Three words that will change your life | Dr. Mark Holder | TEDxKelowna

Three words that will change your life | Dr. Mark Holder | TEDxKelowna

October 19, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Ta-Fen Hwang
Reviewer: Queenie Lee Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about something
I’m really passionate about: happiness. I lead a research team
at the University of British Columbia that studies the science of happiness. Lead a research team, how arrogant is that? Let me tell you what I really do. What I really do is I work
with really bright undergraduates, graduate students, and professors who do just terrific work
that I shamelessly take credit for. And that’s I am going to do now, just another example of it. And I’ve been doing this
for the last ten years. In the last ten years,
I’ve identified three words. Three words that will change your life
by increasing your happiness. But, like a timeshare talk, (Laughter) you’ve got to wait till the very end
before you get the reward, which is the three words. (Laughter) When I found out
the theme of this talk was “What I want to be when I grow up,” I thought it was
a perfect fit, a lovely fit. Because for most of us
near the top of the list, at the top of the list: we want to be happy. And it reminded me of a story –
a story by John Lennon, a former member of the Beatles. John Lennon said, that when he was a young boy, growing up, his mum said to him, “John, the most important thing in life, the most important thing is to be happy.” So, when John was in grade school, the teacher assigned a task to the class and asked each child a question. And the question was: “What do you want to be
when you grow up?” And John Lennon said,
“I want to be happy!” And the teacher said, “No, John. You don’t understand the question.” And John Lennon said,
“No, you don’t understand life.” (Laughter) And I think that criticism
that John Lennon levelled at his teacher is a criticism that can be levelled at health researchers
and health care practitioners. It can be levelled at people like me. Because we kind of missed out
on what life is about, about happiness. Let me demonstrate that
in the following quote. “Much has been gained if we succeed
in taking your hysterical misery and turning it into common unhappiness.” Really!? I hate this quote. And the reason I dislike this quote
so much is first off: it is wrong. We’ve now measured happiness in thousands and thousands and thousands
of children, adolescents, and adults. We’ve measured happiness in people from Zambia to New Delhi, from Dubai to Western Canada. And what we find,
it’s happiness that’s common, not unhappiness. And the second reason I dislike this quote is because it sets the bar so low for us. It says we are successful
if we take people from the emotional dregs and raise them up
a smidgen to unhappiness. Really? We can do more than that, and we can do better than that. And part of doing more and better are the three words
that can change your life. Well, this is actually a quote
by Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalytic theory, and tells us about the roots of psychology through such a negative lens, and it’s not just the roots of psychology,
it’s current psychology. In my office, I’ve got a dictionary. It’s a great, big, fat dictionary
of all the words psychologists use. So I took that dictionary, and I looked up
the word “depression” in it, and there are 18 different
definitions of depression. We know a lot about depression. So then I looked up “happiness,” 18 definitions of depression, happiness? It wasn’t in it. It’s like it’s not in the vocabulary
of current psychologists, and it’s not just
a criticism of psychology. Psychology, medicine, psychiatry,
and neuroscience, they’ve all traditionally focused on what’s wrong with you
and how do we fix it. They are about deficits,
disease, and dysfunction. And that is a really good thing. It’s a good thing. Because of it, we’ve got new approaches,
and ways of identifying and helping people with mental health
and physical health challenges. It’s a really good thing. I just don’t believe it’s the only thing. And again, we can do more than this, and we can do better than this. And one way of doing more and better
is a newly emerging field of psychology – a field called positive psychology. Positive psychology isn’t about what’s wrong with you
and how do we fix it. Positive psychology is about what’s right with you
and how do we promote it. What’s right with you – what’s right with you is your ability
to love and be loved by others. It’s your kindness. It’s your gratitude. It’s your strength,
your courage, your bravery. It’s about what contributes
to your thriving and flourishing. It’s what makes life worth living and of course, that includes
your happiness. One of the things that the research
in positive psychology has shown us over the last 20 years is there’s no one-size-fits-all
model for happiness. What makes me happy is quite likely
different from what makes you happy. And what makes you happy now is different from what made you happy
ten years ago or 20 years in the future. There’s no single recipe
that will increase your happiness at all times and for all people. But the other thing
positive psychology has taught us is that happy people
share one thing in common. They have strong high quality
personal relationships. It’s really difficult
to find somebody who is happy, who doesn’t have good personal friendships and/or are engaged in a satisfying
romantic relationship. So, who benefits
from these personal relationships? Well, the literature and science is full of examples
of how adults are happier if they have personal relationships. In our own work,
we’ve looked at children, and we find that children are happy if they’ve got friendships
and friends they see regularly. In fact, even imaginary friends help. Children with imaginary
friends are happier. They laugh more; they smile more; they are happier. And it’s not just people
from the general population. We’ve also looked at people
in vulnerable populations. For example, we’ve looked at people
with acquired brain injury, people that have brain damage
from a car accident or from a stroke. And they’re not as happy. Not all of them, some of them stay happy. And those that stay happy
with brain injuries, those that are sort of
buffered or immunized against the deficits
or the problems of a brain injury, are those with high quality
social relationships; they protect them from unhappiness. We’ve looked at people
with emotional processing disorders. One of them is alexithymia. Alexithymia is a disorder where people have difficulty identifying and communicating
the emotions of their own and others. If you were on a date
with somebody with alexithymia, and you said, “How are you feeling?” They would say,
“I’m going to the store later today.” And you go, “It doesn’t seem quite right.” So you say, “What? No, no. I mean inside!
Inside, how are you really feeling?” And they might say,
“Well, I’m a little hungry.” They don’t get the emotional world
and they’re unhappy. And their unhappiness is explained in part
by their poor social relationships. And we look at psychopathy and happiness. Psychopaths are Ted Bundys
of the societies. They’re not nice people. They manipulate. They cheat. They use others. They feel no remorse. They feel no empathy. They use people. And I thought maybe people
that are psychopaths would be really happy. After all, they get what they want. And they don’t feel badly about it,
in terms of using others. On the other hand,
I thought maybe they’re really unhappy. After all, they’ve got really
poor social relationships that are characterized
by manipulating others. Well, it turns out psychopaths
are really unhappy, and their unhappiness is explained
by their poor social relationships. So this is how we normally see it. We see that personal relationships
make us happy. And yes, this is what
the research literature tells us. And it’s the opposite too,
that happiness improves our relationship. So given the tight connection between our personal relationships
and our happiness, we should be looking at happiness
when we’re developing relationships. If you’re courting somebody,
if you’re wooing somebody, if you’re online dating, and you see a profile
of an attractive person, and you go “Wow! Add to cart.” (Laughter) When you do these things,
we need to take into account happiness. So, a survey was done of undergraduates, and they were asked, “What do you look for
in your relationship with a partner, a romantic partner,
a long-lasting enduring romantic partner?” Well, these are undergraduates. So you have to explain it to them. You say – The undergraduates will say,
“A long-term romantic relationship? Do you mean like for the entire weekend?” And that’s not what we really mean here, we mean a long-term relationship where you think about
may be having children with the person, spending the rest of your life with them.” And this is what the undergraduates
would say when they get it: 53% of them say love is important.
32% say companionship is important. 4% recognize romance,
2% recognize financial security, and 1% – just 1% of them say sex. And these results
are important for two reasons. The first thing it shows us is that only 1%
of the undergraduates are honest. (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you. And the second thing
it shows us is we got it wrong. One of the single best predictors
of your happiness is the happiness of your romantic partner. Other people matter. So, I know what you’re thinking right now. I can actually read your minds –
comes with the psychology background. You are thinking: Yeah, relationships and happiness
are well interconnected. And you’re golden. You’re golden because you
have 6,318 Facebook friends. But that’s not what we mean here. It’s the quality of your relationships
that count, not the quantity. Think of the beautiful Scottish saying: You can count the true friends
in your entire lifetime on the fingers of just one hand. And that’s what we’re referring to. 25 years ago, when people were asked: List your friends, the friends you can go to
in case of a serious setback, like you had a mental health illness. Who could you go talk to? 25 years ago, people listed three friends. But now it’s different. Now we have Facebook, we have SnapChat,
now we have Twitter, tweeting, and email. And it has gone, from 25 years ago,
from mere three friends, now it’s gone all the way up
to one and a half friends. We’ve gone in the wrong direction. You know that on Facebook
you post, on Twitter you tweet, and on eHarmony you lie. (Laughter) But I don’t think
it’s too big a stretch for us to recognize that the social platforms
can actually get in the way of our communication
which is essential for relationships, as illustrated here. (Laughter) So, given the importance
of personal relationships, what do we do to nurture them? What has science told us about this? Well, finally … This is where the three words
that will change your life come into play. These three words were developed
in interviews with people with chronic … diabetes. These are hospital patients. The researchers
went to the hospital patients, and by using three simple words, the patients felt much more connected,
much more attached, much more bonded to the interviewers,
just with three simple words. And these three words are “Tell me more.” When you’re in a personal relationship
talking to somebody, and you lean forward,
and you look them in their eye, and you say, “Tell me more,” it means: I’m not going on
to my own story. I’m not interrupting you. Your story is valid.
It means something to me. Tell me more. And it comes from the value of listening. When I ask my undergraduates,
“Why do you listen in a conversation?” They talk about the value to the listener. They say we listen to somebody
to get information. And they’re right. That’s a good reason. But if that’s the only reason you listen, then once you know the information, once you think you know
what the person is going to say, you stop listening and you interrupt. But there’s also value
to the speaker when we listen. When we listen to the speaker, it allows them a chance to express
their thoughts and their feelings. When we listen, it validates the speaker to tell them
that their story is important. When we listen, it gives the speaker a chance
to find their solutions just by talking. When we listen, it allows us to celebrate
the success of the speaker and allows us to console them
if they’ve had setbacks. Tell me more. Tell me more is a way that you can
give the speaker all that value. And there are three bonus words. It’s a good thing
you’re here this afternoon because we can’t do this deal all day. (Laughter) There are three additional words
that they used. What happened next? It’s served the same purpose
validating the speaker. Tell me more. What happened next? Two phrases, each with three simple words. Three simple words
that will change your life. It’ll change your life
by improving your personal relationships. It will change your life
by making you happier. Three simple words. “Tell me more” and “What happened next?” are three simple words that you can use to improve
your relationship with strangers, people who just aren’t friends yet. To improve your relationship
with your children, with your co-workers, with your family,
with your loved ones, with your friends. Three simple words that will improve your relationships,
increase your happiness. Three simple words you can do right now. So that you can do more, and you can do better. Thanks so much! (Applause)