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Annotated captions of Nancy Etcoff (Old) in English

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We are wired to pursue happiness --

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not only to enjoy it, but to want more and more of it.

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So given that that's true, how good are we

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at increasing our happiness?

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Well, we certainly try.

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If you look on the Amazon site, there are over 2,000 titles

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with advice on the seven habits,

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the nine choices, the ten secrets, the 14,000 thoughts

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that are supposed to bring happiness. There are so many books on it.

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Now, another way we try to increase our happiness

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is we medicate ourselves.

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And so there is over 120 million prescriptions out there right now

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for anti-depressants.

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Prozac was really the first absolute blockbuster drug

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of the new psychopharmacology.

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It's really the avatar of the new psychopharmacology.

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It was clean, efficient, there was no high.

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There was really no danger. It had no street value.

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And then we have, of course, the last way of increasing happiness for some.

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In 1995, illegal drugs were a 400 billion dollar business,

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representing eight percent of world trade,

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roughly the same as gas and oil.

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If all else fails, people just want to get obliterated.

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So far these routes to happiness haven't really increased happiness very much.

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I don't have to speak for these cartoons; they kind of say what's going on here.

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Basically the happiness from a pill stays with the pill.

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Anyone who goes off an anti-depressant or other medication

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immediately tends to relapse.

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And then of course, the other self-help books you see.

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One problem that's happening now

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is, although the rates of happiness are about as flat as the surface of the moon,

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depression and anxiety are rising.

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Despite that we are in a world with so much more material wealth,

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much safer, better health,

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and all kinds of pharmaceuticals and treatments for mental illness,

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we're still seeing rises in depression and anxiety.

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Some people say this is because we have better diagnosis,

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and more people are being found out.

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It isn't just that. We're seeing it all over the world.

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In the United States right now

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there are more suicides than homicides.

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There is a rash of suicide in China.

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And the World Health Organization predicts that, by 2020,

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depression will be the second largest cause

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of disability-related years lost, after ischemic heart disease.

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Happiness stays the same as ever.

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Now the good news here is that if you take surveys

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from around the world,

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we find that more people are happy than not.

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And so these -- I just took these random charts from Britain --

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this one is from the Unites States.

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And we see that about three quarters of people

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will say they are at least pretty happy, the majority.

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But this does not follow any of the usual trends.

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For example, these two show great growth in income,

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absolutely flat happiness curves.

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So more money doesn't seem to be doing anything

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to increase happiness level.

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Well, my field, the field of psychology,

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hasn't done a whole lot to help us move forward

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in understanding human happiness.

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In part, we have the legacy of Freud, who was a pessimist,

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who said that pursuit of happiness

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is a doomed quest, is propelled by infantile aspects

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of the individual that can never be met in reality.

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He said, "One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be happy

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is not included in the plan of creation."

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So the ultimate goal of psychoanalytic psychotherapy

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was really what Freud called ordinary misery.

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(Laughter)

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It in part reflects the anatomy of the human emotion system.

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Which is that we have both a positive and a negative system.

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And our negative system is extremely sensitive.

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It is our sentinel. It is there to protect us against danger.

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So for example, we're born

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loving the taste of something sweet,

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and reacting adversely to the taste of something bitter.

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Yet we are much more sensitive to the bitter than the sweet.

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We can detect the bitter at one part per two million.

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We can detect the sweet at one part per 200.

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We also find the people are more averse to losing

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than they are happy to gain.

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People are very loss-averse.

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I also have up here the marriage formula.

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This is by a psychologist named John Gottman, in Seattle,

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who does work with couples, in couples therapy.

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And he finds that the formula for a happy marriage

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is five positive remarks, or interactions,

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for every one negative.

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(Laughter)

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And that's how powerful the one negative is.

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Especially expressions of contempt or disgust,

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well you really need a lot of positives to upset that.

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I also put in here the stress response.

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We're wired for dangers that are immediate, that are physical, that are imminent,

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and so our body goes into an incredible reaction

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where endogenous opiates come in.

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They are there to douse pain.

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Our blood vessels constrict so we won't bleed.

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Our heart pumps to get muscles to our legs.

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Now all of these things are fine, if we're confronting a saber-toothed tiger.

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But if someone is giving a violin recital,

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or arguing with their spouse,

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we have a system that is really ancient,

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and really there for physical danger.

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And so over time, this becomes a stress response,

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which has enormous effects on the body.

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Cortisol floods the brain.

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It destroys hippocampal cells and memory.

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And it can lead to all kinds of health problems.

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But, unfortunately, we need this system in part.

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If we were only governed by pleasure

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we would not survive.

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As I said, we really have two command posts.

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Emotions are short-lived intense responses

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to challenge and to opportunity.

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And each one of them allows us to click into alternate selves

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that tune in, turn on, drop out

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thoughts, perceptions, feelings and memories.

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We tend to think of emotions as just feelings.

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But in fact emotions are an all-systems alert

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that change what we remember,

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what kind of decisions we make,

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and how we perceive things.

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So let me go forward to the new science of happiness.

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We've come away from the Freudian gloom.

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And people are now actively studying this.

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And one of the key points in the science of happiness

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is that happiness and unhappiness are not endpoints

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of a single continuum.

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The Freudian model is really one continuum

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that, as you get less miserable,

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you get happier. And that isn't true.

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When you get less miserable, you get less miserable.

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And that happiness is a whole other end of the equation.

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And it's been missing. It's been missing from psychotherapy.

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So when people's symptoms go away, they tend to recur.

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Because there isn't a sense of the other half,

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of what pleasure, happiness, compassion, gratitude,

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what are the positive emotions.

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And of course we know this intuitively,

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that happiness is not just the absence of misery.

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But somehow it was not put forward until very recently,

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seeing these as two parallel systems.

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So that the body can both look for opportunity

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and also protect itself from danger, at the same time.

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And they sort of two reciprocal and dynamically interacting systems.

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People have also wanted to deconstruct.

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We use this word "happy" and it's this very large umbrella of a term.

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And it can be deconstructed into --

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this is one recent suggestion --

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the sensory pleasures, amusement,

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contentment, relief, excitement,

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wonder, awe, ecstasy -- from the carnal to the spiritual --

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elevation, gratitude, compassion.

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These are from Paul Eckman's recent work.

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And then three emotions for which there are no English words.

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Fiero, which is the pride in accomplishment of a challenge.

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Schadenfreude, which is happiness in another's misfortune, a malicious pleasure.

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And naches, for all people who know this word,

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is a pride and joy in one's children.

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Absent from this list, and absent from any discussions of happiness

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are happiness in another's happiness.

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We don't seem to have a word for that.

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And I find that most distressing.

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We are very sensitive to the negative,

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but it is in part offset by the fact that

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we have a positivity offset.

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That is, most people are above the average in happiness.

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Although we're very sensitive to the negative,

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we start out a little above the average in positivity.

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We're also born pleasure-seekers.

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As I said, babies love the taste of sweet

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and hate the taste of bitter.

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They love to touch smooth surfaces rather than rough ones.

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They like to look at beautiful faces

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rather than plain faces.

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They like to listen to consonant melodies instead of dissonant melodies.

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Babies really are born with a lot of innate pleasures.

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People are also born with different temperaments.

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And so they say we have this approach and avoidance system.

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And some people have a primed-up approach system.

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And some people have a primed-up avoidance system.

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So here we have an example of someone, you know,

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born with an avoidance system.

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There's a lot of talk now, in the science of happiness

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about is it all genes?

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And there was once a statement made by a psychologist

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that said that 80 percent of the pursuit of happiness

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is really just about the genes.

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And it's as difficult to become happier as it is to become taller.

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That's nonsense.

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There is a decent contribution to happiness from the genes, about 50 percent.

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But there is still that 50 percent that is unaccounted for.

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And even something such as intelligence, height,

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all kinds of things that have genetic --

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predetermined -- also can increase quite a bit.

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So that doesn't limit us to the happiness we now have.

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Let's just go into the brain for a moment,

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and see where does happiness arise from in evolution.

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We have basically at least two systems here.

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And they both are very ancient.

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One is the reward system.

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And that is fed by the chemical dopamine.

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And it starts in the ventral tegmental area.

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it goes to the nucleus accumbens, all the way up to the prefrontal cortex,

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orbital frontal cortex, where decisions are made, high level.

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This was originally seen as a system

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that was the pleasure system of the brain.

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In the 1950s Olds and Milner

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put electrodes into the brain of a rat.

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And the rat would just keep pressing that bar

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thousands and thousands and thousands of times.

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It wouldn't eat. It wouldn't sleep. It wouldn't have sex.

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It wouldn't do anything but press this bar.

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So they assumed, well, it must really --

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this must be, you know, the brain's orgasmatron.

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It turned out that it wasn't.

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That is really is a system of motivation, a system of wanting.

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It's a part of the brain that says,

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"I need this to survive."

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It gives objects what's called incentive salience.

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It makes something look so attractive that you just have to go after it.

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That's something different from the system

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that is the pleasure system.

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Which simply says, "I like this.

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This feels good. This sounds good.

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I'm enjoying this. I feel safe. I feel warm. I feel good."

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The pleasure system, as you see,

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which is the internal opiates, there is a hormone oxytocin,

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is widely spread throughout the brain.

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But the dopamine system, the wanting system,

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is much more centralized to this area,

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the pleasure pathway.

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The other thing about positive emotions is that they have a universal signal.

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And we see here the smile.

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And the universal signal is not just raising the corner of the lips

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into the zygomatic major.

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It's also crinkling the outer corner of the eye,

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the orbicularis oculi.

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11:01

And can anyone tell which one is the fake and the real smile

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on top here?

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Yes. Yes, it's B.

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This was originally done by the neurologist Duchenne in the 19th century.

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He had a man who was insensitive to pain.

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He stimulated every muscle on his face.

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He noticed that when he just raised his lips, he was grinning,

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but he didn't look happy.

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And since then people have looked at this expression

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and find that this seems to be the mark of true happiness.

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So you see, even 10-month-old babies, when they see their mother,

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will show this particular kind of smile.

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Extroverts use it more than introverts.

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People who are relieved of depression show it more after than before.

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So if you want to unmask a true look of happiness,

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you will look for this expression.

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I also want to make the point that our pleasures are really ancient.

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And we learn, of course, many many pleasures.

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But many of them are biased. And one of them, of course, is biophilia.

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That we have a response to the natural world

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that's very profound.

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We have a response to human beauty.

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More people in the United States attend zoos

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than they do all of the national sporting events.

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People love to be part of the natural world.

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And this is very much a part of us.

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There were very interesting studies done on people recovering from surgery,

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who found that people who faced --

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this was published in "Science" -- people who faced a brick wall,

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versus people who looked out on trees and nature,

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the people who looked out on the brick wall were in the hospital longer,

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needed more medication, and had more medical complications.

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There is something very restorative about nature,

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and it's part of how we are tuned.

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Now the interesting thing about emotions

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is that they are contagious.

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The shared manifold of subjectivity.

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I put those up there, animal world.

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And humans particularly so. We're very imitative creatures.

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And we imitate from almost the second we are born.

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Here is a three-week-old baby.

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And if you stick your tongue out at this baby,

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the baby will do the same.

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And will open its mouth.

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So most of our pleasures are incredibly social.

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We are social beings from the beginning.

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And even studies of cooperation

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show that cooperation between individuals

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lights up reward centers of the brain.

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One problem that psychology has had

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is instead of looking at this intersubjectivity,

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or the importance of the social brain,

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to humans who come into the world helpless and need each other tremendously,

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is that they focus instead on the self,

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and self-esteem, and not self-other; it's sort of "me," not "we."

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And I think this has been a really tremendous problem.

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It goes against our biology and nature.

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It hasn't made us any happier at all.

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Because when you think about it, people are happiest when in flow,

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when they're absorbed in something out in the world,

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when they're with other people,

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when they're active, engaged in sports, focusing on a loved one,

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learning, having sex, whatever.

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They're not sitting in front of the mirror trying to figure themselves out,

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or thinking about themselves. These are not the periods when you feel happiest.

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And I think the self-esteem movement has

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made it more difficult for people to be happy.

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The other thing is, that a piece of evidence is,

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is if you look at computerized text analysis

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of people who commit suicide,

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what you find there, and it's quite interesting,

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is use of the first person singular,

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"I, me, mine," not "we" and "us."

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And the letters are less hopeless

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than they are really alone.

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And being alone is very unnatural to the human.

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There is a profound need to belong.

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So self-focused attention brings mood down.

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But there are ways in which our evolutionary history can really trip us up.

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Because, for example, the genes don't care whether we're happy.

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They care that we replicate,

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that we pass our genes on.

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They don't care whether we're happy when we do so.

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They'll give the bait of pleasure and lust.

tedtalks 14:38
14:40

So for example we have three systems

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14:43

that underly reproduction, because it's so important.

tedtalks 14:43
14:46

There's lust, which is just wanting to have sex.

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14:48

And that's really mediated by the sex hormones:

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14:51

testosterone, estrogen.

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14:55

Romantic attraction, that gets into the desire system.

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14:58

And that's dopamine-fed. And that's, "I must have this one person."

tedtalks 14:58
15:00

There's attachment, which is oxytocin,

tedtalks 15:00
15:03

and the opiates, which says, "This is a long-term bond."

tedtalks 15:03
15:05

See the problem is that, as humans,

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15:07

these three can separate.

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15:10

So a person can be in a long term attachment,

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15:12

become romantically infatuated with someone else,

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15:14

and want to have sex with a third person,

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15:17

which can cause a lot of human unhappiness.

tedtalks 15:17
15:19

The other way in which our genes can sometimes lead us astray

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15:21

is in social status.

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15:24

We are very acutely aware of our social status,

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15:28

and always seek to further and increase it.

tedtalks 15:28
15:31

Now in the animal world, there is only one way to increase status.

tedtalks 15:31
15:33

And that is dominance. You know, "I seize command

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15:35

by physical prowess.

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15:38

And I keep it by beating my chest, and you make submissive gestures."

tedtalks 15:38
15:41

Now, the human has a whole other way to rise to the top.

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15:45

And that is a prestige route, which is freely conferred.

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15:49

Someone has expertise and knowledge, and knows how to do things.

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15:52

And we give that person status.

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15:55

And that's clearly the way for us to create many more niches of status

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15:58

so that people don't have to be lower on the status hierarchy

tedtalks 15:58
16:01

as they are in the animal world.

tedtalks 16:01
16:04

I'll go through these very quickly. "Can money buy happiness?"

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16:06

is a question that is often asked.

tedtalks 16:06
16:09

And this one says, "Researchers say, you know, I'm not happier for being richer.

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16:11

But you know how much researchers make."

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16:14

(Laughter)

tedtalks 16:14
16:16

Okay. Point well taken.

tedtalks 16:16
16:19

The data isn't terribly supportive of money buying happiness.

tedtalks 16:19
16:21

But it's not irrelevant.

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16:23

So if you look at questions like this,

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16:27

life satisfaction, you see life satisfaction going up with each rung of income.

tedtalks 16:27
16:30

You see mental distress going up with lower income.

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16:32

So clearly there is some effect.

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16:35

But the effect is relatively small

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16:39

compared to other effects on happiness.

tedtalks 16:39
16:42

And one of the problems with money -- is not really the money itself.

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16:44

It's not that money is the root of all evil, remember:

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16:47

It's "Love of money is the root of all evil." It is materialism.

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16:51

And what happens when people pursue money too avidly,

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16:53

is they forget about the real basic pleasures of life.

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16:55

So we have here, this couple.

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16:58

"Do you think the less-fortunate are having better sex?"

tedtalks 16:58
17:00

And then this kid over here is saying, "Leave me alone with my toys."

tedtalks 17:00
17:02

So one of the things is that it really takes over.

tedtalks 17:02
17:05

That whole dopamine, wanting system

tedtalks 17:05
17:08

takes over and derails from any of the pleasure system.

tedtalks 17:08
17:10

Maslow had this idea back in the 1950s,

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17:13

that as people rise above their biological needs,

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17:15

as the world becomes safer,

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17:18

and we don't have to worry about basic needs being met,

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17:21

our biological system -- whatever motivates us -- being satisfied,

tedtalks 17:21
17:24

we can rise above them, to think beyond ourselves,

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17:26

toward self-actualization or transcendence,

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17:28

and rise above the materialist.

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17:31

To just quickly conclude with some brief data

tedtalks 17:31
17:33

that suggests this might be so.

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17:35

One is a kind of anecdotal study

tedtalks 17:35
17:37

on people's shifts.

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17:40

People who underwent what is called a quantum change.

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17:42

They felt their life and their whole values had changed.

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17:45

About 50 people were studied like this.

tedtalks 17:45
17:48

And sure enough, if you look at the kinds of values that come in,

tedtalks 17:48
17:51

You see "wealth, adventure, achievement, pleasure, fun, be respected,"

tedtalks 17:51
17:53

before the change.

tedtalks 17:53
17:57

And much more post-materialist values after.

tedtalks 17:57
17:59

Women had a whole different set of value shifts.

tedtalks 17:59
18:02

But very simply, the only one that survived there was happiness.

tedtalks 18:02
18:05

They went from "attractiveness" and "happiness" and "wealth"

tedtalks 18:05
18:08

and "self control" to "generosity" and "forgiveness".

tedtalks 18:08
18:10

Now, in a world map,

tedtalks 18:10
18:12

Ronald Inglehart at University of Michigan,

tedtalks 18:12
18:16

has looked at value shifts across generations and within countries.

tedtalks 18:16
18:20

And he thinks he finds a great deal of support for Maslow's notion

tedtalks 18:20
18:23

that within countries, and within generations,

tedtalks 18:23
18:25

so that as people grow up in a world

tedtalks 18:25
18:27

without war and with material prosperities,

tedtalks 18:27
18:31

their values shift from wanting a strong military

tedtalks 18:31
18:34

and caring about economic factors

tedtalks 18:34
18:39

to green party, women's liberation, quality of life, happiness ratings.

tedtalks 18:39
18:42

And he sees this shift within a generation.

tedtalks 18:42
18:44

It can change within a country such as our own

tedtalks 18:44
18:46

right now, where there is so much emphasis on war,

tedtalks 18:46
18:49

people pull back to a more materialist point of view.

tedtalks 18:49
18:52

But if you look at the countries on the far right,

tedtalks 18:52
18:57

the self expression, those tend to be the countries with the highest happiness levels.

tedtalks 18:57
19:00

So there is some hope for a post-material world.

tedtalks 19:00
19:02

I end with a few quotes.

tedtalks 19:02
19:04

"There is only one question:

tedtalks 19:04
19:06

How to love this world."

tedtalks 19:06
19:09

And Rilke, "If your daily life seems poor,

tedtalks 19:09
19:11

do not blame it; blame yourself,

tedtalks 19:11
19:13

tell yourself that you are not poet enough

tedtalks 19:13
19:15

to call forth its riches."

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19:18

"First say to yourself what you would be.

tedtalks 19:18
19:20

Then do what you have to do."

tedtalks 19:20
19:22

Thank you. (Applause)