Martin Seligman is the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Positive Psychology Network. He is the author of 20+ books including Learned Optimism and The Optimistic Child; his latest (co-authored with Gabriella Rosen Kellerman) is Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection ― Now and in an Uncertain Future.
What We Discuss with Martin Seligman:
- Studies have shown that optimistic people with highly positive emotions live between six and eight years longer than their more pessimistic peers.
- Personality traits, past experiences, and current circumstances can all play a role in shaping an individual’s outlook on life — and their tendency to veer toward optimism or pessimism.
- How Martin’s five-year-old daughter inspired him to stop being a grouch and shift his professional priorities in a more positive direction — all because of her own commitment to stop whining.
- How, by focusing on strengths, resilience, and positive psychological growth, military personnel can learn to better cope with the stresses of their duties and build a more positive and effective team culture.
- How we can apply positive psychology strategies to overcome the crisis of purpose and find greater fulfillment in our lives by cultivating gratitude, setting meaningful goals, practicing mindfulness, and finding ways to serve others — even if we’re predisposed (genetically or otherwise) toward pessimism.
- And much more…
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Studies have shown that optimistic people with highly positive emotions live between six and eight years longer than their more pessimistic peers. In fact, pessimists on the extreme end of the spectrum suffer a hit to their health not dissimilar to that of someone who smokes three packs a day. But what other benefits can we enjoy by trying to cultivate a more positive relationship with how we view the world and our place in it?
On this episode, Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection ― Now and in an Uncertain Future co-author and legendary psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman joins us to explore thinking styles, optimism, resilience, and how we can take advantage of the benefits that optimism provides, even if it’s not our natural way of thinking. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Join us for episode 192: Rick Hanson | The Science of Hardwiring Happiness and Resilience as we explore practical techniques to rewire your brain for happiness, love, and inner peace, man!
Thanks, Martin Seligman!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection―Now and in an Uncertain Future by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin E. P. Seligman | Amazon
- Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman | Amazon
- The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience by Martin E. P. Seligman | Amazon
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E. P. Seligman | Amazon
- Other Books by Martin Seligman | Amazon
- Authentic Happiness | University of Pennsylvania
- Positive Psychology Center | University of Pennsylvania
- Martin Seligman | University of Pennsylvania
- Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, MD | LinkedIn
- Martin Seligman: The New Era of Positive Psychology | TED Talk
- Sigmund Freud | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Arthur Schopenhauer | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Rhonda Cornum | The Vitality Institute
- Catastrophizing: What You Need to Know to Stop Worrying | Healthline
- How Learned Optimism Can Improve Your Life | Verywell Mind
- Humanity’s Crisis of Purpose | Psychology Today
- Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings from the Nun Study | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
- Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Divorce Later in Life | Motivation and Emotion
- Positive Emotional Style Predicts Resistance to Illness After Experimental Exposure to Rhinovirus or Influenza A Virus | Psychosomatic Medicine
- Don’t Worry, Be Happy | The New Yorker
- From “Sadder but Wiser” to the Happy Realist | Psychology Today
- What is Active Constructive Responding? | Positive Psychology
- Unconstrained Happiness by Martin Seligman | Slate
- The Hedonic Treadmill — Are We Forever Chasing Rainbows? | Positive Psychology
- Hard Work Is the Key to True Happiness | MentalFlow
- The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats | Poetry Foundation
- “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Brian Crisp | Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
- Who is Julian of Norwich? | Friends of Julian of Norwich
- “All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Thing Shall Be Well” — The Optimism of Mother Julian of Norwich | The Centre for Optimism
803: Martin Seligman | Flourishing in an Uncertain Future
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Peloton and US Bank for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:04] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:08] Martin Seligman: Optimistic people, people with high positive emotion live between six and eight years longer than pessimists. So being in the bottom quartile of pessimism is roughly equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.
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[00:01:38] Today, we're talking to the father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman. You've probably heard of the concept of learned helplessness, or at the very least you've heard of the field of positive psychology. Today, we'll explore thinking styles, optimism, resilience, and how we can take advantage of the benefits that optimism provides, even if that's not our natural way of thinking. Dr. Seligman has been on my interview wishlist for well over a decade now. He just released a new book called Tomorrow Mind, and I'm grateful we finally made this one happen.
[00:02:06] All right, here we go with Dr. Martin Seligman.
[00:02:14] Let's start with the obvious here because one of the things that most of us youngins, they actually don't know youngins like me, psychology used to only be focused on misery, mental illness, not actual psychological well-being. And that was kind of until you came along. Is that accurate?
[00:02:30] Martin Seligman: Yeah. When I went into psychology, it was conflict, aggression, misery, suffering. And when you asked questions like happiness, meaning, love, they'd stare at you as if you came from a different universe. And I learned very quickly what you had to be silent about. So for the first 25 years of my career, I was silent about notions like well-being and happiness and meaning. But then things changed.
[00:03:00] Jordan Harbinger: What is positive psychology then? Is it just the version of psychology that doesn't focus on things that make us miserable? Is that a fair layman's definition?
[00:03:08] Martin Seligman: Let's refine it a bit.
[00:03:09] Jordan Harbinger: Sure, happily.
[00:03:11] Martin Seligman: So the approach that psychology took coming from Freud and Schopenhauer was the best you could ever do in life was not to be miserable. A good life held your misery as close to zero as possible. And what positive psychology came along and said was this view that the only thing there was in life were different degrees of suffering up to zero is empirically false, morally insidious, and a personal and political dead end. And it said there's all sorts of stuff above zero that psychology fails to investigate. So positive psychology said, let's look at the stuff north of zero. And the barrier was there was no theory of well-being. All of our measures were about misery, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and all of our interventions, both pharmacological and psychological, were about reducing suffering. So the question of doing science on well-being, 30 years ago was zero. There was nothing around it.
[00:04:24] Jordan Harbinger: It's crazy to me. I mean, just look, 30 years is a long time, but also it's not, it's kind of crazy to me that nobody thought, "Hey man, we should probably be optimizing for happiness and well-being." Or was that just kind of like, this is the domain of religion and psychology is about what's wrong with this guy? Why is he talking to himself? You know, it seems very cut and dry.
[00:04:44] Martin Seligman: Well, I think the science said that there was just no way of doing good science, no way of measuring, no way of intervening on well-being. And I had an epiphany, which actually changed my mind about it. And eventually, the science came along.
[00:05:01] Jordan Harbinger: What was the epiphany? Were you just golfing one day and you were like, "You know what? I'm sick of the negativity."
[00:05:06] Martin Seligman: It was pretty dramatic. I had been elected president of the American Psychological Association 1996 by the largest vote in history, and presidents are supposed to have initiatives, and I didn't know what mine would be. I was in my garden with my five-year-old daughter, Nikki, and we were weeding and Nikki was having a great time throwing weeds in the air, dancing around, singing. And I said, "Damnit, Nikki, get to work. We're weeding." And she walked away and came back and said, "Daddy, can I talk to you?" "Yeah, Nikki, what is it?" She said, "Daddy, did you remember that before my fifth birthday I was a whiner?" And I said, "Yeah, you whine all the time." "Well, daddy, have you noticed in the two weeks since my fifth birthday, I haven't whined once." "Oh, yeah." "Well, daddy, on my fifth birthday, I decided not to whine anymore and that was the hardest thing I've ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch."
[00:06:17] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:06:20] Martin Seligman: Jordan, in that moment, I realized three things. First that I was a grouch.
[00:06:25] Jordan Harbinger: That was the first clue. Huh?
[00:06:27] Martin Seligman: I walked around the world looking at all the things that were wrong, and Nikki hit it on the head and maybe I could change. And the second thing was I realized that my theory of raising children was wrong. And the theory was correct their errors, and if you correct all the things they're doing wrong, you get an exemplary child. And I realized that was nonsense. And the third thing I realized was that my profession, which I had just been elected to head, was half-baked. The part that was baked was all about misery and suffering, and what was unbaked was what Nikki had just shown me, human strengths, the things you're really good at, well-being, and the like. And so, in that moment, I resolved that maybe I could get people, the clinicians and the scientists, to work on what makes life worth living, not just on what cripples life. That was the epiphany.
[00:07:27] Jordan Harbinger: Look, for me, positive psychology has been a life-changing set of ideas and concepts. And I think most sort of amateur hacks like myself who do podcasts that have psychologists on, we like this stuff. Right? It's nice to think that we have some control, some agency over our level of optimism, our level of happiness really. I was trying to think of another word and I can't because that's the best one for it. One of the many things your world famous for is the concept of learned helplessness. And I think a lot of people have heard of this, but can you tell us a little bit about what this is?
[00:07:56] Martin Seligman: Yeah. And also I can tell you how it led to the epiphany of working on well-being. So 58 years ago, I was part of a group that found that animals and then people when they were confronted with events, they couldn't do anything about, collapsed and didn't try anymore, and they showed all the symptoms that we now call depression. They're passive, they have cognitive deficits. They have sleep deficits. The food didn't taste good, jokes weren't funny. And so I was working on animal and human model of depression in attempt to try to prevent it and cure it.
[00:08:36] But there was a strange phenomenon which we kept trying to sweep under the rug, and it was that both with people and with animals, when we presented them, if we took people and we gave them inescapable noise, and then the next day, we put them in a situation, which all they had to do was to move their finger, to turn off the noise, the ones who had gotten inescapable noise didn't try. But that was only true of two-thirds of them. One-third of the people, one-third of the animals, I could never make helpless. And so after about 10 years of working on helplessness, I said, "Hey, there's something really interesting here, and what is it about some people that makes them invulnerable to helplessness? That was the next venture, and it was the venture that led to positive psychology intellectually, in many ways.
[00:09:28] Jordan Harbinger: I know there's some military applications of this, which you've mentioned in some of your talks about PTSD and things like that, that soldiers are experiencing — by the way, the noise thing, is that one reason why torture often involves using 24/7 loud music, lights? Does that remove the feeling of control and make people more pliable somehow? Or is this a totally different concept?
[00:09:51] Martin Seligman: You know, I don't know a lot about torture, but what I read from the literature is they do all sorts of stuff that could make you helpless. But let me go back, Jordan, and tell you what we found out about who never became helpless.
[00:10:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, let's talk about that.
[00:10:07] Martin Seligman: We found there was one factor that was determinative and that was the way people interpreted the bad events that occurred to them. So optimists versus pessimists was key. Pessimistic people were people who, when a bad event, like loud noise, getting fired from your job happened, they construed it as the problem is going to last forever. It's permanent, it's pervasive, it's going to ruin everything in my life, and it's uncontrollable. Nothing I can do about it. By the way, we found ways of measuring optimism and pessimism. The pessimists just collapsed and instantaneously when bad events occur. Optimists on the other hand, when a bad event occurs, say to themselves, it's temporary, it's local. It's just this one situation and I can do something about it. We found that the optimists did not become helpless. So the key to resilience, the key to invulnerability was believing when bad events occurred, not going to last forever. It's temporary. It's just this one situation, and I can do something about it.
[00:11:25] Jordan Harbinger: So is it maybe people who rely on universal explanations for their failures, they give up when something creates a failure in one area? So, like you said, you get fired from your job and you're thinking, "I'm a useless person. Nobody wants to be around me. I'm unemployable." It probably affects their personal relationships. And then on the other hand, people who use specific causes, like "I'm just not good at engineering semiconductors, but I'm perfectly good in my personal area. I'm a nice person. I could be good at another company," something along those lines. That's a more healthy or psychologically fit, optimistic way of looking at that same set of circumstances. Is that more or less correct?
[00:12:04] Martin Seligman: That's exactly right. And it led to a breakthrough in psychotherapy. Because it said when you were dealing with depressed people who believed, "It's going to last forever, going to undermine everything I do, nothing I can do about it," your move was to get them to argue realistically against each of those pessimistic premises. And that is at the heart of what Beck and Ellis called the cognitive therapy of depression. These developments along with cognitive therapy led to a treatment for depression, which is now the treatment of choice for depression.
[00:12:40] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. So is that like logically arguing with yourself when your brain says, "We're worthless," you say, "Well, wait a minute, let's localize this, let's make it more specific." Let's think of other areas where this isn't true, counter-examples, those kinds of things.
[00:12:56] Martin Seligman: Yeah. And so when we were setting up, Jordan, for this show, the sound didn't work.
[00:13:01] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:02] Martin Seligman: And so what did I think? I didn't think the show is over and Jordan and I are going to quit. What I thought is, "Hey, I've got headphones, I've got AirPods, and I know a whole lot of ways of adjusting them."
[00:13:15] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to say, you were surprisingly patient for somebody, let's just say somebody of your stature and, of course, age. Often guys, like my dad, not so patient with the technology.
[00:13:25] Martin Seligman: Yep. And it leads to a notion you mentioned the military applications that we found recently. It was my good fortune about 15 years ago to find myself with the chief of staff of the Army at the Pentagon, George Casey. And he said to me, "Dr. Seligman, suicide, drug abuse, divorce, PTSD, that's what we're stuck with in this war in Iraq and Afghanistan. What does positive psychology say about that?" And I said, "Well, sir, when people, soldiers confront bad events, you've just described the worst things that happen to them. But the reaction of human beings to bad events like combat is Gaussian, bell-shaped. You've described the stuff on the left when people collapse. Well, the stuff on the middle is called resilient, and these are the soldiers who go through a hard time, but a month or two later are back where they were both physically and mentally. And then on the right-hand side of the curb is post-traumatic growth. And these are the soldiers who often have a very hard time in combat, but we find a year later they're stronger physically than they were to begin with, and they're mentally in better shape than they were to begin with." And so we began to ask the question, could we predict PTSD? And findings were very surprising.
[00:14:58] So along with General Rhonda Cornum, I became one of the custodians of the Department of Defense's database, both on PTSD and on exemplary performance. So we asked the question, could we predict who was going to get PTSD? And to do this, we had devised the questionnaire that every soldier takes the first day in the Army. And it asks questions about optimism and pessimism. And most importantly, it asks questions about the worst kind of pessimism, which is catastrophization. And these are people who immediately, when a bad event occurs, go to the most extreme, everything's going to unravel, everything's going to fall apart. So that was the background.
[00:15:46] And then, we followed all the soldiers, not just the sample, but all of them who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the next five years, 77,000 soldiers. And we found that about 3,500 came down with PTSD. So we asked, could you predict it from day one? And the answer was yes. There were two things that predicted PTSD. First was high combat stress, and secondly was being a catastrophizer. So if you're both a catastrophizer and you're in severe combat, you're almost four times as likely to come down with PTSD.
[00:16:28] Jordan Harbinger: I would not be good in that situation because I routinely, my wife will be like, "Why are you so upset about this?" And I'm like, "Well, if this happens, this could happen and this could happen and this could happen, and then...the FBI's going to come and arrest me while I'm in front of the kids and take me to prison." And I'm almost not exaggerating. I am a little, but it's pretty bad. But it's strange because it's only in certain circumstances, other things that I think a lot of people would get upset about. I just don't care because I almost have, I don't know if this is good or bad, I realize I have absolutely no control over it. So I just try to forget about it, like the economy.
[00:17:01] Martin Seligman: Well, this led to a new treatment, which actually you probably should have. I did it on myself because I was a catastrophizer. Here's what we do. It's called putting it in perspective. I'll take an Army example. You're on a night walk, you're leading a night walk. You come back to the fort at midnight and one of your men is missing. What do you think? And we ask them, what's the worst thing that could happen? That's what you and I would be attracted to. Well, he's dead and I am in trouble. Okay, so we have people talk about the most catastrophic interpretation. They say, "Okay, what's the best thing that could happen?" And they say, "Well, maybe his radio is dead and he'll be back in five minutes." You've looked at the worst, you've looked at the best. Now, what's the most likely and what can you do about it?
[00:17:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I do this sometimes, not nearly enough.
[00:17:59] Martin Seligman: Yep. And what a soldier, when they learn this will say, "Well, you know, he may have broken his leg and that's bad. And what we'll have to do is I'll take three of my guys and we'll go retrace our steps and we'll find them." In the same way, as in cognitive therapy, we teach people to marshal realistic evidence against their worst interpretations. Treat the voice that's saying, I'm unlovable as someone who is trying to make your life miserable and argue against it. And that's the key, both to cognitive therapy for depression and in many ways to positive psychotherapy.
[00:18:39] Jordan Harbinger: The pessimism and optimism thing where you mentioned specific causes, does that also work in the inverse? So are there people who experience good things and they're pessimistic? You know, you've met these people, right? They experience something good, but they're so pessimistic that they say, "Well, yeah, I might have gotten this job, but that's because they don't know that I'm super unqualified. I just come across really well in interviews, but once they get to know me, then I'm screwed." Right? And they'll credit a fluke. Whereas I think optimistic people will say, "No, I'm qualified for the job. Of course, that's why they hired me.
[00:19:10] Martin Seligman: Pessimism on the bad side, we talked about. Pessimism on the good side of life is exactly what you said. And these are people who, when they succeed, don't get on a roll. And the reason they don't get on a roll is they're saying to themselves, it's just a fluke. Just as one situation. And due to external circumstances, it's not the talents that I have. So the dyed in the world pessimist has catastrophization both about bad events and about good events.
[00:19:42] Jordan Harbinger: So it seems like ideally, and this is where I'm trying to put it into a practical package here, ideally we find universal causes for good things and specific causes for bad things. Is that the recipe?
[00:19:54] Martin Seligman: Yeah. So on the good side of life, what an optimist should do is find permanent causes of the good things, pervasive, universal causes and personal ones, ones that they do themselves. On the bad side of life, you want to find the temporary cause of the bad event, the local cause of the bad event, and the causes that you can do something about it.
[00:20:19] Jordan Harbinger: That's really interesting and I think that's really powerful. The trick of course is doing it in the moment, but I think even having the recipe is probably very useful because you build it over, you practice this, I assume. That's the idea.
[00:20:30] Martin Seligman: Yeah. And we have techniques for going from having to think about it, to it becoming rapid fire and automatic. And when you do that, we find that it markedly treats depression.
[00:20:44] Jordan Harbinger: Where would people get these techniques if they want to learn more? Is this a kind of a go see a cognitive behavioral therapist?
[00:20:49] Martin Seligman: So Gabriella Kellerman and I just last month published a book called Tomorrow Mind, which is about the workplace, and it's about catastrophizing in the workplace, and what can you do if you're a catastrophizer in the workplace, and more important from the positive psychology, what kind of mindset produces exemplary job performance? So you can go to Tomorrow Mind and get the techniques.
[00:21:16] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:21:16] Martin Seligman: Or you can go to a book I wrote called Learned Optimism and get the techniques.
[00:21:20] Jordan Harbinger: We'll link to both of those then in the show notes for this episode.
[00:21:25] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Dr. Martin Seligman. We'll be right back.
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[00:24:01] Now back to Dr. Martin Seligman.
[00:24:05] You mentioned some really interesting points in one of your earlier talks, and I think also in the book, Authentic Happiness. Foraging is the type of jobs that humans were best suited for originally, and I'm paraphrasing here. Obviously, we've moved quite far away from this. Many jobs are going to be replaced by automation. And you said that something along the lines of when unemployment goes up, death rates and lack of purpose also go up. It seems like we're headed for a crisis of purpose. Am I catastrophizing?
[00:24:33] Martin Seligman: No, no, you got it. Let me frame the issue of purpose and its importance in your own life and work. So it's been known for about 30 years, on the job, if you think your job has meaning, you do it better, you work harder at it, you don't quit, et cetera. And so it turns out that meaning and purpose fuel productivity but they're very hard to measure. I never much like them because if I ask you right now, how meaningful is your life, Jordan?
[00:25:07] Jordan Harbinger: I can only do a binary thing with that, right? I can just say it is somewhat meaningful, at least most of the time, maybe.
[00:25:15] Martin Seligman: Yeah. But a million years from now, no one's going to ever remember you or me.
[00:25:19] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:25:19] Martin Seligman: So questions of meaning are very hard to come to grips with, but mattering is a lot better substitute. To what extent do you matter if you vanish today? What would happen to your family if you vanish today? What would happen to The Jordan Harbinger Show?
[00:25:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:37] Martin Seligman: So we find we can quantify the extent to which people feel they matter with their family and they matter at work and they matter in the world. And those are both measurable and they're buildable in the workplace. So you can teach managers techniques of making the people who work with you feel that they matter. Whereas it's very hard to teach people to teach managers, ensure that the people who work for you think they have meaning. Mattering is the 21st-century substitute for meaning.
[00:26:12] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned that happier people are more productive at work. Why do we think that is? It seems almost like an obvious thing that we should all know, but why does that happen?
[00:26:22] Martin Seligman: Well, first, let me document the question. So again, with our Army data set, we had everyone in the Army, 990,000 soldiers, and we watched them for five years. They took the test at the beginning, and in the course of five years, 12 percent of them win either heroism awards or exemplary work awards. So the question was, could we predict from day one who's going to win a heroism award? Who's going to win an exemplary work award? And the answer was, we could, and robustly so.
[00:27:02] And there were three things that predicted it. First, being someone with high positive emotion. Secondly, being an optimist, and we talked about that before. People who have an optimistic set on the things, the good and bad things that happen to them. And three, very importantly, being low negative affect. So high positive affect, high optimism, low negative affect, formula for doing good work.
[00:27:34] Now, question is why? Well, we know of a couple of mechanisms. So the optimism mechanism works through trying, so going back to learned helplessness. What happens in learned helplessness is you give up, you don't try. If you're optimistic, you keep trying, and that produces exemplary work. The second factor is people like happier people, more than sad people. So misery loves company, but company does not like misery. And the way people have demonstrated that is you have people make cold calls either in a sad voice or in a chirpy voice, and you just keep going until they hang up on you. You hang up on people who are sad quicker than you hang up on people who are optimistic and chirpy.
[00:28:30] Jordan Harbinger: That certainly makes sense. And I know just from sales experience, I can't even imagine trying to make a sales call with a low energy or sad voice. It would be so difficult to even do that all day. And when you are in a cheerful, energetic mood, sales calls are quite easy. I mean, they can even be fun depending on what you're selling and how well you're doing.
[00:28:50] Martin Seligman: Yeah. So if all we cared about at work was productivity, it would be very important to have high well-being people doing it. I do care about productivity, but for me, high happiness, high well-being is a very important end in itself. And even if it didn't produce more productivity, we'd still want it.
[00:29:10] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me about this Nun study. This is very interesting because it's a fun sort of control, right? Because they all lived the same diet, they lived in the same place. They essentially had the same socioeconomic status and they all kept journals or wrote letters. I mean, there's such a fascinating way to study a group of people.
[00:29:29] Martin Seligman: I've spent a lot of my life trying to predict morbidity and mortality. And indeed, the question is, who lives longer? Who gets more illnesses, and what are the psychological contributions to that? So it had been known for a long time that people who live in Nevada die sooner than people who live in Utah. Well, why? Well, is it because people in Las Vegas stay up all night and drink?
[00:29:58] Jordan Harbinger: That might be part of it.
[00:29:59] Martin Seligman: Is it because Utah has more doctors? The problem about the whole literature was that there were a huge number of confounds between people who live long and people who don't. So Dr. Keltner said, well, there's one group that gets the same medical care, the same food, they have the same religious beliefs, and that's nuns. And so it turned out in the 1930s, the bishop asked a group of about a hundred nuns to write essays on why they took their novitiate. And Keltner then examined the essays, asking who lives and who dies. So the crucial variable he found was those nuns as novices used positive emotion words like "I'm eager to serve Jesus" live for about 15 years longer on average than nuns who are just deadpan, who use no positive emotion words. So that literature has since become much more refined. And indeed optimistic people, people with high positive emotion live between six and eight years longer than pessimists. So being in the bottom quartile of pessimism is roughly equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.
[00:31:28] Jordan Harbinger: Three packs. That's a lot of cigarettes.
[00:31:30] Martin Seligman: Yeah. Lot of cigarettes. Yeah.
[00:31:32] Jordan Harbinger: There was another experiment, I don't know if you ran this one or if it was just something you wrote about in the book, but the yearbook photos with the women's smiles and what that told us about their lives, decades on. Can you speak to this a little?
[00:31:42] Martin Seligman: Mills College, I think, Dr. Keltner did this. He took the freshman yearbook photos. Of women at Mills College. There are two kinds of smiles. There's a forced smile and there's a Duchenne smile. You can read it by the muscles under the eyes. So he categorized the photographic smiles, the Duchenne smilers versus the non-Duchenne smilers. And then they phoned those women up 20 years later and they asked them about their lives, and they found the women who had the Duchenne smiles had longer marriages and fewer divorces.
[00:32:24] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like a leap to say, well, it was just the smile and we can read into this, and yet there was obviously a scientific correlation.
[00:32:32] Martin Seligman: Correlation here, so the Duchenne smile is probably a correlate of optimism, joie de vivre, high positive emotion, and maybe low negative emotion. And all of those since the classic Nun study and Mills College study had been documented as correlating with lower morbidity and lower mortality.
[00:32:56] Jordan Harbinger: So, smile with your eyes, folks. It could save your life or at least your marriage.
[00:33:01] Martin Seligman: Well, one more wrinkle on this, Jordan. There's some specificity to this. So optimism is not an emotional state. Optimism is a cognitive state about the future and how it's going to turn out, whereas smiling, being cheerful and merry, is an emotional state.
[00:33:20] So in the literature on cardiovascular death, large studies, now optimism predicts longer life and lower cardiovascular death. But being jolly and merry have no prediction about cardiovascular morbidity or mortality. On the other hand, just coming out of COVID, the opposite occurs with infectious illness. Sheldon Cohen took volunteers, paid them $300, and put Rhinoviruses into their nose, 50 percent getting a cold, and then he isolated them in hotel room, paid them $300 apiece, this is a lot of money when it was done, and asked who got a cold and who didn't. Well, it turned out optimism and pessimism had no predictive power over who gets a cold. But being jolly and merry and smiling a lot, only 25 percent of those people got colds, whereas 75 percent of the people who didn't laugh, smile, and weren't merry got colds. So emotion seems to modulate infectious illness, but not cardiovascular illness. Optimism seems to modulate cardiovascular susceptibility, but being jolly and merry do not. So there's specificity of emotion here.
[00:34:42] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting. So ideally, we are optimistic in the way that we look at problems and situations and merry and fun at parties because then we not only won't get sick but maybe will actually live longer and save our marriage. So the worst combination is going to be—
[00:34:56] Martin Seligman: And those were the 12 percent—
[00:34:57] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-huh.
[00:34:58] Martin Seligman: —who won exemplary work towards a combination of high positive emotion and high optimism.
[00:35:04] Jordan Harbinger: So the worst combination is then somebody who looks at problems in a pessimistic way and is also a Debbie Downer. That person's getting sick and suffering all the consequences that come from pessimism. It pays to pay attention to this stuff then because it really does seem to affect your quality of your, not only your quality of life, quality of your marriage, the length of your life. Don't optimistic people live slightly longer, or is that something I made up?
[00:35:27] Martin Seligman: No, optimistic people live between six and eight years longer—
[00:35:31] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:35:31] Martin Seligman: —than pessimistic people. And that's controlling for blood pressure, heart rate, weight, genetics, and the like. So optimism and pessimism is a six to eight-year difference in lifespan.
[00:35:45] Jordan Harbinger: No wonder you are in such a good mood despite the Bluetooth issues.
[00:35:48] Martin Seligman: Well, importantly, Jordan, you're not stuck with these things. These turn out to be malleable and there are ways of changing these things, and that's what gives me a lot of hope about individual future, about therapy and coaching and about the workplace.
[00:36:04] Jordan Harbinger: I was a bit surprised and happy to find out that kindness actually makes us happier than pleasurable experiences. So the effect of doing something kind turns out it lasts longer than the effect of doing something we actually think we enjoy doing, such as going to see a movie or playing a game.
[00:36:19] Martin Seligman: One of the nice things about teaching positive psychology is you can actually assign your students to do things that might make them happier. Whereas I taught abnormal psychology for 25 years and I couldn't assign my students to drink themselves into unconsciousness. So I assign my students next week, I want you to do something pleasurable and I want you to do something kind and write it up. And the students came back, pleasurable things, going to the movies, masturbating and the like.
[00:36:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:50] Martin Seligman: And doing kind acts, helping people. And after one student reported that when he did something pleasurable, when it was over, it was over. But when he did something kind, the whole day went better. And he said, "I was surprised to find out that doing kind things was better than shopping."
[00:37:11] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:37:11] Martin Seligman: It turns out we're wired, our hedonic system is wired to help others. And indeed, I'm often asked by depressed people, "What's the one thing that I could do right now to make me feel better?" And if you're listening to this show, here it is. Turn off the show. Go out and find someone who needs your help and help them.
[00:37:39] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, I approve of that message. I mean, maybe don't turn off the show and do it after the show, but, you know, whatever, either way, go help somebody. I love that. That's true because that shows you, I mean, it's always within almost anybody's control to go out and start volunteering and helping people. It's harder to find activities that make you feel good, that are also free, that aren't just putting you back on the hedonic treadmill, right? You can only go see so many movies. You can only indulge your online shopping addiction so much. You gave the idea of masturbation so much. I mean, there's a limit to these things, right? But volunteering at an orphanage and then doing it again in Mexico and then help volunteering at a homeless shelter. I mean, there's an infinite number of places that would love to have your help, even for a few hours a week. And if you're getting a greater effect from that, and it's also an endless source, right? Because you're never going to run out of those things and they don't cost any money. That's good news. I mean, that's good news for everybody.
[00:38:37] Martin Seligman: Yeah. Material objects are all like French vanilla ice cream.
[00:38:42] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:38:43] Martin Seligman: And that is the first taste is great. The second taste is a little worse and down to the seventh taste. It's like cardboard, but helping people is not like that.
[00:38:52] Jordan Harbinger: I was actually going to give the ice cream example. For me, the first two bites of chocolate, they're great. The rest of it, it's just increasingly more disgusting until I go, what am I doing? And I put the carton back into the freezer.
[00:39:03] Let's talk a little bit about depressive realism. I've heard that depressed people can more accurately predict the degree of control they have over things, even though they're less optimistic. So why would less optimism result in more accurate evaluations and predictions?
[00:39:21] Martin Seligman: Let me catch you up with this very controversial literature.
[00:39:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:39:25] Martin Seligman: When this literature started out, two students of mine, Lauren Alloy and Lyn Abramson took depressed and non-depressed people and they put them a situation in which they had a button to press and there was a green light. When you had no control, that is when pressing the button was irrelevant to whether or not the green light went on. Depressed people were accurate. They said, "I have no control." And non-depressed people showed a big illusion of control. They thought they were still in control of the light. And this led to a literature called Sadder but Wiser. And that, you should get a depressed friend to invest in the stock market for you.
[00:40:08] And so that literature evolved over the next 50 years, and people went and they had people estimate how much money they had in their pocket. Now, it turned out with realistic things and not laboratory settings that depressed people and non-depressed people were about equal. And importantly, what non-depressed people did, in general, when they got bad news was they were able to act on it and do something about it. So right now, the Sadder but Wiser literature is roughly a tie. It's not clear who believes they have more control, but the clear part is that optimistic, non-depressed people act on bad news and do something about it. Depressed people seem to be passive about it.
[00:40:57] Jordan Harbinger: And yet happy people are often better at making big life decisions. That's something you noted in the book. And so this was confusing for me, right? It seems a little bit like an oxymoron. If depressed people see things more clearly than positive and optimistic people, why do optimistic people somehow have the ability to make better decisions with what sounds like less accurate information?
[00:41:18] Martin Seligman: Well, I'm not sure that's true.
[00:41:20] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:41:20] Martin Seligman: The main advantage of optimism is trying harder, and if you're in a world in which the goal is obtainable, if you try harder, optimism has a big advantage.
[00:41:32] Jordan Harbinger: I see.
[00:41:33] Martin Seligman: And I'm not convinced that optimistic people are better decision-makers cognitively. I'm just trying to think if there's anything in the literature that would convince me of that. For me, the main effect of optimism is innovation and trying. When you believe you have agency, you go ahead and do it. When you believe you're helpless, the gods do it all. It's all destiny or fate. You don't try.
[00:41:58] Jordan Harbinger: That's so interesting. I see this talk online. I was on Reddit, which is a social media kind of site where people have these, sometimes deep discussions, sometimes nonsense, and I noticed that whenever there are just discussions, let's say about Elon Musk, some news discussion. Some people will say, "Wow, you know, he's acting like a real knucklehead, but look what he is doing for space. Look what he's doing for electronic vehicles, blah, blah, blah." Inevitably, there's another comment thread that says something like, "Look at these rich people. They can just do whatever they want. The rest of us are peons. We're never going to do X, Y, Z, or accomplish anything great because the system is against us and it's totally unfair. Eat the rich." And it's just like you can just sort of tell what kind of person, the person who says, "Well, Elon is being a jerk, but look at space and all the exciting thing," and what kind of person the other guy is who says, "Well, I can never get out of the hole that I'm in financially because of guys like Elon Musk." And you can just tell what these two personalities are based on just those few sentences they've written on the Internet.
[00:42:57] Martin Seligman: They're self-fulfilling.
[00:42:59] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:42:59] Martin Seligman: And so to the extent, you believe it's the system, it's my race, my gender that's caused my failure. Those things are, you can't change and you don't try. But to the extent, you believe in your own agency, you try. So optimists do better in life. They do better at work, they live longer probably because they try. Pessimistic people do worse at work, they die sooner, and it's probably because they don't take action.
[00:43:31] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Dr. Martin Seligman. We'll be right back.
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[00:46:13] Now for the rest of my conversation with Dr. Martin Seligman.
[00:46:18] I would imagine when you talk about this, things can get controversial pretty quickly because there's a large group of folks, seemingly anyway, they're almost allergic to agency, right? When you start to say, "Well, it depends on your level of agency." They say, "How dare you? You just don't understand how hard it is for this group or this type of situation, this set of circumstances." Do you get sort of in trouble when you go down that path sometimes?
[00:46:43] Martin Seligman: Yeah. I understand that very well because there are two opposing benefits. So the benefit of being, if you fail, if you do something badly of saying it's the system is, your self-esteem is preserved, it's not you.
[00:46:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:46:58] Martin Seligman: You feel better about yourself. The disadvantage is you don't try. On the other hand, if you believe it's up to you and you fail, you blame yourself. You don't feel good about yourself, but you're more likely to succeed because you try. So there are two psychological forces fighting against one another here. On the whole, I come out in favor of optimism as opposed to pessimism because how you feel about yourself. Not a good thing involved in depression, but in the trajectory of life, how much you try and how much you actually do, I think is more important to a good life than how you feel about yourself.
[00:47:41] Jordan Harbinger: Does it matter how healthy we actually are or does it matter how healthy we think we are? Kind of your money example. I mean, obviously, if you have a disease you can't just outthink it. But I'm wondering, does the perception of our health matter more than our actual level of health when we're talking about being happy and healthy?
[00:48:00] Martin Seligman: I don't know the answer to that for health, but there's a very interesting finding from divorce and marital satisfaction, which is directly analogous. So if I ask you about your spouse to rate how intelligent she is how pretty she is, how much fun she's to be around, a whole bunch of ratings. And then I ask your friends to do the same rating of your spouse. You can subtract one from the other. That is, you can ask, to what extent does Jordan have benign illusions about his spouse, or to what extent is he mercilessly realistic. That's part one. And then, you use that discrepancy to predict marital satisfaction and divorce. Benign illusions matter. So the larger your overestimation of your spouse's intelligence, good humor, attractiveness compared to your friends, the better the marriage. The mechanism is probably that your spouse tries to live up to it.
[00:49:09] Jordan Harbinger: Speaking of which, you gave a marriage tip or a relationship tip, it was something along the lines of you can help another person in a relationship with you, active constructive feedback. Was that what it was?
[00:49:20] Martin Seligman: Yeah.
[00:49:21] Jordan Harbinger: Active constructive something. Sounds so powerful and I wanted to try it with my wife, but I was waiting to get an explanation from you on exactly how to do it.
[00:49:28] Martin Seligman: Okay. Well, first, let me tell you about marriage and sexual counseling. When we teach sex and marriage, essentially what we try to do is to get couples to fight better, more constructively. Basically, in traditional marital therapy, you're trying to take insufferable marriages and make them barely tolerable. Not my idea of therapy. So about 10 years ago, there was a group of positive marital therapists who, instead of looking at how people fought, asked how do couples celebrate together. So what they did was they looked at, when your spouse comes to you with a good event, what do you say? Let me illustrate what matters here.
[00:50:12] First off, there's a two by two, here's the abstraction, active, passive, constructive, destructive. So my drill sergeants, for example, when their spouse comes to them with a victory, say active, destructive, you know how much that's going to cost us?
[00:50:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:32] Martin Seligman: Passive destructive is, "What's for lunch?" Passive constructive is, "Congratulations, dear. You deserve it." But active constructive is the only thing that works. And here's how it works. I'll illustrate it with Mandy who you just went by. So Mandy is an amateur photographer. A couple of years ago, she came downstairs and said, "Marty, I just got a call from the editor of Black & White Magazine. I won first place in Black & White's contest.
[00:51:03] Jordan Harbinger: Is that a writing magazine?
[00:51:04] Martin Seligman: Yeah. That's the leading black and white photographic magazine. The people she was competing against are the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers and things. Now, if I hadn't read the marital literature, I would've said, "Congratulations, dear. You deserve it."
[00:51:20] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:51:21] Martin Seligman: Or even worse, I might've said, "You know how much that that award's going to put in our tax bracket?
[00:51:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's about time you won something.
[00:51:28] Martin Seligman: Well, what I did was active constructive. Active constructive begins by showing your spouse first that you know something non-trivial about the victory. So I said, "Mandy, was it the picture of the swan that you took at Blenheim? That one." And she said, "Yeah, it was." And I said, "Well, that's the best picture of a bird I've ever seen." So I began by showing her that I knew what this award was about. By the way, active constructive takes a lot more time than you deserve it.
[00:52:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's a lot of work.
[00:52:02] Martin Seligman: Then the important thing was to put Mandy in touch with what had just happened. So I said, "Mandy, where were you when the editor called you?" And she described it to me. "Now, verbatim, what exactly did he say?" And she went through it verbatim. And then I said, "Mandy, what do you think it is about your photography that could have made you win over these New York Times photographers?" And she said, "Well, I'm very good with gray, with nuances of gray." And then I said, "Well, how can you use that to teach the kids photography and drawing better?" And then I said, "Let's open that bottle of Dom Pérignon that's been sitting for three years in the refrigerator." So it turns out when people do this, commitment goes up, love goes up, sex gets better, and divorce goes down. Active constructive is a very important positive psychology technique.
[00:52:59] Jordan Harbinger: Definitely something I think we want to apply. So, essentially, you're helping them recreate the experience in their mind while associating it with you, almost?
[00:53:09] Martin Seligman: As opposed to, in our modest society, letting success just wash off like water off a duck's back. Very important to savor, relive your successes as opposed to just go on to the next issue.
[00:53:24] Jordan Harbinger: What decides our initial base level of happiness? You mentioned a few things. We talked about the hedonic treadmill. You mentioned in the book the genetic steersman, the set range. I'd like to talk a little bit about that because I think I was on the fence, right? Because I don't want people to think, "Oh, well, I was born a cranky pessimist and there's nothing I can do about it." So the genetic steersman wins.
[00:53:46] Martin Seligman: Yeah.
[00:53:47] Jordan Harbinger: I would like to sort of unpack these a little bit.
[00:53:49] Martin Seligman: Really important, but let's separate. I was born an unhappy pessimist from, there's nothing I could do about it.
[00:53:56] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:53:57] Martin Seligman: Let me go through the data and then, I'll tell you what you can do about it.
[00:54:01] Every year in Twinsburg, Ohio, there's a twins convention. 10,000 twins show up. So researchers like me go to Twinsburg and we give questionnaires to the twins. The upshot of this is if you look at identical versus fraternal twins, you can estimate heritability. So identical twins share all their genes. Fraternal twins are just like brothers and sisters, 50 percent comparison. And then you can ask the concordance of a trait-like optimism or happiness between identicals and fraternals. And the difference in the concordance is the way you quantify genetic heritability. So it turns out that almost every psychological personality trait we care about is about 50 percent heritable, identicals are much more similar than fraternals. And so indeed, happiness and optimism, positive affectivity, being a negative person are about 50 percent heritable.
[00:55:07] Okay, should you conclude from that? I'm stuck with it and there's nothing I can do about it. And the answer is no, not at all. In fact, a lot of what psychologists do these days is to work on traits like optimism that are 50 percent heritable and change them. And so by teaching pessimistic people to argue against their most pessimistic thoughts, you can permanently change it. A good example o of this is alcoholism. So if both your father and mother are alcoholic, there's a 75 percent chance you'll be alcoholic in the statistics. Well, does that mean you're doomed to it? And the answer is no. Once you know that you become a teetotaler, that is you do the environmental things that keep you from becoming an alcoholic. So very importantly, for optimism, for positive emotion, for negative emotion, there are a whole panoply of techniques, particularly if you're genetically susceptible, that you can use to counter it. So, yes, you were born with this, but no, you can do a lot to get out of it.
[00:56:17] Jordan Harbinger: That's good news. And I appreciate you making that distinction. You noted in Authentic Happiness in the book, one of your books, one of many, "Childhood events, rarely influence adult levels of happiness." Now, did I get that right? It's almost hard to believe, or am I misunderstanding this?
[00:56:33] Martin Seligman: That would be an exaggeration.
[00:56:35] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:56:35] Martin Seligman: So let me tell you what the data looked like. Where these data come from, by the way, is from twin registers. So for example, the Virginia twin register, there are 16,000 twins and you can follow them across life and half are fraternal and half are identical. And the reason that's important is if you're interested in predicting adult depression, you can ask to what extent is it genetic, to what extent was it early childhood events, to what extent is it recent bad events like divorce that produce it. So it turns out, when you quantify adult depression, genetics is a big effect about a 50 percent heritability. Childhood events have some effect, but not nearly as much effect as recent events. Divorce is a much better predictor of subsequent depression and childhood abuse. So just to say it — genetics is the big thing. Recent bad events is the next biggest thing. And childhood events come in at least a poor third.
[00:57:42] Jordan Harbinger: Also, good news, right? Because I think a lot of folks who think, "Okay, I was born this way and I had a troubled childhood," you know, which way is which we can really, again, take agency. Childhood is overrated.
[00:57:54] Yeah. For most of us, that's good news. Or sorry, for many of us, that's good news, maybe not most. I know you've got to run soon, but I'm curious. We spoke earlier about the hedonic treadmill and habituation. Why ice cream starts to taste horrible after a few bites? Are there ways we can stop that from happening or slow that process and maybe keep things as novel as possible so that we derive maximum pleasure? I don't know if that's a good goal to have, but I'm curious if there's ways to sort of hack this. I don't know if we need to be hacking ways to eat more ice cream.
[00:58:25] Martin Seligman: The single biggest enhancer of Hedonic pleasure is a partner, to do it with someone else. I don't know if that'll help the ice cream very much, but for things like how much you like to movie, going with someone markedly enhances pleasure.
[00:58:41] Jordan Harbinger: I thought you were going somewhere else with that, but yeah, I got what you're saying. Yeah. Seeing a movie in air quotes is certainly better with a partner. I can tell you that from years of experiencing movies myself.
[00:58:52] Martin Seligman: Notice that we almost never laugh by ourselves.
[00:58:55] Jordan Harbinger: That's a really good point.
[00:58:56] Martin Seligman: We were both just laughing now and that's because we're looking at each other and talking together.
[00:59:01] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good point. Yeah. Like laughing out loud something on the Internet is almost an annual experience, right? Doing that alone, sitting by myself looking at my phone. But when you're with people and they show you a video that video is a hundred times funnier than it would be, or at least shows up physically in my body.
[00:59:19] Martin Seligman: A lot of the pleasure system is social.
[00:59:22] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me what you think about this. There's too many shortcuts to pleasure these days. There's too many easy ways to access it. And I think you illustrated this really well with the lizard that wouldn't eat the ham sandwich. Does this example is, or is this example too old? Do you remember this?
[00:59:36] Martin Seligman: Oh, that's a great example. Where did you find it? I'm not even sure I ever wrote about it.
[00:59:41] Jordan Harbinger: It's probably in some talk you gave in Australia in the '90s or whatever I was listening to.
[00:59:46] Martin Seligman: Really important, and it's more than a metaphor. When I was an undergraduate, one of my teachers was an ethologist named Julian Jaynes. He's actually a brilliant man. He had been given a big South American lizard as a pet. And I came in one day and I saw this beautiful South American lizard. And Julian told me the following the story that when he first got the lizard, it wouldn't eat anything and it was dying. Day after day, it would not eat. And so Julian brought in live ants, wouldn't eat. Brought in Cheerios, wouldn't eat. Went on through a whole bunch of foods. And after about a week, he brought in his lunch, a ham sandwich, and he offered it to the lizard and the lizard wouldn't eat it. Put the ham sandwich down and he read the New York Times. And after he finished the first section, put the New York Times down on top of the ham sandwich, the lizard looked at this configuration, got up, lept on the New York Times, shredded the New York Times, and ate the ham sandwich, which is to say the lizard was designed not for pleasure, but for a pursuit for the consummatory response of hunting and shredding before it would eat. And there's quite a lot of human endeavor that says there aren't really shortcuts to pleasure. Pleasure comes from action and from pursuit, a pleasure of pursuit.
[01:01:24] Jordan Harbinger: How do we apply this to humans, right? It's like cook your own food instead of going out to eat all the time. That's kind of the only thing I can come up with on the fly here.
[01:01:31] Martin Seligman: I think, in general, it tells us we're not wired directly to feel good. We're wired directly to do stuff in the world — reward, getting money, having attention, having love, work better when you earn them, and you do things to deserve them when they're just bestowed on you.
[01:01:55] Jordan Harbinger: A lot of people would argue today that there's not a whole lot to be optimistic for, right? We've got a pandemic, there's a war in Ukraine, people are threatening to nuke. There's all kinds of disputes going on and divisiveness in American politics and elsewhere in the world. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity and are these just little blips on the radar?
[01:02:14] Martin Seligman: Yeah. Well, we've got a lot of gates going on now. What rough beast, it's time come round to last, slouches its way to Bethlehem to be born? And that's kind of the pessimistic view of the future. I have a very optimistic view of the future. So I think, last two centuries of human progress have been truly astonishing. Childhood mortality has gone from 44 percent to one percent life. Expectancy has gone from 35 to 80. 200 years ago, 90 percent of people lived on a dollar a day. Now, 10 percent of people live on a dollar a day. So I'm very optimistic about human innovation, human agency as overcoming as it just did with COVID. COVID was bad and indeed could have been almost as bad as the Black Plague. It's not Yates, but it's Julian of Norwich that I go to now about the human future. So, Julian was a female monk in Norwich in the 14th century, right in the middle of the Black Plague. And in 1365, she wrote the following — "He said not, 'Thou shall not be tempested.' He said not, 'Thou shall not be travailed.' He said not, 'Thou shall not be diseased.' He said, 'Thou shall not be overcome,' and all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
[01:03:54] Jordan Harbinger: So it's not that we aren't going to face difficulty, it's just that we have the ability to overcome that difficulty. And that's the idea, right? It's not that bad things will never happen. It's that we have the ability to take care of them.
[01:04:07] Martin Seligman: That's how we got here, Jordan. It's because our ancestors overcame all sorts of survival and reproductive issues. We are creatures of innovation. We're creatures of overcoming.
[01:04:23] Jordan Harbinger: Martin Seligman, thank you so much for doing the show. You've been on my list for a decade. I'm grateful we were finally able to do this. Look, I'm optimistic that we might be able to do it again. We'll see. You're going to live longer because of that attitude, so hopefully, we'll have another chance.
[01:04:37] Martin Seligman: Both of us, I hope.
[01:04:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, me too. Thank you so much.
[01:04:42] Martin Seligman: Yeah, you're welcome, Jordan.
[01:04:46] Jordan Harbinger: You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show on how to hardwire happiness.
[01:04:51] Rick Hanson: I focus on growing resources in the mind. That's what resilience fundamentally is to maintain an equilibrium, to be regulated internally in the pursuit of important goals while being challenged. We remembered negative interactions with other people more than positive ones. We remembered negative gossip about celebrities more than good news. We are much more rapidly trained into helplessness from a few experiences of futility and defeat. Negative emotional experiences have a toxic effect on the brain. They accumulate over time. But do they invade your mark? Do they invade the inner temple of the core of you? And if they do invade you, do they occupy you? Do they remain? Don't feed the beast.
[01:05:40] Quit ruminating about it. Quit obsessing about it. Quit looping on those laps around the track and help dig in that track a little deeper every single time. You can't do anything about the past, even the present is what it is. But moving in the future, you can always grow the good inside yourself. You can always become a little stronger, a little smarter, a little more skillful, a little happier, a little more loving each hour and each day. And that is within our power. No one can stop us from doing that. No one can stop us from growing from our experiences, and no one can do it for us. For me is one of the most honorable, self-reliant, even heroic things a person can do. What you can count on is what's inside you.
[01:06:22] Jordan Harbinger: To learn how you can build more resilience, check out episode 192 of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Rick Hanson.
[01:06:31] Really interesting conversation. Hey, and after the show, I asked Dr. Seligman a bit more about emotions and why we have them at all. Turns out positive emotions such as trust, confidence, happiness, they did not evolve or probably did not evolve out of negative motivations. Religion actually in other places often say the opposite, that people can't be kind for any reason other than they're making up for something.
[01:06:55] Now, maybe we evolve these traits because they are selected for, which is kind of how evolution works, right? But it seems like these emotions in states are actually more valuable in hard times than they are in good times, which makes sense because history, again is loaded with hard times. Trust, loyalty, kindness, those would be even more highly valued and important during really tough times, especially, and again, history is just littered with hard times that killed a lot of people, especially those who maybe weren't trustworthy, maybe not loyal, maybe not kind, and worked well in groups.
[01:07:28] Also, I know we touched on this during the show, but again, I'd like to highlight that it's important to distinguish momentary happiness from enduring levels of happiness. Enduring happiness is not the same thing as buying yourself some flowers or going to the movies or doing something. These are two totally different things as we said before. Raising your temporary level of happiness, it's not a method by which to increase your permanent level of happiness. And I think a lot of people confuse this.
[01:07:56] In fact, I think a lot of the problems we see around us, such as people shopping, getting addicted to drugs, seeking constant thrills or entertainment are caused by people who confuse their temporary level of happiness as a means to increase their permanent level of happiness. This is the hedonic treadmill, right? We always reset to baseline. So even people who accomplish just an amazing amount always end up resetting two baselines. So trying to increase long-term endemic levels of happiness using the same means to achieve short-term happiness is always going to be a fool's errand.
[01:08:31] Dr. Seligman also said in the book that people in very poor nations show lower levels of happiness. And now that probably isn't a surprise for most people unless you've read a bunch of business books or whatever, or positive psychology books because in fancy books full of pop science, usually next to some photo of an old man with no teeth and weathered skin smiling for the camera. There's often some trope about how happy poor people are and it turns out, well, that's just kind of bullsh*t. It sounds good and a bestseller, but really when somebody did the math and somebody did do the math, a GDP of $8,000 per year is pretty much the cutoff where more wealth doesn't necessarily lead to more happiness. But basically, if you are so poor that your actual survival is threatened, this affects you. But above that, it really doesn't.
[01:09:19] So if you are struggling to find food, water, medical care, education, basic things like that, you are going to be less happy than somebody who is maybe poor by American standards, but still has all of their needs met. That said, if you're in a country where you can't afford to have your needs met, doesn't matter really what the GDP is. More important is how much money means to you versus how much money you actually have. And I can tell you anecdotally, again just anecdotally not science, once I stopped focusing on money and stopped focusing on scaling the show in the business and decided that enough was enough, I personally started to get a lot happier. This is, of course, much easier said than done and goes completely against my nature and is a constant battle that I need to keep reminding myself of almost on a daily basis. But so far, it seems to be working really well in terms of making me less miserable on a daily basis. And I love creating the show. I love doing what I'm doing, but constantly comparing and worrying about why strategies were not working, was not a recipe for success or emotional stability.
[01:10:23] Great big thank you to Dr. Martin Seligman, the book Tomorrow Mind is out already. It will be linked in the show notes. Our GPT chatbot, which you should definitely check out, is also linked up over at jordanharbinger.com/ai. Transcripts in the show notes, videos on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, all ways to support the show are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:10:51] And I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software systems and tiny habits that I use every single day. It's our Six-Minute Networking course, and that course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Go ahead and dig that well before you get thirsty. Build those relationships before you need them. Many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company,
[01:11:14] this show is created an association with Podcast one. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into positive psychology, optimism, or would just be interested in the takeaways from today's episode, definitely share this one with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:11:49] Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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