listen to our last episode featuring the Bay Area Freedom Collective, “How to Feel Less Lonely and More Connected” https://tinyurl.com/4d6dm9zp
We’d love for you to try out this practice and share how it went for you. Email us at email@example.com or using the hashtag #happinesspod.
Listen to our episode, “How to Make Time for Happiness” https://tinyurl.com/yhf39awt
Listen to another episode featuring the Bay Area Freedom Collective, “How to Feel Less Lonely and More Connected” https://tinyurl.com/4d6dm9zp
Help us share The Science of Happiness!
Leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or copy and share this link with someone who might like the show: pod.link/1340505607
[Speaker] The last nice thing that I did for myself was to exercise this morning exercise this morning
[Speaker] Buy myself an iced coffee, even though I could have made one for myself at home
[Speaker] The last nice thing I did for myself was design and build a pretty cool little amplifier
[Speaker] The last positive activity I did with someone else. I went with a friend to the beach and we just grabbed a bottle of wine on the way and talked on the beach for like 3 hours.
[Speaker] The last fun thing that I did with someone else was to play Legos with my kid this morning.
[Speaker] I played in a benefit concert with a bunch of people.
[Speaker] The last thing I did that was personally important and meaningful was take an anger management class.
[Speaker] I read through a lot of my old journal entries from the last several years
[Speaker] The last thing that I considered personally meaningful was to speak at length with my father, who’s just recovering from an illness.
[Speaker] Last night, before bed, my husband and I got some good conversations going, which we hadn’t had in a while.
Dacher Keltner Ruminating on the good things in life—taking time to enjoy past moments of happiness has a lot of astounding effects: more life satisfaction, and less feelings of hopelessness and depression.
But we don’t have to wait for good things to happen to us. We can create our own positive experiences. And that’s what we’re going to practice today.
I’m Dacher Keltner, and welcome to The Science of Happiness. Today we’re going to explore a happiness practice where you intentionally create good experiences in your life, and then dedicate some time to reflect on them and write about them.
Later in the show we look at an experiment exploring how our brains are affected when we try this positive memory practice—under really stressful situations.
But first, our executive producer Shuka joins us to give a quick breakdown of how to do this positive memory practice
Shuka Kalantari First, over the course of a weekend or a couple of days, choose an activity that you enjoy doing alone. It could be reading, listening to music, taking a hike in nature, whatever brings you joy.
Then step two, do an activity with someone else, something you enjoy doing together.
And finally, step three, do something that you consider personally important and meaningful. It could be a beach clean up, or volunteering for a cause that you support. Something that includes the larger community.
Finally, take a step back and really reflect on these three events. Then write about them, giving each one a title, describing the events in detail. And write about how they made you feel in the moment and how it makes you feel now, to be writing and reflecting on it. And that’s how you do the practice.
Dacher Keltner Thanks Shuka. We’ll hear more about the research on positive rumination, after this break.
Welcome back to the Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. If we make it a practice to reflect on positive memories, it helps us retrain our brains to ruminate more on the positive than the negative things in life.
Our guest today, Deandrea Farlow, tried to do just that. But he took an extra step and first created his own positive experiences over the course of a weekend, and then just as deliberately, took some time to reflect back on them.
Deandrea is the second guest on The Science of Happiness who is a part of Bay Area Freedom Collective, a reentry home for formerly incarcerated people who have been released from prison in the past year.
We heard from Simon Lui, the founder of the Collective, a few weeks ago and we have the link to that episode in our show notes. Deandrea, thank you for joining us today. I can’t wait to hear what kind of positive events you created and what that was like when you reflect on them.
Deandrea Farlow Oh, no problem.
Dacher Keltner So a part of the practice, the first step is you choose something that you enjoy doing by yourself. So I’d probably choose, like, walking around Berkeley. So what do you choose?
Deandrea Farlow I meditated. But the meditation I did, it was like a walking meditation. And then I just stop and just meditate, but I do meditate.
Dacher Keltner Where’d you learn how to do walking meditation?
Deandrea Farlow Inside the gardening program in Solano State Prison.
Dacher Keltner Where a lot of people go to meditate. Like I’ve always been in gardening, so I thought it was just gardening. And I get there. They’re like, Oh, so we’re going to meditate. I’m like, Wait a minute, what about the plants? So I learned how to do walking meditation. I was like, Oh, this is cool. And so I did that for myself.
Dacher Keltner And what was that like for you in that first step of the practice?
Deandrea Farlow Nostalgic.
Dacher Keltner What did you think about?
Deandrea Farlow The fact that the last time I did this, I had to stand up for count.
Dacher Keltner Which is what?
Deandrea Farlow You have to stand up at 4 o’clock every day so they know you’re alive in there. And you have to remain standing. So what I thought about was the fact that I don’t have to stand.
Dacher Keltner Wow.
Deandrea Farlow Sit down if I want to lay down. Choice.
Dacher Keltner What’d it feel like?
Deandrea Farlow Incredible, or like I like to say, awesome-tastic.
Dacher Keltner That’s amazing.
Dacher Keltner When you think about that quality of being inside. Like you learn how to do walking meditations inside. I mean the whole ide of meditation is to be in a safe space. So how do you do that work when you’re inside?
Deandrea Farlow Well, the guys I’m in there with, we’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re all like minded individuals. And it’s crazy because we were from different, as they say in prison lingo, different cars, so different groups. So we had Southern Hispanics in it. We had African-Americans. We had the AAPI. And you know. Our white brothers and people from UC Davis, students. So they’re there with us. Gates locked. COs (correction officers) are right there, but everyone’s like minded, so.
Dacher Keltner You feel safe?
Deandrea Farlow Yeah, I actually felt safe in that. It’s crazy. We’re in prison, and we’re in another gate locked. And I felt safe there.
Dacher Keltner So the second step of this practice is where you set aside some time and you do something you enjoy with someone else. Yeah. What did you do?
Deandrea Farlow Well, this one was a little bit of a hybrid.
Dacher Keltner And that’s okay. It’s called innovation.
Deandrea Farlow Yeah. So I’m getting off at Castro Valley Station and walking. Getting ready to walk home, like, a 15-minute walk. I didn’t want to drive that day because gas is expensive. But I heard a young lady, like, crying. She was, like, crying. And I’m like, at first I was going to just walk because, you know, I’m trying to get home. I got to make my prayer, all that. And then I’d seen her and she was just distressed just sitting there. So I like to help. I asked her, “Are you all right?” She was like, “No, my ex-boyfriend was supposed to take me to go get my clothes and he’s not picking up.” I mean, it’s like. 10:30 at night.
Dacher Keltner Not in a good place.
Deandrea Farlow Yeah. She’s out here by herself. So I asked her, is there any way I can help? And she was like, “I don’t know.” So, you remember Elisa?
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
A quick side note—Elisa is a prison reform activist. We met her at Bay Area Freedom Collective, where Deandrea lives.
Deandrea Farlow I jumped on the phone call Elisa. I was in panic mode. “Hey, I got a lady here. I don’t know what to do.” So I get all the questions, get all the deets, and she, like, “Well, look, call this place, get her housed, this, this.” I gave her $40. So that’s the thing I did with someone else, and with her.
Dacher Keltner That’s a good innovation.
Deandrea Farlow So I looked at it as I love doing that. Elisa Loves doing that. We came together, we helped someone, and we did something we both love to do.
Dacher Keltner I hear you. Third step is to do something that is personally important and meaningful to you. What do you do?
Deandrea Farlow I’m a stickler for protection. Security. I met a lady. She came out to San Francisco with her husband and found a job. He was getting heart surgery. She was unhoused. She just got robbed. Broad daylight. No one did anything. I had my knife. I gave her the knife. I taught her how to use it real quick. And. I don’t know, man. It’s just, personally, I always feel you should be able to defend yourself, you know, just in case, you know, I’m a just in case guy. And so just doing that right there was like. It kind of fueled me.
Dacher Keltner Why?
Deandrea Farlow I grew up seeing a lot of women, you know, being taken advantage of. So I’ve always. And my mom, she put this in my head, you know, never put your hands on a woman unless you’re defending yourself or whatever. But I’ve always thought that women should be able to protect themselves. Like it’s a tragedy that they walk around on this planet knowing that at any moment a man can decide to just bop them upside the head and do whatever they want to. And I always think, “Man, that has to be a jacked up feeling.” So, part of the community is protection.
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
Deandrea Farlow And by me helping her, I end up helping her husband, who’s like going through heart surgery. He can’t really do nothing for her, you know? And then it’s like, why should a woman have to rely on a man to protect her? She should be able to defend herself. I would like my daughter to be able to defend herself.
Dacher Keltner I’m curious if these different practices that you did of, you know, getting out in the garden and helping this woman in distress. And if they brought about different kinds of happiness for you.
Deandrea Farlow They did. The exercise I did in the garden brought tranquility. I would say, that kind of happiness, you know. And then when me and Elisa did our Wonder Twins thing. Activated.That was like. I don’t know. It’s kind of like Mission Accomplished type. You know, you win a championship.
Dacher Keltner Or righteous or something, you know?
Deandrea Farlow Yeah.
Dacher Keltner A fist in the air.
Deandrea Farlow Yeah, you did it. All right. Where’s the other one? So. I don’t know if I’m saying it right.
Dacher Keltner Yeah, that’s amazing. And then how about writing about it and just reflecting on it. You know, you have such a rich and varying past and your memory must be a powerful thing for you. What was it like to write about these experiences?
Deandrea Farlow I’m not good at writing. I get writer’s block a lot. If we just sit down and talk. I just. I just go with what feels good. So I just kept reflecting on them, you know, and everything I did on that exercise and it felt liberating. To be able to sit there and really. To be in a safe place. And to reflect on your actions.
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
Deandrea Farlow You know, because every time you walk out the cell. You have to always watch people’s hands. You have to you know.
Dacher Keltner There are no safe spaces.
Deandrea Farlow Nah. And the correctional officers are not there to help you. They’re there to make sure you don’t get out and collect their check.
Dacher Keltner One of the things that one of the things that Simon talked about and a lot of the formerly incarcerated that I’ve had the privilege of becoming friends with and working with is there’s a humanity sometimes inside, you know, and you come outside and it’s like, wow, like we’re missing a lot of stuff outside. And I’m just curious what you think about practices and ideas of getting along inside versus outside, and what strikes you?
Deandrea Farlow Well, on the inside, you’re kind of forced to like we look, man, we got to. Yeah, we want to get to the canteen. We want to get to our college classes or whatever. You know, your trade school, you want to do these things, you want to get to, we want to work out.
Dacher Keltner Get through the day.
Deandrea Farlow The hustlers, they want to get their money. So we need to work together somehow, you know? And it’s crazy because you’ll go like a year or two without nothing happening. And everything’s smooth and It’s crazy, because then you get out here and it’s like. People are like in, as they say, beast mode. And it’s. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to just walk by someone when they’re sitting on the ground.
Dacher Keltner It’s pretty astonishing, isn’t it?
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
Deandrea Farlow Yeah. Like today, when I was late, I had to walk by so I’d get to work, but a person just laying out in the middle of the street like they don’t have nowhere to go. I’m like, this is crazy.
Dacher Keltner 500,000 people living like that, you know, in the U.S.
Deandrea Farlow Wait, that many?
Dacher Keltner Yeah, it’s over 500,000 unhoused, so.
Deandrea Farlow Oh, wow.
Dacher Keltner Yeah. You know, there are so many lessons that we’ve touched upon here. And I’m curious, how does this life you’ve had, what does it make you want to say to other people about how to find happiness?
Deandrea Farlow How to find happiness. I truly feel you can choose to be happy. You can choose that. I could have said, “Woe is me.”
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
Deandrea Farlow While I’m sitting there. There were times I was like that, but I shook it off. But I chose that this would not be the end of my story. I will not be known for only this, I would be known for the strength that I survived it. I went in as a caterpillar. I made a cocoon. And I came out of butterfly. A strong butterfly.
Dacher Keltner Well Deandrea, thank you for taking time out of your workday and making it over here to Berkeley for our show. And thank you for your voice. It’s been a great privilege to be with you.
Deandrea Farlow Thank you. And peace and blessings be upon everyone.
Dacher Keltner Up next, how this positive rumination practice affects our brains unders stress.
Meg Speer If this is something that makes us feel good, can we actually tap into this resource that we have available to us, which is our own memories and use that in times of stress?
Dacher Keltner More, after this break. Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
We’ve been talking with Deandrea Farlow who, for our show today, tried a practice where he created positive memories, and then spent time reflecting back on them.
We know that, in addition to boosting our moods and decreasing depression, ruminating on positive memories can also help people find solutions to their problems and be more focused. But can this practice help us under stress?
Meg Speer While someone’s stressed out, can we actually get them to think about a positive experience from their own life and see if that could actually disrupt the stress process that’s going on in your body biologically?
Dacher Keltner That’s psychologist Meg Speer of Columbia University. Our producer Haley Gray spoke with her to learn more about how remembering happy times affects our stress hormones.
Haley Gray Meg Speer studies autobiographical memories and positive thoughts—And how they affect how our brains function. In one study she brought 134 students to her lab and made them submerge their hands in ice-cold water for two minutes … while she watched them menacingly in the background.
Meg Speer I’m wearing a white lab coat, I’m also videotaping them and telling them, pay attention to the video camera because later on someone’s going to be evaluating your facial expressions. And so this has been shown to pretty reliably elicit stress that we can measure with increase in cortisol about 15 to 20 minutes later.
Haley Gray Speer wanted to see how thinking back on good memories might change those cortisol levels. So a few days before the ice experiment, she asked them about all kinds of memories, to gauge which ones were the most positive for each person.
Meg Speer It might be something like the last time you went grocery shopping family vacation or going to the beach, going to the movies the first day it opened
Haley Gray Then they rated how positive each memory was, and gave each one a title.
Meg Speer So it’s a really easy way for them to give us that information and for us to be able to kind of elicit those memories again in the future
Haley Gray So back to the part of where the students hands were submerged in ice water. During those two minutes Speer had a few of them recall their happiest memories. She had others thinking about their neutral memories, like grocery shopping.
Meg Speer when they undergo stress and then recall neutral memories, you see this huge spike in cortisol about 15 minutes later,
Haley Gray But for the people who thought about a really good memory, it was almost like they didn’t experience any stress at all.
Meg Speer If you stress people out and then you have them recall positive emory, you don’t see a huge spike in cortisol.
Haley Gray Next, Speer put the students remembering happy memories in an fMRI scanner to measure their brain activity.
Meg Speer And then we found that this dampening of cortisol was related to greater activity in reward related regions of the brain, such as the striatum. And it can also boost some of the brain mechanisms that we need for, you know, planning, making good decisions and feeling good in everyday life
Haley Gray Speer then analyzed the content of the memories, and how that correlated with the students cortisol levels.
Meg Speer people who recalled memories or more memories related to socially close others. They showed the greatest dampening of the cortisol stress response.
it could simply be that we really enjoy thinking about not just positive things like, oh, I remember getting an A in this course and that was really great. But thinking about a time where I went to Disneyland with my family, and all the rich and vivid moments of that experience.
Haley Gray And that fits with other research. We know that social experiences and feeling connected is fundamental for our well-being.
Meg Speer if you have some sort of upcoming thing that’s making you anxious one way you can try to feel better in the present moment would be to try to think of a positive experience from your past, particularly something you did with other people, and spend a little bit of time reminiscing about that.
Dacher Keltner Thanks, Haley.Earlier in the show I told Deandrea Farlow, our guest who tried this positive recollection practice, that there are 500,000 unhoused people in the United States. That number has actually risen to over 600,000 thousand.
People who have been to prison experience homelessness at a rate nearly seven times higher than the general public once they’re released.Bay Area Freedom Collective supports recently released prisoners who may have otherwise ended up on this list of unhoused people. So if you’re able to support the Collective, you can do that by visiting collective freedom dot org—there’s a link there where you can donate.
We’ll also include the link in our show notes - which you can find wherever you’re listening to this episode. On our next episode of the Science of Happiness, we explore the power of forgiveness: what happens when we forgive ourselves, and how to truly forgive others.
[Speaker] I grew up with a lot of bullying, a lot of negative feelings about my identity and security and all of that. And I kind of realized how much I was still holding on to that as a 28 year old adult, that, wow, I’m still I’m still kind of holding a grudge both onto like the people who had hurt me, but also on the actions that I did as a kid.
Dacher Keltner I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness.
We love hearing what you think about these practices, and how these stories might have impacted you. Share your thoughts with us at happiness pod-AT-Berkeley dot E-D-U, or use the hashtag happinesspod.
Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. And our associate producer for this episode is Elena Neale-Sacks. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.