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Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener: Can Money Buy Happiness?

Guest Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener | January 30, 2019

Summary and Full Episode

As technology continues to change how we live, are we any better off? Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener researches happiness across the globe and finds that people in industrialized nations are happier now than ever before. In this episode, he and host Bill Coppel – Managing Director and Chief Client Growth Officer at First Clearing – discuss the opportunity financial advisors have to help clients discover what’s truly important to them.

Transcript

Host
Bill Coppel, Managing Director and Chief Client Growth Officer at First Clearing
Guest(s)
Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener

BILL COPPEL: Hi. This is Bill Coppel, and welcome to this episode of The Next Frontier. Today, we’re living in a world anchored by what I believe are two realities, perpetual uncertainty and accelerating change. In fact, we’ve experienced more change, I’d say profound change, in the past 75 years than perhaps in any other time in human history. And all this change, in large part, has been the product of rapid technological advancement, most of which has occurred since Y2K. And with that, people’s sentiments and expectations have been altered, perhaps permanently. Think about it. We don’t need to remember phone numbers or addresses. No need to get directions. Everything from managing one’s investments to shopping, tracking your health, hitching a ride, finding an answer, entertainment, communicating, dating, and advice on just about anything, there’s an app on your smartphone. So the question is, with all this technology, are we better off? Said another way, are we happier?

BILL COPPEL: Our guest today is here to help answer that question and I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener. A little bit about Robert’s background. He’s a leading expert in the field of positive psychology, sometimes referred to as the psychology of happiness. He is known as the Indiana Jones in the field of positive psych because his research on happiness has taken him to such far-flung destinations as Greenland and Kenya to Israel and India and many stops in between. He has conducted research across a diverse socioeconomic spectrum, from living materially simple lives like Amish farmers and homeless people to the very affluent. Robert travels the globe teaching and training professionals from many different industries, including financial services, in positive psychology techniques. He is also the author of numerous books, including Upside of your Dark Side, and Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. I think our listeners can learn a lot from Robert’s work, and I’m excited to get his thoughts on how we might think differently about how we interact with and care for clients in answering the question I stated earlier. Are we better off today with all this technology? Are we happier? Robert, thank you for joining us on The Next Frontier.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

BILL COPPEL: Let me start, Robert, by sharing an observation. In contemporary American culture, we find ourselves spending a lot of time doing, not being. We tend to be in constant motion, moving quickly, focused on action at the expense of, say, self-reflection and deliberation. This constant motion, coupled with the endless access to information served up 24 by 7, can leave many people feeling depleted, distracted, and at odds with their highest life priorities. I ran across some stats from 2017 from the American Institute on Stress, and, basically, they found that 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. With that as a backdrop, given that the services that are traditionally provided by advisors are being threatened by digital, for example, investment and management today is maybe better served leveraging, say algorithms and artificial intelligence coupled with data analytics than the traditional methods. The question, is it time we rethink the role of advisor plays in the lives of the clients and families they serve? Perhaps advisors need to expand their scope of what they do to include cultivating their clients’ well-being, said another way, helping clients and families achieve sustainable happiness, or in your words, Robert, a sense of wholeness. With that as a backdrop, what do you believe is the current state of happiness in our culture?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: What a great and big opening volley of a question. The current state of happiness, as you might imagine, is going to be very diverse. You can’t just put your finger on the button and say, “Happiness is exactly 0.25% better across the board.” What you find is that people experience a surprisingly high amount of happiness. And it might be surprising if you open a newspaper or download digital news because it might seem like the world is falling apart, mostly because most of the news reported is bad news. So, yes, the world is full of strife and inequality, violence and so forth. But that being said, the world also enjoys greater social equality than at any time in the history of the world. People live longer and enjoy better health, generally far better access to health care than they have throughout history. They have more free time, more recreational opportunities and so forth. And this is, of course, especially true in Western and industrialized nations. So overall, you find that most people report feeling mildly happy. That’s not that all people are happy or that people are completely euphoric. But if you just take yourself as an N of one, just an example, you can understand that, sure, you get upset about not having a parking spot or getting a parking ticket or any number of small hassles. You get a cavity and have to go to the dentist. But despite these small anxieties and drawbacks and irritations of daily life, mostly, you probably like your family. You like your recreation. You find some elements of your work meaningful. And in Western and industrialized countries, this tends to be the case, that people are faring reasonably well.

Intro Welcome to The Next Frontier, where we examine what the role of the financial advisor will be in a world that’s being disrupted by artificial intelligence and algorithms. Our mission is to spark new conversations that create stronger connections and build greater client confidence. Join us as we look at our industry and others through a new lens and explore the opportunities emerging at the intersection of high tech and high touch. It’s time for a new conversation. Are you ready?

BILL COPPEL: Hi. This is Bill Coppel, and welcome to this episode of The Next Frontier. Today, we’re living in a world anchored by what I believe are two realities, perpetual uncertainty and accelerating change. In fact, we’ve experienced more change, I’d say profound change, in the past 75 years than perhaps in any other time in human history. And all this change, in large part, has been the product of rapid technological advancement, most of which has occurred since Y2K. And with that, people’s sentiments and expectations have been altered, perhaps permanently. Think about it. We don’t need to remember phone numbers or addresses. No need to get directions. Everything from managing one’s investments to shopping, tracking your health, hitching a ride, finding an answer, entertainment, communicating, dating, and advice on just about anything, there’s an app on your smartphone. So the question is, with all this technology, are we better off? Said another way, are we happier?

BILL COPPEL: Our guest today is here to help answer that question and I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener. A little bit about Robert’s background. He’s a leading expert in the field of positive psychology, sometimes referred to as the psychology of happiness. He is known as the Indiana Jones in the field of positive psych because his research on happiness has taken him to such far-flung destinations as Greenland and Kenya to Israel and India and many stops in between. He has conducted research across a diverse socioeconomic spectrum, from living materially simple lives like Amish farmers and homeless people to the very affluent. Robert travels the globe teaching and training professionals from many different industries, including financial services, in positive psychology techniques. He is also the author of numerous books, including Upside of your Dark Side, and Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. I think our listeners can learn a lot from Robert’s work, and I’m excited to get his thoughts on how we might think differently about how we interact with and care for clients in answering the question I stated earlier. Are we better off today with all this technology? Are we happier? Robert, thank you for joining us on The Next Frontier.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

BILL COPPEL: Let me start, Robert, by sharing an observation. In contemporary American culture, we find ourselves spending a lot of time doing, not being. We tend to be in constant motion, moving quickly, focused on action at the expense of, say, self-reflection and deliberation. This constant motion, coupled with the endless access to information served up 24 by 7, can leave many people feeling depleted, distracted, and at odds with their highest life priorities. I ran across some stats from 2017 from the American Institute on Stress, and, basically, they found that 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. With that as a backdrop, given that the services that are traditionally provided by advisors are being threatened by digital, for example, investment and management today is maybe better served leveraging, say algorithms and artificial intelligence coupled with data analytics than the traditional methods. The question, is it time we rethink the role of advisor plays in the lives of the clients and families they serve? Perhaps advisors need to expand their scope of what they do to include cultivating their clients’ well-being, said another way, helping clients and families achieve sustainable happiness, or in your words, Robert, a sense of wholeness. With that as a backdrop, what do you believe is the current state of happiness in our culture?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: What a great and big opening volley of a question. The current state of happiness, as you might imagine, is going to be very diverse. You can’t just put your finger on the button and say, “Happiness is exactly 0.25% better across the board.” What you find is that people experience a surprisingly high amount of happiness. And it might be surprising if you open a newspaper or download digital news because it might seem like the world is falling apart, mostly because most of the news reported is bad news. So, yes, the world is full of strife and inequality, violence and so forth. But that being said, the world also enjoys greater social equality than at any time in the history of the world. People live longer and enjoy better health, generally far better access to health care than they have throughout history. They have more free time, more recreational opportunities and so forth. And this is, of course, especially true in Western and industrialized nations. So overall, you find that most people report feeling mildly happy. That’s not that all people are happy or that people are completely euphoric. But if you just take yourself as an N of one, just an example, you can understand that, sure, you get upset about not having a parking spot or getting a parking ticket or any number of small hassles. You get a cavity and have to go to the dentist. But despite these small anxieties and drawbacks and irritations of daily life, mostly, you probably like your family. You like your recreation. You find some elements of your work meaningful. And in Western and industrialized countries, this tends to be the case, that people are faring reasonably well.

BILL COPPEL: Let me follow on with that by exploring a little bit about the heart of your research. I think a lot of this was connected to your work in obtaining your PhD And you looked at this notion of material wealth and subjective well-being. Can you share with us what you learned about what you found in your research on material wealth and happiness and the connection there?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Yeah. So one of my very original questions that– I just felt like I heard so many opinions that sort of fell on both sides of the question, and that is, are the poor happy? Or people who don’t have Harry Potter and Dyson vacuum cleaners and lots of fancy gadgets, are they happy? And I was looking, in particular, at visiting some of the poorest people in the world, such as people who live on the sidewalks in Calcutta, India and places like that. And before I left on my very first data gathering trip, some of my friends would say, “You know they’re not happy,” that there’s just no way that people that live in that kind of impoverished condition could be happy. And then there was exactly the opposite sentiment from another group of friends who said, “You know, they’re the happiest people in the world,” in this sort of romanticized view of they don’t have to pay their bills, and they don’t have to pay taxes, and so they’re just these sort of free-loving, socially connected people. And all I could think is, “Well, no one’s ever actually just gone and asked them.” We all have opinions, but let’s just go talk to them. And I found out, at least in the case of people who are homeless living in Calcutta, that it was a mixed bag. They experience a ton of stress and especially show dissatisfaction around their housing and their income. They report they would not want their kids to have the same station in life as them and, in fact, they worry about their kids a lot. They don’t want their kids to grow up in poverty.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: That being said, that’s not the whole picture. Their kids play organized soccer. They have religious festivals. They experience very high social satisfaction, so they enjoy sitting around and gossiping and playing cards, chatting with each other, just the kind of stuff that would seem very familiar to us. In fact, one woman I interviewed, one of my favorite questions is, what did you do yesterday? And she said, “Oh, I went to see a movie.” And this is one of the poorest people in the entire world, and I just couldn’t believe that she had gone to the cinema. And I said, “Wow. What did you see?” and she said, “I don’t know. I just took a little bit of money that my husband had stashed away, and my friend and I went for the air conditioning because it was really, really hot yesterday. And the cinema is air-conditioned, so we just sat in there and sort of talked to one another.” So it’s not to say that people who live a materially simple life are going to only experience that in terms of deprivation. Rather, it seems that the better your relationships are, the better your happiness is, and that could be just as true of someone that doesn’t have material luxuries just as it is of someone that does have material luxuries.

BILL COPPEL: In a sense, you’re kind of striking this balance, right? This notion of, or the misunderstanding perhaps, that money buys happiness, the old adage, in this particular case, what you’re saying, that’s not necessarily the case. In this case, the currency of happiness, as you just explained it, was a very strong relationship. In your opinion, based on your research, what do you think matters most when it comes to this balance between money and material possessions and, essentially, happiness?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: It’s a great question and there’s a bunch of ways to answer it because money buys a little bit of happiness, especially at the national level. If you live in, are born in, or move to a wealthy country, your happiness benefits. In fact, people who migrate from poor countries to rich countries become happier and that’s because richer countries have, in general, more non-corrupt police forces, more equality, more economic opportunity, better green spaces, better infrastructure, and things that just translate to a little bit of livability. That doesn’t guarantee happiness for every individual citizen, of course, so you can’t really say all we need to focus on is money. And, in fact, money just becomes one very, very small slice of the overall pie, and it is relationships that is the much larger slice of the pie. But when we look at the happiest people and the least happy people, the thing that seems to separate and qualify those distinct groups is that the happiest people reliably have high-quality social relationships, people they trust, they can turn to for support, they can have fun with, they share values with, and so forth.

BILL COPPEL: That’s interesting. One of the things that we’ve discovered here on The Next Frontier, and supports what your observations have been or at least are, I should say, confirmed by your observations, is that we find that there’s really two things that seem to matter consistently, regardless of your socioeconomic profile. Whether you’re wealthy or not, life experiences and relationships play a major role. If you look at the work, at the Harvard longevity study, some of the work Ryan Howell’s done over at San Francisco State University you’re probably familiar with, and that correlation between material possessions and happiness, and the fact that we tend to be happier with experiences because, over time, they enrich, as opposed to your $80,000 car, which will eventually rust out. What’s your research found around these kinds of observations?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Yeah. Well, I would certainly agree with Ryan, who’s someone who I know and respect quite a bit. I think that when you look at experiential versus material purchases, we have a tendency to adapt to new situations. So if your purchase is material, if you buy a new pair of shoes and they’re 150 bucks, then you just feel the bee’s knees when you put them on and you strut around town the first day you have them. There is that sort initial sort of jolt of maybe temporary happiness that you get. But, by and large, you adapt to those shoes very quickly. In fact, I would say to all of your listeners right this second, if you’re wearing a pair of shoes, my guess is that you put them on today without thinking anything about them, that you weren’t like, “Hey, these shoes are awesome.” But the day you bought them, you probably did think that. But you probably haven’t thought that in weeks or months or, in some cases, years. Now, experiences are different because, well, you could adapt to an experience if an experience is novel. If you go horseback riding, for example, or you go out to an anniversary dinner, or you go see a particularly powerful or evocative film, those are things that you can actually play back in memory, and you’re more likely to. So when you get together with your friends, you’re going to kind of tell war stories about the good times of long ago. And when you drag those memories up, you can feel the exact same happiness that you felt at the time of the experience. But you typically don’t do that around dragging up the memory of the great time that you bought that pair of shoes and how that pair of shoes felt. So experiences really do seem to yield a much greater happiness dividend.

BILL COPPEL: Thank you. That’s helpful. And it really leads me to my next question, which is around this notion of advisors themselves. All of us as individuals, we tend to think of ourselves as unique from the clients we serve. But in fact, we oftentimes resemble the profile of the clients we serve. So is it important for advisors to measure their own psychological wealth before they can help clients realize their psychological wealth?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: I think it certainly can be helpful. And, in fact, I would say not just advisors, but everyone could benefit from a bit of personal reflection about their own well-being. That is, if you think of your life– again, I’ll use a pie metaphor with distinct types of slices. So you’ve got your health, maybe your fitness as part of that. Your sleep habits are part of that. You’ve got your social life. You’ve got your work life. And maybe your income or your commute or the tasks of your job or your supervisor are all kind of fillings in that piece of the pie. You’ve got all these different areas that are important to you in life. And at any given time, you may not be faring the best in one or another area. But it can be very helpful for you to track that over time. Am I mostly feeling good? Am I feeling good in a variety of areas? Do I consistently feel stress in one area or another area? And simply by tracking this, you start paying more attention to what is going well in your life, not just what’s going wrong in your life. And it also can yield insight into trends, like, “Oh, I notice that every summer I experience less stress at work,” for example, or a better primary romantic relationship. “Maybe it’s because I’m working less hard,” or something like that. And I think when you start putting your finger on the pulse of your happiness over time and across areas, then you’re better able to make decisions that could beneficially impact your happiness.

BILL COPPEL: In your book entitled Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, you mention the fact that there are ways to measure happiness. How do you do that?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s one of the most common questions we get, especially from people who are skeptical that this abstract phenomenon is essentially immeasurable. But, of course, that’s what psychologists do for a living, and we measure personality. We measure intelligence. And so I would hold out to even your most skeptical listeners that they themselves are engaged in a daily way in measuring happiness. So when you come home, and maybe you have a partner at home waiting for you, and you say to him or her, “Hey, how was your day?” you’re essentially asking for their opinion about the quality of their life, the quality of their day. And when they give you the answer, you don’t say to them, “Well, I’d like to believe you, but that’s only self-report. So I don’t think we can trust your answer.” So, really, what we do as psychologists is exact the same thing. We just kind of say, “Hi, how happy are you? How happy was your day today? How happy was last year for you?” And we ask these questions in a variety of different ways, and they’re often self-report questions, that is, the person is just answering for themselves. And we generally think that people have a reasonable idea of whether they’re happy or not.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Sure, there might be sometimes that they don’t or that they might be inclined to lie, but that’s not most people most of the time. And in cases that we want to kind of double check the answer, we can sometimes go to your friends or family members, people who know you well, and we can ask them about your happiness. So we can kind of triangulate and double check your own answers. We also ask people about their memories – how many positive or negative memories from yesterday or from last week can you come up with in the next 30 seconds? – with the idea that people who are sort of dispositionally happy are going to be able to call forth more positive memories quickly because that’s the type of stuff they’re thinking about, and that’s what’s at the top of their mind. So we use a variety of different questionnaires both to the target individual and to their peers, people who know them well. And they are imperfect measures of happiness, but we think that they are reasonable and reasonably accurate measures of happiness.

BILL COPPEL: And it seems to me, Robert, that those questions that you just shared with our audience, our listeners, really begin to also not only measure potentially someone’s outlook or happiness, but it also reveals a lot about the individual and their life and what’s important to them. And I like the way you position those questions. Are those questions, say, a financial advisor might begin to work into the conversations as they change the conversations they’re having with clients today to better get to know them? Certainly, they can get a sense of how happy they are. But also, my guess is, it reveals a lot about the people they’re dealing with.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Absolutely. And I don’t think that it should feel too far afield for what many advisors have done in the past. It will be familiar to your listeners that some people are prone to risk and some people are highly risk-averse. And I think that it has long been sort of standard practice in financial services to offer someone a questionnaire about how risk-averse or risk-prone are you, how comfortable are you with high-risk investment, those types of things. And when you do that, you are essentially playing psychologist. You are asking them about their own personality, about their own psychological nature. And I think the exact same is true of asking them, “What makes you happy? Which relationships do you care about? Which relationships would you like to invest in? What do you do each day? How do you spend your day?” Investing for someone whose hobby is private aircraft is going to be a whole lot different from someone who all they care about is providing a college education for their kids and grandkids.

BILL COPPEL: What’s interesting, I find, is, yes, I agree. There’s that parallel. But what you’ve done, which I think is unique and I would suggest to our listeners to note this, is that you’re asking the same question in a variety of different ways to what, I guess, is to help better confirm what’s important. And I think that’s what’s different. We tend to see– we have a tendency to get a legal pad and just jot down the first thing that comes out of someone’s mouth. But you’re going back in a early part of this particular question, and you’ve asked that question about happiness in a variety of different ways. How important is that?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: I think it’s very important because happiness is not a singular monolithic phenomenon. It has different elements and angles. It’s going to change a little bit from day to day. If I ask you to tell me, “How happy were you last year?” you’re only to focus on or pick out the biggest events from the year. “Oh, my daughter got married,” or, “Oh, my son went away to college,” and so last year seemed like a pretty good year. You’re not going to say, “Oh, I got a parking ticket on April 3rd.” You’re not even going to remember that at all. But if I ask you a different length of time like, “How happy were you yesterday?” suddenly, that parking ticket that you got yesterday might factor in in a much heavier way. So asking those types of questions using different time frames, focusing on different areas of life, your marriage, your education, your work, your commute, really do yield different types of answers.

BILL COPPEL: I think that’s really powerful. In fact, if you think about just the notion of how was your day at work, and you ask that question on some kind of an interval basis, you begin to gather information because that leads up to when is enough enough? When do I need to transition? And one day, it could be 10 years. 3 months later, it could feel like 5 years. And I think that’s such an abstract question. We ask clients all the time, “When do you want to retire?” I don’t know that we, as human beings, actually can pinpoint a time. And as advisors, we say, “It’d be great if you could let me know the month, the day, and the approximate time so I can arrange your investments to create a paycheck that’ll fit that point in time,” and it may be 10 years off.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Absolutely.

BILL COPPEL: One of the other things I want to mention before I leave of the Happiness book is you talk about this notion relative to psychological wealth and understanding it is having a balanced portfolio. Can you talk a little bit about that notion of a balanced portfolio in the context of happiness?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Absolutely. And that’s what I was referring to before when I used sort of the pie metaphor. But you can think of your overall well-being as including whatever amount of health you have, whatever amount of positive social relationships you have, whatever amount of positive outlook you have – that might just be your cheerfulness or your optimism – whatever amount of money you have or financial security you have, investment, retirement, whatever goes into that particular bucket of goods. And, really, when you think about your true psychological wealth, it’s going to be all of those things. And I think that’s important because if you hit a recession, an economic recession, and your investment or your financial wealth goes down, you still, potentially, could have high social satisfaction, high health satisfaction. And if you start looking at your overall well-being, that a hit in any one area, a hit to your health, or a hit to your pocketbook, or a hit to your marriage, or whatever it is, doesn’t necessarily mean that the sky is falling. It just gives people a more robust, more diversified, if you will, way to look at their overall well-being.

BILL COPPEL: I want to change gears a bit, and I want to go to your latest book – I believe it’s your latest book – The Upside of Your Dark Side, which I found fascinating because it explores this notion of happiness or wholeness as, I believe, you say in the book in a very different way. You talk about emotional agility as the ability to access our full range of emotions, not just the good ones. How can we use emotional agility to respond effectively to whatever situations we may encounter in our personal or professional lives?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: It’s a great question. In part, my desire to write the book came out of the positive psychology movement, and if you have picked up a newspaper, digital or otherwise, in the last 10 years, you’ve probably seen an article about happiness. There is a huge push in popular media to be happy, to attend to happiness. We have the science of happiness. And what I’ve found is that many people I talk to feel this is almost a moral burden, that they feel the obligation, culturally, to be happy and that anything short of some kind of perfect happiness is some type of cultural failure. I’ve had people say to me things like, “My pet died this morning. How can I be happy?” And all I can think is, “Well, you shouldn’t be happy. Grieving is a completely legitimate and normal response to the death of someone or to a pet that you love, certainly. I think you should probably be sad.” And so, really, the thesis of the book is that all of our emotions are useful to us. They act like a radar system, like a tracking system that kind of gives you a mental thumbs-up or thumbs-down about your daily life.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: People are so wary of emotions, that emotions are going to lead us astray, or that they’re going to overwhelm us, or that we’ll get stuck in these negative emotional states. But that’s not really what emotions are or how they work. They’re just kind of telling you, “Hey, you feel afraid because you think someone’s out to get you.” Perhaps they’re attacking your values or your loved ones or your property, or you feel angry because of that. You feel guilty because you have just tripped over your own moral compass and have kind of gone astray. And those are really helpful signals to us because, in the case of guilt, for example, it doesn’t mean you should just wallow. Guilt is kind of encouraging you to make a course correction. Like, “Hey, quit embezzling from work,” or, “Quit having that affair [laughter],” or quit doing whatever it is that’s making you feel guilty. And anger’s kind of preparing you for action. It’s kind of preparing you to stick up for, champion the person that you feel is under attack, or your values, or whatever it is.

BILL COPPEL: Seems to me that all of these things you are talking about could fall under the scope of an observant advisor and monitoring these emotional changes and helping understand more about the client, which leads me to a question around mindfulness. Recently, we had our friend, Dr. Ellen Langer, on the podcast, and she was talking to us about mindfulness or, in fact, the lack thereof. And in fact, in your book, The Upside, you also mention the parallel with being mindful. You state, “We are often unhappy because we tend to exaggerate how positively we feel in response to positive events and underestimate our capacity to tolerate the stress. When it comes to how we’re going to feel in the future, we most often guess wrong,” as you state. Is simply being mindful of the present, perhaps the secret to happiness?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: I certainly think that mindfulness, and I would guess that Ellen would agree with this, is a mechanism that can really boost happiness, but I don’t know that it is the single secret to happiness. One of the things in considering mindfulness and the ability to tolerate negative emotions that was just shocking to me was I started reflecting on my own parenting. I have two adult children, but when I was writing this book, I had a teenager living at home. And I would notice that sometimes he would mope around in the evening if he were disappointed or bored or frustrated. There was a time that we were going to do something recreational if he got his homework done. He didn’t. And then he was very disappointed, and he was sort of morose around the house. Now, I think, 10 years ago, I would’ve parented like most people. I would’ve said, “Oh, it’s okay. Don’t worry because we’ll go do something extra fun this weekend,” or, “We’ll go do the recreation for twice as long tomorrow,” something like that. But, essentially, when you do that, what you’re saying is, “Don’t feel the very legitimate, emotional reaction that you’re feeling right now. It’s terribly inconvenient for me, your parent, and it’s difficult for me to see you have a negative emotional experience.” And I don’t think we need to do that. And, in fact, I think it can be harmful because I think that what you get is you steer someone away from feeling a very legitimate emotion, and then, they get out of practice with tolerating those emotions so that anytime they experience boredom or frustration, it feels overwhelming to them or intolerable.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: So instead, what I started doing is just saying, “Oh, you’re disappointed. That’s exactly how you should be feeling. And guess what? You can totally tolerate disappointment. That is not going to kill you. You can easily tolerate an entire evening of disappointment or boredom. It’s not pleasant, but you can do it.” And I think it becomes like going to the gym. When you start flexing those muscles around tolerating negative emotions and just kind of being mindful – this is what I’m experiencing; I don’t need to change it; I don’t need to judge it; I just am bored or am frustrated or am irritated – then I think that you build the capacity for tolerating it, and I think that that makes life much, much easier to live.

BILL COPPEL: I think that’s very powerful words of wisdom, Robert, because, in addition to children, I think there’s a lot of us adults that are walking around with that same issue. In fact, it reminds me [laughter] of when I was a kid. I guess the way our parents handled it was, “If you’re bored, go out and play,” which, essentially, is what you’re saying, which is, “It’s okay. You’ll get through it. Find something to keep you going.” I’ve got one more question before we get to our final question, and this has to do with this notion of correlation with wealth and well-being. And you say even if you don’t have billions of dollars, but you love your life, you can still be happy. Financial advisors often run into situations with clients that have not been fortunate enough to save adequately, let’s say, for the next stage of life. I believe that, perhaps, what we’re not very good at is helping clients discover, separate from the amount they have, to things that are really, deeply important to them and learning to live in that kind of a scope. And I’m not talking about destitution, but what I’m saying is that we transition in life often, and we need to, in some cases, adjust how we look at life and how we derive happiness. What can you say about that and help advisors have those kinds of conversations where there’s nothing the advisor can do to increase the amount of money someone has? But I’m sure there are things they can do to help clients better prepare psychologically, or address their psychological wealth, if you will, to live with that kind of a situation.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Well, certainly. One good thing to know about is the human capacity to adapt to new circumstances, right? You get married, and you’re overjoyed, and you don’t just stay overjoyed forever. You kind of get used to being married. Or you wreck your car, and you don’t replace it, and it’s difficult at first not to have a car, but then you just adapt to it, and now you know how to get around without a car. That’s a really wonderful, I think, sense of psychological security because it means if you lost the privilege of home ownership and you ended up being a renter, you’re going to adapt to that. You’re going to do just fine. But one place that I think might be particularly worth considering for financial advisors is just in the answer to this question. Describe your perfect day? And if you do this for yourself or you have your clients do this, I would guess that almost everyone, when they describe their perfect day, talk about very simple, fun recreational opportunities with their loved ones or their closest group of friends. I think very few people are going to say, “Well, it starts by flying business class to the Eiffel Tower and having an expensive restaurant in Paris.” Even though those are fun and worthwhile activities, I think people’s perfect day are far more modest. I think it’s a barbecue at the park with their family. Things that don’t cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. And I think that’s a really important reminder for most of us.

BILL COPPEL: Back to the value of relationships and life experiences. Let me end with my signature question that I ask all of our guests. What’s the one thing you would like to leave our listeners with to help them deepen their relationships with their clients and expand the value that they create for them?

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: I think the ability to listen is, I wouldn’t say, a forgotten art or a lost art in modern society, but, certainly, when we feel the tug of the smartphone on our attention 500 times a day, the ability to simply ask a question and then shut up and truly respond or take in the answer without just logging the next question in your head or already think you know where the client’s going but actually just to sit and kind of recognize, “Wow, this is a real struggle for you.” I think that there is a huge benefit of social connection and of that’s your sense of being felt or being heard in that, and I think that that’s really, really helpful in professional relationships.

BILL COPPEL: Thank you. Robert, let me thank you very, very much for your time today and sharing your insights with our listeners. I know I took a lot away, particularly with the story you shared about child rearing. In fact, I’m raising an 11- and 14-year-old, and I can only tell you that I will take home what you said today very seriously because I think that we tend to make that mistake all the time. Again, thank you for joining us. It’s really been a pleasure to have you with us.

ROBERT BISWAS-DIENER: Thank you so much. I had a great time.

BILL COPPEL: All right, folks. Until next time, be well.

Outro This content is provided for general informational purposes only. The views expressed by nonaffiliated guest speakers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of First Clearing or its affiliates. First Clearing and its affiliates do not endorse any guest speakers or their companies and therefore give no assurances as to the quality of their products and services. This channel is not monitored by First Clearing. For more information on our podcast visit firstclearing.com. First Clearing is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC, member SIPC, a registered broker-dealer, a nonbank affiliate of Wells Fargo and Company. Copyright 2018. Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC. All rights reserved. First Clearing provides correspondence services to broker-dealers and does not provide services to the general public.

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It seems that the better your relationships are, the better your happiness is.

Robert Biswas-Diener

About The Guest

Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener is known as the Indiana Jones of positive psychology, having traveled the world to research happiness across a diverse socioeconomic and geographic spectrum. He trains professionals from a variety of industries in positive psychology techniques and is a leading expert in measuring happiness. Robert has written numerous books, including Upside of Your Dark Side, and Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

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