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May 27, 2022

What is happiness and how do we find it?

Athletic Greens



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welcome into the psych with mike library this is dr michael mahon and i am here with mr brett newcomb good morning
how are you i am so happy it hurts i was just going to ask you
what kind of things make you happy hmm time to travel do you have a good books
to read friends to be with a little bit of alcohol to drink
humor and loving people do you like loving people
i think so okay but i don't like a lot of people
i don't like like hypocritical loving people like some of the religious people i know are pretty damn smart yeah yeah
you know they love everybody right but uh well i don't like them and and
i would agree you don't like a lot of people yeah and so the people that you're not that into it
really wouldn't matter if they were loving right because you it wouldn't be like oh if somebody was
so you're attempting to go a whole lot deeper than i was planning but yeah you know one of my conceits
has always been that i can be acceptable in almost any group of people right
which requires some skill levels
of engagement of attending of conversation of reading the signs
warning signals but above and beyond and aside from all of that i i generally like people
although individuals i make specific judgments about yeah
uh global category i've always uh
tried to cultivate and even curate my own chromogen
personality just because you try to imitate me well maybe i don't know my my family
says i've been that way for as long as they've known me oh okay but uh so i've always said oh i don't like
people and my wife has always said oh that's ironic given what you do for a living and i've always said you don't
have to like people to do therapy would you agree with that no no i think you have to you think you have to i think
you have to have an investment and i think if you don't invest but what uh what i really think is if you spend time
getting to know somebody then you will find things exactly so there may be an initial
reserve right or resistance but if i invest in paying attention to someone
and learning about their hurts and their losses and their goals and their desires
and their character i find the human condition to be incredibly strong and incredibly attractive
and i find something then to care about everybody that i'm working with
or i don't work with well right right everybody every year they don't work with me everybody that you're working with so so this is what i would say is
that you know mother teresa probably walked down the street and saw
everybody and thought oh that's a wonderful person and
i would love to get i don't think anybody can do that okay i don't i think
and and so i as a rule wouldn't do that walking down the street but when i do
therapy you're absolutely right i deeply genuinely care for everybody that i've ever worked with
so i am very human and i find the human condition to be
judgmental and i look at people and i make judgments and i don't like that about
myself and i fight it hard but my unconscious voice is looking at
somebody i don't even know somebody at the grocery store or somebody driving down the highway somebody walking on the street and i'm like why are they dressed
like that oh my god they're so fat whatever whatever triggers me
and i really fight myself comes from your shadow i understand that yeah but i'm saying i
think it's part of the human communication so one of the things as a clinician that you must learn to do in order to be good
at what you do is you need to learn to corral that and park it somewhere oh yeah and it's a
deliberate conscious choice and skill so when i'm not on duty when i'm on
autopilot i hear that voice in my head that i'm disrespectful of i don't trust it i don't like it
judgmental uh and like well who are you to say that about those who you don't know you know
you haven't walked in their shoes you don't know what's going on in their lives you don't know what they're dealing with but that part of me that human condition
part of me that i don't like uh says you got to work better on being perfectable here you got to work better
on being the person you want to be instead of the person that you are right and i can honestly say i don't know
uh that i've ever experienced that really doing therapy i
mean i experienced it on the on the street all the time yeah yeah yeah i think i've been with you absolutely but but i heard that
yeah i know that that that we've talked about and we talked about in school
that you have to learn how to be able to like people even people that you might not like on the street but when i've
done when you say that that sounds artificial to me michael you have to learn how to like somebody i think what
you learn is a level of openness a level of receptivity how to position yourself
it's just like uh to do meditation you have to learn how to get yourself to a centered spot and you say you don't
have to learn you just have to open yourself to that that's so you're saying that that's a different that we all immediately already know the best
myself in listening to you with neutrality and accuracy and empathy
i will discover things about you that i like and admire exactly no i think we're
we're both on the same page absolutely and and and and that's why i just phrased it differently that's what yeah that's what i'm saying i don't think
i've ever had that experience doing therapy where i was judgmental for exactly the reasons that you just
defined because if you listen to somebody openly genuinely non-judgmentally then you're not going
to do those things that we do when we're on the street
i remember having a client that was a convicted pedophile he was referred to me by his work
he had to come he didn't have the option he was very
unhappy about that and he came in first couple sessions we were gandy dancing around how are we
going to do therapy what's this going to be like and i said to him at the very beginning
you have to understand that i have no tolerance no acceptance for your desires
i will work to be able to hear you and discuss with you whatever about what
we need to do to help you understand and control your behaviors but if i ever am made aware that some
child is at risk because of you i will report you in a heartbeat and he said oh i don't think i like that
and i said i don't think i care it's only going to work my way and so i will
invest in spending time with you and trying to find out what makes you tick and how to protect you so that we can
protect children but i'm not ever going to even pretend to be
okay with what you want or what you have done and if i find out that you're still doing it i'll put you in jail
so he came to see me for about six months and and he tested it and i mean you have to draw very very firm
boundaries if i come to know this i will report it
so he came in one day and told me about a situation and he said that oh this came up and
my wife called dfs and they came out and they did a report and there's nothing to it and so you don't need to worry about
it i said i need to see the report from dfs and he said i'm not going to show it to
you i said okay i'll call him so i called him and he said he called me names he gushed me out i said we're not going any
further with this you can't come back unless i know that child is safe and has
been determined by others to be safe and if you can't come back can't go to work it's up to you we'll either do this
now all right and he's still hot so i called dfs and said i need i need to report
and when was him sitting there when you were working with him yeah did you like him
i found things about him to be uh
sympathetic uh he'd had some real trauma in his life he was a human being he was suffering
uh he was a smart man he was a manipulative dishonest man uh i i found him to be
fascinating in a way but almost like uh uh snake hypnotizes a bird
and there was a constant level of um did you feel like he was a puzzle
yeah yeah yeah yeah and i can totally see that and and you could like that you could like
he could be engaged yeah yeah well most pedophiles can be engaging i mean
that's why they're successful yeah so okay then let's switch gears if
somebody comes to therapy and says i want to
learn how to be happier is that a
realistic goal of therapy and
a larger metaphysical question people say that the the goal of life is to be happy is that
true i don't know yeah life just is
it comes with waves there are storms and there's sunshine they're good people in your life and bad
people i i don't have a single global answer and the terminology
is is difficult to uh deal with it's difficult to parse when
when somebody says teach me how to be happy i don't even begin to know what that means
and so my first question back would be like explain to me how it is that you're not happy you know what are you aware what
do you feel what's going on in your life that you define it as an unhappy life and then
take those one at a time how can we address that if you are unhappy with uh
the people in your life are we open to talking about how to change the people in your life
where do you find other people or new people and how are the people in your life impacting you
and what choices do you have what power do you have to make a different choice and what would that cost you you know
for instance if you decide my family's really sick and dysfunctional and they're contaminating my life and making
me miserable are you prepared to walk away from them right do you have what that takes do you understand what that might mean right
or are you open to trying to see them differently same people but understand them with more compassion
for instance when when people come down with alzheimer's and they begin to
deteriorate one of the things that regularly happens at a certain point of that deterioration
is they become angry and hateful and when that happens if you have if
we've talked about okay your grandmother's gonna be like this and you see it coming
can you position yourself to a perspective that can tolerate that or encompass it
with your greater caring for how is she surviving physically is she she getting baths is she getting food
their heat in her house uh that she need to go to the doctor even though she's going to be hateful to you and say
hateful hurtful things to you can you not take that personally at your core identity
and we can discuss that and we can plan for that and we can picture that and maybe give them some tools for surviving
it right without destroying that relationship with her memory and so for me that's i i think that what
you're talking about is really one of the the points that
are on the horns of the bull that i struggle with which is if you have life circumstances that are
such that you don't have any good choices then how do you even talk about being
happy but then i struggle with it because then i'm like okay should the goal be
to say okay given the life choices that you have select
one and then we can talk about how to be happiest
within that life choice and i really struggle with that is that what does that
what does that mean i think ultimately it comes down to the individual right what does the individual want and how do
they want to live within the choices i think it comes down to
patterns and framing uh i know when you're working with people that are chronically
clinically depressed and they feel trapped and they just sit
in a chair and stare at the wall or they cry all the time and they they don't they can't do anything i mean
i talked to a couple people i can't even get out of bed or let him take a shower and brush my teeth
they feel powerless so one of the ways to attack that is to
give them some things that they can see concretely that they have power to do
and so you you start with simple five-step things three-step things
five's too many start with once for instance oh yeah brush your teeth right every day i yeah
and write it down i brush my teeth today make a checklist make a chart x all you have to do is make an excellent piece of paper
but if you can do that then we can say here is
concrete information that says you can do something that you choose to do
and so then can we build on that is that a foundation we can build on so tomorrow can we do two things right
and i've had clients and and people may not believe this but
i can guarantee you this has happened more than a couple of times where i've done exactly that and they will come
back weeks later and say i feel horrible about myself
given myself credit for brushing my teeth that's so ridiculous that i have to give myself credit for brushing my
teeth and i would say to them but did you brush your teeth and they'd be like yeah and i said did it make you feel better and they're like yeah but it
makes me mad that something so benign
as brushing my teeth is something that i have to give myself credit for and i'm like but you're just
this is a process you're working the process if you work the process it will
get better but if you tell yourself i can't work the process or i'm a bad
person because i have to work the process you're just digging the hole deeper there's no value in that but it's
really hard for people to be able to accept something like what we're talking about just brush your teeth and give
yourself credit for it it is hard for them to do that and they're using
every skill that they have to fight getting better to stay sick
it's a flight called a flight into sickness so you have to learn how to point that
out you know you have some strength the strength of your resistance to getting better right is strength
we have the strength it's like gas in a can you can put it in the car you can put it in the lawnmower
you have it you where you're putting it in the wrong machine you're putting it in service of the wrong action so let's do something
different and what i tell people is the part of you that wants to stay sick is a real part
of you and it has a life the same as the part of you that wants to get better and the
part of you that wants to stay sick doesn't want to get snuffed out and so it's going to fight back
and you have to be able to gird yourself against that so if you have been able to develop a relationship with them
then that's part of the dance of that relationship and you're able to say i see honestly
see real strength in you that you possess control over
i see that it's misdirected i'm challenging that's good you're redirected even marginally even if
something is because you never start at the core you never make progress where you need to
make it uh if you uh if you're agoraphobic and you can't go
out of the house you're trapped and i can get you to go on the front porch and drink a soda and stay out of the
front porch for 10 minutes set an alarm clock stay on the porch for 10 minutes and then this week all we do is get you
on the front porch for 10 minutes next week we get you to go out to the mailbox and check the mail and come back
we make incremental change that i keep track of because i want to point it out to you look
your internal monologue is saying you're trapped and can't do anything that life sucks and you're screwed
but my record keeping says you chose to do this you chose to do this
and you chose to do this yeah so could you choose right somebody's got to keep
a record of it that's really important yes and if this client won't then the therapist needs to and the client won't
other than mentally now obviously we would like to get the client to the point where they're able to do that so
that's one of the down the road steps right i've been tracking this for you and asking you about it every week same thing you do with a suicide contract you
make a suicide contract well i'm just going to go kill myself he said well i need you to promise me that you won't do that this week or do anything about
doing it this week uh until or till you come back whenever your next appointment is ten days out
um and then when they come back you gotta ask them did you keep the contract right i mean obviously they're sitting
in the room so they did but then you ask them to extend it yeah okay so now we're gonna do this to the next week because
if you don't ask them they internalize well you've given me permission you don't care that matter you know i'm gonna do this so then they go home and
do something it's it's a very complex dance and that's what the clinician has to learn
the skill to dance but they can't be they can't take the power they can't
issue commands they have to encourage and persuade and give accurate empathic reflection i have
to reflect back to you i hear you i see this in you but i i see it differently
you may wear color black i see pastels let me tell you that's a pastel shirt
you're wearing now you need to trust me or not but you can't see that color i can see
it so so let's take a break and when we come back we're going to talk specifically
about some of the things that we would do we know that work yeah yeah you know if you've gotten this far into
the show then obviously you find the show to be worthwhile
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if it's friday it's psych with mike okay we're back and and and so first i
just have to do a tangential thing so that the duck
came back and i have the window of the psych with mike
library open and i actually didn't know if that was a duck outside or if that was a duck
yeah so i was like where's that duck uh but i think that at this point so up to this
point we've been talking about trying to break people out of their
malaise if they're really really stuck in a rut but if somebody is
has an idea about wanting to try and be happier however it is that
they define that so the first thing that i would want to do would be to define what does that mean i mean if
you're telling me you want to be happier is there a way to uh you know
observation define your terms yeah to to to measure that because otherwise
how do you know if you're gonna if you're making progress so that's the first thing but then if somebody says okay yes i want to be
happier and i want to engage in behaviors that are going to make me healthier and happier what are some of
the things that we would do to try and help them along that road
well it sounds a little sanctimonious sometimes but doing something for somebody else
is the thing that makes you feel better so if you see someone that needs help if
it's like i was at lowe's the other day with my wife we were browsing for something and
went out to the car and the guy that parked next to me had bought this big lawnmower it was on one of those big
flat beds and he and his wife were trying to put in
the back of the car and i walked up and said would you like some help with that and his wife said oh thank god because i don't think i could
lift this end and he didn't say anything yeah he was like you're a strange man you come out of my car what are you doing i
just said would you like some help because to me that's what people do as if they have an opportunity and they
see something that needs to be done or see somebody needs some help you offer to help
offer to help you know what a lady lives next door off to go to the grocery store for her offer to bring her groceries in
when she goes to the grocery store do something for someone else
and that will make you feel better about yourself and there's even biology
about that so that's pro-social behavior yeah and that's what we call it in psychology and we know that engaging in
pro-social behavior raises the levels of oxytocin in your body and in the body of
the person that you do a kindness for and so oxytocin is a positive hormone
that makes you feel less stressed and it it it makes the it reduces the levels of
cortisol the stress-related hormone in your body and so we know biologically
that that actually works not just for you but for the person that you do the kindness for as well so there's an
article in this month's atlantic magazine about 10 concrete are specific steps
that you can do to improve your general level of happiness that
frame you to be in a happier place and the first thing on the article is the one that we're talking about invest
in family and friends and by that investment what we're saying is do something for someone else
but there's there are nine more and before we run out of time let's run through what they are these are
suggestions that this particular psychologist has done some research on and is saying
these are the concrete things that i would recommend that you try and so part of the dance that he does with his
clients is try to encourage them facilitate them empower them to try some of these things
so the second one is join a club join some kind of club it doesn't matter what it is but it's a group of people
with similar interests at that moment in time who come together to do something it could be a
remote aircraft uh a radio-controlled aircraft club and you
can go and watch you can go and buy your own plane you can go and fly the plane my dad other people fly remotely but you
find a community of kindred spirits or common interests
i have a friend that belongs to a scotch tasting club and they they dress up in kilts and
they're like scotsman and they bring out all these different brands of scotch and they sit and debate
which of these breweries are better which product is is more likable why is it the pahini flavor is it from the isle
of you know they get into all that stuff and then i have other friends that belong to a bridge club they go and they
play they build bridges they play duplicate bridge charles goran type four no trump bridge card game
uh i've not you just said a bunch of words oh i know you don't know but it's a club a chess club
a club at church uh i have another friend whose husband committed suicide and she's going to a
club it's a suicide support group for families of people who have family
members that kill themselves and she says it's very helpful very beneficial
to go and she feels less alone less
misunderstood not understood so join a club is a second
suggestion any kind of club make yourself go i mean so he goes through all 10 of these
things then he kind of summarizes the main point i'll run through some more of these things but i want to make sure we summarize the main point yeah the main
point is that you have to have intentionality and a pattern
so if you select two or three of these things to try it can't be hit or miss it can't be once and it doesn't work and so
i'm not going to do it again you have to invest in the progress and so it becomes a patterning exercise
and really psychotherapy for the most part every single issue
that we talk about is at its core is really about consistency yeah consistency is always
the key if i offer you and some kind of behavioral change
that i can tell you will work for whatever your issue is that's true as long as you apply it
consistently but if you only do it one time then you feel better you have
catharsis but you don't get better you don't have cathexis or you don't feel better because you tried
it and it didn't work yeah which sometimes is an agenda i was going to say that can be a self conclusion in
services yeah so let's go through these other ones mental and physical activity
you have to be active you have to do something read a book do your times tables memorize the
presidents in order and recite them do something physically walk around the block take a shower do 10 push-ups i
mean we can find a specific example for someone to attempt based on their physical capacity if you can't start if
you haven't done anything physically you can't run 10 miles you have to build up you have to do five setups today
10 setups day after tomorrow 15 setups three days from now
you have to build you have to do it every day that's right and you in a month out you're like hey you know what
i can go up that flight of stairs and i'm not winded uh but it doesn't just happen so mental
and physical activity is required if you just sit on the couch and watch tv
in a receptive posture you're not getting better your life is not going right
practice a religious perspective a religious belief or religious program and that's not to say
any given church or religion but the
contemplation of uh something larger and
ethically more meaningful that you can internalize as a check against your own
meaningless and impracticality so not advocacy for proselytizing for a
specific religious interpretation but some sort of
religious perspective and i just mean i just made a note
for us to do a show on the difference between religion and spirituality so what i would talk about what you're
talking about is spirituality right so religion is following a dogmatic path that's already written down spirituality
is exploring what makes you feel connected to the universe and answers the existential question of why am i
here or attempts to yeah yeah and and so uh being spiritual is essential to the
human condition being religious is something that you can do those two things can go hand in hand but they
don't have to all right yeah physical exercise is the fifth one which to me is a redundancy from the first one
uh act nicely act nicely you know what that take it till you make it right yeah i was just
going to say but that's one of the ones where consistency is key if you act nicely one time you might feel better
because you get a shot of oxytocin if you act nicely act nicely consistently
eventually that becomes who you are yeah be generous
it feels good to give people things it feels good to do things for people that you see that they need
there are many cultures that have histories of say of if someone admires something you have i really like that
give it to them uh arguments can be made and especially in materialistic societies that that we
have to accumulate more we have to have more than one that dies with the most toys and obviously having a bunch of stuff
makes you feel better because you it's a hedge against uncertainty it's a hedge against nature
i got more stuff than you got so i must be better god or the gods must favor me more that's
give stuff away my hope for somebody yes my whole premise of why
christmas gifts are associated with christmas time is because it's actually about the
giving it's not about the receiving and i think that we have that perverted in our capitalistic society but yeah i i
think that gifts should always be given without any
perception of reciprocity well they're not gifts if there's a perception exactly briberies right yeah and i but i
think there are a lot of people that go around bribing yeah yeah the loved ones in their lives if i do this for you
you'll like me better yeah check your health
be aware of your system and how it works it sends you messages it tells you where
we got to deal with something here you got to listen to it you have to stop and smell the roses right to stop and
pay attention i had a pain it's caused by something it's a message about something uh inflammation in your
body is something that is hard to be aware i mean if you have a swollen elbow
you know that's swollen but you don't know if you have inflammation in your internal system right go to the doctor
have lab tests done and that's a that's an evolving thing you and i are both at the age where we may not be able to do
the things that we could do when we were trying to get so mad about that yeah and and if we if you live in your 50s 60s
and 70s being angry that you can't do the things that you could do when you were 25 then
you're not going to be a very happy person my wife and i were hiking with some friends in the alps in france
and show off i was struggling to get to the top of the mountain well but you were in france
hiking the alps the kids that we were with were running up the damn mountain and i'm huffing and puffing and
struggling and i was getting really angry because i used to be able to outrun those kids
and now i'm creaking along at the end of the line and i'm struggling to make it and i pushed myself to get to the top
and then when i got to the top my blood pressure was up my heart was beating and it was shallow breathing and
phyllis was like you're gonna have a heart attack yeah and and we're gonna have to leave you here because we can't carry you down right you know sit down
catch your breath and i was so mad but i it was that thing about you you can't
run 10 miles if you haven't walked 600 feet a half a mile a mile you have to
build up to it build your stamina and you have to be aware of your capacity right and your health but then
at your age you would have been able to take a couple of deep breaths catch your breath
rest the time that you needed and then look around and genuinely appreciate the
view that you were witnessing which is something that those kids probably couldn't do
yeah but i don't know that i mean that's a pretty philosophical point we're talking about uh being a
i look around at a lot of people my age and older who've lost their balance and their ability to walk they're on
walk closer they're in wheelchairs they have to use a cane or two canes and i'm like even though it's a struggle
keep walking as much as you can yeah get up and walk and they say oh i can't i can't walk i said walk
50 steps walk a block sit down wait till somebody comes to get you but walk a
block every day and then when you've done that for two weeks try to walk two blocks and and there are
ways to retrain your proprioceptive senses and it it
it's an investment i mean it takes a long time and you have to start really small but there are ways to do that but
we don't do that we don't train elderly people to really be aware of their proprioceptive system their vestibular
system would give them too many excuses yeah they're not doing it to not do it right we give them a wheelchair or a walker then a wheelchair television and
everything to sell is a drug right and buy this drug and now and then they say this could kill you it could cause this
side effect and that side effect and if you're taking these other drugs with it it'll definitely kill you but just talk to your doctor about that yeah but buy
it first yeah yeah tell your doctor you want it and then talk about all the side effects yeah yeah but but purchase it
yeah all right so experience nature pay attention to that get out of here
you know the more civilized our society tech in quotes civilized becomes
the less contact we have with nature the less we know about is it a full moon is a
quarter moon is it a waxing moon is it a waning moon uh is it time to plant the harvest is it time to harvest what we
planted we don't know and we don't need to know we have air conditioning we have running water we have food that comes in
a can at the grocery store so we don't have to pay attention to that the way mankind has always had to pay attention
to that and so it enhances your capacity to be happy if you have a level of
exposure and awareness to some elements of nature go for a walk in the park listen to the birds i just went camping
last three days at night there was this flock of owls who were talking to each other around our campsite and my wife
and i sat in our tent and listen to these owls and it's an amazing thing to hear
so it's a about it's an example of the sound of running water you know
snow-capped peak there's just so many beautiful things but you have to take the time
to experience those things and whether it's philosophical or not and to appreciate them you have to mindfully
participate in that experience sitting around a campfire listening to the crackle of the fire uh seeing the glow
right of the cult and you can be there with another person and you don't have to be talking you can both be
experiencing that and that can be meaningful and profound without anybody
saying a word then the last one of these 10 that this man suggested in his article socialize
with colleagues outside of work in our society
we change friendship groups when we change jobs or when we change education levels if you leave high school you
think oh all these people i went to high school with are going to be my lifelong friends five years down the road most of you
aren't going to know if you're dead or alive most of that cluster of people right because life moves and people move
so some of you will have moved away some of you will just lost touch because you have nothing to hold you together
that happens so you do that in high school you do that in college you do that in graduate school you do that in employment opportunities so when you're
in a situation where you're in contact with people on a regular basis socialize with them some for enrichment purposes
make your life better because you have a barbecue you have a birthday party you all go to a concert or you all
go to some picnic or activity and if you change jobs start that socialization with the new
people if you can and want to continue with the old people but part of what happens too is you don't fit anymore
right you don't know the inside you're joking you don't know the personalities the other people rotate and change and
so you lose that anchor so you need to make a new anchor with your new group
so try to socialize with people work i worry about that with the movement today
for working from home absolutely and and the amount of time that even people in our age group spend on
screens rather than in one-to-one interpersonal communication right yeah so these things that we've listed
today are things that can make a difference if they are done with intentionality and repetition you have
to select the ones that you might be willing to try you have to try them you have to have encouragement and support
from people around you who know that's what you're trying to do and then you have to do it deliberately
consciously repeatedly if you do those things that way you can expect an improvement in your
quality of life and consistency is the key amen so hopefully that was beneficial i
know we ran along today but i think that was a great discussion with lots and lots of information the music that
appears inside with mike is written and performed by mr benjamin the clue i hope you guys are liking some of the new
things that are happening here at the show and if you do and even if you don't
uh share the show with somebody and uh let's see those numbers go up because
that's really gonna help us over the next couple of months while we're struggling to find our place in this
space of uh advertisement so the music that appears i said that on site with
mike is random performed by mr benjamin the clue and if it's friday it's cyclic