Tal Ben-Shahar | The Secret to Being Happy in the Modern World & 3 Tips to Conquer Screen Addiction

In today’s episode, we cover happiness and positive psychology with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. Tal Ben-Shahar taught two of the largest classes in Harvard University’s history, Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership, and now consults and lectures around the world to executives in multinational corporations, the general public, and at-risk populations.

Finding happiness in the chaos of life has been a struggle for many in recent years, but what can be done about it, what role do technology and social media play, and how do we help our children navigate the increasing complexity of this world?

What to Listen For

  • Introduction Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar and Happiness – 1:20 
  • What two groups of people don’t experience painful emotions and why would you not want to be in either group?
  • What are the biggest myths surrounding happiness and positive psychology?
  • What can 2020 teach us about happiness?
  • What are the fundamentals of happiness and what makes them fundamental?
  • When is distraction a positive thing to have in our lives and when should we avoid it?
  • Building Healthy Habits Around Media Consumption – 10:50 
  • What healthy habits can you develop around media consumption so you don’t drive your mental health into the ground?
  • What are sanity islands and how can you use them to limit screen time and promote moderation?
  • What are the benefits of social media use?
  • What is the biggest contributor to depression and suicide in teenagers and what can we do about it?
  • What are the 3 strategies you can use as a parent to promote healthy mental and emotional growth for your kids in the world of smartphones and social media?
  • The Impact of Tech/Media Consumption on Our Daily Lives – 27:00
  • Why is it important to be comfortable with boredom and why do we need boredom to come up with our best ideas?
  • How does our addiction to stimulation impact our relationships and what can we do to prevent our relationships from collapsing as a result?
  • How do we overcome the paradox of choice so we can simply move forward with a choice rather than getting stuck trying to choose something?
  • When is it detrimental to our happiness and well-being to have unrealistic expectations and how can you determine when it is ok to have high expectations?
  • What is the most powerful gift we can give to people we care about who are suffering?
  • What is toxic positivity and is it a legitimate concern in society?

With mental health issues on the rise in modern society, it seems like happiness is taking a back seat to productivity and profit. Younger generations are experiencing spikes in depression and suicide as a direct result of mass adoption of smartphones and social media. The news is constantly bombarding us with fear and tragic events around the world. 

What can we do? For one, we can start by limiting our exposure to all the screens in our daily lives. The devices we own and the software on them are all engineered to keep us using them as long as possible. If you want to feel happier, replace screen time with face time, and not the kind of face time that requires a device. Real in-person face time. The same goes for your kids. Children aren’t going to learn social skills by sitting in front of a screen all day.

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Resources from this Episode

Speaker 1: One of my close friends, her name is [inaudible] ear. She's a child psychologist. She talks about her kids that when they come to her and say to her mommy I'm bored. She always responds in the same way. And she says, that's okay, sweetheart. Just to be bored with dignity.

Speaker 2: Welcome back to the art of charm podcast. The show designed to help you win at work love and life. We know you have what it takes to reach your full potential. And that's why every week, Johnny and I are here to share with you interviews and strategies to help you develop the right social skills and mindsets to succeed.

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Speaker 2: Thank you everyone for tuning in let's kick off today's show today, we're talking to Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, Tal venture har is a best-selling author and lecture. He's taught two of the largest classes in Harvard university's history, positive psychology, and the psychology of leadership today, tall consults and lectures around the world to executives in multinational corporations, the public and at risk populations, the topics he lectures on include leadership, happiness, education, innovation, ethics, self-esteem resilience goal-setting and mindfulness. His books have been translated in more than 25 languages and have appeared on bestsellers lists around the world. Tall is a serial entrepreneur and is most recently the co-founder and chief learning officer of the happiness studies Academy. An avid sportsman tallest is one the U S intercollegiate, an Israeli national squash championships today for exercise. He swims dances and practices yoga. He obtained his PhD in organizational behavior and a BA philosophy and psychology from Harvard. Welcome to the show tall.

Speaker 3: We'll go ahead and get started. Sound good? Great. So one of the things I was laughing, you had this in your book about being the positive psychology guy and the happiness guy that people expect you to be happy all the time. Now that branding mistake we have made, we are the art of charm and everyone expects us to be charming all the time. However, when you are doing things in life, there are things that you implement and boundaries that you set up to protect yourself. And sometimes they don't always come off as charming, and I'm guessing much in the same way, those things don't always come off as you being so happy. So please tell us about that.

Speaker 1: Yeah. You know, so I, when I first taught my class, a student came up to me and said, my join you for lunch. And I said, sure. And then he said, tell her, Hey, you're teaching a class on happiness. And I said, yeah, positive psychology. And then he said, but you know, tell now that you're teaching this class, you've got to watch out. And I said, what? And he said, you've got to be careful. And I said, why? And he said, because if I see unhappy, I'll tell your students, you know, ever since then I've been getting this. So, so often. And I tell my students and I, you know, I tell whoever is ready to listen, that there are only two kinds of people who do not experience painful emotions, the psychopaths and the dead. And I'm nice, neither a psychopath nor dead. And hence I go through the ups and the downs, like, like everyone else does.

Speaker 2: And I think that's an important way to jump into this subject of happiness, because there are so many myths and misconceptions about that exact idea, being happy all the time and the singular pursuit of happiness. Now, the study of positive psychology. I know there are a lot of myths that we're trying to break that normal society views as what happiness is, what are some of those myths or misconceptions?

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, so beyond the, uh, the unbroken chain of, uh, pleasurable emotions, it's also the fact that, uh, happiness is about pleasure and it's not, happiness is much more than, than happiness. Yes. Is partially about pleasurable emotions. Uh, it's also about a deep sense of meaning. And sometimes what we do that is meaningful to us doesn't necessarily provide pleasure. It's very much about relationships. It's very much about thinking and scholarship then mates at times be difficult and hard. And, uh, and of course it's, it's related to our, our physical well-being our, our bodies. So happiness is a multifaceted construct. It's not just a cat. I'm smiling now I'm on the beach and having fun. I'm having an ice cream. Oh, it makes me so happy. That is, uh, yeah, it's pleasurable. It's part of the equation, but a small part.

Speaker 2: Well, what's interesting is everything you listed also causes me great frustration. Doesn't always make friends, you know, accountability, those sorts of things. So it's interesting how we tend to equate pleasure and that seeking of pleasure all the time with happiness, but that can also lead us astray and keep us from the real happiness that we want in life.

Speaker 1: My first book on happiness, I wrote about the lasagna principle. I mean, two food metaphors, lasagna is my favorite food. You know, especially the way my mom makes it and yet, and yet it's not that I want lasagna every day, all day, you know, even lasagna in it. I want in, in moderation. And you know, that's another myth that people think, okay. So I'm going to find that one thing that's going to make me happy, and then I'm going to do it all the time. Or then one person who will make that's another myth who will make me happy. And then we're just gonna live happily ever after all good things as Aristotle reminded us in moderation.

Speaker 2: Well, I think the pandemic has shown us that many of the things that we want miss and need, we're not even getting in moderation and new challenges have arisen Johnny and I joined one of your happiness studies Academy webinars. And you talked about some learnings that you had personally around happiness through the pandemic. So what has this last year taught you personally about happiness in your own life?

Speaker 1: Yeah. Um, the first thing, I mean, the first challenge that I had is even justifying doing happiness during this time. So one of my friends, uh, quipped, half joking saying, Ty, I think we should quarantine happiness until all this, these over. And, you know, he made a point. The thing that I learned most about happiness or the science of happiness is, uh, how important the fundamentals are. So many people say, so, are you doing things differently now? Or what are you doing differently than ice? And my response is that I do the same things, but more often. So for example, you know, physical exercise is extremely important, not just for physical wellbeing, for a psychological wellbeing. You know, in fact working works in the same way as a, as our most powerful psychiatric medication. So I used to exercise three times a week, religiously today during over the past year, it's been five times a week.

Speaker 1: Why? Because I felt like I needed it. I often, when, you know, when, when I go out for a run for an exercise or my wife did it, we tell one another, well, I'm just going to get my fix. And it actually literally works in the same way. You know, we call it the wonder drug. So I need that fixed three times a week. Now I'm up to the quota to, uh, five times a week. Um, keeping a journal. I've been keeping a journal since I was, uh, 14 or so. And I certainly continued keeping a journal into adulthood after I saw the research on journaling and I know how much it helps, but I did it, you know, two or three weeks when I felt like it during that pandemic, there isn't a week that goes past without at least one or two entries saying things just more of it. Many, uh, people would tell me, for example, well, we're so busy now, or we're so stressed or I don't have time to exercise or journal now is the time when we need to do more of it.

Speaker 3: I remember when the pandemic, at this point as we're recording this almost a year ago, I believe it was, it was middle of March, March 13th, 16th, at least for us here in America, where things definitely got to an alarming situation and upon looking at what was coming and so much uncertainty, there was certain habits habits for myself that I knew that I would have to dig into in order to work through that. And my happiness is a big part of my productivity. If I'm happy, if I'm feeling good, I'm going to be more interested in working. And we were in the middle of a pivot ourselves for our company and the, with the pandemic, our needs to be more so online was even more apparent and remembering how much work was going to be involved and, uh, where, where we were at heading into that.

Speaker 3: In fact, I doubled down on all the habits that I did have. In fact, I got even more regimented with my workouts and with my eating, however, I was able to keep that up for about a month. Uh, but it was just, it was, it was overwhelming and too much. And what we learned was it was going to be more of a marathon than a sprint in order to get to the other side of that. Uh, any thoughts for yourself about all that uncertainty and what was coming and how you planned on using your work and studies to roll through that?

Speaker 1: Yeah, so, you know, so there were things that I planned and, and, you know, I knew that work and I also, um, you know, was an unfamiliar with the work on, uh, dealing with hardships and difficulties, which is very much part of the science of happiness, but there were some things that I didn't expect. For instance, one thing that I've been doing more of over the past year is I've been watching more TV now, generally, I, I didn't switch the TV on much, you know, as far as I was concerned, we wouldn't have had a TV at home, but I found, uh, the distraction through, um, uh, comedy or binge watching a series so incredibly helpful. And, you know, I was, I was thinking about it and as I was prepared, I was going to lecture on it tonight, looked for the word distraction on, uh, on Google. And I only found negative connotations. How do I overcome distraction? How do I get distraction out of my life and so on and so on. Whereas distraction can be a blessing. And especially when we are bombarded by constant bad news. So having that distraction can be incredibly helpful. So, um, that's something that emerged then, you know, I've enjoyed, uh, some wonderful times alone with my family. Binge-watching

Speaker 2: Well, I think one of the biggest realizations for me during the pandemic was just the impact of that external media on my mental health and happiness and being more selective. Like I am with what I put in my body for food, what I consume mentally. And you bring up a great point because we were, and we still are in a barrage of bad news and a lot of the headlines are negative. So it's hard to feel happy and feel peace, even if things may be going well for you in that moment, when we're seeing how difficult this is for everyone around us. And certainly what's shown in the media. Do you have habits built up around your media consumption and social media consumption to keep that balance?

Speaker 1: Um, yes. Uh, I do. And I think in today's world pre during and post pandemic, we all need to create those habits. Why? Because otherwise we become victims. We become addicted to social media, to the TV universe. You know, when I grew up, there was one TV channel and, you know, that's what we watch. And we all watched the Dallas on Wednesday night at Nightrider was a Monday night, you know, later on dynasty came along and, you know, that is what we watched, you know, today you have 500 channels and, um, and you know, in movies that you, you know, that come out at the, at the speed of sound, so we need to create boundaries around our consumption because it's accessible. And, you know, as the social networks, so clearly pointed out, there are very, very smart people working at getting you stuck to that screen around the clock.

Speaker 1: And the only way to deal with that is by creating, uh, rituals, healthy rituals, rules, boundaries around it, and preferably not doing it alone. So having an accountability buddy or doing it as a family, you know, one of the, uh, one of the questions that I often ask when I speak to a couples is the following. I say, okay, so I want you to answer this question to yourself. Don't say it out loud. What is the first thing that you turn to in the morning when you open your eyes? And again, they're sitting next to their partner now, now everyone, of course, chuckles because it's not their partner, it's their smartphone that they, most of them turn to now we're addicted to those. And then my second question is, so if you were, um, an alcoholic, would you go to bed with a bottle of whiskey right next? You, of course not. You know, keep it as far away from you as possible provided you want to deal with your, uh, with your alcoholism. And yet we're addicted to this phone and we have it next to us in bed. We have to create rituals. We have to create boundaries. We have to, we have to, um, make it easier, not easy but easier for us to resist the lure of those sirens.

Speaker 2: And how do you do that in your household? Because many in our audience are cringing like myself thinking about how my phone comes first, but that has been a difficult boundary to build for, for both of us. So are there specific strategies you're implementing to create that ritual?

Speaker 1: Yeah. The idea essentially is to create what I've come to call islands of sanity, islands of sanity, both, uh, temporarily. And, uh, and in terms of a time sort of both time and space, uh, for example, there are certain areas that you don't bring the phone to, you know, it could be your kitchen or your dining hall. So when you are with your partner or friends or family, no phones, except for emergencies, of course, or there are certain times. So between, uh, for us between 4:30 PM and 8:30 PM, there are no screens. You know, the kids can jump around, they can do, you know, they can play basketball, they can, uh, they can talk, they can help around the house. They can be on the computer. So they have to even, even homework. So they have to do their homework, uh, before or after. And the reason we did it was because we tried many other things and they did just didn't work. Why? Because our willpower is just not strong enough to withstand the onslaught of those sirens. Again, I think there is a beautiful metaphor. And by the way, before we implemented these rules, um, we read about the sirens from the Odyssey and we had a, you know, a conversation around it. And why did a, dis-ease ask his sailors to tie him to the mast so that he wouldn't hurt himself?

Speaker 3: No, I'm quite curious with all the studies that you have done and what is been shown as the impact of social media on our happiness and what sort of information could you give our listeners for them to get wise to what's going on? Because as much as we talk about this, the first wave, when they hear anything negative about social media is like, it's, Oh, well, that's everybody else. That's not me. And it's not until we, we give hard numbers of people start actually paying attention.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So a couple of things, first of all, you know, it is important to, uh, also look at the upside of social media, you know, for example, um, one of my colleagues did research, showing that many introverts benefit from, uh, from social media because, uh, it's an opportunity for them to, to be social without the, um, the usual challenges that go along with it. Also, we meet people through social media. You know, I recently, um, got in touch with my BFF from the age of 10, between 10 and 12, and then we moved countries and we hadn't been in touch for almost 40 years. Thanks to social media. We're in touch again, you know, that's a real, real blessing. Um, so there is an upside to it. The thing that was always moderation, how do we manage that? And we have to manage it because, you know, Johnny, as you point out, we all struggle with it.

Speaker 1: The research is scary. I'll give you a couple of examples. Um, so this is Jean Twenge. She's a professor San Diego. And what she found was that, or her research revolves around teenagers. And every five years, we take a measure of, um, the mental health of teenagers in the United States, the very extensive, uh, study, a deep dive into their wellbeing. And every five years you see a, you know, up 1% down 1%, but generally stable over over the years. And, uh, between generations until this time compared to five years ago, levels of depression among teenagers in the us went up by over 30%, three, zero levels of suicide went up by over 30%. Now she ma unheard of this spike, unheard of. And she mined through the data, asking the question why, and came up with one answer. And I quote the ascendance of the smartphone.

Speaker 1: It's when kids stopped playing together in the sandbox, when they stopped having face to face in person interaction, when, um, the tiny, uh, gadget literally to control over their lives, over their communication and their interaction. Now it's very difficult to take it away from them because that is how they interact. You know, so if I tell my son, you know, no, um, no social media for, for a week, that means, you know, he won't know when his friends are going out. He won't know where, when they're actually meeting, he, you wonder what homework he has or how to do the homework. So, um, so they need it. Unfortunately, there is a real downside to it as well. We have to curb the exposure.

Speaker 2: So I have to ask, as many of our clients are parents struggling with this exact issue and certainly dealing with other households who don't have sanity islands, who don't have these boundaries. And of course, you know, children feeling left out from their unable to connect and communicate with these tools. So how are you able to implement these boundaries? And what steps did you take? How old were your children when this started for some of our parents in the audience who are struggling with this exact very phenomenon?

Speaker 1: Yes. So first of all, it's to recognize and accept the fact that it is a struggle. It's not easy for, uh, for us. And the thing is the reason why it's, it's so difficult is because we're the first generation going through it. You know, I was just talking to my friend yesterday and I said to him, you know, for my parents, it seemed like it was easier because, you know, yeah. They raised us, you know, they, they provided for us, they were amazing parents, but, you know, in the afternoon I would go out and play with friends and that was fine. You know, I would play soccer and hide and seek and, and, you know, go to friend's place and they would come to our place. And, um, you know, it was basically, you know, do whatever and, you know, that's how I learned empathy.

Speaker 1: And that's how I learned to negotiate and resolve conflict such important life skills. You don't develop those life skills when you're on social media, you don't develop it when you were playing video games. Some of it you do, but most of it, you, don't another very troubling study is about the levels of empathy among the young generation they've gone down. And, and again, as a result of too much time on the screen, not enough time playing in the sandbox together. So, um, today we're making it up as we go along. And, um, and it is very, so, so first of all, as parents, you know, to be easier on ourselves, first thing, second, just to put boundaries and, you know, the boundaries have to be whether it's around X number of hours in front of the screen, and there are more and more programs today that can limit screen time, you know, from within, uh, the smartphone.

Speaker 1: So utilize those. And, um, another thing in, in this, uh, I owe this to my, uh, uh, to my brother-in-law, um, you know, when I talked to him about it and he said, wow, you know, you sound like the, you know, the prophet of doom, your happiness professor come on. And then he said, you know, the way I think about it, instead of thinking about it, in terms of what they don't do, think about what they do do in other words, create alternatives. And what that means is that we need to put more times, so, okay, so they won't be on the screen, but what will they do instead? Will they play ball with their friends? Great. If possible, more challenging now in times of Corona, but maybe play a board game with their family. And that means with YouTube, and that means we can't use the screen as a babysitter. Uh, we just need to become more involved. And, um, you know, the nice thing about it is that as we become more involved, we also potentially find the treasures of happiness. The number one predictor of happiness is quality time. We spent with people we care about and who care about us. And many of us have forgotten that

Speaker 3: It is an incredibly important thing to remember. And when I look into the future, knowing that the next generation has less, less empathy, it terrifies me because I know how much and how important empathy has been for us to create what we have created for ourselves. So it makes me a bit nervous. In fact, uh, every time our producer gets it, uh, somebody else who's wants to send books. I always make sure that I get a physical copy because I'm so tired. I'm I stare at my screen enough and to be able to close my computer and go on the porch, what a, with a coffee and an open a book. It is, I look forward to those moments in, in my day, just talk about an Island of sanity and serenity, and, and for myself who grew up as, as gen X normalcy, you know, having their computer open as, as, as a work thing where kids though, it's, it's a mishmash of, that's where they play. That is where they're going to be working. That's where they study. Uh, that's an incredibly seems to me to be messy with all of those things connected to the same.

Speaker 2: Well, what struck me is the need for you to follow your own boundaries and set a good example, too. And I think that's also become a challenge in the house for a lot of parents who feel tied to their work and must check Slack. And, Oh, I have a late night email that I have to get to. We're often setting a poor example for our kids when they're seeing us gravitate to technology, instead of talk to our spouse, our partner, or engage with them.

Speaker 1: Yes. And, um, you know, and, and we need to realize how difficult it is to change those habits, because you're right. Most of the homes that I visit or have visited, you know, you see, it's not just the kids who are addicted, the parents are equally addicted. You know, we, we go out with friends and, and, you know, periodically, they would check. Now we didn't have smart phones 20 years ago. And, you know, we managed, okay. Um, and you know, I always say, unless you're an ambulance driver, it's okay to switch the phone off. And initially it's difficult. And after a while, you know, Johnny, I completely relate to what you say. You, you begin to crave those, uh, those items of sanity, or as you said, items of serenity, which I love and they're important. And they're important for us as parents, there is important for us to present as a role model for our, for our children. They're important for us physically, as well as psychologically.

Speaker 2: And now what me is. And I'm thinking of my, my great uncle who bless his heart loves watching TV, but he's happy with the antenna. He's got four channels. He doesn't want cable. He doesn't want all of the choices. And yet here we are with more choice than ever, but bored, frustrated, not finding happiness. So how much does this paradox of choice and overwhelming amounts of options and content actually make us more bored? I, I find it so fascinating. I'll stare at Netflix for 30 minutes and not pick anything and wonder I have so many options, but here I am sitting on the couch, bored.

Speaker 1: Yeah. You know, um, one of my close friends, her name is [inaudible], she's a child psychologist. She talks about her kids that when they, um, when they come to her and say to her mommy on board, she always responds in the same way. And she says, that's okay, sweetheart, just to be born with dignity. And I think that's a very important, uh, response then, you know, my kids already today, you know, they, they notice by heart, okay, daddy, I'll be bored with dignity. And that it's important to learn, to be bored for various reasons. Uh, one in this relies on, uh, the work of many psychologists, including Adam Grant who wrote originals. And, um, we need those quote unquote times when we're bored, because it's, during those times that very often we get our best ideas. Now it's no coincidence that, you know what we, you know, we get in the shower or we used to, again, my generation, we used to get it in the car today.

Speaker 1: We're on the phone in the car. So it's not a bored quote unquote time. So having those, um, free spaces where we aren't doing nothing is important, you know, there's so much talk to them about quality time for children, quality time. Well, we need nothing time as well, empty time, um, for our kids. So that's one reason, creativity or originality. Um, there's another reason, uh, which relates to what you said about, you know, Netflix and the, the paradox of choice. And that is how sensitive we are versus how desensitized we are to stimulation. You know, if I have 500 channels, if I have option of just about every movie that was ever created, literally at my fingertips, then, uh, I'm not going to appreciate, you know, a good movie as much. Or when I watch a movie, I'm going to think of all the counterfactuals, meaning of all the movies I'm not watching while I'm watching this, that could be better because I'm not having a perfect experience.

Speaker 1: I'm having a good expert, but it's not perfect. And it should be perfect because what excuse do I have for it not being perfect, having so much choice. And if I constantly have more stimulation, more stimulating, more stimulation, it becomes interesting. It becomes less exciting. You know, I think about, you know, kids raised in the, uh, you know, 19th century, you know, for them, the highlight of the day was sitting with their family, you know, around the table and maybe reading a book together, you know, today boring. Why? Because it doesn't, it's not in 3d. And, uh, you know, and it's not changing every seven seconds and it doesn't have sound effects. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I certainly relate to that in the situation, especially where you are craving so much stimulation that nothing can actually solve that craving for you. And you end up watching a few minutes and losing interest and then grabbing the iPad and going back to the device. And yet we're seeing more and more with social media that it, our attention span is shrinking. It's like, you got to hit them in 10 seconds. You got to hit them in five seconds. They're already gone in three seconds. Is that hurting our psyche mentally and impacting our happiness.

Speaker 1: It's hurting our psyche, it's hurting our happiness, it's hurting our relationships. You know, I want to go off a little bit on a tangent, which is, which is very much related to, to what you said. It's also connect to Johnny to, to your, um, focused on empathy. Um, one of the things that I talk about a lot for happiness is, uh, intellectual wellbeing. And specifically under intellectual wellbeing, I focus on deep learning, um, deep learning in the sense of, you know, getting into a book and reading and rereading a chapter or a paragraph. The first course that I took as an undergraduate in college was a course that was offered during freshmen week. So that's even before the official semester started, it was a course on speed reading. And, uh, it's a great, it was a great course, you know, increased my reading speed, but I think more and more today that, and even more important course would have been on slow reading.

Speaker 1: Why? Because, um, today, as you pointed out every five seconds, every three seconds, we need a new stimulation because that's what we're used to. You know, we hardly spend any time on a webpage. You know, when kids today watch my childhood movies or TV shows, it's too slow for them because there is only one screen because it's one shot for, uh, you know, two minutes, Mr. Rogers, it's hardly moving. You know, it's in slow mode. It reminds me of many of my students say, you know, when we watch you on video, we play you at 1.5, sometimes 1.75. You know, I try not to take that to heart. You know, we, we need constant stimulation now comes relationship and no one changes every three to five seconds. And, uh, you know, we get bored with partners and that's why there is so much relationship hopping around in the world today. Where why, because we do not, exercise are slow deep muscles and how do we exercise them? Of course, by within relationships, we also can exercise them through reading and rereading through slow, deep engagement with text and that habit, or that practice is then transportable transferrable to our relationships. Just like the unhealthy habits of jumping around every three to five seconds is then transportable and transferable to our relationships.

Speaker 3: Yeah. That brings up an interesting point about the comprehension or learning of certain things. One of the aspects of your book, the all the great little short stories about the you're a barber, and you've mentioned the beginning of the book. This book is not to be meant to read in one sitting, it's read one of the little stories and then digest, think about it for the rest of the day. And I love that. And as much as I love reading, I have to do a lot for work. I read everything that comes through and I enjoy reading. Sometimes I don't have the opportunity to read things in the way that I would like to. I'm choking them down. I have to get it, get my questions ready to get the interview set up. But with all this stimulation, the learning process for these young kids is rapidly changing.

Speaker 3: And I don't know how the brain is reacting to the way that they're learning now, where they're just digesting so much stimuli. The nothing is generally setting in and something else that Aja, I brought up about staring at a screen for 30, 40 minutes, trying to figure out what would be the best movie to watch here. When I was young, if I went to the fridge and just opened it and stared inside, and my dad, of course, like, what the hell are you doing? I'm like, Oh, I'm trying to figure out what I want to eat. It's like, that's not how we're going to do it. You think about what you're going to eat. And then you go into the fridge, you pour it out. You just don't stand in front of it. I think we have to adopt a bit of that same mindset.

Speaker 3: We've, weren't going to Netflix. It's like, you're going to think about what you want. You're going to look at a couple of choices and you're going to look and you're going to take it. If you don't like it, you should still, there's an appreciation that you should find in it and derive some sort of value out of it. So you're just not getting antsy and figuring I need to be stimulated in one way. And if I'm not stimulated in that one very way, I'm onto the next thing. It's changing, how we take in information so fast.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And you know, I think Johnny, what we need to do here, and this is also the advice of Barry Schwartz of the tyranny or the paradox of choice is that we need to, um, accept the good enough satisfies in, uh, in, in his words. And it has to do with, uh, expectations where have, have, has my understanding of happiness changed over the years. One of those places is around expectations. You know, I used to think that, uh, uh, having high expectations, uh, having greater expectations is great is the way to go. And today I still think that it's partially true, partially with a, with a significant caveat specifically when it comes to expectations in terms of success, or for me as a teacher of my students, or, or as a parent, I want to have high expectations, but when it comes to a happiness or joy or pleasure, instead of having high expectations, we need to have realistic expectations.

Speaker 1: Let me give just a couple of examples. So if I have a night off and a, and you know, and I come home and I'm in front of my Netflix, and I say, wow, it's a night off. I can watch anything that I want. It's going to be amazing and bound to be disappointed because I'm going to start watching something. And then it's not going to live up to my expectations of course, because they are extremely high. And then even if it's a great film or a greater series, it's not as great as the ideal that I depicted before starting it. It's never going to meet that ideal. So I'm going to be disappointed and not enjoy a potentially enjoyable movie. Whereas if my expectation is, as you, as you pointed out, you know, there's a lot that I can learn from this, or I can really enjoy this.

Speaker 1: It can be, it can be fun. And tomorrow is another day and I can watch something else. Then that's more realistic. Now that's about a movie. So, you know, the consequences thereof are not major, but think about other areas, think about relationships. If I go into a relationship with great or greatest expectations. And when I say I do, I truly believe that we're going to live happily ever after that, we're going to experience the same high end joy and passion and ecstasy that we're experiencing. Now during the honeymoon phase for the rest of our lives, I'm bound to be disappointed. These are unrealistic high, unrealistic expectations. We need realistic expectations such as in every relationship. There are ups and downs, even in the best of them, there are difficulties in hardships and it's natural. And we're going to go through these hardships and grow from them. And we're going to rejoice in the positive, uh, moments and experiences, having realistic expectations, whether it's of the food in the fridge, the, uh, the film or Netflix or our beloved.

Speaker 2: One of the things that I recognize in the participants in the happiness studies Academy is that they want to help others find happiness, but that is often so difficult. So you learn all this great science around happiness. You make changes in your life and you're feeling better, but your partner, your friend, your children are not happy. You know, what advice do you have for those of us who want to give the gift of happiness? When someone in our life is maybe not feeling unhappy, is there a strategy that actually works or are there some things we should avoid completely?

Speaker 1: Yeah. I, you know, let, let me start with the things that we should avoid completely. So if, if I'm feeling great and I'm happy, we shouldn't go up to them and say, look, you should do what I'm doing. Look how happy I am that probably not work. So to be sensitive to where they are rather to where we are now in terms of helping other people. So the most important thing that we can do is to be there for them, meaning to listen, you know, listening, it's an art and it's underrated. It's important. You know, it's many people wonder how is it the therapy helps and how has, and what do the great therapists do? Well, the great therapists are empathic. They listen, they're present once in a while. They can say something, but that's something also stems from, and if it is profound, it's because it stems from deep listening.

Speaker 1: So, you know, the marching order of, of, you know, parents therapists, for sure, but also parents and partners who want to help the other is less than first. And then to lead by example, you know, as we talked about parents earlier, you know, you don't want your kids to be on the phone all the time, lead by example, if you want them to pursue their passions, to do things that they're passionate about, well, do that yourself and share what you do. And other things that's important to share is also hardships and difficulties. Because, you know, if my expectation is that my life should be honored to be, can be always happy, I'll experience frustration. However, if I know that part and parcel of every life, including my parents' life or including my partner's life or my best friend's life, there's also a hardship there. Then I will be more likely to give myself the permission to experience that. So leading by example,

Speaker 2: I think that's so powerful in that when we're bringing ourselves up and having that happiness, that we are willing to share by listening to others and not talking about ourselves, but actually investing the time in that relationship and the patients and the empathy to realize that there are times, and as we've seen in this pandemic where you might be high, your spouse might be low. And sometimes the roles are reversed. Many of us want to take action, right? We're so focused on what can I do when in actuality it's more of the passive it's, how can I not focus on myself, be there fully to support my partner friend, my family member.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And what we are also doing there when we're there for them is we're allowing nature to take its course, you know, painful emotions that difficulties and hardships, they play a very important role in our life. When you look at our life as a whole, you know, that's how we grow stronger. That's how we learn. That's how we develop. You know, if you go to the gym and, um, you set all the weights, they're on zero and everything is very easy for you. In other words, there's no resistance. You're not going to get stronger. You're not going to grow. It's when you have resistance that you grow and that applies on the physical level, it also applies on the psychological level.

Speaker 2: Some of the advice you see online is to cut negative people out of your life and to only surround yourself with positive, happy people, but odds are not everyone around you is going to be happy. 24 seven. Is there a time or a place where removing that negative person from your life is the right path versus being there to support that person who might be going through a difficult moment?

Speaker 1: Look, I mean, the thing is that we do actually need a mix of people. If you were only around people who are positive and happy all the time, guaranteed you'd become depressed. Why? Because you'd feel left out. You'd feel inadequate. You'd feel like there was something wrong with you. We do also need, uh, some negativity around us as, you know, as difficult or as a counter-intuitive, as, as that may sound, you know, there is a terrible word in, in German shut-in Freud, you know, and shut-in Freud day is, you know, reveling in others' misfortune, but shut-in Freud, uh, uh, to my mind, tries to include too much in it because actually, uh, being weakness to other people's hardship does have an important value. And the value is simply the feeling that I'm not alone. It's not reveling in their misfortune. It's recognizing that I'm not the only one who's struggling, who is experiencing some misfortune and that's, and that's important. And it's important because it's true because everyone hurts. Sometimes that wasn't my quote by them.

Speaker 1: Everybody hurts sometimes. So the idea here is, um, to accept that there is some negativity. Now, if there are people who put us down constantly, if there are people who, um, in order to elevate themselves, need to trample on others and they're not pleasant to be with, and we can distance ourselves from them, then perhaps we should do so. Uh, but sometimes it's not realistic. And sometimes they have, uh, other characteristics that we do appreciate and desire. We have to make the decision for ourselves. Am I against distancing ourselves from some people? No. I think sometimes it's a necessary, important, and a good thing to do, but a very often it's not possible or overall desirable.

Speaker 3: You mentioned something that I love it. Not everybody is going to be an agreeable, positive, happy person. And you wouldn't want everyone being so agreeable and positive around you at all times. I think it would drive you a bit crazy, but the idea and where do people conflate the idea that being disagreeable means that you're an unhappy person. I know plenty of disagreeable people who are generally happy people, in fact, it's their disagreeableness that allows them to build up some walls so that they can to be happy. It's bizarre, but I see it linked all the time.

Speaker 1: Yeah. You know, um, the idea of, uh, disagreeableness or, you know, a person who doesn't agree with with us, uh, all the time is actually a very important part of friendship. And one of 'em to my mind, the most beautiful pieces ever written on friendship is, uh, by Ralph Waldo, Emerson and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 1830s roped in his essay on friendship, the following, he said in a friend, I'm not looking for a mush of concessions, a person who will agree with everything that I say, rather, what I'm looking for is a beautiful enemy who will help me challenge me in my apprenticeship to the truth. Um, so sometimes those disagreeable ones are our beautiful enemies. And, uh, again, just like in the gym, we sometimes need that resistance, uh, to grow also with friendship. Disagreeableness may be maybe a virtue.

Speaker 3: Well, it's that different perspective that puts you in a position where you start to rethink yours, the, see if there's anything that is going on with somebody who's so steadfast in thinking in another way. It's fantastic.

Speaker 2: Well, I think Johnny and I can agree that I'm the enemy, but we maybe disagree about how beautiful I am. So we're working on that in our own friendship. You know, one of the things that we see online now and is trending that I'd love to get your perspective on is this idea of toxic positivity when there's too much positivity. And I know many people equate positive psychology with just the pursuit of positivity, 24 seven. We've sort of touched on this a little bit, but what are your thoughts around toxic positivity?

Speaker 1: You know, w when ever I talk about, uh, happiness or positive psychology, I always start by talking the roll off painful emotions and notice I don't call them negative emotions because with negativity, there's already a value judgment there. I always begin by talking about the roll off sadness or anger or anxiety or envy or hatred and how they're part and parcel of every life, including by default, have a happy life. And that's important to emphasize precisely because of what you pointed to ADJ and many positive psychologists are on this. You know, the Moto is, um, smile all the time, or, uh, don't worry, be happy or, um, eliminate negative emotions. And that's not possible nor is it desirable. You know, I often have a, uh, a thought experiment that I offer. And I also add that this may not just be a thought experiment that may become a reality 10 years from now.

Speaker 1: Imagine you had a machine that you could go into and that machine would automatically eliminate any painful emotions. You could go into it, your kids could go into it. So, you know, you're feeling down or your child comes home from school, feeling down, just going to that machine and you'll feel all better. Again, you know, a little bit like a Woody, Allen's their orgasmatron would you want that machine? And my answer would be that it would be nice to have once in a while, but if we had accessible all the time, if we could live according to that ideal and be positive and happy, according to that definition of happiness all the time, that wouldn't be a good thing because I'm think about it. And most people, if you ask them to reflect on the times in their lives, when they grew the most, when they learned the most that have been most meaningful to them, they would usually think about difficult experiences, not a happy go, lucky, joyful exp pollyannic experiences,

Speaker 2: Be happy all the time where to have this machine sounds like a black mirror or Twilight zone episode. And we all know how those go. Yeah. They tend not to end well, now I'm curious, are there any non-negotiables for you when it comes to happiness in your life? Just do not do this. If you are working towards happiness, I know many people have thought about what to do, but are there things that we're doing consciously or subconsciously that are robbing us of that happiness that you put on your non-negotiable list?

Speaker 1: Yeah, my non-negotiable personally, that is my non-negotiable is, um, important dates. For example, in terms of, uh, relationships, it mostly has to do when work detracts from relationships and relationships. I mean, whether it's with my wife, whether it's with my children, extended family, intimate friends, um, that comes first and everything else has to revolve around that. Now with that, you know, I work hard on ambitious. Uh, you know, I used to, uh, not so long ago, travel a lot and yet top priority in words and Indeed's relationships and, um, and things have to revolve around that.

Speaker 2: I think it's so important. It's why we do this show to help others have better relationships in their life by working on themselves, but also showing up in a more impactful way. Can you tell us a little bit about the certificate for happiness studies and what's going on inside the happiness studies Academy, Johnny and I have really enjoyed it and I love for audiences.

Speaker 1: Sure. So, um, I co-founded the happiness studies Academy, uh, in order to help students, our participants answer two questions. The first question is, how can I become happier? The second question is how can I help others do the same? So, uh, we have students going through our year long certificate program who are there because they were primarily, um, concerned about their own happiness. There are others are concerned about their own happiness and their family or their coachees. We have teachers, we have managers, we have therapists, doctors and all focused on, um, cultivating life's ultimate currency, happiness.

Speaker 2: It is the ultimate currency. We love that. And thank you so much for joining us. The last question we ask, all of our guests is what their X factor is. What does that mindset or skillset and combination that have made you successful in your life?

Speaker 1: Uh, hard work dedication. I know it's not a very creative or novel idea here, but, you know, as, uh, Jefferson reported the say the harder I work, the luckier I get, I'm a big believer in, uh, in hard work, old school.

Speaker 2: We are too. And oftentimes that's not what we're seeing in social media and how difficult life is. So it's great to hear from successful people, how much work they're putting in to be successful. Thank you again for joining a style is great.

Speaker 1: Thank you, JJ. Thank you, Johnny. Thank you for being so charming.

Speaker 2: We're a work in progress. Thank you. Now today's coaches corner comes from an X-Factor member and in our X-Factor accelerator, he was struggling with his brother. Now you could imagine that over time, this relationship and our behaviors, and the way that we show up in this relationship have been pretty set are pretty well worn are habitual, and he's really frustrated because he feels that his brother is bringing him down, but he doesn't know how to set that boundary. And specifically, he had spent some time recently with his brother and he just recognized after going through, X-Factor the impact that his brother's judgment criticism and sarcasm was having on his own level and state of mind. And he asked us, how can I draw a boundary with someone as important to me as my brother, my blood, who I love.

Speaker 4: So boundaries of course are insanely important here. And I'll let you guys talk about those in just a second. And I want to make a different point because I found myself in a similar situation with a very close family member. And that's why I can relate to this. And my solution to this was that I spent time with this particular family member only when this individual is at their best. So in my, in my example, it's like this individual is really into doing, um, do it yourself, work in, in the house, in the apartment, in the garden. So this is my opportunity. So whenever I do something in my apartment, even if I exactly know how to do it, I take a photo, I send it over. I say, Hey, can we Skype about this for a second? I need to change the faucet in the kitchen.

Speaker 4: And then this brings out the best in the other person. And we spent some time together and we're both at our best, but then if you know, if I'm watching the news and the politics come up, that would not be something where I get into touch with that. So that is, that is getting the best out of the other person. I've actually shared this with a client in car confidence. And she wrote me back the next week. And she said, you know, for the first time, in 10 years, I had a meaningful conversation with my dad. And so, so this is highlighting the positive in the relationship and building on that. But this needs to be fence with, with solid boundaries and being assertive and making it clear to the other person like this is a go, and this is a no-go. And for that, we need to establish those boundaries. And I know you guys talk about that in the X-Factor accelerator as well.

Speaker 3: I don't think that you can have proper relationships without boundaries. And if you do not have boundaries than the other, the person who hasn't sat them well get taken advantage of that's just nature. It's not because the other person is rude. It's not because the other person is adversarial. It's not because the other person is predatory though. There are those people, but usually it's just the nature of a relationship. You have somebody that you enjoy being around you. You will ask them for help for support. And if you do not set up boundaries, well, then I have no reason not to ask you for your help and your support. Every time that I need help and support, and it can get to a point there's several things going on. Number one, I'm not helping you by constantly coming to your aid. Every time that you ask for it, an agent knows this well, we'll get into, uh, having an open door policy and just the bit, so you don't want to be an enabler, you people to be resourceful.

Speaker 3: And if they always have you to call on whenever they need something, they will always do it because it's just easy that way. Oh, I'll just call AIG. Oh, Michael had the answer. So, and if Michael says, Oh, I got you do this, do this, do this next time a week later, I have another problem. I'm going to call Michael, I'm going to call Michael. I'm going to call Michael. And next thing you know, Michael's always helped me, but I never held him. Michael. And the other thing about it is the boundaries go both ways as well. There is. You're setting up how you want to be treated in that relationship so that the other person knows what I can ask for and what I'm not asking for, but also as well, we want people to be able to develop themselves through, through life, through their experiences and if, and they need to be able to interpret their experiences for themselves and learn how to do that in a positive manner, that gives them opportunities rather than hinders them in life. And what happens later on down the road, if I have a situation and I have not worked on myself or have built that system for myself, well, then I'm always going to be reaching out to other people. I've made myself dependent on others to interpret my experiences for me. That's and that's a skill that if, if it's been taken from you at an early age, it becomes more and more difficult as you get

Speaker 2: Odor. And there's a few critical components to drawing a boundary that we have to articulate. And of course, when it's family it's even more challenging, the first is we have to clearly and explicitly state what the behavior is that we find unacceptable. That's harming us, that is creating pain in our lives. So we need to say, Hey, I have to be honest with you. When you start casting really tease me and you reject all of my suggestions of what we can do for fun or what we should eat for dinner. I feel hurt. I feel rejected. It pains me. So we're articulating fully what that behavior is. And then we're telling them how it makes us feel. Those two things are critical to drawing a boundary because we, if we're not explicit with what the behavior is, then the other person doesn't really know. They have to read between the lines and try to understand what it is that's bothering us.

Speaker 2: You have to be explicit on the behavior with a crystal clear example. Then we're adding the component of what our emotion is and what our feelings are. Now, those feelings are your feelings that you can't argue with. Someone's you can't say, Oh, well, you don't feel that way. Those feelings are true to you. So it's important that you link the behavior to the feelings. Then the third critical component is state what you would prefer or expect. Instead, I would prefer that when I suggest something for us to do for fun, instead of cutting it down and being sarcastic, either you say, Hey, that doesn't sound fun and suggest something else turn towards my emotional bid, or you keep the sarcastic comment to yourself, right? So you're giving them another behavior to engage in. That's clear, that's explicit because what's going on here is you have expectations.

Speaker 2: They're not being met. And in turn, their behaviors are actually harming you emotionally. So if we're not clear on what those behaviors are, and we're not clear on what those expectations are and the point of contention being our feelings, which can't be argued with, we don't have a firm solid boundary to draw. Now, the fourth and final component is there has to be repercussions to this breaking of a boundary. And that sort of many of us fall flat. That's where many of us we can say, Hey, stop doing this. Hey, it makes me feel this way. And then it happens again. And we still give that person our time. We still give that person our attention. We slink away from the interaction, but there are no consequences to breaking that boundary. And in this example, you say, Hey, the next time this happens, I'm just not going to be available to spend time with you.

Speaker 4: And notice, notice what's what's happening here is that we've, we've heard it in the question already that there is resentment for the brother. There was resentment for, you know, the brother of that person. And if setting a boundary is difficult and pushes you outside of your comfort zone, if, if doing it for yourself, isn't enough do it for the relationship that you have with your brother, because, you know, establishing a boundary right now, even though it's going to be very uncomfortable and, and, and you'll struggle with it a little bit, and then, you know, pushing through as well. Um, if you don't do it, maybe 30 years in the future, like you and your brother, you're no longer talking, you are out of each other's lives. So this is a bit like ripping off the band-aid. Um, right now, before things just get worse. Okay. That metaphor didn't make sense because things don't get worse when you don't rip off the bandaid, but you, you know, you know what I mean? I'm mixing two metaphors here.

Speaker 2: I also want to point out there's the point that makes us difficult is you're afraid of the response that is going to happen when you give your brother this new boundary. Well, of course, he's going to be surprised. Of course, he's going to be shocked. And he's probably also going be defensive

Speaker 3: About it and argue with you about it, because this is, if you haven't set boundaries in the past, well, there's never been any expectations or boundaries set. And now all of a sudden you're telling somebody, well, how they have been treating you is wrong and how it makes you feel they're going to want to rationalize their behaviors and what they're doing. And you're going to have to expect that there's going to be that response and gives space to allow the person that you're setting that boundary with, to go through their own emotions, because they're going to have to revisit everything that you just said. They have to deal with the fact that how they've been behaving has hurt you. They certainly don't want that to, they now have to change their behavior. And you've told them the behavior that you would like to see from them. That's not going to sit pretty at first. However, once they think about it, they understand how it made you feel and what you had, uh, behaviors that you had pointed out and how you like to be treated. It will be easy for them to accept it and move forward from there. But you're going to have to expect some repercussions for speaking out, but that comes with the territory

Speaker 2: And understand that this boundary will have to be reset a few times. That exact statement that I said is going to have to be restated a few times, because as Johnny said, behavior, change in someone else is difficult. These are habits and patterns. And the way you relate to one another that have been built up, especially with a brother. So patience is in order, but from newness on the consequence of this behavior, and you will start to see a change and a respect that's earned through this boundary. Now, if this is something that your struggling with boundaries, relationships in your life, check out our X factor accelerator and get a year's worth of support for me, Johnny Michael, and the entire art of charm team, much like our X-Factor participant who shared this great question with us. [inaudible] I have to say, Johnny, the science of happiness always fires me up and it starts me looking introspectively on what are the things that I can change those tiny actions I can take in my life to bring more happiness and joy.

Speaker 3: Yeah, I certainly enjoyed the interview and his book is wonderful. And it's filled with great little stories that have you pondering the rest of the day, just thinking about it and how these little lessons impact our lives.

Speaker 2: Do you want to unlock happiness in your life and share that gift with others? Johnny and I joined the happiness studies Academy to learn directly from tall and to receive a certificate in happiness studies. The certificate in happiness studies as an online academic course created and delivered by Dr. Tal Ben Shahar that provides the knowledge and the tools to generate happiness on the individual interpersonal organizational and national levels. In addition to English, it's offered in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Speaker 3: We love the weekly coaching sessions with towel and have learned so much around the science of happiness. You can join us [email protected] slash

Speaker 2: That's, right, become certified with us by heading to the art of charm.com/happiness.

Speaker 3: AGA we have a couple of shout outs this week, and I want to first start with one that was a review on iTunes. It was a review from Vox MPG 41. ASC has brought incredible value to my life, both personally and professionally. I find myself saying to myself, wow, I had never thought about it like that. After every episode, what I enjoy most is the practical ways that Johnny and Aja approach various relationship building topics and how they provide you with ways to implement these tools immediately is C has truly made me a better husband, friend and colleague. Wow. Well, thank you. Vox MPG, 41. I love hearing those things and yes, we want you to practice all of these things. This next shout, I was from Twitter and it was from Michael Cortez who sent me a message on Twitter yesterday telling me how much he loved the emotional bids episode. So if you enjoyed this episode, take a screenshot, tag us on social. We love celebrating our incredible audience of top performers. That means you

Speaker 2: That's right. And if you haven't heard the emotional bids episode, what are you waiting for? It's an action packed toolbox episode that everyone has given us Raven reviews about. Also, could you head on over to any of your favorite podcast players and rate this show? It means the world to us, and it brings great guests on like Dr. Tal Ben Shahar. The art of charm podcast is produced by Michael Harold and Eric Montgomery until next week. I'm a J and I'm Johnny have a good one.

Speaker 5: [inaudible] [inaudible].

Check in with AJ and Johnny!

AJ Harbinger - author of 1152 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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