Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #158: “Emiliana Simon-Thomas on where happiness comes from (revisiting).”
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions ]
Intro: This is Berkeley Talks , a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. New episodes come out every other Friday. Also, we have another podcast, Berkeley Voices, that shares stories of people at UC Berkeley and the work that they do on and off campus.
Dione Rossiter: All right. Thank you for joining us, thank you for letting us know where you’re tuning in from. I was just mentioning that my dog usually goes out for walks right now, so he is being a little butthead and is barking.
So, why don’t we start right now by Haley letting us know where people are tuning in from. I know we have a lot of people here and I know people are coming tuning in from around the globe, typically. Did you see any people tuning in from afar?
Haley: Afar from the Bay Area, for sure. I see there’s a couple of folks from Toronto, thanks for joining. Looks like someone tuning in from Toluca, Mexico, probably where I would like to be right now.
Dione Rossiter: Me too.
Haley: Plenty of folks from Berkeley and Oakland. Even someone calling in from Cyclotron Drive, which is nice and specific. Thanks for joining us there. Looks like we have a Buffalo, New York, South Carolina. So thanks for having us be the way you’re closing out your day. Long Island, North Carolina. And definitely want to shout out all of the Bay Area folks, plenty of Berkeley people, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Palo Alto. So we have, I think, a good representation going on.
Dione Rossiter: Yeah. And you’re right. Those of you are joining in from the East Coast or anywhere else really, it’s late, so thank you for being here. All right. Well, thanks again. If you’ve been to a Science at Cal event, welcome back. If you are new to Science at Cal, we are so grateful to have you joining us. My name is Dione Rossiter, and I’m the executive director of Science at Cal, which I will explain what that is in just a second. But we are so excited to have Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director of the Greater Good Science Center here with us today presenting on the science of happiness.
Before I really truly get started, I’m going to go ahead and start with a land acknowledgement. Science at Cal and all of Berkeley recognize that Berkeley sits on the Huichin territory, the ancestral and unceded land of the Ohlone people, the successors of historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone Tribe and other familiar descendants of the Verona Band. Every member of the Berkeley community has and continues to benefit from the use and occupation of this land since the institution’s founding in 1868.
By offering this land acknowledgement, the Berkeley community not only recognizes the history of the land on which we stand, but also recognizes that the Ohlone people are alive and flourishing members of the Berkeley and broader Bay Area communities today. So thank you for allowing me to take the time to make that acknowledgement.
All right. So Science at Cal brings the wonder and the excitement of UC Berkeley STEM, that’s science technology, engineering, and math, research to the community. All of our programs and events are free and geared towards public audiences. In 2008, Science at Cal was envisioned as a unifying force and an effort at UC Berkeley to raise public awareness, understanding and appreciation of scientific research at Cal.
To realize this vision, we engage the vast Berkeley STEM community as science communicators, and foster creative collaborations among campus and community-based groups all with a commitment with on equity and inclusion in STEM and STEM careers. So thank you.
Again, we are usually out in our communities, either in these lectures, at restaurants, at cafes, on campus at Cal Day, at festivals on campus and within the community, partnering with consulates and libraries, and first Friday events and all of that, and you name it. Of course, because of the pandemic, we are online and we’ve had such a great online presence. So thank you again for tuning in even though we can’t meet in person. But we’re hoping to see you live in the fall and just a few months. So thank you.
All right. I just want to mention that we have one more summer time series, Science at Cal lecture on the vibrations of the earth, which they teach us about the deep interior, that is August 25th. We have one more grounds for science. This is our graduate student run lecture. And then a Midday Science Cafe or August lecture on the periodic table, which is in about three weeks actually, on Aug. 19th. And so that’s the program where we partner with Berkeley Lab. So stay tuned for that.
I want to thank everyone who supported Science at Cal throughout the years. We’ve been around for over 10, almost 15 years. We’ve had lots of you who’ve been around from the very beginning. We also would just like to thank those of you who donated. There’s so many good things that we’re doing, and we really appreciate all of the support for all of our public programs. I’m going to hand things to Emiliana now.
And while I do that, so she can take over the screen, I’m going to stop share, I do want to mention that I want you to ask questions in the chat box throughout the entire hour and we will get to them at the end of her presentation. I ask that you actually all leave your microphones on mute so that we don’t get any background noise while Emiliana is talking. I’ve heard that having people’s cameras off also helps, so if you could turn your camera off until it’s time for you to join us in conversation, that would be great as well.
In addition, we will be allowing you to unmute yourselves at the very end of Emiliana’s presentation, and ask some questions as well. So if you would like to save your questions to ask her yourself, we may have time for you to do that as long as there’s not all 100 of you asking questions. So again, continue to use the chat and I will go ahead and ask those questions for you and if you’re also not comfortable asking her going live.
The event is being recorded, I want to mention that. There’s also live transcript, closed captioning. I think your screen may look different than mine, but they should say more and there should be three dots. If you click that, you can see some live transcripts. And I think that that was all of the kind of things I wanted to share with you.
Before I continue, of course, I want to introduce Emiliana. Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas is a science director at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She oversees the student research fellowship program, runs the key initiatives like Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, and co-teaches both the Greater Good 101 courses, the Science of Happiness Mass Open Online Course, also known as a MOOC, and the Science of Happiness at Work Professional Certificate Series. She serves as an expert voice on human pro sociality, as well as empirically supported approaches to fostering kindness, resilience, and overall well-being at individual, interpersonal and collective levels.
Alongside her academic and popular publications, Emiliana co-edited the transdisciplinary Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science authored by leading world-class researchers. She also directs the Network for Emotional Well-Being and advises organizations, both from a product and policy perspective, on why and how to promote well-being in internal and public facing ways.
In some, Emiliana’s work shares scientific insights and practical tools for strengthening the skills of connection, positivity and the resilience that measurably and reliably increases health, well-being and happiness. And with all of that, Emiliana, I’m going to hand it over to you. Thank you.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Thank you, Dione. It looks like everyone can hear me. Thumbs up.
Dione Rossiter: Yeah, we can.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: My first observation is I need a shorter bio. Thank you for sludging through that Dione. And I feel like I don’t need to say much by way of introduction for myself. I will just share, I’m from Berkeley. I grew up here, I’m a townie. I live in the house that I grew up in. This is obviously a place of home for me. And I have three children, a 16-year-old, a 13-year-old and an 8-year-old. And that’s just a little bit so you can imagine that I’m an ordinary person and not just the fancy person with all the special things that got listed in my bio.
So, when I teach about the science of happiness, I always want to start by offering a really clear definition of what we mean, what happiness studies are about, why it is something that’s worth paying attention to. And I like this little graphic because it depicts what happened in over the course of several decades in the field of psychology. 30, 40, 50 years ago, the key emphasis was on trying to understand where mental illness came from, why certain people had it, what we could do to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. And that was the emphasis.
And about 35 years ago, Martin Seligman and a couple other pioneers in psychology realized that there was more to the space than just figuring out how to eliminate what was harmful, how to get rid of things that really caused difficulty and suffering and pain. And rather, much in the way that we think about our physical health, there are things that we can do to improve upon our well-being, our experience of what we might call the good life or being happy, having happiness in life. This whole space has been categorized as positive psychology.
At the Greater Good Science Center, we specialize in a certain aspect of positive psychology and thus don’t really call ourselves positive psychologists. We call ourselves happiness scientists because we focus on something broader than self-care or ways that one might work on their own capacity to be as happiness as they want, and instead on the role that interpersonal dynamics, on relationships, on connection, on our sense of belonging, on all of these social factors the role that they play in our happiness in life.
So, to offer a more succinct definition, when researchers and scientists and experts who study happiness, or again, it goes by a couple of different names. As you heard, I run a network in collaboration with colleagues at UCSF and Harvard called the Network for Emotional Well-Being. And there’s a lot of overlap between what we mean by emotional well-being and happiness. But it basically means that you generally feel good, you have a sense that you matter as a person, that you belong and that you’re satisfied with how your life is going.
What I want you to notice when you see this definition is that nowhere does it say you are cheerful and enthusiastic all the time, nowhere does it say never feel angry or grief or afraid or anxious. It says that, generally, you feel good. And it’s an overarching quality or characteristic of your life. And when researchers try to measure and understand where happiness comes from or how it appears or how it occurs in people’s lives, they’re looking for three key dimensions.
The first is the emotional experience, and it’s referred to as the affect or hedonic aspect or dimension of happiness in life. And that again is like, how easy is it for you to experience those pleasurable states when things are going well? If it’s easy for you, if you find yourself laughing easily and feeling joyful and content and affectionate, that’s one part of what it means to be happy. That also means that you’re able to manage the unpleasant and difficult emotional experiences that you have. Now, this doesn’t mean that you suppress them, it doesn’t mean that you avoid them, it doesn’t mean that you pretend that they’re not occurring.
There’s a whole literature on the ways that our relationship to our emotional experiences vary in connection to our happiness. And the most interesting thing, and this is a little bit of a teaser for topics to come, is that the happiest people actually experience a diverse and rich array of different emotions. They don’t feel pleasure all the time, they don’t feel amusement and enthusiasm and satisfaction at every moment. They feel a rich array of emotions. Humans are evolved to experience states like anger in the face of injustice, and anger is a vehicle for addressing injustice.
The other dimension that’s listed second here is evaluative. And that means, how do we think about ourselves? How do we think about other people? How do we think about the world around us? What are our beliefs? How do we perceive and judge and make sense of information that we perceive and consume on a day-to-day basis? So that has more to do with our cognitive apparatus.
So, how do we interpret the world around us, ourselves, and other people? That’s the evaluative dimension of well-being. And then finally the eudemonic dimension of well-being has to do with our sense of purpose, that extent to which we feel like we’re doing something that matters, that we mean something, that our role that we have a place and a position in the world that is important and not just at a level of self-interest, but also at the level of the broader greater good.
If you wondered like, how do we study happiness? And this is just a quick slide, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. But just want to share that there are codified, validated, and reliable instruments. We survey people, ask people how they’re feeling, I’ll share a little bit of data about that later. We catch people throughout their day and ask them, “How are you feeling right now? How do you interpret this particular stimulus that we’re showing you? How do you relate to other people in any given moment?” And by asking people right in the moment, we’re capturing a more granular index of a person’s happiness level overall. We look at how people behave, what are they doing? What kinds of activities are they engaging in? How do they interact with others as a way to understand and characterize happiness?
And then, and there’s a whole literature and field that looks at physiology, neural activation, biological patterns that are associated with being a happier person in life. So all of these are methods that are being used right now. And I just showed you a couple of little images to exemplify each. And all of the different study methods that you’ll hear about in other fields are used to study happiness. We could watch what people do. We put people into randomly assigned groups, and we ask them to engage in a particular activity, and we measure the impact of that activity. And we have a control condition.
Sometimes we’re measuring people over the course of a lifespan. One of the most famous studies is the Harvard Study of Adult Development and what they found in trying to understand the roots of health and longevity and well-being and happiness in life. Is it social connection and our sense of being in a relationship that was supportive and benevolent? And that it was interdependent where we relied on others and others relied on us for support was the most reliable and pervasive predictor of these desirable aspects of our human life.
Fleshing that out a little bit and giving you a longer list of why do you care? There are certainly cynics and skeptics out there who feel like, “Happiness isn’t actually a real thing. It doesn’t really matter. It’s optional, you can choose it or not choose it. It’s up to you.” Well, when we actually do the research that I just described with the methods on the previous slide, we’re able to document really clear advantages and benefits to being a person who scores higher on measures of happiness in life.
So, you live longer, you’re less likely to come down with a range of different illnesses and disease states. If you should fall ill, you recover more quickly and your prognosis is better. Happier people engage in healthier lifestyles, they exercise more, they sleep better. They make choices that result in the lesser likelihood of being in a fatal accident. It’s all these like really tangible ways that happiness improves quality of life. People who are happier experience more motivation, they’re more driven to pursue their goals, they’re more innovative and
When researchers do some intervention to increase happiness momentarily and then give the participants in the study a choice to engage in a way that solves a problem, just the normal routine expected manner or in a more creative and innovative way, people who experienced that happiness prompt or who are brought to a state where they would describe themselves as happier tend to be more creative. They tend to be able to solve problems in new and flexible ways. People are happier are more socially appealing.
If you bring people into a laboratory and you show them images or short video snips of other people, and you know as the experimenter how happy these different other people who are being looked at are, and you ask the person in the study watching these either still images or silent video clips who they would want to like get coffee with or who they would think might be of someone they would want to interact with her or spend time with, people routinely choose those who scored higher on measures of happiness.
We are attracted to people who are happier. It’s easier to make friends with people who are happier. When you are happier, you have an easier time making friends with other people. And when you make friends, those friendships last, they’re more fulfilling and satisfying. So we have this capacity to form strong lifelong bonds and to engage in relationship restorative behaviors. So we resolve conflict more readily when we are happier.
So, I hope you’re convinced that it’s worthwhile that it’s a pursuit aside from this Western American ethos of it’s an inalienable right to pursue happiness, which may be as compelling to some, and maybe not to others. The science backs that up. The science shows that there are a ton of reasons why it’s worth your salt to learn more about happiness and perhaps invest in it and in developing and fostering it in your own life.
Another piece of the science is trying to understand, well, where does it come from? Where does happiness come from? And there’s a historical answer to this question, which is humans have been wondering this for centuries. And early thought and philosophy on happiness was that it was just luck, it was divine favor. It was in the stars whether or not you ended up being a happy person or not. Over the course of history, there became like a virtue voice, the Greeks and the Romans had this idea that virtue was the important aspect, we had to live in a morally uplifted way. And if we did that, that was how you amounted to happiness in life. Another whole stretch of history focused on hedonism pleasure, the idea that happiness was just about maximizing pleasure and trying to avoid all suffering.
And then finally there’s an emerging and probably the most recent wing of thinking about where happiness comes from that rests on the importance of social connection on belonging and relationship and community. There’s some really compelling neuroscience studies that show that if we are isolated, and this actually isn’t that surprising, but it’s sometimes it takes somebody going into a brain scanner and us writing a report for this to really hit home, but if we’re isolated, this actually engages pathways and structures in our brain that signal vigilance to threat. So being alone, being isolated is actually a state that is not the safe state for the average human.
I’m not here to tell you that it’s never a good idea to take alone time. Of course, we all can benefit from some contemplation and some solitude by choice. But in on average, it is not the adaptive state for a human to live in isolation. Humans are an ultra social species. So these four ideas have percolated up to shape some of how we think about where happiness comes from. On this slide, I’m showing you what the research, the basic literature, that basically assesses happiness and large population samples. These are epidemiological studies and have been done by public health researchers and psychologists. Survey tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people on happiness levels, and then look at what’s going on in their lives and draw connections.
And what we know is, yeah, to some extent that luck divine favor story holds. If you’re somebody who happens to be lucky enough to have a dopamine system and an oxytocin system and an endorphin system that really makes it easy for you to feel those pleasurable states in a adaptive and agile way, you may end up without a lot of prompting or exercise or work or effort or intentionality being somebody who scores high on happiness. So, there’s some dimension or some level to which that part of the story holds.
What we know also is that people’s experience in life is really important to their happiness level, so how educated they are, people who are higher, people who have more opportunities to learn and become educated in the ways that they’re interested tend to score higher and happiness over the course of their lives. Being someone with resources, with means is associated with happiness. Although there’s this interesting pattern where it’s led to a lifelong debate about the relationship between money and happiness.
A lot of people think, well, not because of their own ideating, but because of popular media and advertising that if I just had more stuff, if I just had a higher income, if I just had another vacation house, if I just had the newest iPhone, I would be happy. What we know is, actually, that stuff isn’t true. To a certain extent, if you’re impoverished, if you’re living in a circumstance where your resources, your basic needs are not met, of course, that takes a toll on happiness. But once basic needs are met, there isn’t a lasting and lengthy advantage to increasing your socioeconomic status on your happiness level. At a certain point, it just tapers off in a way that makes it less useful as aspiration than some of the other strategies that I’m going to talk about in our time together.
Social network, how socially connected we are is a predictor of our happiness. What we do with our time, this is going to be the most important little bullet for the rest of our time together, because it’s the thing we have control over. Obviously, there’s nothing we can do to back up and change how we’ve experienced our lives earlier on, we can’t change our personality or genetic endowment in profound ways, but we can prioritize and be intentional about our schedules in our activities. And it turns out that this has a pretty significant and promising influence on our happiness level.
So I’m showing you a chart from work by Ken Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky. Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of the pioneers of happiness science and has written several books about it. She’s a professor at UC Riverside. And what these researchers did was they studied the relationship between happiness and genes by comparing happiness scores in different kinds of siblings, so identical twins, fraternal twins, just ordinary siblings, and then people who are not related. And what that does is it helps you characterize how much of a particular characteristic, and in this case, happiness is about our genetic endowment, is about just luck or divine favor. And it turns out that if you try to understand the variability, so the difference in person A’s happiness from person B’s happiness, about 50% of that variability has to do with their genetic endowment.
So, it’s not all of the story, why I’m less or more happy than you or you then your friend or your colleague is only partly related to what your biology has or what your biology looks like. What’s surprising to a lot of people about their data was this green pie piece, which says circumstances and 10%. It’s surprising because a lot of us think that we’re happy because we’ve had a certain experience in our lives, because we were maybe the first born or we lived and grew up in Berkeley, or we had a best friend, or our parents we’re not divorced, or whatever these circumstantial aspects of our lives, the stories that we tell about that.
It turns out that that actually doesn’t explain a lot of the variance in happiness scores between two people. It’s far less… time use and activities, it’s what we’re doing with our time. It’s how we interact… personal happiness, more happiness in your life or those eudemonic type activities, so those activities that have to do with your sense of meaning and purpose and sense of belonging and connection with your community.
So, we’ve broken down this piece of the pie, these eudemonic type activities into three main classes, social connection, positive emotion, and resilient mind. At the Greater Good Science Center, what we do is we scour the scientific literature from neuroscience and psychology and public health and medicine. And we’re basically looking for anything that tells us something about happiness, where it comes from, how we can foster more effectively, which kinds of strategies are valid and reliable, what works for who and when and how. And this is the emerging and continuing science that we’re in the middle of an invested in.
So again, when we have social connection, we feel like we belong, our relationships are fulfilling and satisfying, they’re challenging and also restorative. When we have the capacity to feel good when things are going well to savor those good moments, to be a sponge to those experiences that arouse wonder and affection and closeness, and to be a goldfish.
Anybody here watch Ted Lasso ? If you have, then you know what I’m talking about. And it’s a brilliant and delightful little snippet from this Netflix show or this Apple TV show where the main character is trying to coach, he is a coach, his players on how to deal with setbacks and difficulties. And he says, “Be a goldfish. Don’t stick to it for that long. Let it go, move on, figure out how that experience gives you some directive on how to move forward and grow and learn.” That takes us into this resilient mind.
So, these three main drivers are what we focus on and when we teach what works and what kind of practical things people can do to strengthen their own happiness. So let’s just start with social connection, like what can you do to get better at relating to other people? And I don’t just mean your family members, although that’s a great challenge and opportunity space. I also mean your colleagues, I also mean the people that you interact with just out in the world who you may have never met, even the people you interact with through the internet.
We’re in a particularly tricky time in history right now where there seems to be a lot of polarization, it seems like it’s extra challenging for certain people to understand other certain people, because they feel like their beliefs are so conflictual, they couldn’t possibly have a meaningful conversation. Well, guess what, any human can have a meaningful conversation with any other human regardless of the strength, magnitude of difference in perspective, opinion, or background or beliefs that they harbor. So I’m not challenging you to try that today, I’m just saying that it’s possible.
In the meantime, here are a couple of the practices or key themes that we focus on at the Greater Good Science Center. And I share this quote which is from the Harvard Study of Adult Development from Robert Waldinger who led that study for about 20 years which just highlights the importance of these relationships. So one, we can all get better at this inborn capacity that we have called the empathy.
Empathy is not an unfamiliar word to most people, but I just want to tell you what it really means. It means one, having a physical experience when you encounter or think about or bring to mind another person’s emotional experience. So it’s being moved, I’m moved by another person’s emotion. It can be another person’s joyful emotion. Often this happens if you walk in the room and everybody’s laughing, you feel the urge to laugh, or it can be a response to another person’s suffering and pain. And this also very spontaneously happen, we feel this urge to lean forward and furrow our brows when we encounter someone who we truly care about who is going through a difficult time.
But we can strengthen that skill. We can lean into it by exercising certain behaviors. And one of them that I spell out here is, is just getting better at listening. One of the things that we often do when we’re in conversation with each other is hear what the other person is saying, but only as a way to sort of populate our plan to reply and to be strategic about how we’re going to sound really clever or provocative or interesting when words come out of our own mouth. This way of listening gets in the way. Our brain is a limited resource system or our spotlight of attention is not infinite. We can consume an infinite amount of information into our senses, whatever is coming in can be consumed, but our attention narrows it down to a certain limited amount.
If we’re thinking about what we’re going to say, if we’re thinking about what we’re hearing in terms of the implications for our own status or our own opportunity to seek resources, we’re not paying attention and investing in understanding the signals that the other person is conveying. So listening without distraction, asking questions, relaying what you heard back to the person, and again, instead of planning what you’re going to say, reflecting back what you heard them say, and then that invites the other person in many ways to even say more.
Just a small addition to the without distraction, there’s a fair number of studies that focus on technology and devices and their relationship to empathy. And what we know is that if you’ve got a phone on the table and you’re having a conversation with someone, your empathy is diminished. You may not notice this, it’s not conscious, but that little fraction of your attention that is waiting for the vibrate, is waiting for the ding, or just wondering if when you pick it up you’re going to see something that, is exciting is taking away from your capacity to empathize, this inborn, innate capacity to synchronize with each other when we’re in communication.
The second key idea that we teach a lot about and there’s a ton of science to support its benefit and efficacy is gratitude. I don’t feel like I often need to make a case for advocating for gratitude because so many people already feel like it’s a really important virtue that they aspire to and most of us feel like we’re pretty grateful, we understand what it means. What I want to say is that most of us are probably out of practice when it comes to expressing gratitude to others. And that expression of your gratitude to other people is the most important way to get better at it, is the most important way to actually benefit from it.
I’m going to ask you all or invite you all in your days moving forward to just try expressing gratitude to other people about what it is that they do in their lives, in their ordinary activities that is associated with some kind of benefit for yourself. And as you do this, describe what it is that they did. So just say for really a few words, what it is that they did or what they do. Acknowledge the effort that they put into that, and then explain how it benefits you. Like, what does it lead to that’s positive? This sort of gratitude 1, 2, 3 practice or exercise is a profound way to both evoke gratitude in yourself and others. Sarah Algoe is a researcher at University of North Carolina, and she has shown that expressing gratitude in this way in couples leads to more relationship satisfaction, longevity, lesser likelihood of relationship demise. So there it is, profound benefits of just taking the time to express gratitude.
Gratitude in the workplaces. I can’t emphasize the value and benefit and importance of it because it’s actually more missing in workplaces than anywhere else. When we ask people around the world, “Where do you hear and feel gratitude?” Every other place, and workplace is at the bottom of the list. And we’re just out of habit, partly probably because we take this transactional approach to thinking about work, we do it because we get paid, and so we don’t have to thank each other. That really is a lost opportunity for feeling connected to each other and we’re in it together, we’re aspiring towards a common goal, just so important to our happiness at work.
Reconciliation. I chose three things that we know about rather than the more obscure ideas and practices that are out there. I’ll tell you where you can find those at the end if you’re interested in learning more. Learning how to apologize effectively is something that it’s just surprising how out of practice we are and how ineffectively we tend to do this. Those of us who are parents have seen it. We see kids when you tell them, “Say sorry to your sister,” and they cross her arms and, “Sorry.” We get it. We feel like that’s not effective and we want to teach young kids how to be better at it.
But we don’t really do such a great job about what it means to apologize effectively, it means expressing empathy. It means describing how you’re going to make amends. It means conveying that you are going to make an effort not to cause the same insult or pain that you’ve caused. All of those are important parts of apologizing effectively.
And forgiveness is another big challenging space, especially in Western individualistic countries. Although I will say that I’ve lectured, the two places that come to mind immediately where people raised their hand and said, “I refuse to forgive,” was an audience in Baku, Azerbaijan, and an audience in Dubai. There are other countries, other cultures, other places in the world where forgiveness is really, really hard for people to embrace. But when you look at the science, people who forgive benefit tremendously. Not forgiving is associated with a low line continued stress. Forgiving as a way of managing and alleviating that persistent stress, that trauma or anxiety that’s associated with a past offense.
All right. So I’m going to shift to positive emotions. We’ve talked about social connections, three key strategies or techniques or areas of opportunity. One of the neatest new sciences about positive emotions has to do with spending time outdoors, has to do with noticing nature, has to do with invoking that feeling of awe about being in a setting that challenges your sense of ordinary and normal business.
When we go out into nature… and I’m showing you a figure from a study by Craig Anderson and Dacher Keltner, my colleague at UC Berkeley was also my co-instructor in all things happiness science. They’ve done multiple studies where they brought kids from underprivileged backgrounds, veterans, ordinary UC Berkeley undergrads into scenarios or situations or settings where they experience awe and they track how much awe they experience, that feeling of being in a vast and incomprehensible setting, and connect it to their satisfaction on a day-to-day basis and also to their longterm overarching well-being. And that’s what we’re talking about, their happiness in life.
So there’s this opportunity to work more awe into your life, spend a little bit of time looking at nature and really dwelling in the remarkable newness of it as a force of our lives. There’s a vast literature on the benefits of experiences, and particularly shared experience, in comparison to material possessions. So Tom Gilovich at Cornell University has done studies where he’s told people, “Hey, you’re going to get a little bit of money for the study. You guys get to buy something you’ve really coveted and wanted, and you guys get to invest that money in an experience with another person.”
And he measures how excited they are, how much anticipation they have about the experience, how much actual enjoyment they have when it happens and how much enjoyment they’ve got three months later when they reflect back on this acquisition of a possession of material thing or shared experience. And you guessed it, the people who did the shared experience report higher levels of anticipatory pleasure, actual enjoyment of the experience, and long-term positive emotion associated with the experience.
There’s this fun emerging research on amusement and laughter and levity that also is a point of opportunity. Willibald Ruch, I am sharing with you in this slide his seven humor habits survey. And I like this just because it gives us directionals about how it is we might actually enhance our experience of amusement on a day-to-day basis. And we might invite that sense of levity and joyfulness and ease.
What we know scientifically is that when people laugh, the physiological act of laughter is calming to our stress physiology. We’re exhaling quickly, multiple times, in that haha expression. And that actually calms our hypothalamic pituitary axis, which is the system that activates when we’re feeling anxious or stressed. And we have a sense of safety in response to shared laughter, especially. It’s a way of attuning with one another because often laughter has this echoic mimicry dynamic when we’re in groups. And again, it’s this way of both evoking a positive emotion, but also a positive emotion that builds and strengthens our sense of common humanity and collaborativeness.
I’m going to shift to the third category, resilient mind, and focus first on this opportunity space of just being more agentic or self-determined about how we breathe. Sounds super simple. I hope that being simple actually makes it feel really possible and accessible to you. I don’t make it simple so that it’s not interesting, more that I want you to go do it, I want you to go do it next time you’re about to walk into a room and you feel your teeth clenching, your brow frown, and your shoulders tense. Can you, as you put your hand on the door knob, take a deep, deep breath, inhale, and then exhale more slowly than you inhale.
This is super simple. I’m not asking you to meditate on a deity or connect with some profound spiritual notion. It’s just when we breathe out more slowly than we breathe in, we activate our vagus nerve. Our vagus nerve calms our nervous system, our vagus nerve shifts our sensory portals to be receptive to social input in a trusting and empathetic way rather than a guarded and vigilant way. Of course, if you are amenable to meditation, to mindfulness, to yoga, to prayer, to exercises that really give us a chance to notice our inner thoughts to really intervene.
When we realize that a reflexive way, our habit of understanding or interpreting a particular situation is actually harmful, for example, self-criticism, what we know is that being really self-critical, actually doesn’t help you get things done. A lot of people think it does. A lot of people think, “I got to be really hard on myself, then I’ll be successful.” When we look at people who are highly self-critical and compare them to people who are more self-compassionate, those people who are more self-compassionate actually hit their goals, they get stuff done, they’re more successful.
So, there are a number of ways that you can hone that inner awareness and be more agentic and self-determined about the kinds of ways that you interpret the world around you, the kind of ways that you understand yourself. The figure here is activation in the amygdala, which is a little part of your brain that says, “Hey, something really important and salient is going on.” In kids, actually, this is a team that taught kids mindfulness and then showed them something upsetting. And we’re able to show that after learning mindfulness, the kids that saw this upsetting stimulus had a less robust anxiety response at the level of the brain to that upsetting content.
A couple other ideas, and I’m really drawing from a recent book by a researcher named Ethan Kross, who actually worked with a professor at UC Berkeley named Ozlem Ayduk, about how to manage emotions. And what he found and what they found together is that just naming your emotions and naming it from the outside of your own head actually makes you feel less upset by the unpleasant ones.
So if you can say, “Oh, I feel really irritable,” or, “I feel really jealous,” or, “I feel threatened and let’s take it to the next step.” Emiliana feels really jealous. Just saying that, and either enter or verbalizing it, that reduces the level of physiological intensity associated with that unpleasant emotion. It’s a way to manage the emotions to get out of our own heads.
What it does is it gets us less in the zone of focusing on what it means, what the implications are, whether it’s going to happen again later, whether it’s something that’s happened before, and this ruminative cycle that is quite common. And instead when we get out of our own head and use our own name in the third person, like I demonstrated, we relate to our own struggles the way that we relate to other people who we care about struggles. We adopt this self-compassionate perspective of, “Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling this way. This is something that is manageable and all I need is to figure out how to find the support that will help me transcend and learn and grow from this experience.” So these are three different ideas, name it to tame it, self distance, and adopt a self-compassionate perspective in order to leverage unpleasant emotions for growth.
I want to close, and I know I’m getting close to time, but I just want to share a little bit of our data. Recently, the Greater Good Science Center built out something called Your Pathway to Happiness. It’s on a website called Greater Good in Action, which is ggia.berkeley.edu. If you go there, you’ll see this little banner and you can click on get started. If you decide, you may be one of the people who shows the pattern that I’m about to share with you.
So we invited a whole bunch of people through our web email subscribers to come and try it. People who registered were sent to fill out a little onboarding survey, tell us a little bit about themselves, and to rate themselves on a list of virtues and their happiness. And then over the course of four weeks, we sent them little email invitations. And if you wanted, you could also get them on your phone as an SMS text message. Each notification was like, “Hey, come and try this practice, come and try this exercise, this activity.”
And they’re very similar to the ones that I’ve just been describing. They got one a week and each week they were reminded like three or four times to do that one. And then another one the second week, another one the third week and so on. At the end of each week, we sent them a little survey and were like, “How’d it go? Did you like it? Did it work? How do you feel? How’s it going? How are things going for you?” And then at the very end of four weeks, we did another survey.
So what did we see? This is 261 people who we got data from. These are the people who actually got through all four weeks and completed all of the surveys that we sent them. Of course, there are a fair number of people who dropped the offer who got distracted or had other things come up. But the ones did everything, what we show on the virtuous side, so these are the orange and blue lines, is that between onboarding and closing, there’s a measurable increase. It’s small, it’s somewhere between three and 15%, depending on which virtue we were measuring or asking about. But there was a measurable end statistically significant increase in all of these virtues related to participating in this particular pathway. Some of them are less strong, like compassion and kindness. One of the reasons we think those didn’t change much is because they’re so close to the top of the scale to begin with, we call this a ceiling effect.
In our next round of data analysis and design, we’ll try to fix that. We’ll try to figure out a way to ask the question so differently so that people don’t end up topping out. On the right, there’s a figure that shows the change in people’s responses to questions about life satisfaction, meaning and purpose and happy feelings, just general, how happy if you’ve been feeling for the past week? And again, what you can see is from onboarding to check in one, check in two, check in three, there’s this pattern of gradual increase. So again, what we’re trying to do is offer people the skills, the strategies, the practical approaches to strengthening qualities of their behavior, of their experience that can build happiness.
And this is like hot off the press, pilot data, this is not published in a peer reviewed journal yet, but I wanted to share it so that you could know that this is available. And as far as we know from all the exercises that are in there that we include in the pathway are drawn from peer reviewed published scientific research studies that have compared the impact of those exercises to suitable control conditions. So it’s not like they’ve never been studied, we’re just in the early stages of studying them in this particular web based context. Here’s a couple of quotes from people who did it, this is how they feel about it. It seems good. It seems to be impactful. People seem to be benefiting from it and realizing new things about themselves and the possibility that they might experience more happiness in life.
Just to close, we talked about what happiness means. It’s this broad emotionally diverse and self transcendent quality of our lives overall. It’s beneficial to health, well-being and behavior. It’s malleable and within reach. And we can enhance it by engaging in these intentional activities, exercises and practices that strengthen our skills of connection, positivity and resilience. I’m going to leave this slide up while we take some questions.
Dione Rossiter: Excellent. I felt like that was a ridiculously fast 45 minutes, and I cannot say that about all science lectures.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Oh, good.
Dione Rossiter: Thank you. Thank you so much. Okay, I’m going to pull some… You know what I’m going to do first, actually, I will allow those of you, if you go to the bottom and you push the reactions button and you click raise hand, I will call on you and have you unmute yourself if you’d like to ask a question. But I will go ahead and start. First and foremost, I don’t see any hands raised yet. And I like this question because it’s very timely, have there been studies on the effects of coronavirus lockdown, specifically masking on happiness? I know from my own life, I live alone, so a lot of that loneliness factor I had to turn towards the internet for that. So have there been studies in that space?
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah. There’s a lot of interest in that and in a weird way, it presented researchers with what we call a natural experiment. We could never design an experiment where we got hundreds of thousands of people to undergo the circumstances that the pandemic challenge. What we observed in the space of happiness is that of course people’s overall happiness levels declined in response to the pandemic. When we try to understand the causes, what are the leavers that were most tightly linked to that change in happiness level?
It was two things. One, loneliness, social isolation. When people felt like they couldn’t access the community or the family, the friends, the important people in their lives, the colleagues that they were accustomed to having contact with, even strangers out in the world. And I’ve talked a lot about this during the pandemic, how troubling it was fundamentally not to have those incidental elbow rubbing points of contact with people in the cities that we live in during the pandemic. When we have those regular flow of contact with people that ends up being either mundane or friendly, which is the crowning majority of the time, this shapes how we think about ourselves and humanity.
We trust humans in general because most of our experiences are friendly and safe and/or not threatening. When we don’t get that input and we’re constantly reading and hearing and browsing content that suggests that humans not trustworthy, that humans are dangerous, that humans are threatening, our general mental orientation or worldview about other humans becomes more skeptical and threat based. And that is one of the reasons why happiness went down, particularly in relationship to loneliness and social isolation.
When researchers studied emotions and they were curious, did positive emotions go down? Did negative emotions go up? What they found, and this was a little bit surprising, was that people were pretty good at maintaining their level of positive emotions. What happened is that our negative emotions bumped up through the roof. So we were more depressed, we were more anxious, we were more worried, we were more angry. So those unpleasant emotions went up and our pleasant emotions stayed the same.
And what researchers call this is a sign of our psychological immune system. That really, even in the face of mental adversity like we’ve all encountered and endured throughout the pandemic, we have a particularly agile capacity to discover ways to experience those positive emotions to a degree that is similar to how we were experiencing them prior to that circumstance. So many of us took on baking, many of us made new friends in different ways. And in my community, I see people with earbuds on roller skates and day glow spandex. And that brings me joy to see people finding those creative outlets and expressive behaviors even in the context that was so difficult.
Dione Rossiter: Yeah, definitely. Thank you. And that all makes sense, so I’m… Oh, that was my dog. Excuse you, Mr. Speaking of being alone, my dog makes me happy. So, I like this question too, if you ask people to rate their own level of happiness, essentially do they tend to say their happiness level is greater than, less than, or about the same as a level of real happiness?
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: That question doesn’t have a perfect answer. One of the things that I’m doing right now is working with a collaborative group across the nation to try to really characterize and define happiness, and we’re calling it emotional well-being in this case. But subjective report is just one method, and this is asking people like, “Rate your own happiness.” Some people don’t ask the question that way, some scales ask the question by saying, “How often did you laugh yesterday? Very often to never once.” Some asks the question, I’m trying to actually visualize the surveys in my mind you know, “How strongly do you characterize your sense of meaning and purpose in your life?”
And so remember that there are these dimensions of happiness, the hedonic/affective, the evaluative, and the eudemonic. And oftentimes scales will not use the word happiness, they’ll use words that are characteristic of those three dimensions. Some scales rely on the honesty of people. I think if people think you want them to say that they’re happy, they will say that they’re happy. I think that that’s actually probably part of the reason why our compassion and kindness and gratitude ratings from the data that I shared are high. I think that’s an aspirational, virtue. People are more willing to say, “Yeah, I don’t feel like I’m very resilient. I do struggle with stress and anxiety,” than they are to say, “No, I don’t really care about other people.” That-
Jeff: Dr. Simon-Thomas?
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yes.
Jeff: This is Jeff. When I asked that question, what I had actually asked is when people rate their own happiness and you ask them to rate the happiness of others they know, do they actually say that they feel they’re more happy, less happy, or as happy as others they know? How do they rate their own happiness compared to how they rate others’ happiness? Thank you.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Thank you, Jeff. And I think that’s a great question. And I don’t know that I’ve seen data that specifically speaks to that pattern. I know that the subjective happiness index that Sonja Lyubomirsky uses and which is one of the primary self-report instruments actually asks the question precisely that way. So it’s considering other people and the range of possible happiness levels, how happy would you say you were? Right. So doing that comparison to the normative range of possibility is one of the ways that we measure happiness.
That said, at a cognitive science or cognitive bias perspective, we do know that people tend to rate themselves more highly than other people. We tend to see ourselves as happier than our peers see us. Some of the data that I gathered during our science of happiness course, I actually did this, I asked people to rate their own happiness and then to nominate a peer who would provide ratings about them. And that is precisely what we found. If I were doing my own ratings on average, I had thousands of students writing their own compared to the happiness ratings from their nominated peer, my own happiness rating is higher. Not dramatically, but is higher than the rating of happiness that another person would give me.
That’s not exactly what you asked though, you asked if I rated another person and compared mine. I think people would likely rate their own happiness as a little bit higher also, it’s part of just the fundamental attribution error. And we know our own minds more than we know other people’s minds, and so we characterize it more favorably.
Dione Rossiter: Thanks for that clarification, Jeff. So here’s another great question, when people take prescribed medication for their depression and other mental illnesses, are they authentically happy? And just to add to that, would you be able to see a difference in that when you’re testing these folks for the measure of their happiness?
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah. Well, I just want to clarify that when somebody takes medication for depression, the point is never to make them happy, the point is to make them not depressed. When somebody takes medication for anxiety, the point is to make them not anxious. Those pharmaceutical interventions are not geared towards something beyond alleviating the disorder, they’re meant to treat the symptoms of the disorder.
Would I be able to tell the difference between somebody who was depressed and unmedicated and depressed and medicated? Hard to say, because I’m not clinically trained. I would like to say that I would be able to, and that I would be able to be concerned about that person who was depressed and unmedicated, that I would recognize that they were not flourishing, that they were not thriving, that they were struggling and in pain, and that I would take it upon myself to help them find the resources that are most important for them.
Right now, there is no so-called happiness pill, there isn’t a solution that gets us from zero, lacking in disorders, symptoms, or illness to actually having, again, let’s use the physical fitness analogy, being somebody who has the optimal muscle to fat ratio or blood pressure level or number of hours of sleep in a night. These are all things that are passed just not being sick. They’re being a really healthy person. Having that strength and physical fitness, there isn’t a pill for that either. we just have to exercise and prioritize and invest intentionally in the behaviors and the experiences that strengthen that capacity.
Dione Rossiter: Yes. Thank you so much for clarifying that also. And this might be in an easy one for you to answer, why is it less likely fatal accidents among people who are happier? That was a quick point you glossed over, and I was like, “That is a good question.”
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: It’s a really good question. So when people are experiencing positive emotions, they take a more global broad view of the environment that they’re in or the context that they’re in. This is research by Barbara Fredrickson who’s written several books about positive emotions, about feeling good. So assuming that the people who score higher on unhappiness feel good more often, they’re having those positive feelings, they’re easy for them to have when things are going well, they’re seeing situations in a more broad manner that accounts for the long view. When we’re not feeling good, when we’re anxious, when we’re worried or angry, those unpleasant emotions tend to narrow our scope of attention and provoke immediate reliance on already automatic reflective responses. And this really helps us a lot of the time.
If you hear a car horn honking and you’re stepping out into the street, it’s really important to have that reflexive motor response to backup or jump out of the way. You need that to survive. Sometimes fatal accidents aren’t really a result of that immediate circumstance, and instead, it’s a choice or a decision to engage in an activity or put oneself in a context that presents the danger to begin with. And so, again, when we’re feeling better, we just make better choices. We make better long-term choices that have more promise than when we are less able to feel those positive states, those good feelings. That’s my interpretation of why that pattern happens.
Dione Rossiter: Thank you. And we have two questions that are around essentially extroverts versus introverts. So one person says, “I’m an introvert and often feel more comfortable alone than with other people, so does that make me less likely to be happy then? Are the factors that predict different for everyone?” And then another person asks, “Do you recognize the difference between extroverts and introverts? Therefore, would you consider introverts dysfunctional?” Which [inaudible 01:08:43]. But those are all around the introvert, extrovert space.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah, yeah. I know. And it’s such a valuable and important question. On average, introverts do score lower in happiness than extroverts. In my opinion and I don’t feel like it’s just anecdotal waxing poetic, I don’t think it’s because introverts actually are less happy, I think it’s because introverts are more guarded about how they characterize themselves. And this really weaves back into the earlier question about, what can we draw or what can we learn from people self-report? So that’s one answer to the question. Yes, they score lower. I’m not sure it’s because they’re actually less happy.
The second answer to the question has to do with social connection and how an introvert might be able to gain from some of the activities or exercises or practice that are interpersonal. If that is fundamentally unpleasant, if they feel anxious when they’re in social contexts. Well, another finding is that, well, I’ll start with the principle, social connection doesn’t mean quantity, it means quality. And I would argue even the introvert who has a loving and affectionate relationship with their pet is benefiting from that sense of connection. There are studies, believe it or not, of people and their pets and particularly dogs and dog owners, when they’re gazing into each other’s eyes, both people and pet release oxytocin. Oxytocin is this neuropeptide that makes us feel warm and fuzzy, trusting, and like we want to engage more and be closer to that other member of the dynamic.
So, feeling connected to anyone or anything that is ultimately a source of support is a value. It doesn’t mean that you have to be someone who dances on tables and tells jokes all the time. That’s not what it means. When it comes to practicing some of the exercises, so for example, one of the practices is random acts of kindness, we’ve shown in multiple contexts that when people decide, “Hey, for this next week, five times every day, I’m going to do something nice for someone else.” The introverts actually benefit more from doing that than the extroverts. They get more from stretching their comfort zone.
And doing a random act of kindness doesn’t mean you have to come up to someone on the street and tell them that you love their sweater. That’s a big ask. But it could be holding the door, silently holding the door when you see that somebody is a little too far away to make it totally expected. Just hold it, just wait there a little longer, and you can have a moment eye contact in a small grin that just gives the sense that we’re here, we’re part of this community, we’re humans, and we’re all part of the same mission to, I don’t know, goodness in our lives. So yeah, being an introvert makes you no less eligible.
Despite my comfort presenting and talking about these ideas, which I think comes from my parents forcing me to do theater in my elementary school years and middle school years, I really, really value time alone and it doesn’t threaten me. And I enjoy solitude. So I don’t think solitude and alone time are the same as isolation and loneliness. There’s a volitional dimension to it. Oh, I know, I know, I’ll tell you. There’s this great study about older adults and loneliness done by Steve Cole down at UCLA. And what he was measuring, actually, an immune response that worsens in cases where people are lonely.
But here’s the rub, if people were objectively lonely, which means that you looked at how many people they interacted with on a day-to-day basis, they did not show the worst in immune response. The worst in the room immune response only showed in people who are subjectively lonely, that is, they said, “I feel lonely.” So there’s again, another encouraging finding for the introverts out there like, look, yeah, work on your relationships. It doesn’t have to be 50 people or 1,000 people, just has to be who you rely on and who relies on you for meaningful support and connection.
Dione Rossiter: Oh, I love that. And that leads into a great question here was, what range where people are the happiest?
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah. So when we study happiness longitudinally, there’s this funny thing usually we don’t get a lot of variation in kids, kids are pretty dang happy unless there are extenuating circumstances that we hope is not the case. You get happier little bit of in a rocky pattern in the teenage years, early 20s getting happier, early 30s getting happier, up into the 40s. Right about 50 and 50 to 65, there’s this dip, maybe even a little bit earlier for some. And then after 65, there’s this slow and gradual increase again. So yeah, it’s a U-shaped curve. I’m sorry, not a U-shaped curve, it’s goes up, dips down, and then goes up again. What would you call that diagonal or italic S of sorts.
And there’s a lot of people who are curious about where that comes from and why the pattern looks that way, particularly the demise in midlife. And I think, I don’t know, the most compelling theory is that that’s just a time when people are experiencing more stress and challenge based on family situations, having to support the expense of being an adult than living in a house and aspects of professional life that can be tricky at that point. So yeah, it tends to be interpreted as a contextual thing. And that’s tricky because from what I’ve talked with you about so far, context shouldn’t be that much of an issue. But it is if we’re not relating to it with the skills that we’ve talked about and that are so important to experiencing happiness in this sustained and enduring way.
Dione Rossiter: Has there been any indication that there’s a difference between men and women? Because actually there’s been a few questions about those differences specifically as it relates to gender. And then somebody asked, “Is this accounting for menopause in any way?”
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know the literature on menopause, I’m fascinated by menopause. I’ve got the Menopause Manifesto book on my nightstand right now, because I mean obviously it’s timely in many of our lives at this point. But I don’t know if menopause is necessarily characterized as a time that is problematic for happiness or is a time that actually can be beneficial to happiness. I don’t know that there is a consistent finding around that. I think there’s so much variability and historic cultural influence on how we think about menopause and how women manage that time of life and how healthcare supports or doesn’t support that experience that plays into how it might influence happiness. So yeah, I wish I could give a clear answer to that one.
The men versus women, what we find is that women tend to be more willing to endorse higher scores and lower scores on any mental measure. So women tend to score higher in happiness than men, women also tend to score higher anxiety and depression than men. Why? There are a number of cultural reasons why that could be the case. It’s my opinion that most of that is contextual and social norm driven and not a biological affordance. It’s my observation from the literature that differences between two people supersede differences between sexes on average. So there’s much more variance between those 10 people than there is if you were to divide them into five men and five women, and look at how much variance there is based on sex. So yeah, I don’t have a compelling into a sense that being male or female is a predictor of your happiness level. It doesn’t pan out in the predictors of happiness research either.
Dione Rossiter: I keep thinking, “Okay, last question,” but then we got another good one in the chat about this too, because somebody brings up differences in not just happiness level, but effective strategies for increasing happiness as it relates to race, people of color, not just gender.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: I’m so glad that that question got posted for a couple reasons. One, because the science is regrettably incomplete. As many of you know, in a devastating course of history, there is vast inequality in who gets to do science and who scientific studies are capturing data from. And so, everything that I’ve talked about is biased in that manner. Most of the findings are from studies on upper middle-class white college students. That’s how psychology studies have been done.
Dione Rossiter: Weird, right? Weird.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah, exactly.
Dione Rossiter: White, educated, I… Yes.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, exactly.
Dione Rossiter: Look up weird if you haven’t folks.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas: Yeah. So that’s one part of it. And then the second part of it is that we’re trying to solve this. Research, in general, the scientific sort of community is totally committed and invested in diversifying the approaches that we’re taking to sampling people. I can say that when I analyze data from our science of happiness online courses, we are lucky to have a global learner base. And so I do get to see more diversity and representativeness in the populations that I try to understand the patterns of happiness within.
In terms of GGIA and the happiness practices, that’s the frontier. How do certain people match certain kinds of practices better or worse than other people? And this relates to our introvert extrovert question, but generalizes too, like how old are you? Or what’s your cultural background? Or where do you live geographically? And do these different factors predict better match or a more robust impact of a particular activity or exercise on your happiness compared to someone else’s?
This is actually one of the objectives of the studies that we’re running with our GGIA platform, and we’re just doing the best we can to get enough data, to get enough people on the platform going through the pathway so that we can divide the data accordingly. Just for an example, let’s imagine one of the practices is random acts of kindness. And if we have 5,000 people who have tried that, and we have them telling us how they felt before they did it and how they felt after they did it, and they’ve done it for a week, and we can look at whether the 20 year olds gained more from it than the 65 year olds, or we can look at whether the people living in Beijing had a different impact than the people living in Azerbaijan or the people living in California or the men or the women.
One other finding that is again, very preliminary, but I was looking at it yesterday, as we ask people whether they feel like the practices are good for them, like, did they feel that they like it? Did they feel like it benefited them? Did they feel like it was difficult? And we compute a score from that, we call it the fit score for that particular activity. And what we did find is that the women on average in this group of 260 people had higher fit ratings for things like active listening and loving, kindness, meditation, and the men had higher fit ratings for a walking meditation or an awe exercise.
So there very well could be differences based on individuals that help us do a better job of recommending a particular activities and exercises or a particular series of exercises, much like a personal trainer might do at a gym. That’s the frontier, that’s where we’re going. And we really do have a strong motivation and commitment to making sure that we are inclusive in both catalyzing science that involves people from many, many different kinds of backgrounds and featuring that science and accurately in all of our programming and content.
Dione Rossiter: Excellent. And that is a good space, a good moment for us to end. There’s a lot of gratitude coming in the chat and people are saying, “This talk just makes me happy.” And I know I feel like I’m at therapy here. And then, I was saying we were all expressing so much gratitude for you being here, and that’s probably why we’re feeling lots of happiness as well. So I just want to thank you again. I do have a closing slide to just say, thank you all of you for joining, our audience for being very active, there are some nice active chat. Of course, thank you, Emiliana. Again, thank you for those who donated. We will be in touch, we will send this recording out and invite you to more Science at Cal events. And thank you, thank you, thank you, Emiliana, once again. And thank you everyone for being here.
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions ]
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