← Back to episodes

How to be happy

Stephen Dargan can remember being seven, riding his bike in the sun as the seasons changed from spring into summer, and knowing that he was happy. Since then, he’s tried to bottle that feeling and kept being nourished by it.

Stephen works with teams and organisations to help them build happier working environments. He’s the host of the Wow @ Work podcast, that explores the way the world of work is transforming. Stephen has a wealth of knowledge about how humans can be happier, merging joy and purpose to empower us to do our best work and live a fulfilling life.

Links

Let’s keep in touch

Occasional updates about new webinars, courses, and other things we create to make your podcasting life easier.

Transcript

00:00:00Stephen
I just thought about it. I can remember no one's phone number. So anyone said, ring such and such. I said, I can't. But you've known them for 35 years. Yeah, I don't know the number.
00:00:11Mark
You're listening to Ear Brain Heart, an experiment in showing up. I'm Mark Steadman, a curious individual who's always on the lookout for things to fill his brain that can make him happier, healthier, and more productive. Helping me with all of this today is Stephen Dargan. Stephen helps create organizations that light people up. He's dedicated to creating happier workplaces, working on balancing joy with purpose.
00:00:37
There's so much to get into this conversation, but it all begins with me trying to understand just where Stephen's innate sense of happiness comes from.
00:00:49Stephen
I think what happened was that when I was younger, I was so happy as a child. Um, uh, home life was lovely. Parents were lovely to where I lived was absolutely just really nice lots of stuff going on in the community where I lived. It was an organic community that when my parents had moved to the estate that we moved to, everybody had pretty much moved to the estate at the time. So everybody was new families, so the kids grew up the same time. Um, the Scout association was started at the same time as the youth club was started at the same time as the football team was started at the same time. And I was there for that, and it was just brilliant and all the parents were very involved.
00:01:24
There is a moment when I go back to when I'm actually at the front door of my house and I must be about Easter to summertime. Because the sun is shining, it felt warm. I could see the sun in the sky, and I could see the color of the door and I could see my mother standing at the door and I'm on my little bicycle and I must have been about six or seven at the time. And I just went just life feels pretty damn good at this moment in time. And it's almost like I, I bottled that and I reference it and go back to it.
00:01:49
So I'm thinking like, if I felt that then like, how can I get more of that for the rest of my life? And I've had long periods of being very content, and very excited about life. And I suppose, I'm not somebody who has a story about going to really difficult situation coming out and finding happiness in it. I haven't had that. I've just got through life, um, and quite happily got through life. I just get energized by things like, I dunno, sunrises, sunsets and music in particular and travel, and just experiences and people and smells.
00:02:21Mark
So I remember this from the film Dogma, which as a, as a late teenager, I was a big fan of cuz it's, I mean, that's who Kevin Smith made, made films for. With people in their late teens and early twenties. Um, and there was the idea about, uh, religion being like a glass, or I think it was like religion being the water inside of glass. And, uh, as you age, the glass gets bigger and the same amount of liquid, you know, be it faith, be it religion, the same amount liquid doesn't fill the glass anymore. Does your capacity for happiness change as you get older, and the same amount of liquid that we had as a kid?
00:03:02
I have one specific memory of being, I dunno how old I was, but just being on someone's driveway, one of these sort of fairly big driveways in this cul-de-sac that we lived in years ago, and there was like three, three or four of us just on bikes and just going round and round and round this driveway. And just even then I'd registered in my mind, this is awesome. I'm having a lovely time. I I'd recently had a holiday, which I'd really enjoyed, but there was just something about this just is going round in a circle and just laughing and just like, I have that memory of like, this is brilliant. Does the same amount of joy fill our glasses or do our glasses get bigger? What do you think?,
00:03:44Stephen
I think something happens, maybe, um, the state of being a child, we get, we enter a state called flow a lot more, um, readily as a child. So creativity, arts, just being in the present. So children are very rarely future based, you know, especially when we're up to about the age, age or nine. And I, I just remember at the age of, I think it was 10 or 11 in school when suddenly school felt a bit more serious for the very first time.
00:04:08
So I do remember up to that point of about 10, where school was just play or joy, uh, and there was never any stress of coming home, worrying about homework or learning in particular, um, subject, but then it just seemed to get more serious about 10 or 11.
00:04:22
As we get older, then we're told to, you know, I suppose we're told to act more like an adult act more grown up, stop being childish, and all the things that make life joyful is, is, is sort of, sort of semi knocked out of us, or we're told not to experience it. So there's less chance for that, uh, I think later in life, cause responsibility of bills, place to live, the, the pressures of work, the pressures of life in general. But I don't think there's no stats to go to prove that there's, there is the happiest sphere in life. And I, I like, I always think about.
00:04:53
I was watching a small documentary a couple of weeks ago, and it was, um, these people from the UK that were over a hundred years old. So they were all born before the year 1916. So it was shot in 2016. It was so they were about 104. Some of them were born, you know, before the first world war had started. And I just thought there was something really interesting how a woman of 104 in particular, she was talking about this and she was going, I've just had the most wonderful life. And, uh, she said, life's just been absolutely brilliant. I'm so happy. I met a beautiful man. We got married. Sadly he passed away when he was 70. So I said like, he's gone 34 years. And then she started talking about, and I, and I had wonderful kids. And then I began to realize, as I listened to her, when she says I had wonderful kids, it sounds like most of her kids were gone too as well. And yet she was sitting in this sort of balmy happiness and, and contentment within life and said, I've just got all these wonderful memories.
00:05:47Mark
I'm really taken by the, the future thing of it. And, and, and what you said about kids not having that sort of future sense as they get older, they're not worried about much more than dinner time. Um, and when they've gotta come in or whatever. And that makes me wonder how much plays into our ability to enjoy things in the moment. And it's one of the things I feel like it's something that is, is advice that is given often is to be able to live in the moment and to just think about the present and it's, um, I feel like that's, that's come up a lot with the Oliver Bachmann book, 4,000 Weeks. like as, as a happy person, as I guess you are, do you, is the future something that you are cognizant of? Obviously you are aware of? It's a thing, but yeah. Do think that's a part of it?
00:06:35Stephen
See things like, like the 4,000 weeks for anybody doesn't know, is, is the average age, or lifetime, not everybody. And when you put it down into weeks, suddenly everybody begins to go. My God, I never thought of it
00:06:45
like
00:06:45Mark
Feels so finite. Yeah.
00:06:47Stephen
Yeah. Yeah. And then you suddenly you realize your age and you go, actually I'm passed the halfway point on this. I'm I'm going down towards the, the 4,000 a week and heading towards that direction. And that becomes, yeah, quite finite when we do look at it like that. And, and we're just thinking about all the things that we wished we'd done in life or haven't done in life, it is a hard one.
00:07:05
The thing that, that, for me, like, I'm brilliant fun to be around. I'm I'm fantastic once I'm well. Once I'm healthy and I'm well, and the knees aren't shaking and I don't have a fever and I'm I'm, I can do all the stuff like run around, play Frisbee and all the stuff that I enjoy to do, I'm brilliant. Fun. You catch me when I'm ill. I'm a different person. So yeah, I think a lot of it is to do with our health too, as well as we get older, like, you know, um, and it suddenly we feel that all the things that we liked to do or enjoyed doing, we can no longer do. The worst that gets, I, I, I, maybe I can play in on people.
00:07:40
But I think, yeah, the problem is we live in a world, um, now where it's very difficult to stay present. And I talk to companies about this and I ask this question, if you were to press a button right now, and as you press that button, you had to keep your finger on the button till all the material from the internet was downloaded. I ask people, how long do you think that would take?
00:07:59Mark
I mean, it, obviously it depends on your broadband speed, but I would imagine it would outlive your, you that probably outlive your life span?
00:08:07Stephen
Yeah, so I get lots of people saying stuff like, oh, well, two years, three months, two, two years, five years, 10 years. It's actually 181 million years. Yeah.
00:08:17Mark
Cause it it's the only reason I, you know, I'm probably less fun to, to answer that question because I, yeah, I it's, it's the thing of YouTube. I can't remember what they say. It's so I think some number of years worth of content are uploaded every day.
00:08:31
I, I am staring funnily enough, uh, directly behind you, as I look at you is, uh, an infographic that I made, uh, back in 20, I think actually 20 13, 20, uh, yeah. And it's 2.5 quintillion, and it's, it's a, it's a measure of, uh, the amount of content that, that goes up. It's sort of depicted in lots of different ways. And yeah, it is something that, that I, I think about, but I, I love that in terms of, yeah. If you sat and tried to, like, if you were on backup duty for the internet.
00:09:02Stephen
So I'm what I'm saying is that most of that information is pointless and useless, but it's, it's, it's distracting us to the point of we're not being very present anymore. And the difficulty is that we're not enjoying like, um, when I think about it, God, I wonder was it in 4,000 Weeks, was it that Oliver pointed out that some people was another article? I was reading where people were actually going to an art gallery and they had on the iPad that they had in front of, they were looking at the picture that was in front of them, but they were looking at an iPod with the description of what it was, rather than looking at the actual piece of art in front of them. Then they were moving on as quick as they could. The next one to try and get through all of the artworks as quick as possible
00:09:41Mark
have to see all the art.
00:09:42Stephen
Yeah. without being fully present for it. And apparently there's, um, a really good exercise that I, I haven't done, I heard. It's really good. And it's recommended that if you stand in front of a piece of artwork for up to three hours and you just stare at it, maybe three hours might be a long time and you gotta tell security you're gonna be doing that before you actually start doing that and they have to remove that guy. Who's, hasn't moved for three hours and they're scaring everybody else in the room. But I think the idea of that getting so enveloped and seeing things from a different angle, from a different shade, is a very present experience.
00:10:12
I know there was an example of an exercise that was done a few years ago I think. He would get people to sit down and they, they would hand them a rose and with the rose, they would put it into their hand, but they would have to for 45 minutes just stare at the rose and there's various different degrees would happen simply like, looking at the artwork there's amazement at first, or excitement at first and then boredom and then all these other things, but you have to break through it. And something like in the 30th minute, suddenly the shades of the rows began to change. And there was, there was a connectedness coming and there was things that you were seeing and experiencing and being one with in that experiment. And I like the idea of that. Cause we don't do any of this enough.
00:10:49
Louis CK, the comedian, I, I, you can think anything you like about Louis K, but it was very funny. Remember seeing him once, um, talking about like, you know, we don't have the amazement of life anymore. Like we're sitting on a plane, we're flying to another parts of the world, you know, and we're sitting there giving out, oh, the wifi is terrible. There's no wifi in this plane. And he's pointing out it's you're 30,000 feet in the air, sitting in a chair, flying at 500 miles an hour through the sky that's amazing in itself. And yet you go, no, there's no wifi.
00:11:19Mark
complaining that you, you don't have the access to all of human knowledge and experience that's ever existed, because you usually have it in the Palm of your hand. And now you're annoyed that it's a bit slow.
00:11:29Stephen
That's it.
00:11:30Mark
Yeah. Yeah. Completely.
00:11:31Stephen
So I think that's, what's beginning to happen. And I think we're beginning to revert back to that ever so slightly. The last couple of years specifically, when we were kind of isolated, we found the, um, the joy in very simple things.
00:11:43
I don't know about where you lived mark, but certainly for lots of it around here in Ireland, there was a 2k limit on where you could walk. So suddenly I found, I I'm only allowed to walk two kilometers from my house. So I had to fall in love with the area that I would've just jumped in my car and bypassed, cuz it was so close cuz I was always going somewhere else. And I was walking up these cul-de-sacs and you know, walking by these houses and suddenly recognizing somebody has an orange door. Who has an orange door? This guy bought an orange door. He didn't paint it, this actual composite orange store. I said, wow. And then there's another house that has a purple door and all these simple little things that I became very familiar with in my small little, two case surroundings that I got real joy in.
00:12:21Mark
The staring at the rose thing for 45 minutes reminded me of a thing I'd saw, I'd seen a, in a Derren Brown Netflix documentary or channel four thing, whatever it was ages ago. And one of the bits they got to do was got two people who were diametrically opposed. I think it was, um, someone who perhaps harbored less than charitable views towards another race and a member of that race. And got them to just stare at each other for, uh, I don't don't remember how long it was, it might only have been 15 minutes. But to not say anything and just look in each other's eyes and the less than charitable fella broke down in tears. Um, after looking at this, this guy in the eyes, because he saw the human behind this, this idea he'd broken, he'd had in his head about, you know, whether it's Muslims or whatever, this, this sort of idea that had been composed from lots of other pieces of, you know, false information or assumptions or whatever. And it all collapsed as he just looked at this person in the eyes. And there was, uh, I heard today a Michelle Obama quote, that's something along the lines of hatred doesn't survive when it's close up. I know I'm getting, getting it wrong, but it's like, you can't hate someone at close quarters.
00:13:43Stephen
I dunno if you've had a chance to read Rutgers Bregman's humankind and Rutgers is a Dutch historian and he he's written a brilliant book and, and, and humankind. And what it is is it basically pauses the idea that until the ice age happened about 15,000 years ago, I think it. And it was the first time that man settled. It was just after that. When we found these, these fertile lands in the, um, the Nile Delta in north Africa, that was the first time we actually stopped. And we began farming and agriculture came into play and we created little boundaries and flags and all this kind of stuff in the world as we know, it began to develop. Before that, if you go and you look at cave paintings from beyond that, from before that period of time, there is no depiction of war whatsoever in any of them. Cause there was no concept of war. Because we didn't have boundaries and flags, nobody fought over anything.
00:14:32
And he said, what, what would actually happen he said in, in those, that era is that because we were, um, nomads and we would all travel from various different parts of that's what we did all the time. Cuz nobody was stuck to one, one particular place, because you had to meet people all the time, there was a, an element of us. We needed to be kind because we didn't know exactly what we need off these people and we needed support and we needed, um, a connection cause we might meet them again. So that's the way we were before. It's only when we, we created that. That boundary around a particular piece of land, stuck a flag in, it said, this is ours, not yours, that that's when the idea of war came into place.
00:15:07
But he, he also brings it a bit further, cuz you're talking about disconnection and connection. And what we have discovered is he, he goes to point out that in the first world war, that story that we hear, um, that in 1914, on the very first Christmas of the first year of the war yeah. In the trenches, this is a true story. That, that there was what actually happened before. That was Christmas was about to happen, there was some social cues being emitted back and forth between the Germans and, and the, uh, the British soldiers. And what it was was there was a human respect.
00:15:37
Okay. So most of those trenches were only hundreds of meters apart, even less. Okay. And there was a respect that when it was dinner time, uh, you know, it was mealtime, uh, for the British soldiers, the snipers from the German, um, side would not shoot, cuz it was respects that that, that eating dinner is a, is a human thing. And the same went on the other side for the British, for the Germans. And also when they knew the weather was particularly wet and really bad and it was, it was just horrific, there wouldn't be bombardments and there wouldn't be snipers then either. So that the, these small little cues were sort of being sent out little respect cuz we were close to each other.
00:16:11
So what actually happened on 1914 was then on Christmas day, you've heard about the buildup where one guy walks out onto the no man's land. And then there was a German soldier then and they, they had a conversation, they shared pictures of their, their kids and their wives and they talked about home. And then before you know, it, the other soldiers began to meet in the center too as well. And they all began to, you know, could see something common between them. And they all agreed at that moment that if the war ended today, they'd all gladly go home. Because they were the guys who didn't design the war and wanted to happen.
00:16:41
And apparently the, the senior leaders based in London and Berlin, when they heard about this, uh, they sent a bombardment in, I think it was the following day. And they ensured that in 1915 Christmas day that there was going to be none of this piece, our truce, uh, and they, they sent up on environment in, on that day too, as well.
00:16:58
What I'm saying there is the disconnection is that the guys in London, the leaders in London and the leaders in Berlin were disconnected from the humanity of what the others were seeing in each other's eyes, above the trenches. That's why the best teams, when it comes to the working environment are the ones that have really close contact. Navy Seals, Pixar, lots of organizations like this are really good at creating what we call psychological safety, where people feel they're really valued as human beings. And that works in all good communities, tribes, um, and societies.
00:17:24
Suppose when we see this, the things that we can do online, if I'm sitting in a bedroom on the other side of the world, people can be as hateful as they want to be someone thousands of miles away, cuz you don't get to see or feel the experience that they're going through by the hurt or the hate or the comments that you're making. But when we're very close, that ends. So there's something to be said for, for connection and community and being around others and being very close.
00:17:47Mark
When, when you mentioned the idea of, um, we're not gonna see these people again, there's something that, that really pinged in my, in my brain there about, one of the times when I was on holiday in Florida. We were on one of the, on a tour bus or something and the guy who was, um, sort of MCing, I dunno what you call the tour guide. Yeah, the, the tour guide on the bus, um, was trying to encourage everybody to sing along and do some stuff. And, and his, his sort of thing was like, don't worry, you'll never see these people again, as a, as a, as a thing to, you know, don't be embarrassed, you'll never meet them again.
00:18:23
So a colory co corollary to that is the idea in like show business where you sort of, you meet people on the way up and the way down, you know? So you wanna be nice to people on the way up, because you'll meet them on the way down. And we're not thinking about that enough. And I I'm so guilty of this and, and I'm having more conversations with people that are helping me address it. Being very strident and having my sort of righteous, you know, particular opinions about things. And it's not that they're wrong, but it's also, it's, it's more that it's so easy to have those opinions at a distance. And I, I, and I don't know if, if we can just pin it on the pandemic that the isolation, I feel like we've been, we've been isolating ourselves, polarizing ourselves since, I mean, I, I can think of it 2016 feels like a real beginning moment where so many things became so polarized. And so the oppositions became so vehement, um, and it was online, but then it's the, the scary thing is how those things then become real. They, we, we take to the streets, And then we're in close quarters and then a different kind of energy happens. Oh, I dunno.
00:19:46Stephen
I know exactly where you're going with that. What's really interesting is, you know, therefore by the grace of geography, there I go. And it's really down to where you're born in the world. And, you know, if I was living in a different part of the world, I'd probably have different beliefs and different values about the way I see life. And it's not down to it's just down to the geography of where I live.
00:20:04
We're also got also inbuilt is these unconscious biases that we have. And that's one of the things I do talk about when we deliver programs. When I deliver programs, is that these unconscious biases weren't created by us, they're there, they're created by the society you grew up in. So I've done these unconscious bias tests. You can do them in harvard.edu as well. They were about 120 questions. It really gets to the nub of what's, you know, your biases are, are, are towards, I'm more biases towards them, young people than old people. So maybe that's just the way I see fitness are the things I like to do. I dunno, maybe it's cuz I lived in, uh, in Ireland that probably would've seen people age quite quickly and probably wouldn't have put as much premise on older people. I would've seen my grandmother in her fifties look very old and it was just the way it was. So maybe in my head, older, people are seen this way. Maybe TV perceived them this way and it just filtered into me.
00:20:53
I'm also a coach of a team, uh, uh, an all inclusive rugby team kids. They're, uh, they're physically and, and, and, and mentally challenged kids. Um, and I coach them and I've done this twice, the, um, able bodied, very dis versus disabled. Um, and I am biased towards able bodied people, even though I've done this twice.
00:21:12
And I know that that was, eh, unconscious biases have probably come from me growing up in Ireland in the time I did there wouldn't have been, um, many TV presenters or any TV presenters like you see on CB now, you know, you'll see that. But me growing up there wouldn't have been any, anybody with a disability on, on TV or rarely ever seen. And maybe society was a lot different. And those biases would've garnered what would've fed into those biases I have now doesn't mean those biases don't go away, but I'm at least I'm aware of them.
00:21:43Mark
That's interesting because my primary school was a, was a, was a school for people with visual impairments. And it was part of a, uh, a group of schools that dealt with different needs. So directly opposite me there was a school for the deaf, and then there was a place called I think the Conduct of Education, and that was for different abilities. So by dint of that, but also by luck of where I lived, a few doors down from me, we had, uh, a lad with Down's syndrome, which was my first encounter with someone with Down's syndrome. And I think I remember, um, meeting my first deaf adult. It was a mum of one of the kids who was in our, so we grew up, me and my brother and our little family grew up with, with a certain amount of understanding of, of difference. And that I think that close quarters of it, it takes it away from the theoretical and makes it real, and then makes that empathy even more accessible, I guess.
00:22:41Stephen
Yeah. And if you want to, um, lose any unconscious biases that you might have, the best way in many ways is to surround yourself with people that you have that bias against as, uh, as well is seeing that. And I think Ru or Bachmann talks about it. Daniel Coyle talks about it in culture code too, as well about the importance of surrounding yourself, um, with people of lots of diversity and that the more you do that, the less, um, the less of those biases will come through.
00:23:07
I, I suppose my happy life is simply down to geography and where I was born. Um, there might have been another factors that play into it, but I could have, could have quite easily been born in other parts of the world, which, which I find also find quite interesting is, uh, I dunno if you know, the World Happiness Report comes out every year. And it comes out in about March 20, 20th of March, 2022. And, and the one thing I love when I look, look at that, I love the way the different countries yoyo up and down, but I'm always fascinated by why the countries that, that are top of the list are top of the list and why the countries that we think should be top of the list are top of the list. Um, but, um, as I'm Irish, we're 13 happiest country in the world, which I'm very proud of, um, considering the history that we've we've experienced and, and when poverty wasn't far from our door even only 60 years ago or 50 years ago. Um, it's quite an interesting place to be too as well.
00:23:57Mark
How do you, you specifically, spread happiness?
00:24:05Stephen
I think it's, I think it's better getting excited about life and I, and I think we need to have more of that. And I, I have a firm belief that life doesn't need to be the way we think it is. We're very caught up in this ideal is that as we become adults, we have to behave a certain way. Um, we have to get more serious about stuff.
00:24:22
We have to follow lots of rules and regulations, and it's the playfulness that I enjoy in life. So the things that I do enjoy life, I can see that you've got musical instruments behind you. I do love to play guitar. Um, I'm not very good, but that's okay. And there's a playfulness in that. And then Frisbee is my favorite sport outdoors. I just love playing Frith Frisbee. And I think there's just something freeing once there's no wind. It's great fun. And it just feels really sort of freeing giving me a flat piece of ground and a couple of good friends and I could spend hours playing Frisbee,
00:24:48
One of the things I I'm good is enthusiasm for things in life. As I talked before, I get excited about smells. I get excited about going to concerts. I get excited about a piece of music. I get excited about an ice cream, the simple things. And I think we need to have more than that because the world of distractions that 181 million years of information, that's taking us away from the joy of life, even though I struggle like anybody else with disconnecting from my phone for long periods of time, there are moments when I've had a complete feeling of disconnection.
00:25:16
Good example of that. Mark, would've been in 2013. It was the year my dad passed away. And, um, I had always wanted to do something for a number of years. I did. Um, and I'd always wanted to walk across Spain because we know that there's the pilgrimage of the, the Camino, the Santiago that's been going for 1100 years. And it wasn't for a religious reason or anything. It was just something that I wanted to do as a challenge to myself. I'm quite spiritual in the fact I love the connection to, to land and the connection to people and the connection to something that's ethereal, that's out there, but I believe there there's some sort of connection to some universal feeling. And I, I remember doing that walk, um, it took me five and a half weeks or so to, to do, to walk cause it's 800 kilometers. But that experience of just being so connected every day, I had a six kilo backpack on my back with just two pairs of shorts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, a toothbrush, a razor, and a bar of soap and toothpaste. And that was it. And I just started to walk and it was just every step was almo I, I could almost remember every single. It was just the, the next moment was just the next step. So there wasn't any wider, big, big thought. What's what's in the future. I disconnected from technology and I just was so connected to the experience that I'm was having. By the time I got to Santiago, uh, the five weeks later, um, I just broke down in tears when I arrived into the, into the square there, but, uh, in front of the cathedral.
00:26:37
And that connected feeling that I had from that, actually it lasted, I came home to Ireland. Um, and 10 days for 10 days, I never turned on a radio or turned on the TV. I was still in that say, state of joy, complete bliss. It was, and it actually lasted for two and a half weeks after I finished my walk. I I've never experienced anything like it in my life. And it reminded me of somebody who was on that walk as well. Somebody was saying to me that there, she, I think it was Danish and, uh, she'd gone to the doctor. And, uh, she said, I think I'm depressed. Uh, what can you help me with? Or what can you give me? And he said, I'm not gonna give you anything. But I'm saying, if you walk across Spain on the Camino and he gave her a pamphlet, he says, this could change your life. And, um, she did. And, and it did.
00:27:24Mark
Which really brings us so neatly back to where we went near the beginning about having nothing, but the immediate having nothing to worry about other than, yeah. Like putting one foot in the other, uh, in front of the other and maybe, you know, uh, how can I get a bite to eat and then lay my head down for, for the night. And then, you know, I'm back on it tomorrow.
00:27:50
I've also been thinking about sort of, as you mentioned, the, the backpack, this idea of the beliefs and the, the, perhaps the biases, but the, the things that trigger us, the things that cause conflict or cause whatever within ourselves or with other people that I'm starting to think of them as can we carry those, can we think of those things as things that we carry, like, uh, in a backpack, rather than things that are part of us innate in us?
00:28:25
If we think about being able to have more connections, being able to be, to spend time with people, not just on the internet, that means coming into contact with people with whom you have differing beliefs or, or disagreements. But I love this idea that can we take the things that, that we think of as our core values or our core ideas, and rather than be things that, that are on our body and when they are attacked, we feel like we are attacked, and instead just wear them on a backpack and be able to take that off, or even take bits out of the backpack. And maybe, you know, maybe we can share what's in our backpacks. You know, we can take these little bricks out and we can examine them and go, does that brick need to be there? Actually, I could see a bit of your brick and, and we can exchange and then put them back on our backpack. Cuz it's not saying why can't we all just get along? It's acknowledging there are gonna be things that make us unhappy. There are gonna be things that, that cause conflict, but we can manage that. There's a way to manage that.
00:29:29Stephen
I think that's really, really interesting. Um, cause we get coats so caught up in our own dogma, whatever, you know, that we think what we see is real and what we think is real when that's nothing. It's something very freeing and liberating to say, I don't know. And I think the more I begin to tune into that, I haven't haven't the clue, or I don't have the right answers the more free I feel. But when I get bound by the beliefs and values that I think are definite, well, then that causes problems. Cause I don't have answers and I'll never listen to anybody's point of view on this.
00:29:59
I was just really thinking about their mark. When you were talking about staring into somebody else's eyes, I know there is a, an experiment that anybody wants to try this with with was, uh, if you can sit another person in front of you, preferably, uh, whatever, one of the sexes that you're attracted to sit across. And apparently there's 32 questions that you can ask. I dunno if you've heard of this, there's 32 32 questions that apparently by the end of the 32 questions, you finish the 32 questions back and forth because it takes a good hour and a half to do this. And then you just stare into each other's eyes for three minutes. And then apparently you've just fallen in love with the other person.
00:30:36
Apparently this works and there's been lots of, uh, sort of studies done on this. I, I used to do a version of it as a, as a, a bit of a networking tool for people I'd explain what it was beforehand, but we do it in a roundabout way. We just move around people. But I think it's a really interesting one. It is how, when we really, cause we never really ask the deep questions. We never look into each other's eyes for long enough. We don't make those connections with other people. Everything is quite awkward in transitory and when you think about it, there's something freeing.
00:31:04
Like what, what does happiness become then, you know? What is happiness? Happiness is having a sense of purpose and a sense of pleasure in life. You can't just have pleasure in life cuz you won't have happy that's that's hedonic because if there's no sense of purpose with that, that sense of pleasure afterwards just becomes completely boring. If everything was gonna be pleasurable that you got a chance to do that goes, then purpose can be also very boring in the fact that you have no pleasure in your life. So you've gotta get a mix of those two, two things. I think it's Tal Ben Shahar, he talks about this in happiness. There's a thing called the hedonic treadmill, which, which is the rat rate archetype, which is most of us get caught up in this in life.
00:31:39
And it's the idea that we have present detriment. So we put off happiness now in our life. Cause we commute back and forth to work. As we have been doing before the pandemic back and forth to work, um, working long hours in the factory at the work of place, place of work, then we come back home and then we just talk about retirement. So you spend your whole life it's called present detriment for future benefit. So the idea is you do those long hours, you do that long commute, but in the future, life is gonna be better.
00:32:04
I was, uh, a manager of, uh, the team of people. There was about 50 people in the team and we had long conversations. People would talk about how they were really looking forward to retirement. And I would see some people take every retirement on my team or whatever, you know, and then I'd get a call six months later to say, Sean has had a heart attack. Specifically men would've a heart attack, had a stroke or whatever might have been. And they never got to experience my own. Father included, never got to experience, uh, retirement. So that's not happiness.
00:32:32
Happiness is seen as, uh, doing things in life that give you future benefit. And they also give you present, uh, benefit. So you've got them both. So something you feel like the work that we do, because you love what you do as much as I love what I do as well. So the benefit is in the work that we do every time. So we're feeling that present benefit, but there's a future benefit too, is it's enhancing our life. It makes us feel good. And that's what we need to have more of in life. And I think that's where we've come to now, and the idea of people have discovered this from remote, working the feeling a bit more of the present benefit from working at home, being in more control, greater autonomy. Um, they turn their laptop off at the end of the day and work has ended. There's no jumping in a car or a tube or a train to get home. And suddenly they're feeling a lot more sort of connected with life.
00:33:17Mark
If I were to posit something, uh, for, for the, for the sake of the argument, for the sake of having the discussion, I wonder if anyone is listening and thinking about, So perhaps this will be something you identify with with, with your particular upbringing. from my particular upbringing, I think I identify with it as well. The inherent sense of guilt that can come along from pursuing happiness and, well, I mean, on one side, you've got like the, yes. That, you know, things should be hard. Work should be hard because that's whatever reason that's what we've been told. But also there is, I, I don't know, maybe among some people an idea that happiness is somehow selfish.
00:34:04Stephen
Yeah, I, I hate when people use language like that. Work should be hard. Uh, it's a battle in the, in the boardroom. All that language is pretty crap. And I don't think we should be working as long as, as we are or as, as hard as we are. Uh, I like I'm liking the new revolution when it comes to work. The likes of, um, I know Andrew Barnes has written the four day week and Andrew Barnes. Would've been a guest and I run a happy workplace conference here in Ireland. He was a guest he's based in New Zealand, a company called Perpetual Guardian 250. People worked for this insurance company. And in 2017, they decided that they wanted to improve the lives of the people that worked in the organization. So they positive the idea of, um, a four day week. They did lots of research before it, it wasn't something that jumped into straight away, a lot of, uh, getting all the employees together to be able to, to find out what's, you know, what were people's grievances. If, if this went ahead, what difficulties might be might be there? What roadblocks? And since 2018, they've gone into the world of a four day week and here they are 2022. And Andrew now consults, I know he's consulting Unilever in, um, New Zealand, uh, about them doing that.
00:35:16
So I think. We're beginning to realize that work isn't everything. And if we suddenly do something like give people say a four day, week, or a shorter working week, like there was a few years ago that people would end up protesting on the streets because they had free time to protest. But that's not the case. When there's less time spent at work, there's more time for communities to grow and for people to give back, volunteer into society, uh, to pursue other things that give us a sense of joy to spend more time around our family. I dunno what life was like for you growing up. But certainly for me, my dad worked, would've worked very long hours and he would've used all the spare time that he had to, to spend time with us, but still in all, they were very, very long hours in that.
00:35:56
And I'm sure there's, Bronnie Ware is a paliative care nurse and she's Australian. And she spoke, speaks about the five regrets of the dying. And the one top regret that every single male patient that was just about to pass away had said to her was I wished I spent more time at the people I loved, doing the things I enjoyed rather than working. And that's a really sad state of affairs when we get to the last stages of our life to realize if I got a chance to live it over again, I would do it completely different.
00:36:23
So in the present at this moment in time, we need to start rethinking the way we have structured life. And I think we need to work less, whether it's four days, whether it's a six hour day. And I think this is a very small snowball that is gonna get bigger and bigger. And if you were to talk to me again in five years time, or to 10 years time, we'd find that a lot more of us are working shorter, enjoying life a lot more.
00:36:45
Like we have all the stuff in place. I dunno if you know about UBI, universal, basic income. I think we might have spoken about before the whole idea that there is enough money out there, it's just in different hands. And the problem is cause we're tied to financial constraints. That's the problem why we can't really live our lives to default because you can't suddenly change your job if you're working in the supermarket or as the waitress, um, and you're trying to pay the bills because if you leave the job, you can't afford to go back to college or university to be able to retrain yourself and find a new career. But universal basic income is the idea that is say, if we were all paid 800 pounds a month or 800 euros a month or a thousand euros a month or whatever, you know, and there was no questions asked, it gives you the freedom then to be able to make choices in life that you would normally be able to make. And it also does something brilliant. It also gets rid of what we call the social welfare system. So we could scrap social welfare, get rid of that and just don't ask questions.
00:37:37
So we need to look at ways to be able to embrace how people can feel better about themselves, not just in the workspace, but how societies can become better. Because if I'm working a four day week, or if I'm working for an organization that makes me feel happier about myself, for whatever this filters into my family, my relationships, my society,, my community.
00:37:56Mark
Well, this, this podcast is what I call an experiment in showing up. And that means me experimenting with how I show up, but also having discussions about how I show up for the people that we wanna lead or serve. And one of the things that, that I come back to is if we are unhappy, if we are frazzled, if we are a mess, uh, if we are overworked, then we can't show up in our best ways, because all we end up doing is the bare minimum or the absolute necessary to just get through the day. Because the idea of that universal income, having a bit more of a sense of being able to UN clench, just being able to UN clench for a bit, having that freedom to, to, to breathe.
00:38:45
Going back to one of the first things you said actually is, I'm quite a happy, I'm a lot of fun to be around, but catch me when I'm I, and I'm a different person. I feel exactly the same when it comes to sort of psychological safety or just safety in general. If I feel, when I feel at my safest, this is why I've been able to, lockdown isolation has allowed me to completely pivot my work into what I do now, which is working face to face with people and, and coaching them to make great stuff. And I can do that because I'm sat here from a place of safety and a place of I've got things around me. I know the environments, I feel good. And with that, from that space, I can breathe and put my oxygen mask on before helping others.
00:39:32
I'm off to two conferences in the next two weeks and that's an unfamiliar territory with UN people I've never met before, and I will be a very different person and really there's no advice there, but really just to acknowledge the importance of being able to give ourselves that space and how to get back to the question of like, whether it's selfish, how unselfish it is, because it is that, that the idea of putting your oxygen mask on before helping others, that it does give you that space then to when you are calmer, when you are more at ease, you can be of more use. You can be more purposeful. If you are on a four day work week, like it all ties in. If you're doing the four day work week, you can spend that time because I reckon anyone who does it for the first, however many, few months, they probably just, you know, spend it going to the cinema in friends, shopping, whatever. Give it some time and I imagine then they're thinking, how can I use this time? Um, because purpose is important to us because of, of that sort of that balance you were saying about purpose and I guess the, the contentment that comes after just like your walk, doing the walk and then getting to the cathedral and
00:40:43Stephen
That's it. And Andrew Barnes talks about this, actually, one of the biggest issues was his company was the four day week doesn't mean Fridays or Mondays off. It's either you can get a Wednesday or Tuesday or Thursday. And people were saying like, what am I gonna do it a Wednesday? What am I do it a Wednesday off? And he said, you only need to come back after five weeks to ask the people the same question. And they went, oh, oh, this is brilliant. So they got themselves people self-regulate and they got that sorted out at no time at all. Yeah. We, we're creating a world that is very stressful. Our just feels more stressful than it needs to be. And when you think about all the advancements of technology and all the brilliant breakthroughs that we've had to make, what seems to make our life easier, it just feels like we're more overwhelmed now than ever before. Like I only talked to you this morning about the facts, my battery and my smartphone was going. And then the panic that I got from my God, if the smartphone battery goes, how my life is gonna fall apart. And you think really is your life gonna fall apart? If you stood back from it and think it probably isn't, but it's, it's imagined in our heads or it's been created so that this becomes bigger than we, we, we think it needs to be. And I think we need to have more, more time to be able to, to stand back.
00:41:46
The problem is that we're scared of boredom. And that's one of the things that breathes into unhappiness is this fear that if we sat down and just had a, just a chance to be able to sit with our thoughts and that something terrible might come into our head and we'd feel worse at the end of it. And that's it ask any teenager. Nobody wants to have that. So the minute we do is we fill it with, um, our smartphone. So we pick up our smartphone, we look at Twitter and we probably feel worse anyway, just by even looking at that.
00:42:12
And I think this, the thing that happens in the mind called DMN default mode network, which happens when we daydream and we're not allowing that process to happen. Cause apparently your brain is really good at being able to sort out problems for yourself. Unconsciously, it's working on your behalf to we do it in the sleep state. When we enter a very deep state of sleep and we also do it when we allow our brains to daydream and just wonder, but we don't allow that to happen. We corrupt it by picking up our phones are the, at this moment in time, we're not getting enough sleep. As Netflix read Hastings to CEO, Netflix would've said the biggest competitor Netflix has is, is the fact you dare to go to sleep. You're annoying us. So that's why they play. They created the auto play button. So you've got 11 seconds to decide whether to watch an extra hour of whatever it is you're watching are wake up, refresh the next morning. And most of us will go for the extra hour and then wake up tired the next day and go wonder why I'm not on running on full cylinders.
00:43:01
And that's the case in so many ways. Yeah, the, the world of distractions, if we just, if we just let ourselves just connect more with life or whatever, you know, and connect more with people and disconnect with technology. Even though I'm a, I'm a futurist and I have a house surrounded by technology. I like to think I control it. You think I would with you rather than it controls me.
00:43:21
Even the fact that you and I are having this conversation here and you're based in the UK and I'm based here in Ireland and we're looking at screens and we've got mics than I have. No, you know how all this stuff works. I have no idea. I'm just amazed by it. Every time I turn on my laptop and see this, we need to have more amazement in our life, don't we?
00:43:37Mark
Bit more. Wonder a bit more whimsy.
00:43:38Stephen
That's it. Yeah. Even the, the cup of coffee that you have in the morning. First thing, just to even think about like where that came from, like it came from thousands of miles away, whether it's it's Northeast Africa or whatever, you know, or south America, somebody picked it by hands. It grew in the sun before it was even picked by hand. And then it was, you know, all the, the processes that it got to your coffee cup.
00:43:58Mark
And then I press a few buttons the night before, and then when I wake up, it's ready for me. And all I've gotta do is pour it. So this is Steven Dogen wa a, a font of happiness and wisdom and knowledge and yeah, just a, just a, an absolute, uh, resource, um, with a capital resource, uh. You will find links to so many things in the show notes there in your app right now. So do have a look through those, because there's just, there's so much to explore from our conversation. So, listen, I won't keep you very long. We'll, we'll get back into it and just to tick. But yes, if you would like more of this and if you'd like, Uh, to hear about, um, my approach to the kinds of work that we're talking about, how we show up for people, how we create a work that is meaningful and is important and impactful. Some of those conversations we're going to get deep into in the, in the coming weeks, we were talking about disability and ableism and sort of a degree of righteousness and standing up. And so there's, there's a lot of, a lot of that stuff, but I really want to make sure that we are armed with joy as well as with that sense of purpose. So if that is interesting to you than Ear Brain Heart dot com is the place to go. Do follow the podcast if you haven't already. And, uh, if you have any thoughts or any feedback, if there's anything that's really tickled your brainstem in this particular episode, then do feel free to drop me an email. Mark@origin.fm is the place to do so.
00:45:40
So, as I say, links to Steven and all of the things that we've discussed are in your app right now and over on the website as well. So do check them out. That's quite enough ado. No more ado. Let us return to this conversation with Steven.
00:45:57Stephen
There's a really good website, if anybody wants to look at it called Gapminder, and what it is is it's really started by a GE called Han Rosling, who was a Swedish statistician. Um, and he does some of the most amazing TED talks. He's got about four or five TED talks. He's sadly passed away about three years ago. But Hans Roling has these amazing stats to prove that life is far better now than you think it is. So what I actually do is I do which, uh, with groups, I get them to ask, answer a series of seven questions. I give them about an ABC answer that they can have, and it's like stuff. Do you think that poverty, um, which means not having enough foods to eat, uh, for the day, has doubled, remained the same are decreased by half? Questions like that. I ask with groups and I get them to stand in various different parts of the room. And, um, every single time I do this exercise, they get it completely wrong. They all think the world is worse than it is more fearful than it is, and, um, more dangerous than it actually is.
00:46:51
Um, so it's our concept that we have a thing called negativity bias. It's in the brain and it's there as a survival mechanism as great. When hunter gatherers, we now go to Tesco Safeway or saying, we used to get our food. We don't need, uh, you know, to hunt for our own food. So those threats are different. So we manufactured lots of threats and Twitter is one of them. Uh, we see is constantly filling us with threats. The news is constantly filling us with threats. And you'd be amazed to find out that if you didn't watch the news for seven or eight weeks, the world would still turn and you'd still be alive and everything would be okay.
00:47:21Mark
The reason I have such a hard time getting off Twitter is because I feel like that's where people are. And if I'm not on that particular app, I, I dunno where these, I dunno where the people are. I can't talk to them. I can't hear from them. I can't share things with them. And that is what, for me, it feels like it's missing. And I, there's almost a part of me that will take the outrage and take the, all that stuff that comes with it for that sense of connection.
00:47:53Stephen
This goes back to an experi that BF Skinner did back in the 1930s. I dunno if you heard about those, uh, he's a psychologist and did the experiments with the mouse in the, the cage where they gave him the lever. So the mouse was given the, the lever press the lever, a pellet of food would come out, the mouse would be satiated by the food, go back and do mouse stuff till it felt hungry again. That's a stressless life and it's kind of nice. It is. But B BF Skinner. What he did was he created another element to this as well, color variance. So now every time the mouse pressed the lever, there was either half a P of food, no food, or maybe there was a pellet. He just never knew the mouse. Didn't anytime, press the lever. So consequently, what would the mouse do all day? It would press the lever.
00:48:28
And it's the same concept as if you went to your fridge and you opened up your fridge right now, and you looked inside, there was a lemon orang pine. You went my God lemon, rain pie, love that. And you sat down and you'd thought about this for 15 minutes. You went back a better check again, but the next time you opened up the fridge, there was six cream donuts and you and you sat down and next time you went back up after 15 minutes, you checked and there was nothing in there. But this thought of the lemon Ang pine, like six cream donuts made. You think 15 minutes later, I better check again, even though there was nothing last time and you find it with six cans of Coke or maybe for a lot of times, there's nothing there at all. We keep going back to the Frith day, uh, all day long.
00:49:01
And that's like us. So if you were to go to your phone, you'd probably found on your phone, there's a number of pickups that you, how many times do you think you
00:49:08Mark
Oh, Jesus. I can't, I can't do it because I know I'll be horrified if I look at my screen time report.
00:49:14Stephen
Yeah. So when I do this with groups, I ask 'em to see how long, how many times they picked up their phone yesterday. And they range from anything between 20 to 50. So they say I probably 20 times yesterday, 50 maybe. And the average is 150 and that's the low end of it too, as well. So we're picking up this fi and you can actually find if you've got an apple, my iPhone, it will tell you how many times you got notifications compared to how many times you picked up. So I might have got 18 notifications, but I picked my phone up 62 times. So, take 18 from 62 and you work out for 44 times or whatever, you know, there was no reason for me to pick up the phone. I just picked it up. And yet we're all like that. And that's the same with Twitter. It's a thing called the maybe effect.
00:49:52
And the maybe effect, it's the same experience that you're gonna get anytime you go to an airport, you're going on holiday, you know, the way that you're gonna wait for two or three days, that buildup of the thoughts of what the place might be like, what the experience, the food, all the, you know, you just don't know what it's gonna be like. It's the anticipation and airports know that. So when you arrive to an airport, they'll know, we can hack up the prices of anything here. The sandwich is gonna be dear. The food's gonna be dear. Cuz when you're in this dopamine drop feeding of maybe this anticipation you're willing to pay, that's like. If you were to get a kid who was playing FIFA in his bedroom, our Fortnight and get his mother to come up and sign a contract, he would sign anything just to be allowed, play another, uh, extra hour or two, or get to an extra level on any of those games. It's that maybe effect causes to do that.
00:50:34
And it's quite addictive. And it happens to you every single time that you could want to Twitter. Cause we no longer hunt anymore for food, but now we hunt for information and we hunt through information and we hunt for shopping. And you're getting caught into that, the idea that the, the hunt feels good, the info is out there. Um, and, and we're constantly searching for it all the time as well.
00:50:54
there's a thing. Sean Achor, uh, Sean Achor is a, a happiness expertise. Harvard professor. He talks about the 20 second rule and the 20 second rule is if you can make something more likely to do it. But if you can make something 20 seconds more difficult, the less likely you are to do it. So one of the things I do is I haven't got my toaster sitting on top of my kitchen counter, cuz I know if I have my toaster on the top, what happens, I'm making toast. And at the end of the year, apparently people with toasters on the top of their counter are six pounds heavier at the end of the year then people that don't. So mine is underneath. So I only take it out when I need it.
00:51:26
So it's those simple things. And Sean Achor goes as far as taking his batteries out of his TV control, cuz you reckon every time he sat down to watch TV sat down on the couch, he was turning on the TV rather than reading a book. So now he takes the batteries out, puts him in another, the room it's 20 seconds harder to get there.
00:51:40
Like I can, I'm thinking of the panic I felt this morning when I realized my phone wasn't charging the battery looked like it died. All my contacts were on there. Everybody wanted to ring me, couldn't get through cuz we know what our alternatives. But yeah, when the phones are well, we should find ways to be able to leave our phones behind and just connect with people on a real sort of level without the need to constantly look. Like I see with parents just constantly looking at the phones, even with them, with their kids, the kids are learning. These, this is what's gonna happen in 20 or 30 years time. And I don't wanna sound like I'm an old fully Dudy I've gotta remember, I'm a futurist. That's one of my strengths. I've got lots of things with 16 million lights in the house that I press a button and it activates this and that's lovely. But yeah, I think our being able to stand back from technology and just reconnect with humanity, the more we can do that, I think the more happiness that come into our lives. So there you go.
00:52:28Mark
How can people, um, follow you and, um, bask in the, in the, the warmth of your glow.
00:52:34Stephen
Well, don't follow me. There you go. Please. Don't follow me ever, cuz you're only gonna make my life more anxious cuz they're gonna have to reply back to you and I'm going to have to follow you back. So let's get rid of all that.
00:52:44Mark
in all the years of podcasting, uh, and editing that is the first time I've ever heard that response. Wonderful.
00:52:50Stephen
yeah, I don't wanna be followed. Um, no, this sounds terrible as if I
00:52:54Mark
leave me alone.
00:52:55Stephen
Yeah, no that
00:52:55Mark
yourself.
00:52:56Stephen
the pressures, the pressures in life are seem to be enough, but yeah, you can follow me at stephen@wakeup.ie., or just even dark and I'm, I'm out there somewhere. I probably don't do enough on the internet because I'm too busy, sort of wanting to enjoy life. The sun is shining at the moment.
00:53:09
Do you know what I'm gonna do now, mark, I'm gonna leave you after this. And I'm gonna take my beautiful guitar. There's a little part that needs to be adjusted and I'm gonna have to bring it down to the guitar shop. And I'm gonna talk to Andy in the guitar shop about music and about guitars, and if it's stuff that makes us happy and he's hopefully gonna fix my guitar, uh, with a quick fix, I'm gonna come home. We're gonna play guitar later.
Load full transcript