What can an 85-year study tell us about the science of happiness, and how can we leverage this knowledge to live the good life? Robert Waldinger explains!
What We Discuss with Robert Waldinger:
- How does the ongoing Harvard Study of Adult Development, initiated in 1938, shed light on the key elements of leading a happy and fulfilling life?
- Relationships are the most important component of happiness — the good news is it’s never too late to make new friends.
- The touch of a good friend or a beloved pet can bring our stress levels down and reduce whatever pain we’re experiencing at that moment.
- 20 years from now, the only people who will remember that you worked late are your kids.
- Social media can be responsible for generating a lot of angst and FOMO, but it can also contribute to happiness if you use it for curated, positive communication with others.
- And much more…
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Beginning in 1938, the ongoing Harvard Study of Adult Development has become the longest study on human happiness to date. Over 85 years, what secrets has it uncovered, and how can we use these discoveries to enhance our own enjoyment of life with the all-too-few years we’re gifted to walk the Earth?
Joining us for this episode is Dr. Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of this illuminating study and co-author (with Marc Shulz) of The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. Here, we discuss the crucial role of relationships in our ability to flourish, the healing power of close friends and beloved animal companions, the importance of prioritizing close relationships and balancing them with our livelihoods, when social media — often maligned for its negative impact on our overall happiness — can actually be a boon, and much more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Did you miss our conversation about the most recent bout of protests in Iran with Yass Alizadeh, the Persian program coordinator at New York University? Catch up with 746: Yass Alizadeh | Iran Protests | Out of the Loop here!
Thanks, Robert Waldinger!
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Resources from This Episode:
- The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz | Amazon
- Robert Waldinger: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness | TEDxBeaconStreet
- Robert Waldinger | Website
- Robert Waldinger | Twitter
- Robert Waldinger | Instagram
- Robert Waldinger | Facebook
- Robert Waldinger | LinkedIn
- Harvard Second Generation Study | Harvard Study of Adult Development
- What the Longest Study on Human Happiness Found Is the Key to a Good Life | The Atlantic
- Good Genes Are Nice, but Joy Is Better | Harvard Gazette
- The Friend Who Keeps You Young | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- 20 Years From Now, the Only People Who Will Remember That You Worked Late Are Your Kids | Inc.com
- Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe | Amazon
- The Blooper Reel of Instagram | Kami Blease
- High Income Improves Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well-Being | PNAS
- Income and Emotional Well-Being: A Conflict Resolved | PNAS
- The White Lotus | HBO
- Succession | HBO
- Billionaires and Space: An Investigation | The New Yorker
- Stoicism for Modern Stresses: 5 Lessons from Cato | Daily Stoic
- Ryan Holiday | Discipline is Destiny (Live from Los Angeles) | Jordan Harbinger
- What’s the Giving Pledge? A Philanthropy Scholar Explains | The Conversation
- Is Comparison Really the Thief of Joy? | Psychology Today
- The Hedonic Treadmill — Are We Forever Chasing Rainbows? | Positive Psychology
- Julianne Holt-Lunstad: Is Social Disconnection Comparable to Smoking? | TED Talk
- Americans Are Lonely. That Has Political Consequences | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
- Social Isolation and Loneliness Increase Heart Disease Risk in Senior Women | UC San Diego
- Stress Substantially Slows Human Body’s Ability to Heal | Ohio State News
- The Empty Nest Happiness Boost | John M. Jennings
- Understand Attachment and Pick the Right Partner | Psychology Today
- Are You the Same Person You Used to Be? | The New Yorker
- The Real Strength of Weak Ties | Stanford News
- Are These Bad Times or Good Times? The Story of the Zen Farmer | Mindfulness
- The Tail End | Wait But Why
895: Robert Waldinger | Unlocking the Science of Happiness
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[00:00:14] Robert Waldinger: Take this photograph. Look at you as your younger self and think about, okay, what did I care about the most? And how has that changed now? I don't wear a Superman costume anymore and jump off the bed a lot. That's not what I do these days, you know? It's changed.
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[00:01:24] Today on the show, Dr. Robert Waldinger. He's the director of the longest running study of human happiness, adult lifespan development, and well being. This is the Infamous Harvard study. Today, on the show, we'll be discussing social media, comparison, good and bad habits, marriage and friendship, among other subjects that contribute to or detract from living a happy life according to science.
[00:01:45] So here we go, with Dr. Robert Waldinger.
[00:01:50] First of all, thanks for doing the show, I really appreciate that. You've got a lot of things to do with your time, like filter through thousands, almost a century of documentation.
[00:01:58] Robert Waldinger: That's what I do all day long.
[00:02:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Well, describe the study a little, because I think some people have heard of this, but I don't think people really appreciate how long this has been going on.
[00:02:10] Robert Waldinger: As far as we know, it is the longest study of the same lives that's ever been done and probably never will be done again. It's so fluky that this has continued for 85 years. It started in 1938. It started with 724 people. Two-thirds of them were kids from Boston's poorest neighborhoods and most troubled families. And that study was about how some children from the most troubled families still managed to stay out of trouble and thrive. So it was a study of human thriving but under some of the worst conditions.
[00:02:47] And then, the other about a third of them are Harvard College sophomores in 1938 chosen by their deans as fine upstanding young specimens. They were predicted to be good examples of how you make the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. So if you want to study normal development, you study all white men from Harvard. It's the most politically incorrect sample you could possibly have. But that's what they started with in 1938 because the city of Boston was 97 percent white and Harvard was even a larger percent white. And so that's what they got.
[00:03:26] Jordan Harbinger: I'm almost surprised there was anything but white at Harvard in 1938. What, who else was even represented in that class? Do you know?
[00:03:34] Robert Waldinger: There really wasn't anybody. We had one person who was Asian American and that was so diverse, right? Almost nobody other than that. A few Jews, but there were Jewish quotas.
[00:03:47] Jordan Harbinger: When you say Jewish quota, you mean the opposite of what we would now say is a quota, right? Like this is the maximum number of Jews we're going to let in as opposed to the minimum number of Jews we're going to let in.
[00:03:56] Robert Waldinger: Oh gosh. Yeah. Maximum.
[00:03:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:03:58] Robert Waldinger: It was a very low quota. So they really were interested in educating the Brahman class.
[00:04:06] Jordan Harbinger: But not the actual Brahman class. That would be, that would be—
[00:04:09] Robert Waldinger: That would have been diversity.
[00:04:10] Jordan Harbinger: Right. We don't want those. We want, just the white Brahman class.
[00:04:14] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:04:15] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man, it's funny to say that because it's just kind of the opposite thing you would normally want for science, right? Where you go, look, we need a representative sample. And it was like, no, let's not do that at all.
[00:04:24] Robert Waldinger: This was representative, if you think about it, because—
[00:04:27] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:04:28] Robert Waldinger: Two-thirds of them were from the poorest families, from really troubled families, from, at that time diversity was Irish American, you know, Italian American.
[00:04:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:04:39] Robert Waldinger: It was Middle Eastern. It was Jews in the inner city sample, right? So that was diversity then. So diversity looks a certain way now, and we talk a lot about it, but in 85 years, it's going to look different again. So diversity is an ever changing thing.
[00:04:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, interesting.
[00:04:56] Robert Waldinger: That's what it was back in 1938.
[00:04:58] Jordan Harbinger: And so this study is 80-plus years long. How do you study people for 80 years? Tell us a little bit how this study is conducted, the way you test the people, just for color.
[00:05:09] Robert Waldinger: So what we do is we study the big subjects over and over again. So the big subjects are mental health, physical health, work, life, relationships, all of that, right? But what we do is we study them over and over again, and we add methods as new methods come online.
[00:05:27] So first, it was questionnaires, and it was physical exams by doctors, and it was psychological exams by shrinks, and it was going to their homes and talking to their parents and their grandparents. Then, when I came on board, we began to audiotape, we began to videotape, we then began to draw their blood for DNA, which is one of the things I love because, you know, in 1938, DNA wasn't even conceived of. And here we are measuring it and we put them in MRI scanners and look at their brains and watch how they light up.
[00:06:01] All of this is the ways of bringing in new methods to study the same big domains of human life.
[00:06:10] Jordan Harbinger: It's fascinating how this has evolved over time, right, from written questionnaires to audio, video, now DNA and MRI. And then I would imagine in a couple of decades it'll be, yeah, and now we have them wear the functional MRI hat, headband, whatever, around with them for the entire year. And then we're remotely accessing the data in the cloud in real time, and it's going to be really incredible.
[00:06:31] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Or we do temporary implants in their brains to collect, you know? I mean, who knows what it's going to be? Actually, that's the thing I love about being the fourth director of an 85-year study, because I realized that a lot of what I do now, the founders of the study would never have imagined.
[00:06:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:50] Robert Waldinger: And that's really cool. And what people do 85 years from now, I can't imagine.
[00:06:54] Jordan Harbinger: Is this the longest running study period or the longest running study of happiness?
[00:07:00] Robert Waldinger: Well, it's the longest running study, really, of adult lifespan development. They call us a study of happiness because happiness sells, right?
[00:07:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:08] Robert Waldinger: But we're really, scientifically, a study of adult lifespan development. And that means well being, what makes people thrive. It is the longest study of any depth. There have been a few studies that span a hundred years, but those are like superficial survey kind of studies. We're it when it comes to an in depth study that's gone this long.
[00:07:28] Jordan Harbinger: It's really fascinating and I would imagine that the study, it has to control for the idea that memory is really bad for recalling pretty much everything, including happiness. So whatever you're testing controls for that, right? Because you ever learn about like eyewitness testimony in court and how it's terrible and fails.
[00:07:46] Robert Waldinger: Oh yeah.
[00:07:46] Jordan Harbinger: And even when you survey people who buy something and you say, why did you buy this? The answer's never, it's never real. It's like, "Oh yeah, I really needed something, da, da, da, da." And then when you control for all these other variables, it was like, "I thought I would have more random, spontaneous sexual encounters if I purchased this automobile." And it's like, that's the real reason.
[00:08:06] Robert Waldinger: Right. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, one of the things we find, for example, is when we interview men and then we interview their spouses, they'll tell completely different stories about how they met, or how their courtship went, or whatever it might be. And we realize that memory is so fungible, and that's one of the reasons why it's useful to keep asking people again and again. And asking them maybe to remember the last year, but not remember the last 10, 15, 30 years.
[00:08:36] Jordan Harbinger: There's an interesting example in the book where you asked a couple how they met. And he said, "I was making fun of her because she had two different socks on." And then, the wife says, "I was making fun of him because he had two different socks on." And then you go back like 40 or 50 years, and it turns out that she was right. And he had just totally fabricated, like he put the shoe on the other foot, no pun intended, and said, "Oh, I was doing this." And it's like, "Nope." And if you didn't have that, over time, it would just be he said, she said, and you'd have no idea who's telling the truth.
[00:09:05] Robert Waldinger: Exactly, and to your point about eyewitness testimony, it's one of the reasons why it's so problematic because the very act of recalling something makes us alter it in our minds. And so we do add and subtract stuff.
[00:09:20] Jordan Harbinger: Describe some of the immense amount of data that you have on people. I know you have 80 years of surveys, but what else do you have now? You have tapes and things like that. But what are you asking? I know you even have actual brains. I don't know what good those will be. Maybe in 30 years you'll be able to download whatever was in there at some point. I don't know.
[00:09:38] Robert Waldinger: We have brains that are in formaldehyde.
[00:09:40] Jordan Harbinger: True.
[00:09:40] Robert Waldinger: But what's cool about those to get a little geeky, is that mostly we collect brains because there's been disease and we want to study the disease. So what we've done is we've collected these brains and that's a huge gift that these people have given us, you know, to donate their brains. And imagine having a brain that isn't riddled with disease, but about which you know so much, you know, what that brain was like as a 19-year-old. So what's really wonderful is to have brains where you can look back and know so much about how their lives went and then see what the brain tissue looks like at the end.
[00:10:16] Jordan Harbinger: That's fascinating. Yeah, there's a world 16 years of this podcast and then matches my brain decay—
[00:10:24] Robert Waldinger: Exactly
[00:10:25] Jordan Harbinger: —to quality of person that I was talking with.
[00:10:27] Robert Waldinger: ExactLy. Well, here's where you can see the decay starting. Yeah.
[00:10:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Like when he started doing shows on politics, it just went way downhill.
[00:10:36] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:10:37] Jordan Harbinger: This is so fascinating. You really don't bury the lead at all in the book and you come right out at the jump that happiness over the long term Is all about relationships, not fitness, not physical fitness, anyway, not money, but friends, family, and community. And it seems like we should all kind of know that, and yet, I don't know that we do.
[00:10:55] Robert Waldinger: Yeah. You probably know. I gave a TED Talk in 2015 about this.
[00:10:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:59] Robert Waldinger: And basically, the whole point of the TED Talk was that our study finds that the people who were happiest, healthiest, lived longest, had the best relationships, and I thought duh, this is like so trivial. Everybody knows this.
[00:11:14] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:14] Robert Waldinger: It became one of the 10 most watched TED Talks in history. And it's because I think what happens is we all deep down know this and so many distractions in our culture pull us away from that truth. They pull us away to, "Well, if I buy this car, I'll have more random sexual encounters."
[00:11:32] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:32] Robert Waldinger: You know, it pulls us away into all kinds of fantasies about what will really make us happy. And so I think when we put the science there and say, "Look, there's all this scientific data that says your relationships have so much to do with your happiness and your health," that people begin to say, "Whoa, you know, that's right." And then, they think about their own lives and they think, "Yeah, actually, it's way more important than I often realize," right? And so I think that's what I've done. I've sort of taken something that's sort of you know in your gut and I've moved it up into your head.
[00:12:05] Jordan Harbinger: What of those who would say, who would ask maybe, "Is it too late for me? Look, I'm lonely. I'm isolated. It's been that way my whole life, or it's been that way since my divorce, or it's been that way since the kids left the house." Is there a time limit that you found with the study where it's like, "Well, if you're 40 and you're still alone, you know, massive downhill slide in life expectancy," or something like that?
[00:12:27] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, no time limit.
[00:12:29] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. That's good news.
[00:12:29] Robert Waldinger: That's the best thing. It is good.
[00:12:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:31] Robert Waldinger: It's not too late for you, really, Jordan.
[00:12:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:33] Robert Waldinger: But what we found was that there would be people — in fact, we tell one story in the book of a man who said, you know, I've never been good at relationships. He had a kind of blah marriage and didn't have, really didn't have friends. And then when he retired, he joined a gym and he found some people there who he really liked and they really liked him. And they found that they looked forward to showing up at the gym, but beyond that they started doing other stuff together. He found that he developed this little tribe of people who really got him and he enjoyed and he said, for the first time in my life, "I've got friends." And this guy was in his late 60s when this happened.
[00:13:11] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:13:12] Robert Waldinger: We find there are people, you know, who fall in love and get married in their 80s.. So, the message from our science is, if you think it's too late for you, think again, because you just don't know. And it means stay open, put yourself in situations where things can happen because you really don't know what's going to happen.
[00:13:31] Jordan Harbinger: Some of the conclusions around relationships and social support were really remarkable. These folks experience less physical pain, less depression. The depression thing makes sense, right? When you're super lonely, it can be depressing. When you're not lonely at all, maybe some, maybe some of that depression, if it's induced by loneliness in the first place, goes away. But the physical pain, the idea that maybe something that's chronic, an injury or whatever, would hurt less.
[00:13:56] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:13:57] Jordan Harbinger: Or at least be perceived to hurt less because I'm surrounded by friends and family. That's really something.
[00:14:02] Robert Waldinger: It's amazing. And in fact, they didn't believe it at first. So you know, they asked people, how much does it hurt? So then they put people in the scanner, in the MRI scanner, because they can look at how much the brain reacts to a painful procedure. And they saw less reactivity. When you're holding somebody's hand, even when you're holding a stranger's hand, and if you're holding the hand of somebody you trust, boy, does your level of pain go down. It's a huge form of anesthesia, if you will.
[00:14:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Look, you can understand, oh, well, if you're doing something and your mom's there, your wife is there, you'll just be more comfortable. But it's not just my perception of the pain. It seems like from the brain scan, it's the actual pain.
[00:14:45] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:14:45] Jordan Harbinger: The brain just says, I don't need to alarm so highly because your wife is in the room. You're safe, or whatever.
[00:14:50] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And touch. Touch seems to make a huge difference. You know, one of the things that they're studying now is pets. And I don't have that research at top of mind, but we're pretty clear that petting an animal is also conveying some of those benefits of protecting you from stress and reducing levels of pain.
[00:15:13] Jordan Harbinger: So maybe those people with therapy cats on airplanes, they're not totally full of crap.
[00:15:17] Robert Waldinger: They're not totally full of crap. I mean, it does annoy me sometimes that they get on first and they get to take their cuddly things on and I don't, but they're not, it's not full of crap.
[00:15:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:27] Robert Waldinger: There's some science behind it.
[00:15:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's super interesting. Lots of this stuff, thankfully, we're mostly aware of now, but patterns are really hard to break. I kind of talked about this at the top of the show, but we know the key to happiness and longevity is relationships. And yet we are all out here ignoring our friends so we can get ahead at work for money and status every damn time, Dr. Waldinger, every damn time.
[00:15:49] Robert Waldinger: I know. Until something happens.
[00:15:52] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:53] Robert Waldinger: So often what happens is when we have a crisis and we realize, "Oh my gosh, I couldn't have gotten through this crisis without my friend or my partner or my kid." People begin to turn around and they say, "Whoa, wait a minute." There's a meme going around. I bet you've seen it, but I love this. It says 20 years from now, the only people who will remember whether you worked late are your children.
[00:16:15] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh.
[00:16:16] Robert Waldinger: You know, it's like sometimes it takes reminders and often it's like a health scare or something to say, "Wait a minute. Why am I busting my butt at work when there's so many important things that I'm ignoring in my life."
[00:16:30] Jordan Harbinger: People right now are pausing the podcast and they're just sitting in their car in silence for five minutes before continuing because that one does hit. I guarantee you that the only people who remember that my dad worked late are my mom, who is now 82 and me, the only child. I guarantee you nobody else at work gave a crap. They were all doing the same thing too.
[00:16:48] Robert Waldinger: Right. And work won't love you back.
[00:16:51] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:16:51] Robert Waldinger: That's the other mantra that I keep talking to my young students about. It doesn't mean don't care about work. It doesn't mean don't invest in things you care, in work you care about, but it means don't expect the love to come from there.
[00:17:05] Jordan Harbinger: That's tough, especially when you're in a media position like this. I know a lot of people who are in a similar position to me. They're going all in on Instagram, TikTok, Threads, Twitter, whatever it is. I only use that stuff as an inbox for show fans to write to me. I was really glad to read, I should say, in your book that this seems to be the way to go because there's a lot of validation you can get from complete strangers by posting things and taking on a part time job that's essentially unpaid that gets you more fame. And if you're in my position, you can rationalize it by going, look, this is branding. It's marketing, more people know who I am, it makes it easier to book guests. Because all that stuff ends up being true, and yet every time that I'm doing is silly, I haven't done this, but if every minute I spend doing a silly TikTok dance, my kids are playing alone outside without me. Really, it's kind of gross when you think about it.
[00:18:02] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, and social media has become the new time suck and time sink and energy sink. When I was coming up as a young psychiatrist, I got asked to teach in this very prestigious course that was being invited to join a faculty.
[00:18:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:18] Robert Waldinger: And it was a course on Saturday mornings. And my older son was three at that time, and he would stand at the door saying, "Daddy, can I come to your class with you?"
[00:18:29] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:18:29] Robert Waldinger: And what I was teaching about in that class was the importance of early childhood experience.
[00:18:37] Jordan Harbinger: The irony, man.
[00:18:38] Robert Waldinger: The irony and it drove me crazy and I finally stopped and I said, "Okay. I'm never doing this again." I wrote a letter to the faculty saying, "I'm so honored to be part of your faculty and I'm taking a leave of absence until my children are grown."
[00:18:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:52] Robert Waldinger: And that's what I did.
[00:18:53] Jordan Harbinger: Gosh. That was designed to teach you that lesson. They couldn't have made it even more—
[00:18:58] Robert Waldinger: Really.
[00:18:58] Jordan Harbinger: —perfect. Like, hey, Saturday morning, cartoons are over. I'm ready to spend time with dad. Bye, I'm going to a bunch of adults in a mahogany room to talk about why it's important to spend time with your kids. Have fun staring at the wall for the next three hours.
[00:19:12] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Well, you know my Zen training teaches me something that I've found to be true Which is that the universe will meet us where we need to be met and it will teach us the lessons we need to learn that was one of those instances.
[00:19:25] Jordan Harbinger: I bet on your point in the book about social media you say or it seems like you say there's two ways to use it. You can use social media to communicate. So like I use it to answer fan mail, for lack of a better term, DMs from people who are listening to the show. I really enjoy that. I reach out to old friends. Sometimes I use it to try to book guests or whatever, but using it to observe makes you unhappy. And for me, like I said, inboxes for show fans, but the second I start scrolling and those apps are really good at getting you to start scrolling because that's—
[00:19:59] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:19:59] Jordan Harbinger: —they know they got you if you start, I might have a laugh at a few things, but then suddenly I've got FOMO, right? I feel bad. All my friends are on vacation. They're all on a yacht without me. Every other podcaster is booked in a dozen A-list celebrities for the rest of the year, and I'm changing a poopy diaper. And then, I have to snap out of it and go, I opened this to answer messages. How did this even happen?
[00:20:22] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Exactly. You know, and what, what's happening is we're looking at other people's curated lives, right?
[00:20:29] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:20:29] Robert Waldinger: We're looking at, you know, I don't post my pictures of the mornings when I'm hung over, right?
[00:20:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:34] Robert Waldinger: I post the nice vacation I'm taking, right? So we curate our lives for each other. And then, we get to this thing that one of my psychiatry teachers said, we're always comparing our insides—
[00:20:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:20:47] Robert Waldinger: —to other people's outsides. And social media is the worst place to look at other people's outsides, what they show us, and say, "Oh my god, I'm the only one who's confused sometimes or is having a bad day. Nobody else is. Everybody else is living their best life."
[00:21:03] Jordan Harbinger: The cliche is comparing your blooper reel to everyone else's highlight reel.
[00:21:07] Robert Waldinger: Oh, I like that.
[00:21:08] Jordan Harbinger: I did not make that up. I'll tell you. I've been using, every time I say that people are like, nice pinch from, you know, whoever said it 20 years ago, but it's very true. But I love the idea that social media can actually be used to make you happier when you use it to communicate with others, which is funny that we even have to make the distinction because that was the original intent of social media. I mean Twitter and Facebook originated to make communication easier. Using it to observe others and become a status competition, that came later and was, I think, unintentional.
[00:21:40] Robert Waldinger: Well, the problem is that when things get monetized, I mean, social media isn't a charitable organization, right?
[00:21:48] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:21:48] Robert Waldinger: People need to make money. And the way you make money is capturing and holding eyeballs. And taking our eyeballs away from the real world and away from everything, the magnificence of the universe, and just focusing it on these little screens. That's how they make money. And the way they do that is to incite FOMO, to incite comparison and envy.
[00:22:10] Jordan Harbinger: Even when I unfollowed everybody, they'll still go, "Hey, you don't follow anybody. You'll probably like this." And they're right. And it's really scary. I now open Instagram with my hand covering three quarters of the screen so that I don't even see that first post. I just don't even want to know what it is because they're so good at hooking me. I just click on that upper right to get to the inbox. On days where I forget to do that, I'll scroll for 20 minutes and go, "Why did I open it? Oh, right, I was going to go in the inbox and shoot."
[00:22:35] Robert Waldinger: Exactly.
[00:22:35] Jordan Harbinger: I just looked at my friend's entire vacation reel and man, do I need a vacation too? It's really amazing how they do this and they're only getting better at it. You mentioned money. Do we know much about money and its relationship to happiness? There's that study that I'm always misquoting that's like after X dollars, the happiness levels trail off. I think it was Kahneman who did that.
[00:22:56] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Exactly. He said after about $75,000, several years ago in the US, average household income. But then, another psychologist named Matt Killingsworth did a study where he said, "No, no, actually still goes up after 75K and actually up and up and up." So your happiness keeps going up when you make more money.
[00:23:17] Okay, so Killingsworth and Kahneman organized what they called an adversarial collaboration, where they took all the data they could find on this and they crunched it together. What they came up with was a kind of middle ground where it turns out happiness can go up after you get your basic material needs met. That's what the 75k really stands for.
[00:23:40] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Do we know what that is adjusted for inflation, by the way?
[00:23:43] Robert Waldinger: Oh, yeah. And you know, think about 75K—
[00:23:46] Jordan Harbinger: I can do this.
[00:23:47] Robert Waldinger: —you know, in Manhattan, and then 75K in Des Moines, Iowa, and they're very different.
[00:23:53] Jordan Harbinger: What year was that? Do you know?
[00:23:56] Robert Waldinger: 2017, I believe.
[00:23:57] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:23:57] Robert Waldinger: But what I would say is that it's really about getting your basic needs met. And then, what we know is that that's really true, that if you don't have a stable place to live and food security and access to healthcare and all that, and able to educate your kids, you are less happy. So when you get all that which gets you to 75K or whatever the number is.
[00:24:18] Jordan Harbinger: It's $94,020.23 by the way.
[00:24:21] Robert Waldinger: Okay, so it's still a lot of money we need.
[00:24:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, per household, right?
[00:24:25] Robert Waldinger: Per household. But then what it's saying, and this is what Killingsworth and Kahneman found together, is that if you're unhappy and you're looking for more money to make you happier, like let's say, if I make 10 million, then I'll be happy. That doesn't work. You don't get happier when you make yourself wealthier.
[00:24:45] Jordan Harbinger: Good luck convincing anybody of that.
[00:24:47] Robert Waldinger: I know.
[00:24:48] Jordan Harbinger: That's tough, man. Good luck.
[00:24:50] Robert Waldinger: I know, that's the thing, because our culture tells us.
[00:24:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:24:53] Robert Waldinger: You know, you really will be happier.
[00:24:55] Yeah. And then, you hear, you know, it's like a truism that wealth doesn't make us happy and some of the richest people are some of the most miserable. That's why White Lotus is fascinating for people. You know, they watch this TV show and it's about these awful, obnoxious rich people who are having problems.
[00:25:12] Jordan Harbinger: What is White Lotus? I don't think I've ever heard of this.
[00:25:14] Robert Waldinger: Oh, it's a streaming thing. It's about people who go to elegant, an elegant resort. And it's a lot of drama and, you know? Think of Succession. I don't know if you've heard of Succession.
[00:25:25] Jordan Harbinger: I have, of course. Yeah.
[00:25:26] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that's another one where you don't have this super wealthy family who are like hateful to each other, right?
[00:25:33] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:33] Robert Waldinger: And we love that. We love seeing that. Oh, oh, they're, you know, they're not happy.
[00:25:37] Jordan Harbinger: We want them to be miserable because they have jets. They don't deserve to be happy.
[00:25:41] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:25:42] Jordan Harbinger: We're pissed off about it. Yeah, it's unfair.
[00:25:43] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, but we do keep imagining. We do live in hope that the people who are rich, really have it all figured out. I mean, think about how we elect these rich people who claim to be so spectacularly wonderful because they made a lot of money and that's just not the truth of life.
[00:25:58] Jordan Harbinger: It's a weird, very uniquely, I think, uniquely American thing where we idolize and we deify rich people but we also want them to be miserable.
[00:26:06] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:26:07] Jordan Harbinger: But then we ascribe all these positive qualities to them as if we didn't just wish that they were unhealthy and miserable and had their lives falling apart. Like, we want to see them have a crushing downfall and then two minutes later we are voting for them to run the entire state or country. It makes no sense.
[00:26:25] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. And we see how well that works out.
[00:26:30] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Dr. Robert Waldinger. We'll be right back.
[00:26:34] This episode is sponsored by NordVPN. You would never leave your house with the front door wide open, would you? So why would you surf the web without proper protection? That's why we use NordVPN. Now, I know what you might be thinking, "Jordan, I got nothing to hide. I don't care if people snoop my web traffic." Sure, but it's not about hiding. It's about securing your digital life. A VPN is like a secure tunnel for your data to travel through, shielding you from hackers, snoopers, even your own Internet service provider. That's mostly what I use it for, to be honest. Think about all the places you connect to Wi-Fi in the airport, coffee shops, hotels. Every time you do that without a VPN, you're pretty much rolling the dice with your personal info. With a VPN, you get to encrypt your data and surf anonymously. Plus, it can make it look like you're browsing from a different country. Definitely had to use NordVPN just to get worked on when I was traveling in China and in other countries for that matter. So if you're serious about protecting your online privacy, and you should be, invest in a solid VPN like NordVPN. They have a strict no logs policy and over 5,100 servers in 60 countries. The connection is so smooth and fast you won't even notice it's on.
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[00:29:20] Now, back to Dr. Robert Waldinger.
[00:29:25] Back to this money study with Kahneman. 75K, whatever, 93K after your material needs are met. Does your happiness level, I'm trying to do the graph here in an audio only format. We do use the video, but it's not going to help with me throwing my hand through the screen. But I would imagine there's a pretty steady uptick up until your needs are met, right? At lower levels, your health is suffering.
[00:29:45] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:29:45] Jordan Harbinger: Because maybe you can't even afford healthcare or you're eating crap food. You're stressed out, you're working two jobs because otherwise your kids can't, well, you don't have a house in a nice area.
[00:29:56] Robert Waldinger: Yeah. Let me just say that the reason for our naming that is that it's easy for some people to say, "Oh, you know, the poor are really happy and they're content with their lives.
[00:30:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:30:06] Robert Waldinger: Well, that's bullsh*t. This kind of basic privilege matters, like having enough.
[00:30:12] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:13] Robert Waldinger: Having your needs met really matters. And so we want to name that even as we say, getting super rich doesn't make you happy.
[00:30:21] Jordan Harbinger: I bristle a little bit when I see those studies where it's like, here are some people that live in literal landfills in India. Look at them smiling. And I'm thinking, well, they're smiling because you're taking pictures. And maybe, they look happy sort of day to day. But if you look at, if you really, I don't know, spent more than five minutes photographing these people and you spent time, there's probably so much tragedy in their life. Oh yeah, they're one of eight kids, but six of them died of preventable diseases caused by waterborne pathogen. Their parents died when they were 11. But I think that photographing them and putting them in whatever National Geographic is more popular because we can go, wow, look at these people, they're happy despite having nothing. I just, I don't, I don't buy it.
[00:31:01] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, right. And so I don't have to worry about them, right?
[00:31:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I don't have to worry that I'm over here in business class complaining about the pork shoulder being too overcooked, right?
[00:31:10] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:31:10] Jordan Harbinger: Because these people are also happy. Yeah, it's very odd to me. And at higher levels, money is less about stuff. And is way more about status. Maybe there's a power element if you're really loaded. And you need only look so far as these billionaires who are building different phallic rockets to go into space to learn that you can never have too much money because you just shift the goalposts to something else status wise.
[00:31:36] Robert Waldinger: Yeah. And also, you know, in many ways it's like a quest for immortality. You know, there are a lot of billionaires who say, "Well, I'm going to be the first guy to put a rocket into space and bring it back," or, "I'm going to put my name on so many buildings."
[00:31:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:31:51] Robert Waldinger: And a lot of it can be this quest for, okay, I'm really a person who's important and I'm going to be remembered, you know, forever, right? And of course, none of us is remembered forever. A thousand years from now, you know, like, do you remember who was king of England in, you know, 1356?
[00:32:11] Jordan Harbinger: Of course not.
[00:32:12] Robert Waldinger: I don't, right? The superstars of the world are all forgotten. But there's this wish, oh, I got to be remembered so I'm going to exert my power, I'm going to put my name on everything. That I think is one of the strong motivators for some people with a lot of wealth.
[00:32:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's a little sad because you read about, and the only reason I even know about these folks, like Emperor Nero or whatever, is because of Ryan Holiday writing books about Stoicism.
[00:32:36] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:32:36] Jordan Harbinger: And that having a resurgence now. There was probably a thousand years where nobody cared about that stuff, right? They was just all lost to time, or mostly lost to time, or sort of niche, but then you look, you're like, "Well, look at those accomplishments those people have," and but then half the stoic stories are about how their kids hate them. Or they screwed up everything and they were responsible for the downfall of their entire empire. And it's like, yeah, I don't know if I want to be remembered for that part. And it's like, well, you don't get to pick, man.
[00:33:04] Robert Waldinger: Well, you get to pick in this lifetime, right?
[00:33:06] Jordan Harbinger: Well, yeah, you get to pick in this lifetime. But it's like, well, how do your kids remember you or the people that actually mattered in your life?
[00:33:11] Robert Waldinger: Exactly.
[00:33:11] Jordan Harbinger: There's no data about that really or they all died, you know?
[00:33:14] Robert Waldinger: Exactly.
[00:33:14] Jordan Harbinger: Or they killed you in trying to get your kingdom, something along those lines.
[00:33:17] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:33:18] Jordan Harbinger: So your happiness goes up until your needs are met. And then does it slowly taper the happiness line or does it continue to just go up and up and up? That's the part I don't understand about this study.
[00:33:27] Robert Waldinger: Well, it's complicated.
[00:33:28] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:33:29] Robert Waldinger: So it goes up and up. But It tapers off, it doesn't go up anywhere near as fast as it does while you're getting your basic needs met. So you get a continued boost, but not that much. And as I say, if you are not happy, increasing your wealth doesn't make you happier. Wealth gives us freedom, it gives us opportunities to do certain things, and that can increase happiness, fair enough. And sometimes, you know, wealth can give us the opportunity to be generous, and we know that actually people are happier when they're generous. So, you know, there's this thing, the billionaires pledge, you probably know about it.
[00:34:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Is this the giving pledge?
[00:34:07] Robert Waldinger: The giving pledge, exactly.
[00:34:08] Jordan Harbinger: Die with nothing or, you know, get die with half your wealth or the majority of your wealth given away.
[00:34:12] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. I'm going to give away at least half of it during my lifetime. That's a big deal. But these people really feel better about their lives because they're doing that and they spend a lot of their life now, figuring out how am I going to give this away. That's an opportunity that huge wealth can create that actually makes you happier.
[00:34:34] Jordan Harbinger: Again, hard to internalize, right? Because it's like, but I work so hard for my money. Look at all the things I've traded for it.
[00:34:39] Robert Waldinger: I know.
[00:34:39] Jordan Harbinger: Give it away. Are you insane? I'm not doing that. It's very difficult to do. One thing that really stuck out for me in the book was the comparison thing, right? The more we compare ourselves to others, the more unhappy we are. Okay, duh. But what I didn't know was that the more we compare ourselves to others and the more unhappy we are, even when the comparison is favorable. And that is really something that I think we need to, if that's one thing you take away from this whole episode, this is it. Because it made me cringe so hard. Because I think we all do this all the time. And for me, it's like my primary source of misery. It's such a terrible habit.
[00:35:16] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[00:35:16] Jordan Harbinger: But you compare yourself and you go, oh, well, at least this one is favorable. I feel better about myself because I'm comparing myself to this other person who has less or did less or accomplished less. But that's not actually working. It doesn't work.
[00:35:29] Robert Waldinger: It doesn't work. It doesn't work. That when we don't compare ourselves, we are in a much more peaceful place. So think about it. I mean, you have a hugely successful podcast, right?
[00:35:40] Jordan Harbinger: I trade it all for just a little more.
[00:35:42] Robert Waldinger: But that means your numbers can go down as well as I, right?
[00:35:46] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:35:46] Robert Waldinger: And so even if you are crushing it, you look at those numbers and you say, "Well, okay, for now they're okay."
[00:35:52] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:35:52] Robert Waldinger: Or in my field, you know, am I publishing in the right journals, and am I getting the right recognition, right? But if I am, that means it can go down. It's one of the ways that we are misguided in how we raise our kids. You know, getting A's is great, but that means you can get B's, you can get D's, that means, and evaluating people constantly, saying, you're so great, that's terrific. It's different from helping people to learn who they are, which is very different from you're good, you're bad, you're better than him, you're worse than her. And so all of this comparison and evaluative stuff leaves us kind of empty and kind of anxious.
[00:36:34] Jordan Harbinger: It's so hard to remember because even when you're miserable and that's goes back to the social media thing, right? It's so hard to not compare yourself. It's almost, it's so human to do this and you really do think you're winning if you're comparing yourself to others that that have or do or have accomplished less. It reminds me of the, there's a study that says, or at least I thought it said, that if you feel like you are not wealthy, The best thing you can do is move to a place where you're the wealthiest guy in the neighborhood and so by comparison you'll feel like you have more, but this sort of seems to fly in the face of that. You just end up comparing yourself. Yes, you're the wealthiest guy in the neighborhood, but you're still perhaps miserable in some other way.
[00:37:14] Robert Waldinger: Yes, it's the comparison problem. You're right. It is true that when people feel that they are less than the people around them, they do feel worse. So that means that if, that's one of the reasons why unequal pay is so devastating and destructive. It's not just that you get less money, it's that you feel disrespected and it's completely demoralizing. And so it is true that we're going to compare ourselves to some extent, no matter what. You know, if you find that somebody else is getting more for the same work, you're going to feel worse about yourself as well as you're going to feel worse about your workplace.
[00:37:54] But all of that means that comparison is something we have to manage. It is a fact of our existence, but we can manage it. We can put ourselves in positions where we compare lists. That's where turning off social media. So one of the things I do, I'm a psychiatrist, and one of the things I do every day is I see patients in psychotherapy. With my younger patients particularly, I've had to help them see that they have to turn off social media and they decrease their emotional pain when they turn off social media. It's what you've found. I mean, you have to be really careful with social media. You are absolutely the norm, right? And so what we know is that we have to manage comparison or it's going to drag us down.
[00:38:38] Jordan Harbinger: What factors determine our level of happiness? You mentioned the happiness set point, which is genetic, I'm guessing, and that's, what, 40 percent of our happiness? What else is there?
[00:38:49] Robert Waldinger: Well, then, and this is from Sonja Lyubomirsky, who's a psychologist who does these estimates. She says 40 percent genetic. She says only about 10 percent your current life circumstances. Only 10 percent of your happiness. And then about 50 percent is movable, is under our control, she estimates. So that means there's stuff we can do. And that's why I'm out here talking with you and talking about this, right? To say, look, this matters.
[00:39:19] If you build and maintain good relationships, you are setting yourself up to be happier more of the time. And it is true that taking care of your physical health does the same thing. It keeps us disability free longer. It keeps us out of pain longer. So all of that is to say that if half of our happiness is under our control, that means that we can build a foundation of well being.
[00:39:43] So that even if, like, moment to moment happiness is kind of an accident. Like, I'm having a good time now talking to you, but an hour from now something really annoying may happen and I won't be happy. But if we build this kind of bedrock of well being, then I make myself more prone to be happy more of the time.
[00:40:01] Jordan Harbinger: You could do another podcast and there's no way it'll be as fun and lively and entertaining is this one.
[00:40:05] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Exactly.
[00:40:07] Jordan Harbinger: This is the peak, man.
[00:40:08] Robert Waldinger: This is the peak, absolutely.
[00:40:10] Jordan Harbinger: The lack of relationship ties is a strong indicator similar to smoking in terms of risk to longevity. I want to let that one sink in. I read that in your work, and I thought imagine being lonely and thinking it's basically just like you're smoking cigarettes. That's a really good reason to try and make some freaking friends, man, anywhere, any way possible.
[00:40:32] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, absolutely. This comes from a psychologist named Julianne Holt-Lunstad at the University of Utah, and she did this huge analysis of hundreds of studies of loneliness, and that's what she found. That it's like smoking cigarettes. It's like being obese. And the reason we think it happens is that loneliness is a stressor and it sets up body reactions. It sets up more inflammation in the body. It sets up higher cardiovascular reactivity. It sets up a bunch of things that break down your body systems in the way that smoking breaks down your body systems and obesity and other things. So it's not magic, and it's not some kind of hocus pocus, it's real science that all of these things set up classic stress reactions that wear us down over time.
[00:41:21] Jordan Harbinger: You mention in the book as well that marriage or intimate relationships were more predictive of health than cholesterol levels at age 50 and I know someone's going to be like, "Cholesterol levels are nonsense. New science shows this," and maybe there's something to that but the point is cultivating strong or trusting bonds maybe makes the rest of our lives more stable. Is that why this happens? Do we know why this is?
[00:41:46] Robert Waldinger: Yeah. And that's a really good point. We are learning more. So the last 10 years of our research has been trying to figure out how do relationships get into our bodies and change them.
[00:41:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:55] Robert Waldinger: And that's this kind of stress response. And the other thing is social. So for example, we know that people who have partners. And they have a decent relationship, have partners who remind them to eat, remind them to take their medications, get them out walking, do all the things that we know that otherwise, you know, I might just sit on the couch and watch Netflix rather than get exercise and take care of myself and see people because my wife gets me to do stuff. And what we know is that it literally works that way.
[00:42:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:42:27] Robert Waldinger: We show up for each other and we help each other stay healthier.
[00:42:30] Jordan Harbinger: What are some of the differences between the lives of the happiest and least happy participants? Do they have bad habits? Do they have bad relationships? I mean, some of it's luck, right? If you just get cancer four times, maybe you're going to have more stress than the average person. But what is there maybe that we could control that you found between these people over time?
[00:42:51] Robert Waldinger: So really important point about luck, because there really is luck. And some people are going to be listening to this and saying, wait a minute, some people are dealt really bad hands. But the stuff that's under our control is, you know, taking care of relationships, taking care of health. That that is the kind of bedrock of making it more likely that you'll be okay. So if you think about it, decent relationships help us weather the storms that are always coming our way.
[00:43:19] I mean, who could have foreseen COVID? So a lot of us got through COVID with the help of other people, maybe the people we were living with, maybe the people we connected with remotely. We asked our original participants at one point, who could you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or scared? And most of them could list quite a few people. Some of them couldn't list anybody and some of them were married and couldn't list anybody.
[00:43:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yikes.
[00:43:47] Robert Waldinger: And what we think is that everybody needs that sense that there's somebody in the world who has my back. There's somebody in the world who would show up for me when times get really tough.
[00:43:57] Jordan Harbinger: The way that stress acts on the body is something that we're understanding more and more, but one of the interesting studies that you cite in the book is regarding stress and wound healing. So, essentially, what they punched a hole in somebody's skin and found that people who are under a lot of stress took longer to heal. Is that accurate?
[00:44:15] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Ugh. This comes from a psychologist, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, at Ohio State. She did an experiment where she took people of the same age and basically same health status, but one group of people was taking care of demented relatives and the other group of people wasn't. And she gave each of them a little wound, a little skin biopsy. It's a normal procedure. It's done in dermatologist's office. It doesn't hurt much and it's a way to see what's going on in the skin. So she did it with each of these people and the people taking care of demented relatives. It took 39 days longer—
[00:44:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:44:56] Robert Waldinger: —to heal those little wounds than the people who were not taking care of demented relatives. And we know that, for example, taking care of a disabled person in your life is one of the most stressful activities on the planet.
[00:45:10] Jordan Harbinger: I thought you were going to say maybe three days longer, a couple of, that's incredible. I mean, you're talking about 40 days. And that means that, what, somebody took two weeks, somebody else took six or seven weeks to heal from the same thing.
[00:45:24] Robert Waldinger: Yep. Yep. And think about what that means. For example, if you are really stressed and you need to have surgery, your body is having a hard time healing again after a procedure that you need to have.
[00:45:37] Jordan Harbinger: Some of the findings are equally surprising in the book the empty nest boost Which is essentially a boost in satisfaction with your relationship or your life when your kids leave the house. I would have expected the exact opposite right people get sad their kids leave something, something empty nest depression But it's like, no, actually, people are stoked when the kids are gone, which is so funny in so many ways.
[00:46:00] Robert Waldinger: Right. And of course, not everybody is the same. Some people get depressed, right?
[00:46:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:05] Robert Waldinger: But when you study thousands of people, which is what we were talking about, and I found this, I found that when my second son left for college, I was dreading it. I thought, oh my God, our lives are going to be so empty. What are we going to talk about with each other? And for about two days, I was bereft, and then I picked my head up and said, oh my God, this is great.
[00:46:26] Jordan Harbinger: It's so quiet in here. I can do whatever I want.
[00:46:28] Robert Waldinger: It's so quiet. We can go to the movies when we want. We can do it. We don't have to be home to make sure nobody trashes the place and there aren't teenage parties. And so you realize that, that each new phase of life can move you into new spaces and new opportunities and that's really what people tend to find.
[00:46:46] Jordan Harbinger: That's so funny. Well, 17 more years and we're almost there.
[00:46:49] Robert Waldinger: Are you?
[00:46:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, I've got a one-and-a-half-year-old and a three-year-old. I got a lot of time.
[00:46:55] Robert Waldinger: Oh my gosh. You are a busy, man.
[00:46:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'm in the beginning of, and we're also like, "Do we want another one?" And we're like, "Oh, we want our life back." And I'm telling Jen, my wife, I'm like, "We're not going to get our life back for a long time. We might as well just, what's another year or so at this point? You might as well.
[00:47:11] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:47:12] Jordan Harbinger: But it's more like having enough hands to hold the diapers.
[00:47:15] Robert Waldinger: Absolutely.
[00:47:16] Jordan Harbinger: Speaking of kids, how does our upbringing as children and relationships with our parents or other figures in our life, how does that translate to adult behaviors and happiness in connection with others? I know that's a ridiculously long question, but does that make sense? Like, what does it say—
[00:47:32] Robert Waldinger: It does make sense.
[00:47:32] Jordan Harbinger: —about our patterns?
[00:47:33] Robert Waldinger: You know, as a psychiatrist and doing talk therapy, I do, I talk about this all the time with people. But what we know is that we're not born knowing how human relationships are supposed to go. The way we learn about that is first and foremost in our families, right? So you have a certain kind of father, a certain kind of mother, a certain kind of sibling and you come to expect that people are going to be like that. And then also what happens to you with your friends, with your enemies in school, all that. But that you come to have a certain set of expectations. And if we're lucky, we grow up with the expectation that people are reliable and they'll help me when I need help. And they'll comfort me when I'm hurt. Like all that good stuff that we hope happens for everybody. But it doesn't happen for some people.
[00:48:23] And that's what we think of as the basis of trauma. And so some people move out into the world as adults, believing that the world isn't a safe place, that people cannot be trusted. And then, often there are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you expect people aren't going to be trustworthy, you treat them like they're not. And you're very suspicious. And then, they kind of back away. So what that means is childhood is hugely important, but it's not your whole destiny. You know, what we know is that somebody who grows up feeling that the world isn't safe can have new experiences that we call them corrective experiences.
[00:49:00] You can find friends. who are decent people and don't betray you. You can find a partner who's really caring and doesn't act like your parents did, and that that can turn your expectations around. So what we find again is this sense that it really isn't too late, that childhood isn't destiny, that people really can change what happens to them in their relationships over time, if they're lucky, and if they search for good, trustworthy people.
[00:49:32] Jordan Harbinger: That's really good news, because I think, if my Feedback Friday sort of advice inbox is any indicator, a lot of people are extremely worried about this, right? My parents were fighting all the time, and then this happened, and then this person was bad, and then when I went to college or grew up and my relationships are always rough because of my childhood and they're just wondering, "Am I just doomed to this?" I have people write and say, "Should I even bother trying to get married and have kids because my childhood was so screwed up that this is just going to make it worse for another kid and is there any way for me to get out from under this.
[00:50:04] Robert Waldinger: Well, one way is to pay really close attention is to who you choose. So, unfortunately, we often tend to repeat the same thing over and over again. So believe it or not, people who were victimized as kids often choose partners who victimized them.
[00:50:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:22] Robert Waldinger: Now, why would you do that? You don't do it deliberately, but you can end up doing it because it feels familiar. You don't know why, but you're just, you know, you had an abusive father and you just happen to be attracted to edgy guys who have a little violence streak in them, right? Because it's sexy, because it feels so familiar. And so what we can say is really important to pay close attention to who people are and to take a long time choosing your friends, take a long time choosing your partner. Get to know them well, get to know them under stress, and see how they are before you jump in to a longterm investment in another person. And that way you're more likely not to repeat the thing that you're trying to get away from.
[00:51:11] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Dr. Robert Waldinger. We'll be right back.
[00:51:16] This episode is also sponsored by BetterHelp. Have you ever been there, lying in bed, staring at the freakin ceiling? Just when you're about to drift off, your brain kicks into high gear. My mind used to start racing with worries and to do lists or just random thoughts, keeping me awake when I should be recharging. It does happen to the best of us, and it's the worst. Therapy offers a safe space for you to break down those racing thoughts, one by one, with somebody trained to guide you through them. And BetterHelp is a great platform for this. They've got tons of five star reviews from people that they've helped. It's entirely online. Fill out a brief questionnaire. You're paired up with one of their thousands of licensed therapists that fit your needs. Do it from the comfort of your own home, which I prefer, especially at a time when you might feel vulnerable opening up. And if you don't click, switch anytime. No additional charge. I really think the therapy is a great idea for everyone. This lowers the bar to getting in and I love that.
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[00:52:13] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is brought to you in part by Progressive. Most of you listening right now are probably multitasking. Yep, while you're listening to me talk, you're probably also driving, cleaning, exercising, maybe even grocery shopping. But if you're not in some kind of moving vehicle, there's something else you can be doing right now. Getting an auto quote from Progressive Insurance. It's easy and you can save money by doing it right from your phone. Drivers who save by switching to Progressive save nearly $700 on average and auto customers qualify for an average of seven discounts. Discounts for having multiple vehicles on your policy, being a homeowner, and more. So, just like your favorite podcast, Progressive will be with you 24/7, 365 days a year so you're protected no matter what. Multitask right now. Quote your car insurance at progressive.com to join over 29 million drivers who trust Progressive. Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates national average 12 month savings of $698 by new customers surveyed who saved with progressive between June 2021 and May 2022. Potential savings will vary. Discounts not available in all states and situations.
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[00:54:21] Now for the rest of my conversation with Dr. Robert Waldinger.
[00:54:26] Many of the happiest people in the studies seem to have really good work lives and really good relationships with people at work, but also it seems like they had a good work life and home life boundary, so they had a great life at work, but they didn't make work their whole life, and I kind of need that tattooed on my forehead where actually I would never see it. I need it on my forearm. Maybe I think a lot of people make this mistake. They go. "Well, I don't want work to be my life." Or, "I want my work life to be great," but then they have a hard time realizing, "Oh, I need separate home and separate work lives." It seems almost counterintuitive. It works so great, why not blend it with your life and hang out with those people 24/7? That seems to not be a good idea.
[00:55:09] Robert Waldinger: Well, what's not a good idea is working 24/7.
[00:55:12] Jordan Harbinger: Well, yeah.
[00:55:12] Robert Waldinger: You know, if you have a great friend, right, who you work with, now that sometimes happens, and you want to hang out with that friend. on your off hours? Absolutely. But don't work all the time. You know, invest in the people you care about and want to have around and not just in the workplace. The danger is not in having good relationships at work. It's in Investing in the workplace at the expense of having a life. You know, there are many people who do this and they pick their heads up, especially men in their 40s.
[00:55:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:55:47] Robert Waldinger: They pick their heads up and say, "I don't have a life."
[00:55:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:55:49] Robert Waldinger: "I've been ignoring my partner. I've been ignoring my kids. I work all the time. I don't have any friends." That's the most common scenario. That said, having good friends at work can be a great asset and a great source of happiness.
[00:56:06] Jordan Harbinger: There's this exercise like find a photo of yourself when you're half as old as you are now. What is this about? I want to see if it's relevant to where we're going.
[00:56:12] Robert Waldinger: Okay. So what that's about. One of the things we find when we study people over their whole life, we realize that life looks so different depending on where you are in your own lifespan. So, think about what life looked like to you when you were half as old as you are. Or think about what life looked like when you were ten. What seemed most important? And think about what it looks like now. A lot has changed. And what you find is that people in their 20s have a certain view of life and what's most important. And when you're in your 60s, it changes. Not everything changes, but boy, it can look really different.
[00:56:48] So what we do by studying the entire lifespan is we look at the perspective change that age gives us as we grow older. And that's what we're talking about when we say, take this photograph, look at you as your younger self and think about, okay, what did I care about the most and how has that changed now?
[00:57:10] I don't wear a Superman costume anymore and jump off the bed a lot. That's not what I do these days. You know, it's changed.
[00:57:18] Jordan Harbinger: And what value does that bring just knowing that our perspectives change and that they might change again?
[00:57:24] Robert Waldinger: Well, it gives us more understanding for people of other generations. You know, a lot of times we think, why do those old people think that way? Or why do those young people think that way? Or, you know, these young people are all snowflakes or blah, blah, blah. And so part of it is the kind of disdain we have for other people in other phases of life who see things differently. And it's helpful to remember, "Oh, wait, I see things differently than I used to too. And I'm going to see things differently again as I get older." That's really helpful. I think the other thing is just to remember that we're all works in progress, that I'm not going to stay the same, how I use my time. My energy isn't going to stay the same. My body's not going to stay the same. Okay. I'm telling you something that's completely obvious. And we live in denial about a lot of the time.
[00:58:15] Jordan Harbinger: I find this stuff fascinating, and I think a lot of us know a lot about happiness and happiness studies, especially people who listen to the show, but the hard part is internalizing it enough that you apply it to your life. And I want to wrap with something that I found really interesting and also self serving because it overlaps with — I have a free course called Six-Minute Networking that I'm always sort of plugging on the show.
[00:58:38] And you mentioned cultivating casual ties. I think they're called weak ties, but you didn't want to call it that because weak ties are so important that calling them weak ties seems like a disservice.
[00:58:48] Robert Waldinger: Exactly.
[00:58:49] Jordan Harbinger: Tell us about what this means, why this increases our happiness, and possibly even our longevity as a result.
[00:58:55] Robert Waldinger: What we find is that we get little hits of well being from talking to the barista in Starbucks, or talking to the Uber driver. That when we connect with other people, even people we're not going to see again, we learn stuff. It takes us out of our usual thought loops. It affirms our connection with the world.
[00:59:19] I mean, what I've started doing now when I take an Uber or a Lyft, and I hear that my driver has an accent, I will ask them, "Where are you from originally?" And they're usually happy to tell me and tell me about their life. I have learned so much cool stuff—
[00:59:33] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah.
[00:59:33] Robert Waldinger: —so much heartbreaking stuff about what it's like to be an immigrant. And I get out of that ride more energized and actually more compassionate about the world. And so all of this just makes me feel more like a citizen of the planet. So that's one advantage. Another advantage is they've studied this and they find that these casual ties, that's where we're more likely to get our next job. So it turns out that the people who are in your close network, you know, a lot of the same people they know, you have a lot of the same connections. It's the people you barely know. You happen to mention, "Hey, you know, I'm looking for another situation," who might say, "Well, you know, I know somebody looking for that kind of thing." "Uh, let me connect you with them." So you're more likely to get connected to new people about new things from people who you don't know very well.
[01:00:25] Jordan Harbinger: Perfect. Well, I, I need to definitely figure out a way to phrase that succinctly, because I think a lot of people will write and go, "I don't really need to network, look, I'm a teacher, I just don't need it. There's no networking," or they'll go, "I'm in the military, or the government, it's very, the way we get promoted is very seniority based, I just don't need this." And not only does that ignore the fact that they might not want to do that forever and might need a new job, but the happiness dividend. I think that might push a few people over the fence because a lot of people just don't want to do these very simple things because they just don't, quote-unquote, "need to network," forgetting that this is good for your health.
[01:01:02] Robert Waldinger: It's good for your health. And network gets a dirty word.
[01:01:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:01:07] Robert Waldinger: So let's not call, you know, like if we say just the more people you know, and you have some small connection with, the more possibilities are there in your life and possibilities that you can't foresee. I'll give you an example. I was fired from my first job as a psychiatrist and they said, "You know, there's really no future for you in our organization, so you probably want to find a new job." So I did. And I was devastated.
[01:01:33] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:01:33] Robert Waldinger: So in my new job, I happened to meet the third director of the Harvard study of adult development. And eventually, several years later, he came back to me and said, "How would you like to take over this world famous study?" If I hadn't been fired from my first job—
[01:01:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:01:48] Robert Waldinger: If I hadn't just gotten to know casually this guy in my next job, none of this would have happened. Could I have planned that? Not in a million years.
[01:01:58] Jordan Harbinger: That's really funny. I won't bore the audience with this, but basically, I had another show, I ran it for 11 years, started to disagree with my business partners, created an amicable split. They decided, "We don't have to actually give you anything because you're going to be broke when we fire you, and then we can sue you to stop you from competing." Spoiler, that didn't work, here I am. But, within eight months, I'd rebuilt this show to a larger version and more profitable version of the previous show, which I thought would be impossible. And it was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me, aside from, like, my kids being born and meeting my wife. And I can say that, honestly. But at the time, it was terrible, it was devastating.
[01:02:35] Robert Waldinger: Can I tell you a story?
[01:02:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:02:36] Robert Waldinger: That we love in the Zen community? It's the story of the Chinese farmer. It's a classic.
[01:02:41] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah, yeah, I know it, but I don't know if it's ever been talked about on the show, so here, let's have it.
[01:02:46] Robert Waldinger: Okay, so it's a classic story, but I use it all the time in my own life.
[01:02:50] Okay, the story is that a Chinese farmer had a single horse, and he needed that horse to help him run his farm. It was vital to his well being. And one day, the horse ran away, and the townspeople came and commiserated, saying, "What a tragedy, the horse ran away." And the farmer said, "Well, who knows what's good or bad?" And then, a few days later, the horse comes back and he's leading a pack of wild horses. And the townspeople come to celebrate, saying, "You've got all these horses now, you're a rich man." And the farmer says, "Well, who knows what's good or bad?" And then, the farmer's son is taming one of the wild horses. The horse throws him, he breaks his leg. The townspeople come to commiserate. But then, the emperor's army comes through, they're looking for able bodied young men to go to war. Well, the farmer's son can't go, because he's got a broken leg. Again, everybody comes to celebrate, who knows what's good or bad.
[01:03:45] And what it shows me it's that all these things that we think we're so certain of about how life is going to go, we can't be certain of. And that's a wonderful perspective to hold onto, particularly when we think that something terrible is happening and things are never going to be better again because we just don't know.
[01:04:06] Jordan Harbinger: Zooming out on the timeline helps a lot. That was the one big takeaway I had was really just the more you zoom out on any sort of timeline. It makes you feel a hell of a lot better at the very least, right? And it's hard to do that because if you're at the end of that timeline, like you're in the middle of the current event, that is horrible for you. You zoom out and there's just a black box on one side and then there's the rest of your life on the other side that helps you feel better a little bit until you realize the thing that's in front of you may look more or less like the stuff that is behind you. It might not, you really don't know. But if you're able to sort of frame that and zoom out further, you realize that the point that you're in right now that seems so devastating really is just one tiny dot on this really long life that you have and will have in theoretically, hopefully will have.
[01:04:51] Robert Waldinger: Yeah, absolutely. That's one of the reasons why I love doing what I do. You know, getting to watch lives unfold, you know, thousands of lives unfold, because it helps me with just the perspective that you're describing. And it keeps me from catastrophizing as much. It keeps me on a more even keel even when bad stuff comes my way, which of course it does.
[01:05:14] Jordan Harbinger: I know this is probably just a ridiculous question. I'm so curious. Why did you get fired from your first job? Because now you're the director of this Harvard study. I mean, it's not like you went there and they're like, "Who hired this guy?" It's like, it's just shocking, right? Because you're at the top of your field now. What could you have done?
[01:05:31] Robert Waldinger: And even then I thought I was a model, you know, I had trained at this place and I thought, you know, I was a model student and why don't you want to keep me?
[01:05:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:05:40] Robert Waldinger: It turned out my orientation was toward talk therapy. I became a psychoanalyst and I was really interested in talking and listening to people and psychiatry was changing and it was becoming more biological. So then, there was much more emphasis on reaching for your prescription pad as a psychiatrist. And of course, medication is hugely helpful.
[01:06:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:00] Robert Waldinger: I use it, absolutely. Basically, the guy who was running the hospital was saying to me, "Look, you're just not going to thrive here because what you are doing, what you care the most about is not in vogue here. It's not the direction we're going." Actually, it was the kindest thing he could have done, as it turned out, right? But at the moment, it felt devastating. It felt like a rejection of me personally.
[01:06:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I think that's important for young people, especially, I assume you were relatively young at this point early in your career.
[01:06:31] Robert Waldinger: I was.
[01:06:31] Jordan Harbinger: It's really easy to write yourself off if you're not a fit at your first job. I used to be an attorney. I technically still am an attorney, but I worked at a big law firm in Wall Street doing finance law. I was not a great fit there. I didn't get fired. Everybody got laid off because of the economy, but before that I had an internship where they were like, "Uh, you can work here," but like, "Oh, please don't say yes." It was one of those kinds of things. And I just remember being like, oh my gosh, I am never going to make it in this business, which wasn't necessarily true. But also even if it was true, I think I'm okay not being, not being able to make it in London high finance circles as an attorney because everyone I met was miserable. Why did I even want to fit in there? It's like the opposite of my personality.
[01:07:17] Robert Waldinger: And you seem like you're having a really good time doing what you're doing right now.
[01:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I love this.
[01:07:22] Robert Waldinger: Right. So isn't that key?
[01:07:23] Jordan Harbinger: I would be so sad if I was doing something else and just found this when I was 75 years old. I'd be like, what a bummer.
[01:07:31] Robert Waldinger: Exactly. Exactly. So thank goodness that you and law weren't a great fit.
[01:07:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's funny because the 2008 crash, me getting laid off, a lot of my colleagues were like, "This is the end of our career. How are you not crying?" And I had already started this podcast and I was like, I'll take like a 50 percent plus pay cut. I really like doing this podcast. And now, let's just say, it's not a pay cut, right? Because the show is successful. I was ready for that. You know, I was ready to do that. When I first started the show, I was probably making like 25 grand a year, and I lived in Manhattan. I was poor.
[01:08:04] Robert Waldinger: Oh my gosh.
[01:08:05] Jordan Harbinger: Like beyond, there were people probably on government assistance that had more money than me. Almost certainly there were.
[01:08:10] Robert Waldinger: Yeah.
[01:08:10] Jordan Harbinger: And I didn't care. I mean, being young helps, right?
[01:08:13] Robert Waldinger: Being young helps, but also realizing that it's way more important to do something you're having fun with when you have the choice. We don't all have that choice, but you had the choice and you took it. That's really key. And that was that way in all these lives we followed, that the people who were able to do the stuff they loved were so fortunate and so much happier.
[01:08:33] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you very much, Dr. Waldinger. I hope people take this to heart. And, uh, here's to another 80 years of the happiness study.
[01:08:40] Robert Waldinger: Well, thank you. This is a great conversation. I really enjoyed it.
[01:08:45] Jordan Harbinger: You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Yass Alizadeh, who escaped Iran after the Islamic revolution.
[01:08:52] Yass Alizadeh: This uprising is about 43 years of oppression. We have a corrupt regime, which is an Islamist regime, and has been torturing people. It has been denying them the basics of human rights. As you see, corruption doesn't really begin and end with hijab. It's everything and anything. It's about the dignity of making a living. None of that exists in Iran. People are poor because of this regime. They work hard but they don't earn as much. It's horrendous the way people have been suffering in Iran mentally, politically, psychologically and emotionally.
[01:09:32] I don't think an American can actually imagine what it is like to live in a country that is not just a dictatorship, not just an autocracy, but a theocracy. That's what Iran is. This is different this time. The power of social media, the power of support by the worldwide community and how Iranians are not backing down there is uprising and protests in universities across Iran every day. This is a revolution and it will end beautifully with a free Iran, free from the grips of ayatollah and IRGC.
[01:10:09] Jordan Harbinger: For more on Iran and the recent protests, check out episode 746 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:10:15] A lot of interesting stuff in the book, and of course as a, result of the study, older people, they got a reputation as cantankerous, but they're actually happier later in life. And it's in part because there's a sense of limited time, of course, and that makes relationships more important. So what do we learn from this? What can we do when we're not 80 years old to prioritize our important and close relationships that have the biggest result in making us happy people?
[01:10:42] Another important takeaway related to time, often, and I'm guilty of this as well, we think we can do something later. There's always more time. But really, all we have, not to get too philosophical, is the present moment. One day we will look around and realize there is no more later. And I think that's one reason why older people may actually be better at this, because they finally realize there is no more later. And how they handle the fact that there is no more later, is a definitive factor in whether or not they are happy or bitter overall.
[01:11:08] Apropos relationships, frequency and quality of contact with others at any age is a massive predictor of happiness. So ask yourself, who is in your life? Make a list of your 10 closest friends. The exercises from the book are very similar to what is in Six-Minute Networking, the layoff lifelines drill, the calendar exercise, to find out who you're spending the most time with, to reconnect with older, dormant ties in your network. Again, that's at jordanharbinger.com/course. A lot of the happiness stuff, a lot of the happiness dividend is the same as this networking stuff. That's one of the reasons, I don't know, I should probably rename Six-Minute Networking something else. It sounds cheesy AF, but I guess you get the point. Who also is receiving your full attention on that note? Think of one to two relationships, devote extra time to those relationships and in any relationship, try to limit distraction with others. No phones at the dinner table, no phones out at dinner. There's lots more practicals in the book and there's even more from the book, very similar in our Six-Minute Networking course. Once again, jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:12:06] All things Dr. Robert Waldinger will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com or ask the AI chatbot also on the website. Transcripts always in the show notes. Advertisers, deals, discounts, and ways to support the show all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support the show.
[01:12:22] We've also got our newsletter. Every week the team and I dig into an older episode of the show and dissect the lessons from it. So if you are a fan of the show, you want a recap of important highlights and takeaways, or you just want to know what to listen to next, the newsletter is a great place to do just that. JordanHarbinger.com/news is where you can find it. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:12:42] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogerty, 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, the greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. So if you know somebody who could use a little happiness in their life or just loves the science of happiness, definitely share this episode with them. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you learn, and we will see you next time.
[01:13:12] This episode is sponsored in part by Conspirituality podcast. We're living in a world absolutely saturated with information, some real, a lot total nonsense. But there are folks out there doing the hard work to cut through the noise, like the folks on the Conspirituality podcast. This is not a casual chat. You've got a journalist who knows the ins and outs of fact-checking, a cult researcher who's going down rabbit holes you didn't even know existed, a philosophical skeptic to keep everybody in check. They're taking on everything from RFK Jr.'s anti-vaxx talking points, which I mentioned on the show and many of you had strong feelings about that, to the downright murky ideology followed by Yevgeny Prigozhin and members of the Wagner group, uh, the guy who just died in a very mysterious plane crash over in Russia. And they're not just throwing opinions at you, they're providing insights that make you go, huh, okay, I've never thought about it that way. And the best part is they're guided by one principle we should all get behind, which is good, proven science, you know, like Skeptical Sunday, for example. Tons of interesting episodes, like the one about the wellness industry, or the episode on EMF and 5G and chemtrails. It is similar to Skeptical Sunday in a different format. From exploring cults to analyzing our cultural and political landscape, the Conspirituality podcast will help you stay informed against misinformation and resist fear tactics. Find Conspirituality on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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