Hidden Brain - Where Gratitude Gets You

Many of us struggle with self-control.  And we assume willpower is the key to achieving our goals. But there's a simple and often overlooked mental habit that can improve our health and well-being. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore that habit — the practice of gratitude.

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This is hidden brain Shankar vedantam.

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For Generations across Nations and cultures parents and teachers have read Aesop's Fable The Ant and the grasshopper children the importance of hard work and delayed gratification.

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It was a beautiful summer and the grasshopper wild the way it's time dancing and frolicking with his friend. This is psychologist, David desteno Raleigh and went out to the field and toil to grow and harvest food for the winter.

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Why don't you stop working so hard and come play the grasshopper us Beyond replied. I can't I have to collect food for the winter. You should too. Otherwise, you won't have anything to eat when it gets cold.

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the grasshopper just laughed and kept play

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when winter came before grasshopper had nothing to eat and starve the aunt who would worked all summer. I had a wonderful winter snug in his den and a temple food to live on.

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Now the story has a harsh moral to it the aunt who refuses to share comes across as mean-spirited by the underlying message of the story is one. We all Wrestle with all of us have something of the ants inside us and all of us have a grasshopper to study for the test or play video games exercise regularly or relax on the couch.

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Save money for retirement or spend it on something you want right now?

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This week on hidden brain, we explore the importance and limitations of self-control and we examine how a habit that is within easy reach can help us achieve our goals.

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that Overlook habit the practice of gratitude

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David desteno is a psychologist at Northeastern University. He studies how we can enlist emotions to become better people better to others better to ourselves. Some of David's ideas. Grow out of the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper And also a psychological experiment conducted 50 years ago by Walter mischel at Stanford University. It's an experiment you probably heard off it was called the marshmallow test work is Michelle or one of his defense would bring in a child and they sit them down at the table.

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That they put down a marshmallow or other sweet in front of them and said you can either and they left and what they would do is wait and see combat child was able to engage in in self-control.

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There's been video since that time reproductions of this miss. Wonderful. If you wash you can see the kids peeking through their hands.

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Chicken and you can still hear the gears in their mind turning to try and resist.

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I thought I was beat it by to resist the first marshmallow had better academic and social outcomes in in many domains.

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So there have been concerns have been raised about the marshmallow test summer pointed out of the kids that Walter mischel study came from a very narrow and privileged slice of American society. But but the central idea of the importance of self-control we know that not just from Aesop's Fable, but from our lives, we know that it matters when it comes to doing well in school or learning to play a musical instrument or do I need to play a sport or saving for retirement eating healthy getting exercise doing well and all these demands comes down to the same question as Walter mischel was asking these kids. Can you do the difficult thing now in exchange for a reward that is down the road or tirement? Is it eating and exercise again true? There are some differences. So if you grew up in a culture where you weren't sure that the future was going to be a beneficial one then then why sacrifice for it, but in general as you're saying there is just ample evidence that sacrifice in the short-term in many domains of life is required for future 6.

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Giving into temptation for immediate gratification often leads to problems with the marshmallow test with adults you gave them a choice between pleasure and now versus a bigger reward later, but you decided not to use marshmallows but something else. How did you run this experiment? And what did you find in terms of people's ability to hold off on a reward at a later date if that's true of most most adults don't like a marshmallow is that all of us like cats? And so we we ran an analog to the marshmallow test where we were placed marshmallows with money and so the experiment worked is it would come in and we would have them answer a series of questions of the form. Would you rather have X dollars now or Y dollars in Z days where why was always greater than x and z very Dover days to weeks to months and from that we were able to extrapolate intensive inpatient or lack of self-control and what we found was a basic result was people were pretty impatient.

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People were willing as an example to accept $17 now and forgo $100 in a year. So another way of saying this is drunker is I guarantee you $100 in a year, but would you be willing to give that up if I give you $17 now and I don't know about you but given what the banks are paying unless you need that $17 to survive giving up the opportunity to quintuple your money in a year is a pretty foolish Financial investment. But that's what put our subject said. So yourself control to do the heart thing now and get the payoff later. We usually ask them to exercise willpower. You cite the children's television show Sesame Street and specifically the character Cookie Monster Temptations.

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Deaconess meeting with Christian movie on Netflix

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Eat it. But anyway you want it described as marvelous as controller to me David. What is that thing in itself? In that season of Sesame Street, Cookie Monster basically was teaching the model that has been in existence in in Psychology for decades. And in philosophy long before that, which was our emotions lead us astray and the way to persevere toward your goal or to delay gratification to resist temptation is to either rely on your willpower to tell you why you shouldn't do this until we see Cookie Monster using willpower or two used kind of tricks like to distract yourself, sweetie Cookie Monster kind of covering his eyes or or looking away. Do you have to try to talk to you?

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That can calm me down and talked with them straight and take these recipe can self-regulate Cookie Monster. Most kind of don't do very well at this, you know, if you look at the stats on average about 20% of the time people are trying to resist the temptation they give in to it for things that are difficult and important it's even worse. If you look at New Year's resolutions 8% of them are captive the years and 25% of them are gone by mid-January. And so this strategy of relying I'm kind of logic and willpower was the best that we had to offer is pretty poor because we're failing

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Most of us think of self control in the context of personal goals things like health or exercise David, but you also need self-control to be a good person to act with Integrity you once conducted an experiment that tested the relationship between self control and people's willingness to act with Integrity you ask volunteers to choose between a difficult task and an easy task using the equivalent of a coin flip. Can you describe the experimental setup to me?

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Sure, subjects would come in and we told him there were two tasks that needed to be done along an owner has one or shortened fun one and then we gave them the opportunity to flip a coin to decide what they were going to do.

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And if you ask people what should you do people say? Well, of course, you should follow what the coins that the only time we get kind of unanimity in a psychological study that I've ever seen. Yes vast majority of people when they believe they're alone and no one can see what they're choosing either. Don't flip the coin and just give themselves easy task or they flip the coin to get the wrong answer because of course we have rigged the quiet so that it comes out the Salvation to the hard to ask if it's a virtual coin. I keep slipping it into comes up with me it with the answer they want

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What were these two tasks David that what was the difficult task of people wanted to avoid? The difficult task was presented as a series of 45 minutes of of a long and owner logic problems the things that you might have to do it like the GRE the SAT and the short has been said about 10 minutes. It's a it's a fun image hunt computer screen porch of 90% of your volunteer succumbed to the temptation of cheating with where we think we can get away with something people will but the most interesting part about it was when you asked them later how fairly that's it. Did they act most of them just created a story for why it was okay for them to do that this time. I really didn't want to be late for something. My favorite story was I kid you not. They said to me one person said to me well, the guy was sitting out in the hall who I thought was going to be coming next.

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You look like an engineering major and I thought he would like the logic problems right now. So, you know our need for self-control different. Going to try and exert will power in the first place reproduce. I deserve to spend money on Monday new smartphone. I deserve the extra piece of chocolate cake.

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Movies and TV shows of explore the idea of why we give into temptation the cartoon character Homer Simpson is the personification of this idea.

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Donuts, is there anything?

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Homer Simpson knows he needs to resist junk food, but he just can't do it. David says this idea that our emotions often get the better of us. This is the way most of us understand. Why will power fails

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There's this idea that's been around since the time of Spinoza right before where people look at that the passion that their emotions as something that wants immediate gratification in true. We experience it that way at times, you know, we can see all desire or lust or anger things that make us want to do things in the in the moment and there's an idea that we have to rely on kind of our rational thought processes to change our view of what we should value in to Tamp down those Cravings than that requires self-control to do the right thing fighting your desires fighting your Temptations with willpower. It's not just difficult, but it's actually stressful right it is I mean, if you think about it, your body is in a state of stress part of you is wanting to give in to whatever the Temptation is for short-term pleasure and part of you is trying to overrule that sense of desire. And so when you're

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Going to come back in and then dessert executive control, which of the fancy word. We say colleges use for trying to overrule kind of our more intuitive responses your brain feels like and I'm not saying this is what's going on in the circuitry, of course, but it feels like you're you're you're in a battle and that results in stress. There is there is great work by a psychologist Gregory Miller at Northwestern. He was trying to work the kids from disadvantaged background showing them teaching them executive control strategy and overtime strategies work, but the stress level that those children were adolescents were under began to manifest itself physically, if you kind of yes, if you're always trying to exert self-control you can achieve your goal but your health is going to suffer you're not going to be as Rao around as long as you enjoy the fruits of that.

00:13:38
You you want to say to study by Christopher boys about people who in fact are very good at exercising willpower. But but what happens to them when they fail to remember that study David this is a study looking at the trait of conscientiousness, which is the ability to kind of put your nose to the grindstone in persevere in pursuing your goal and people who do that. Yes, they succeed but when they do fail and they do fell last because they're working really hard when they fail when he shows it to hit to their well-being is 120% greater than the rest of us and all the date of the show exactly why that is and that study personally. I believe that one reason that is because these individuals haven't been focused on cultivating the social relationships better there to catch up when we've Fallen to make us more resilient.

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Psychologist David desteno argues that the model we have that willpower is the key to self control and that our emotions often undermine us this model misses something crucial emotions might not be the enemy. In fact, some emotions can play a powerful role in generating self-control how that's when we come back. You're listening to Hidden brain. I'm Shankar vedantam.

00:15:12
This is hidden. Brain. I'm Shankar vedantam.

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Think back to the last time you made a resolution and fail. Maybe the resolution was to get your finances in order to exercise more. Maybe it was to eat healthy. You even made a list of all the reasons you should order more solids, but those reasons failed you when you smell french fries at the next table your emotions got the better of you.

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Meaning of a CR emotions as the enemy when it comes to carrying out a resolutions emotions can also be enormously constructive and Powerful. It might make sense to back up and see the big picture for a moment many of us think that something makes us angry. So we feel angry something makes her sad so we feel sad something makes us happy. So we feed happy we think emotions are about looking back at reacting to the Past you say there's something wrong with this picture. What is it?

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Yeah emotions are not about the past they were about the future and what I mean by that is if you even just think about the brain metabolically what good it would it be to have a response that is only relevant to things that have happened before. The reason we have emotions are to help us decide what to do next when you are feeling an emotion. It's altering the computations your brain is making your predictions for the best course of action to explore an interesting idea to help us navigate to Future not just an accounting system to tabulate the past that might explain why some emotions seem to help us do difficult things. You tell the story in your book of one of your students who would wake up early each morning to go rowing on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. What did she tell you? Yeah. This wasn't my student. Lisa Williams is now a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and she told me, you know, it was very difficult to wake up before the

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Sun rises in to go out in the cold app of the Pacific Northwest and to get on the Columbia River in row, but she felt Pride for being accepted onto the rowing team and pride for how well our team was doing and not wanting to let your team down and so it was that sense of Pride for the accomplishment. They made each day in the anticipated Pride for what was going to come next that helps her do these difficult things that helps her get up in the end of morning when many of us might just want to roll over and hit the alarm for snooze and it's because sometimes we do her things because we think we should but I think more often than not we do hard things because we feel we should emotions are stores that huge source of motivation all emotions as the enemy of reaching our goals. You started to ask if Simon motion speed. In fact help us reach our goal in the case of the student was the pride she felt being part of the team at and not Pride at the level of arrogance and hubris, but

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Take Delight in a job. Well done in teamwork. That's exactly right.

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So you decided to explore how the emotions might shape self-control and long-term decision-making you give enough volunteers the grown up version of the marshmallow test the one that use money but this time there was a Twist you measure differences between people in terms of how much the experience the emotion of gratitude was there a correlation between gratitude and people's ability to delay gratification there was and what we found was when they were feeling grateful when they were making these decisions cuz they had just reflected on something that they were grateful for it basically double their self-control suddenly. They weren't willing to give up $100 in a year for $17. Now it would take about $31 for them to do this, but the important thing was to show that it wasn't just that we were distracting them or wasn't anything about this feeling good people were feeling happy. We have to describe something that I thought was funny and amusing they were the same as people who are neutral. It was $17. That's what this tells us. Is that when you feel gratitude,

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Alters the computations your brain is making about how valuable a future goal is.

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I mean, what's interesting, of course as you're not actually telling people anything about self-control you're not telling them yours. The right thing to do exercise will power here is the rational thing to do you're just asking them to reflect on something. They fell great before maybe someone in my life who was good today in Mora or a colleague or a mentor who had helped them and this indirectly seem to change the way they thought about the president and thought about the future. That's exactly right. I mean emotions affect our expectations for how we should react in any given situation Ranch and so simply by making people feel grateful it Alters the way their brain assign value as a function of time suddenly reward that were delayed that were further in the future give me more attractive than they normally would without them having to engage in any type of corrective strategy to make themselves or will themselves to see the logic of that.

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Not you wanted a stronger test of the idea that there was a connection between gratitude and long-term thinking and rather than simply have people remember a time when they felt grateful you artificially induce them to feel great for now that's not very easy to do in a lab and you came up with a rather. I would say Krewella way to engineer gratitude. How did you do it David the way it works is you come to the lab and you would sit in front of the computer and you spent about 15-20 minutes doing this god-awful task. It was designed to be god-awful boring and hard and right at the end when the experimenter said they were going to come in and record your score that would have been put on the computer screen re-rig the computer to look like it crashed. It's hell when it crashed the furniture come in and say this is happened once before let me go get the tack. You're going to have to do this all over and of course they were not happy.

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We also had in the room another person who was a confederate which means they were an actor working for the experimenters. But the participants thought they were just another person in the experiment and the Confederate would I have to leave I'm running late but this is really terrible. I'm pretty good with computer. Let me let me see if I can help you and so she would start fussing with the computer and see what hit a button surreptitiously that would start a countdown and then suddenly the computer and come back on and 95% of our participants were so grateful for this task overhead 5% but they were really really really grateful for this. That's the way we we kind of induce gratitude in real time.

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So when you induce gratitude in this manner David, do you see that it changes people's ability to think about the future differently.

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Yeah, so what we find when we use his Paradigm movie used it several time is it makes people more willing to pay it forward. That is it makes them more willing to have them leave the table and go out and suddenly somebody whose mother after will come up to them and ask them for help and if they're stealing gratitude, they're more willing to help this person other times when they're engaged in in financial decisions with other people don't make decisions that are little costly to them but benefit those around them. So they're more willing to share profits than than take profit selfishly all of these kind of bring us back to the point. I want to make which is we're seeing people were willing to sacrifice in the moment to help other people to give them more money to do things that don't benefit them in the moment, but that we know from every two evolutionary model out there brings games down the line as if I willing to sacrifice now, right what you're doing is making sure that when you need help in the future,

00:23:08
They're going to be people who will pay you back and by cementing those relationships you're going to have a lot of aggregated Kane's overtime, even though in the moment. It's kind of costly to you in some ways in real life. What would people you know experience in the experiment. Someone goes out of their way to help us and you feel this Sudden Rush of gratitude almost feels like something physical you want at the expense of a Collie going above and beyond when your family was expecting a child. Tell me what you did and what happened David.

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Yeah, we are just been mad at my new job at Northeastern for a year or two and we were expecting our first daughter and we went to this what we thought was kind of just an end of the year celebration. I turned out that it was a surprise baby shower for us at which was just heartwarming and one of my colleagues gave to my wife and I this beautiful baby if you had me and in that moment, I had the exact experience that you're saying Shankar. I just felt this well enough of emotional. Sometimes we get gifts in real life. Oh great. Now I have to give you something just wasn't that right. This was like, oh my goodness. And in that moment my heart just felt like it was warming and smiling and what it did it made me feel really valued by this person so much so that it did you think of our relationship in a whole different way. It made me feel in somebody's bonded to her and it wanted to move forward and do things for her and that's the beauty of

00:24:40
Of gratitude, right? It is the sense that someone went out of their way to do something that was costly to them. Not only financially it could be time. It could be, you know just care but it it's a Mark that they value you and that's what's the men's relationship and makes you want to pay a guy that suddenly you're in this upward spiral of building relationships.

00:25:11
I want to just do it for a second of the point that you just met David witches. It's not always the most expensive thing that generates gratitude is if you call Deacon gone out and bought you something what's that $100, you know, that would be next in extravagant gift but in some ways it was the personal effort that she put into the quail to make the quilt that communicated to you. This person is someone who really cares about me. I'm truly grateful and I and I feel like in some ways reciprocating was reading this to other people. That's right. And if you think about it, right, you know, the argument that I always make is self-control didn't evolve so that we could stay for retirement a good grade self-control evolve so that we would have good character that we would be fair that we would cooperate the other people would want to work with us and share now we can pivot it so that instead of sacrificing to help someone else I can sacrifice to help my own future self, but the origin is really one of morality and that's why we can look it up.

00:26:07
Oceans by gratitude and compassion as as as virtues junker if you gave me $10 right now, I didn't pay you back idea head, but if I don't pay you back or if you help me move my furniture and you need help moving yours. If I don't come in sacrifice to pay you back that relationship is now going to end and I'll lose all of those games going forward and so it is a sacrifice in the moment for future benefit. I'm wondering when when you receive this wonderful heartwarming gift from your colleague. Where do you made a direct connection to the research that you were doing? What was this in some ways like an aha moment for you? Yeah in Psychology. There's been a lot of work on ordinary emotions things like fear and anger but not on these more socially oriented ones and because of that experience and how powerful it was. It it it was just another push for me to say, you know, there's something important here that we need to investigate.

00:26:59
Ursinus alley by Robert almonds on the role that expressing gratitude has on stressed. Do you remember what he did and what he found I do. This was a great study because it was an experiment that was actually done in the field. So to speak Emmons would ask a certain percentage of his subjects to engage in Daily gratitude reflection. So he was making them basically Count Their Blessings as a kind of experimental intervention and what he found is that overtime the individuals who did this reported that they were better able to engage in exercise again, a type of sacrifice in the moment for future gain, they reported better quality of their relationship. They reported less than films of illness has it taken together with this kind of signify says to me is that it's gratitude is enhancing people's well-being and kind of reducing the stress that comes from illness or feelings of loneliness or get connection.

00:27:56
Are you also set aside by Wendy Mendes? I believe at the University of California San Francisco looking at the relationship between gratitude and stress or at least how gratitude can buff are the effects of stress. So when did this really interesting study where she used a technique called the tree or social stress measure which is used in psychology of I think about it like this pretend you're going for a job interview is going to stand up in front of three people and kind of give a little speech. The people are instructed to be very stone-faced. He has no feedback. If not a very rewarding experience and it causes a spiral of stress and that's been shown many times what Monday found was that individuals who are regularly more grateful nightlife individual to practice more gratitude and in some ways that basically is is it it's an intervention right people who are who are Dailey thinking about feeling grateful cultivating in their life. She found it was basically like a a booster shot for stress reduction.

00:28:56
What's remarkable here is that the effect seems almost effortless, right? So if you if I induce gratitude in myself, it's almost like I've made the task easier. It's not like I'm actually working harder to accomplish the task. That's right. It's not gilding your self-control by giving you more willpower. It's basically working from the bottom up by changing what you value and if you value something more than you normally would if you value of future reward your future health your future savings doing the right thing for your friends more than you normally would just be easier to persevere toward it.

00:29:32
You leave a lot of work these days on on habits, right build a habit so that you can achieve your goals study more build a habit to save and that's true. But the problem with most habits is their focus on one narrow outcome. If I build a habit to study more it's not going to help me save money.

00:29:50
But if you build a habit to cultivate gratitude, it's going to play out in many different domains domains of exercise domains of Health domains of dieting domains of saving money domain starting any time that it requires you to Value the future more than the present.

00:30:08
You say that many Americans missed the point when it comes to a festival like Thanksgiving David. Most people think it's merely a chance to Express gratitude for close friends and family keeping in mind what you just told me that in some ways gratitude has the super power if you will to affect many dimensions of your life. What are we getting wrong? When we think about Thanksgiving meal is indication to look back and Millie's indication to recognize those closest to us. It's not that it's a bad thing. But what I mean is really the benefits of gratitude are important on all the other days of the year when we need to delay our gratification to gain our future goal. And so yes, it's important Thanksgiving. But what you want to do is cultivated more regularly on the other days because by doing that you'll ensure that when Thanksgiving comes next year you will have more to be grateful for

00:31:06
Many years ago when you were when you were a kid, you have the experience of having conflicts with your dad, which is of course exactly like every other child in the history of the world, but tell me about the temperature had with him and how you've come to think about that conflict in more recent apps.

00:31:24
Yeah, so when I was in early teen my Dad decided that every summer I should engage in some type of academic activity. You know, I just finished your schooling. I did not want to go ahead and academic activity for the summer. I wanted to have fun play sports with my friends or do anything and I so you know who put me in a computer camp or something like this and it would cause Strife because you know, I would get an oil like that. Why do I have to do this? But later on I realized that is doing this was his way of trying to ensure that more doors would be open to me in the future. You have my family. I came from a background that was very humble in terms of educational background in terms of economic background on the first generation college student and he felt so strongly about this that he was willing to put up with my connection not wanting to do it more than that. I also found out that because we were

00:32:24
Such humble Financial background. He went to other members of our family and asked for help from money so that he could provide me with these opportunities and so I wasn't grateful for it at the time but looking back on it when I learned about this and I saw it as a parent myself. I became incredibly grateful.

00:32:48
The British talk about the difference between true compassion and idiot compassion an idiot compassion is doing something that allow somebody to feel good in the moment and happy in the moment. Even though it's not good for their future outcomes. Why is compassion is is helping them to do things that are hard in the moment, even if they don't want to do it because my dad had that wise compassion at the time as I was going to put up with my my arguing it let something that I'm much more grateful for in the future.

00:33:20
It's a little sad though, isn't it? Would you said if we if we could remind ourselves to be more grateful to people in the moment, even when it seems as if they're working at cross-purposes with us presumably it would help us see the value of what it is that telling us which is a good thing in and of itself and second and probably would bind us to them more closely than it would otherwise. Both of those are true. And that's why I think there's not an emphasis on gratitude. I think anymore in terms of when kids are growing up as much as there used to be traditionally and I think to the extent that we encourage people young or old to think more about what other people are doing for them. And how what their intent is in to see opportunities for gratitude the more we look for those opportunities to feel it the more we're increasing the opportunity to cultivated in our in our own life.

00:34:11
Did you ever have a chance to thank you Dad David? I did I did later on. I I I I I wish that I had been more aware of time. But you know, what is the wisdom of age, right?

00:34:27
When we come back is feeling grateful. Just something you feel or is it something you can learn to do?

00:34:44
This is hidden brain Shankar vedantam.

00:34:47
Are emotions are extremely powerful there are times when they can lead us astray and cause us to undermine our own long-term goals. We're just because some emotions cause us to become short-sighted that doesn't mean all emotions cause us to be impetuous some emotions. In fact, they can help us exercise more eat healthier and save more wisely.

00:35:16
Give me the loan if you work is published in modern pure review psychology journals by the ideas you're talking about. She is really ancient to me many cultural and spiritual Traditions around the world celebrate the idea of pausing to give thanks, you mentioned in our earlier conversation just the idea of counting your blessings. It seems to me that many of those Traditions are arriving at the same underlying idea as a psychological studies, right? That's right. It is funny. You should mention that. I'm I'm working on my next book which is called how God works and it is basically looking at ancient practices and rituals and advice from religions inside of evaluating them tonight in a scientific framework.

00:36:04
These thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy Bounty and what I found time and time again, is that some of these ancient practices like prayers for giving thanks even family saying grace regularly before they dinner and giving thanks. Those are way they're presented ideologically, but what they actually are or kind of beautiful nudges to the mind and what we see is that even maybe you those religious leaders didn't understand the science of why these things worked they can see the outcomes and I think there's a lot of evidence for that. We're finding time. And again is that being grateful engaging in compassion these leads to long-term benefits for people in terms of their physical and mental well-being.

00:36:57
You feel particularly interested in a group of people who appear to have super powers when it comes to delaying gratification. They can go long periods without food and water. They're adapted place in the interest of others before themselves. Tell me about the connection. You saw between your psychological research and Buddhist monks.

00:37:17
Yeah, so when we first started studying self control in and look real emotions playing it. I also had another group of students who were studying mindfulness meditation and I thought well who knows more about delaying gratification and cravings and not being attached to these things and put his months. So I spent some time talking to them and one high-ranking one told me that he said, you know, when monks first take their vows to be chased into not drink alcohol etcetera is not gamble. He said they sell just like everybody else but what he said his overtime through meditation what happens if it begins to unleash these feelings of compassion his once that compassion starts to be Unleashed resisting temptation becomes much easier and it's similar to the idea that I was talking about with gratitude. When you feel those emotions. They change what your mind values that makes you value the long-term or and what you find is that just makes it easier to

00:38:17
Persevere toward your goal then to control selfish Temptations for people who have practice very difficult in a meditation techniques for years on end up but I understand that you have studied whether novices people who know very little or nothing about meditation can learn these practices. Can you tell me about the study of conducted along these lines in in Boston? Yeah. So we believe that, you know, after a few weeks we might be able to see some changes and so we invited people I would never meditated before from the Boston Community to come to our lab and we are collaborated with a Buddhist Lama who was going to teach some meditative techniques. So half of them came to the lab for 8 weeks of meditation, and then she created MP3 that they could take homes for the galley practice another bunch of people who were put on the waiting list. Do they receive no training at all?

00:39:11
After that was done. We told them come back to the lab after these eight weeks. We want to measure how meditation affected your memory and your ability to engage in certain types of cognitive activities, which seems kind of straightforward as a lot of work on how meditation affects memory but the real experiment took place in the waiting room. So when they came to our lab there was a waiting room of three chairs and two people already sitting in the chairs. These were Confederates are actors who work for us and then came in the subject. What did they do all they sat in the third chair waiting to be called about two minutes later. We had another come down the hall and enter the waiting room. She didn't really have a broken foot but she was on crutches wearing one of those boots that you wearing your foot is broken wincing in pain and she came into the room there were no tears left for her. So she basically just kind of Winston let out a little painful sides comforted leaned against the wall and are two other actors were told to ignore her and so the question

00:40:11
What the subject do would he or she be willing to sacrifice his or her immediate Comfort but getting off seeing if you could help this person offering his seat to her or hit. Would he ignore her like everybody else did what we found was in the conditions among the non meditators about 16% of people did that they've got up and offered their seat and see if they can help this person but among the meditators it jumped to 50% would immediately get up and offer their seat to the person see if they could give her anything and he's replicated this finding so it's not just kind of a one-off thing.

00:40:47
What kind of experiment suggest to me is that it might be better to think of gratitude as a skilled rather than as a trade or just simply an emotion something that just pops up on bitten in our hearts. That's right. You know we have this this idea of emotional intelligence has been kind of percolating the past decade or more and US culture and there are several parts do it. When is can you read another person's emotion to know what they're feeling one is can you kind of keep calm so you're not disruptive the schools off and use this when they're worried about this. Keeping Little Johnny quiet in class is Done Construction, but there's a third part that people forget about and that's the third part of emotional intelligence is learning how to use your emotions as tools or a skills to achieve your goals. And that's exactly what we're talking about. Right emotions are tools that you can cultivate in your life. When you meditate you're building an automatic response to feel compassion more regularly when you count your blessings daily you're engaging in an active.

00:41:47
You're curating your own emotional states. You're making yourself feel more grateful.

00:41:52
Dana periodically stories that you know, you see on local television David that are along the lines of this one take a listen on a.m. When a customer offered to buy coffee for the strangers in the car behind them. I started out by someone just came up and they wanted to do exactly that and just pay it forward and it just kept going. So how many cars participated that was just about 30 more that went through. I know we're at least up to a hundred and sixty talk about this idea in the past. It is gratitude. I fundamentally contagious that as you see them you have a strong impulse to be part of this as you call it this virtuous cycle.

00:42:37
Yeah, I need that's one of the beautiful all emotions are catchy, you know, we're more likely to feel them if I'm sitting next to someone who is anxious that anxiety can rub off on me but gratitude has kind of this added elements. That is it makes you want to pay it forward. We found that in our own experiments of people leave the lab and a stranger comes up to them. They're more willing to help them and you see it time and again like this at toll booth or at Starbucks people do that drives Economist crazy because truly self-interested standpoint. Hey, that guy just bought me something I haven't had right? Why aren't I just taking my extra benefit and running? It's because it's built into US write this idea that if we cooperate with one another we get game down the line if we pay it forward those games come back to us and and all the evolutionary models that is true gratitude is advice to make us willing to do that. So there's wonderful work by psychologists Elizabeth done in Michael Norton that show giving is perceived in the brain is pleasure. But when we have gratitude,

00:43:37
Even app setup even more it makes it even more pleasurable it make us more willing to do it and it builds the cycles of cooperation in an amazing way than ways that don't seem to make logical sense, but still really rewarding.

00:43:59
Today is some say love. This is all just Pie in the Sky. The people who really get ahead in life are the people who are Brash and rude and have sharp elbows gratitude and compassion are for suckers. What do you say to them David?

00:44:13
I get this question what people say to me David want to be a success. Should I be a jerk or should it be a nice guy? And if they were with your time frame, if you're a jerk in the short-term, if you're selfish if you don't help other people you can get a head but in the long-term those individuals pay a price because people do not want to interact with them partner with them work with them. But I do worry about this because that you know in some senses am I making people even in the moment suckers, but we recently around a study where the kind of tackle this question was simply people were made to feel grateful by counting their blessings are not living normally do that and we had them washed person a cheap person be on something. We're person a and person B were both Confederates and they have the opportunity to intervene and what we found people who were feeling grateful. We're more likely to intervene and try and correct person AIDS

00:45:13
Leader of the person who cheated even to engage in something we call third-party punishment that if they'd even pay a little money to have this person told. Hey, you shouldn't do that to harm this other individual and what we take from that when you're feeling grateful. It doesn't make you a sucker. It doesn't make you willing to be walked all over it makes you want to do The Virtuous thing, but it also makes you willing to stand up for justice when you see someone else not being treated as well. And so the people who are feeling grateful yet their impulses to do the right thing, but when they see Injustice is in the world, they're also the ones who are going to be more likely to call it out.

00:45:54
Some years ago hidden brain David. We began a weekly practice of acknowledging our unsung heroes on the show. So these people off and walked in the background. And one thing I discovered is that once you start keeping an eye out for unsung heroes. They really are everywhere. Even the most trivial things need the help of so many different people but but here's the interesting part that I want to run by you. I've been surprised at how many of our listeners tell us that they love the unsung hero segment of our show. We are thanking people for my listeners. Don't know what is it. Do you think about seeing someone else Express gratitude, even if it is to a third-party someone you don't know that makes us happy.

00:46:37
I think two things I think one and seeing someone else Express gratitude. What it is is it's it's a good type of virtue signaling. It's it's an index that this person appreciate that they couldn't have achieved all their goals in the world on their own and you know the argument you're making a similar to one. My collaborator become is Bob Frank makes assumption that everything good is due to our own our own efforts and part of it is but as you're saying there are many unsung hero very many people who without whose help me wouldn't be where we are. And so expressing gratitude is a marker that this person appreciate that fact and I think it's a marker in a reminder then in some ways. We're all in this together and we are going to be appreciative of that.

00:47:25
You cite that a sociologist who says that gratitude is the moral memory of humankind. I I love that idea. That's really beautiful. Yeah, that's dirty demo. It is beautiful and I think what it is, it reminds us that everything we've achieved is not solely through our own efforts and it reminds us to pay it back and to pay it forward and if we do that the outcome for everybody is going to be a better one.

00:48:00
I want you to tell me about a moment in your life that occurred some time ago David when some of your elderly mothers caregivers did something special for her. What did they do? And again, what effect did it have on you? Yeah, so my mom is 99 and and living in her house, but she requires 24/7 care and so she has a group of caregivers for women who helped her with her up with your needs throughout the day, but what became clear to me, is that on her birthday when she turned 99 they organize a party for her they made it so that the neighbors came they bought her gifts. They made her favorite meals and dessert and this is so far above and beyond what they are required to do for their job as caretaker at cost to themselves in terms of time and effort money even and it was just so heartwarming to me and I I

00:48:59
I think about it because it made me feel so grateful because here's my mom. I can't give her the kind of care. She needs personally. I'm an only child. I live far away and these people as they're being paid to do it, but they go so far above and beyond that. It just made me feel more gratitude than I could ever have imagined any yet. It made me want to sacrifice and do wonderful things for them. And so yes, it's heartwarming. Yes. It's a beautiful but it also nudges us right and Duchess our minds to either pay those people back or to pay it forward to others and I think that's the beauty of of gratitude. It ensures that there's going to be more blessings to come.

00:49:43
Is a psychologist at Northeastern University is the author of emotional success the power of gratitude compassion and pride David. Thanks for joining me today. Hidden brain. Thank you shopper.

00:50:07
Hidden brain is produced by hidden brain media mid-roll media is our exclusive advertising sales partner are audio production team Thank You Bridget McCarthy Laura Corral Alton Barnes and Andrew Chadwick is our executive producer on hidden brains executive editor.

00:50:29
Are unsung hero this week is someone who has helped me think through numerous aspects of launching an independent production company very often the nuts and bolts of the organizations in which we were are hidden from view, but I can attest it's really important to get the fundamentals right over the past year or so, my friend and former colleague Lily Ladd help me brainstorm how to launch a small business strategic Council has proven invaluable. It's shaping all the creative work. We do on a weekly basis, which makes her a walking definition of an unsung hero. It helps that besides being a smart thinker Lily is a terrific listener and a wonderful human being

00:51:13
Thank you lady. I'm truly grateful.

00:51:16
But more hidden brain you can follow us on Facebook Twitter and it's hidden brain. Org. I'm Shankar vedantam. See you next week.
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