MMF: You're saying we can develop happiness rubrics, and we can measure this and we can assess it even?
TBS: Absolutely. Again, no different than teaching
mathematics or writing. We can measure it, we can teach it, we can
increase it over time with results.
MMF: There's a big movement around social-emotional
learning, and having that more front and center in education these days.
What you're saying is happiness is a key part of that.
TBS: Absolutely so, and the most important thing
when we introduce whether it's SEL, whether it's happiness, we need to
measure. There are also many ideas in this area which are not
evidence-based, in fact which can lead to more harm than good. Let me
give you a very simple example. There's a lot of talk about
visualization and how important that is. If you can visualize yourself
successful, you'll become successful. Many teachers I know are
introducing this practice in the classroom.
MMF: This is like The Secret kind of stuff?
MMF: From The Secret? Yep.
TBS: Exactly. The secret, the law of attraction. It
turns out that there is real potential for more harm than good in this
practice. If you just imagine yourself successful, you're less likely to
be successful and you're more likely to experience frustration, and I'm
not talking about the healthy frustration that helps you grow. However,
and there's research by a UCLA professor, Shelley Taylor, showing that
when you visualize outcome and before that you visualize the path on
your way to the outcome, that's when it's actually helpful. Again, this
is a small shift that is based on evidence that can help millions and
billions of students actually attain more success. If I just imagine
myself getting the law degree, that's my dream. That's one thing. If I
imagine myself getting the law degree and imagining myself in
the library studying, working hard, putting in the effort, and here we
get, of course, to both Carol Dweck's work and Angela Duckworth's work, then I'm much more likely to be successful. Then this exercise intervention is likely to be helpful.
MMF: Dweck and Duckworth would all always say that
the big ingredient is that effective effort that is required. It's not
just about the mindset, but it's about the application of effective
effort. What you're saying is that's right, that's what you should be
visualizing too, is the effective effort that will create the outcome
that you also vision.
TBS: Matthew, if I can say one more thing about
this. Rick Snyder was a psychologist who did a lot of research on hope
theory. The way he defined hope was quite unique. He said hope comprises
two elements. The first element is what we call willpower. Willpower is
about saying, "Yes, we can," or saying," I can do it. I'm going to do
it. I'm capable," and so on. The clenched fist kind of confidence. That
is very important. However, he says that's not enough. In addition to
willpower, you need way power. Way power is, "Yes, I can, and here is
how I'm going to do it. If that doesn't work, here is how I'm going to
do it." This is plan C, if that doesn't work. It reminds me I was
watching, I think it was Wimbledon a few years ago, and Serena Williams
had just come back from a one set down deficits and two breaks down as
Serena Williams knows how to do.
She was interviewed afterwards, and the interviewer asked her, "How
did you do it, or how do you do it?" Because that's not the first, nor
was it the last time that she did it. Her answer struck me because she
said, "Whenever I go in court, I have a plan A. That sometimes doesn't
work, but I always have a plan B. That's sometimes doesn't work either,
and then I have a plan C and a D." Do you understand what I mean here?
She has plans and plans. This is way power. Of course, she has willpower
more than anyone we know probably, but she also has way power. This yes
we can, and this is how I'm going to do it, or this or that.
MMF: You've also talked a lot about and written
about this notion of that central happiness, which is allowing yourself
or giving yourself permission to be human. I think about teachers right
now, particularly in the midst of this crisis, and all the challenges
that they are managing and confronting and how folks are struggling with
and dealing with new system, new ways of doing things. Technology that
doesn't always work and cooperate the way you want to, students that are
having unique challenges during this time. Say a little bit about this
notion of permission to be human and how it connects to what we were
just talking about, the applicability of happiness in schools.
TBS: There are quite a few misconceptions about what
a happy life is. The misconception that reigns supreme is the belief
that a happy life means a life devoid of painful emotions, that to be
happy means we have to be happy all the time. There are only two kinds
of people, in fact, who do not experience painful emotions, such as
sadness or anger or frustration or anxiety or envy or hatred, two kinds
of people who do not experience these painful emotions. The first kind
are the psychopaths. The second kind of people who don't experience
painful emotions are dead. If we experience painful emotions, it's
actually a good sign. It means we're not a psychopath and we're alive.
We can build on that. The thing is it's very important to acknowledge
that, to give ourselves the permission to experience the full range of
human emotions, because if we don't or rather when we don't, these
painful emotions intensify. They grow stronger.
If I'm experiencing anxiety over the current situation, and I say to
myself, "Tal, come on, you shouldn't be anxious. You're a happiness
expert. Get over it," that anxiety will only grow. It will intensify.
Where in contrast, if I embrace the anxiety, and I say, "Oh, I'm not a
psychopath, and I'm alive. Yay," and express the emotions by talking
about it, by shedding a tear, by writing about it. When I express the
emotion, it does not overstay its welcome. There's a beautiful poem
written almost 800 years ago by Rumi, the Sufi poet, called "The Guest
House." In "The Guest House," Rumi writes about how we need to embrace,
accept, invite in all emotions, no matter what they are. Then
he says as if they're messengers from the beyond. Now, whether they're
messengers from the beyond or not, I don't know. That's above my pay
grade. However, what we do know is that when we embrace them, when we
invite them in as guests, that is the best way, by far, of dealing with