Dr. Robert Waldinger
Happiness is Good

Nonstop happiness doesn't exist for any human being on the planet.

Dr. Robert Waldinger
Listen Now
Show Notes

Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Dr. Robert Waldinger (@Dr.Waldinger) believes in nurturing relationships for overall health. Dr. Waldinger co-founded the Lifespan Research Foundation and is a practicing psychiatrist and Zen master or Roshi. His book, The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness, is an excellent look at what keeps us all happy, healthy, and thriving.

Author and Professor Dr. Robert Waldinger’s (@Dr. Waldinger) book, The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness, is a must-read. The study started in 1938 and continues to this day. Dr. Waldinger is a Zen Roshi, practicing psychiatrist, researcher, and professor. He understands that happiness isn’t attainable every day. However, he encourages us to be proactive to live an extraordinary life with as much of it as possible.

“All it is is the stuff we do every day, if we give it our full attention, everything pops with an aliveness that normally we miss.”

Dr. Robert Waldinger

Key Takeaways:

  • Personality vs. Ego:  Ego is different than personality. The ego is the identification with our sense of self. At the same time, everyone has the conditioning of a personality. When you start moving away from being identified with self and living from the witness, you can bring source spirit into your personality. We want to have a personality, just not be overidentified or attached to it, as that is the ego.
  • Meditation Has Differnt Forms: Sitting meditation is only suitable for some. Some people find it aversive to meditate. However, we can all benefit from a practice that makes us come into presence. For some people, breathing, martial arts, or anything they’re very present at is a form of meditation. Whatever brings you into presence, whatever gets you out of the thought loops that we’re constantly caught up in, and helps you keep coming back to presence is meditation.
  • The Happiness Project’s Greatest Finding: Taking care of our health matters. Your happiness, health, and how long you live are correlated. The Happiness Project found that one of the most powerful predictors of who does well throughout life is connected to taking care of the physical body. The other significant finding is having loving, warm, and connected relationships impacts your health positively. People in healthy and happy relationships live longer. And, it stands to reason if you have good relationships, you’ll be happier.
  • Social Fitness: Social fitness is like physical fitness. It is a constant act of effort and showing up. Studies have shown that perfectly good friendships and family relationships will atrophy, just like muscles, from inattention from neglect. Amall efforts over and over again, like doing 15 minutes of walking or weight training regularly, keep those connections vibrant and alive. It helps to work on relationships like physical fitness to keep them strong and healthy.

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Links for Dr. Robert Waldinger:

Dr. Robert Waldinger Website

Ted Talk Discussion


Mark Divine  0:00  

This is Mark Divine and you’re at the Mark Divine Show. Thanks so much for joining me today. Super stoked to have you here I do not take it for granted. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless from some of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, and resilient leaders. I speak to folks from all walks of life, like Stoic philosophers and startup entrepreneurs and even Zen masters who are psychology professors at Harvard. My guest today is Dr. Robert Waldinger, who is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He’s the director of the Harvard Study of adult development at Massachusetts General Hospital and is co-founder of the Lifespan Research Foundation. Dr. Waldinger received his AB from Harvard and his MD from Harvard Med School. He’s a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and directs the psychotherapy teaching program for Harvard psychiatric residents. And my favorite, he’s also a Zen master or Roshi, teaches meditation in New England and around the world. Also be talking about his book The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness. Thanks for joining me, Dr. Waldinger.


Dr. Robert Waldinger  1:01  

Nice to meet you. I’m good. How are you? 


Mark Divine  1:02  

Outstanding, yeah. Thank you for doing this. Excited to chat. Before we get started, I started studying Zen when I was 21 years old. 

Dr. Robert Waldinger 1:10

You did, oh! 

Mark Divine 1:12

I did. And so I was really excited to read your bio. And you know, I’ve got a copy of your book that I’ve known about the Happiness Project for a long time. So it’s super stoked to talk to you. But then I was like, Wow, gosh, a full on Zen Roshi working at Harvard. That’s such a like, mind mess for me, now. 

Dr. Robert Waldinger 1:27

I know.


Mark Divine 1:28

Right? Because Zen is all about dissolution of the ego. And yet you’re right at the center, some of the biggest egos in the world, in a good sense.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   1:36  

Well, you’re exactly right. You know, and that no, but it’s been a huge point of practice for me, you know, in this world of podcasts, and publishing books and stuff, like how do we come back to just presence and letting the ego kind of subside? And it’s a real constant practice that I’m engaged in around all this? 


Mark Divine  1:56  

I can see that as well. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 1:57



Mark Divine 1:57

I’m making my practice as well. Like, you know, I’m always asking myself, who is the interviewer here? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 2:03



Mark Divine 2:04

Who is Mark Divine? Mark Divine is nothing but a bunch of constructs and ideas, and I kind of left him long ago behind, but um, you have to resurrect the personality, energetically right? To impress or to be taken as real, right?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   2:18  

Yes. And you know, it’s a helpful fiction. I mean, you and I need this fiction of the self in order to know to show up together to do this podcast, right?


Mark Divine 2:26



Dr. Robert Waldinger 2:26

So we use it, but it’s just like not holding on to it so tightly when we’re lucky. 


Mark Divine  2:31  

Right, that’s the kind of emptiness concept, just keep it empty of the grab of identity. And just, that’d be much more flowing and relaxing. I find that I’m much more spontaneous and effortless, you know, the Japanese term Shibumi comes to mind. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 2:46



Mark Divine 2:46

Especially in the last few years where I’ve just really surrendered into it. Anyways, I know, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. But it’d be fun to…


Dr. Robert Waldinger 2:52

I could talk about this all night. So just you…


Mark Divine 2:54

So you know, it’d be fun to come back later. And because I’d love to hear how, you know, a Harvard psychiatrist and Professor balances that, because you know, my experience, and I know, this is part of the reintegration process, but when you have these experiences of awakening, and like, that dissolution of the ego, you know, the first thing I wanted to do was run away from everything.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   3:14  

Yes. And I did, actually.


Mark Divine 3:16

Did you?


Dr. Robert Waldinger 3:17

I’d love to talk about this now, if you want.


Mark Divine  3:19  

Let’s go for it. Yeah. I mean, it’s my podcast, I get to…


Dr. Robert Waldinger 3:21



Mark Divine 3:22

The person formally known as Mark gets to do what he wants to do.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   3:24  

Okay, so here I am, Harvard professor. And I stepped out of my comfort zone to give a TED talk.


Mark Divine 3:30



Dr. Robert Waldinger 3:30

At a little TEDx event, in Brookline, Massachusetts, in an elementary school auditorium. And even that was, like, coming out in public a little too. Like, I thought, Oh…


Mark Divine  3:41  

How long ago was that, by the way? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   3:43  

That was in 2015. 


Mark Divine 3:44

Right on.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 3:45

And I thought my research colleagues, were gonna think I’d go over to the dark side. And then the talk blew up, you know, it went viral, really viral. And I thought, this is all ego. And I just have to shut all this down. So I went on a three-week retreat. And my Zen teacher said to me, Do not retreat from this, that what you want to do is bring ideas out to the world that you feel are helpful. 


Mark Divine 4:11



Dr. Robert Waldinger 4:12

And so she was the one who said, Don’t you dare run and hide? And that was really helpful for me, because I was gonna have nothing to do with anything that smacked of ego.


Mark Divine  4:21  

Right, yeah, and I think that’s where a lot of people get confused. Ego is different than personality, right? Ego is the identification with that self.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 4:31



Mark Divine 4:31

Whereas everyone has the conditioning of a personality. You know, when you have that dissolution of the ego, and you start moving away from that living from witness, then I think that reintegration process that I first kind of ran from was like, Okay, now let’s bring source spirit, whatever witness back into your personality in full force, right? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 4:49



Mark Divine 4:50

That way you can serve with clarity and charity. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 4:52



Mark Divine 4:53

Not be so absorbed in what the identity of Mark or Robert is doing. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 4:58



Mark Divine 4:59

Of course I could go on and talk about this forever, but I want to stay on the Zen track for a while. You know, I learned from a martial arts Grandmaster named Nakamura in New York City. Kaito Tadashi Nakamura, I call him a Zen master but he wasn’t in a monastery. We would go to the Zen monastery in Woodstock, New York.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 5:15

Oh yeah.


Mark Divine 5:15



Dr. Robert Waldinger 5:16

Daido Loori 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   5:18  

You know, Daido?


Dr. Robert Waldinger 5:18

Daido Loori. I’ve read a lot of his stuff. I never met Daido but I heard he was a real character. 


Mark Divine  5:22  

He was great guy, because, you know, he was first covered in tattoos former merchant marine 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 5:27



Mark Divine 5:27

But you know, he was a true master, you could tell just by looking at the serenity and how like serene practitioners who really have calmed their ego and calmed all the nervous system and you know, their body like reorganizes itself. And what I experienced in him and I saw this Nakamura to who I believe also was enlightened master was their skin was very, very smooth, no wrinkles, and very, very shiny, just radiating energy and like almost light like a halo. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 5:53



Mark Divine 5:54

Kind of the biblical representation of that just emanating from his body, yet he chain smoked cigarettes, he would sit around and tell jokes. This guy was hilarious. He was fully embodying light. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 6:03



Mark Divine 6:04

So we would go up there several times a year for these four or five day retreats where we would do like the hard and the soft, you know, the yin and the yang, we go out and train hard. And for karate for a couple hours, they may come back and sit withthe monks who were in residence. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 6:17



Mark Divine 6:17

And then do the wax on wax off of working in the garden. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 6:20



Mark Divine 6:21

And just precious.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 6:22

Very cool. 


Mark Divine 6:23

What was your experience like? How did you get interested in the path of Zen and stick around long enough to become a Roshi?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   6:29  

Well, I have been interested in Buddhism, because it was the philosophical system that made the most sense to me.


Mark Divine 6:35



Dr. Robert Waldinger 6:35

About what it means to be human and alive in the world. But I had tried to meditate. And I would always stop when I got stressed. And somebody said to me, you know, what you really need is a group that you sit with regularly, and you need to find a teacher. And I found the teacher by accident, almost 20 years ago, I wandered into a Unitarian Church near my house, and somebody said to me, you know, that Minister up there, he’s a Zen master. And so I went to meet with him and really thought I could learn from this man. And I started sitting with his group, and then realized that this was what I had been yearning for. So I just kept being drawn more and more into Zen practice and Koan study, and then eventually teaching.


Mark Divine  7:22  

Wow, that’s terrific. So you did all this while you are also following the Western path of teaching the Western models of psychiatry and…


Dr. Robert Waldinger   7:30  

Right being a shrink being a researcher. Yeah.


Mark Divine  7:35  

One of my favorite books on this confluence of Eastern and Western philosophy is Already Here by Bruce Tift.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   7:40  

Oh, I know of that book, I haven’t read it. 


Mark Divine  7:43

He was a psychologist, who then became a Buddhist meditation practitioner, and then bringing Buddhist teachings into his patients, and he left psychology behind. And then he said, Well, that’s a mistake. Because there’s a both hand here, right? There’s a hand and glove approach, the benefit of Western psychology is, you know, you’re working to develop the ego that wants to strive to be better. But eventually, you come to a point where you have to let that go. And that’s where the Eastern idea of everything’s okay, as it is, Let’s surrender to the now and learn to be present by letting go of these ego structures.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 8:14



Mark Divine 8:15

And he was onto something. You know, there’s a very famous quote, you have to be somebody before you can be nobody


Dr. Robert Waldinger 8:22

Yes, yes. 


Mark Divine 8:22

And this is a problem for a lot of the folks, especially with the early movement into Zen, when there was psychedelics involved, right, or meditation says people wanted to just completely dissolve into the nonduality. And they didn’t have the ego structures to be able to reintegrate. Same problem I see with Kundalini practitioners, they move all this energy, and they just blast off into space, but they don’t have the ego development to be able to reintegrate or even physiological structure.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   8:47  

And we think about that a lot in psychiatry, because, you know, some people suffer from real problems of self-cohesion, they just they feel at this deep level, they don’t know who they are. And they feel like when they’re with one person, they’re a completely different person than when they’re with somebody else. And it’s a very disturbing condition. And so what we say is that those are the people who should not have those experiences of body and mind falling away in meditation because it’s disorienting.


Mark Divine 9:16

Right, I can see that. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 9:17

That’s for people who already have a basic sense of who they are.


Mark Divine  9:21  

I’m so glad you said that. I want to reinforce that like it’s a contraindication that to be used a term from medical depression. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 9:25

Yeah, yeah.


Mark Divine 9:26

To do meditation if you haven’t really resolved a lot of the, you know, childhood traumas that lead to personality disorders or disrupted or arrested development. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 9:37



Mark Divine 9:38

And maybe we could talk a little bit about like, how do you know if you are a good candidate for meditation? Because right now in that culture, as you know, it’s just being prescribed as, hey, everybody do this? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 9:47

I know. Yeah, yeah. 


Mark Divine 9:48

There’s no like how to do it or why to do it, or what way to practice it. It’s just like go do. As if meditation is one thing.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   9:55  

As we know, it’s not one thing and it’s not good for everybody. There are people who find it really aversive to meditate. And that’s okay. I think what all of us could benefit from is some practice that makes us come into presence. So meditation does that, right? Where you can be with the breath, you can be with whatever is arising, whatever is reaching your awareness as a meditative practice, great. But for some people, it needs to be martial arts. And you’re very present as you’re going through a particular set of movements. For some people, it’s skiing down a ski slope.


Mark Divine 10:33



Dr. Robert Waldinger 10:33

For some people, it’s working in a garden. So it’s whatever brings you into presence, whatever brings you out of the thought loops that we’re constantly caught up in, and helps you keep coming back to presence. So I don’t think it has to be meditation at all. And for some people, it shouldn’t be.


Mark Divine  10:51  

Right. That’s well said. And the way I teach it is not only that, but also there’s often a long preparatory period of laying the groundwork right in the body-mind system so that you can meditate effectively. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 11:05



Mark Divine 11:06

And this is why like, when I started meditation, I called a concentration camp. Because, you know, we were doing like the inhale, exhale, count one, inhale, exhale, count two and trying to get to 10. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 11:15



Mark Divine 11:15

And that was like, damn near impossible to get the 10.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 11:17

Oh, yeah.


Mark Divine 11:18

If I did, I realized that I was tricking myself that I was actually thinking very subtly, right.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 11:23

Yeah, yeah.


Mark Divine 11:24

That was part of the process that was built on top of a foundation of physical and physiological control through hardcore physical training, and also breathwork. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 11:33



Mark Divine 11:34

Which all preceded the seated meditation, so that my mind was already kind of stripped bare, and able to be calm and hold its attention from those training the physical body. And so a lot of people who are not healthy or have an inactive body, but that leads to kind of agitation and anxiety and in the body mind system, because they’re not moving energy. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 11:57



Mark Divine 11:57

And so then you try to sit them down to meditate, and their mind is bouncing all over the place.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   12:02  

And I’m sure that your physical training was foundational for being able to sit with your mind in the way that you did.


Mark Divine  12:11  

Big time. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 12:12



Mark Divine 12:12

I love this. One last thing I will say is, when I started studying Zen, I was in Manhattan with Nakamura and I write about this in my book, Way of the SEAL, I was a CPA, and I was getting my MBA at Stern School of Business. So I was going down that professional white-collar path.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 12:27



Mark Divine 12:27

And, yeah, and so the beauty of meditation, when you stick with it long enough, is you do then have these moments that happen quite by accident, in my case, where you just drop off. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 12:38



Mark Divine 12:38

And in that dropping off, like you’re there. But your thought streams or ego structures are not there. There’s something else that’s there, you know, that presence that witness. And it’s time stops is extrordinary, but I always brought back a little gem with me. And that gem was like insight. And through this process, four years of meditating in that whole kind of environment, I went from being a CPA to being a Navy SEAL. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 13:01

Wow, wow.


Mark Divine 13:01

Literally, like a 25-year-old MBA CPA becomes a Navy SEAL because of meditation.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   13:07  

Exactly. And that’s what you know, the myth is that meditation is just contemplating your navel, right? 


Mark Divine 13:13



Dr. Robert Waldinger 13:13

That it’s an excuse for inaction, but you’re giving that kind of example that I hear over and over again, meditation helped me to arrive at a next step in my life, that was fundamental, that was essential, right? 


Mark Divine  13:27  



Dr. Robert Waldinger 13:27

So you got up off the cushion and changed your life. 


Mark Divine 13:30

That’s right. Because it’s a practice of self-inquiry, like inquiring at your deepest level.



Dr. Robert Waldinger 13:35



Mark Divine 13:35

ight. First in the stillness, and then by, you know, bringing little gems back, which is can be like insight, but then by inquiring about that insight.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 13:43



Mark Divine

And asking better questions. Such a phenomenal practice. I hope everyone listening, you know, we’ll explore a little bit deeper, like whether it’s right for you, or how do we engage or even do some preparatory work. For us breathing practices, great preparatory work, because you know, that’s a great way to steal your mind. You know, the pranayama we do box breathing, Five ount inhale, Five count Hold, ect.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   14:03  

Yeah. And we have a sangha online that people are welcome to check out.


Mark Divine  14:07  

Do you? Where’s that? What’s the URL?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   14:09  

It’s NewtonZen.org, ne w t o n ze n dot o r g. 


Mark Divine 4:16

When do you do your sits?


Dr. Robert Waldinger 4:16

Monday nights 7:30. Eastern time.


Mark Divine  14:20  

I might join you.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   14:21  

Oh, come. But you know, also like, I use Insight Timer, and I put some of my dharma talks on Insight Timer. There are lots of places as you know, to get good things. You know, if you’re interested in exploring what you and I have been talking about, there are lots of resources for people. 


Mark Divine 14:38

Insight Timer is a phenomenal tool. Tell us what is the Happiness Project? This is something extraordinary, like it’s been going on for years. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 14:45



Mark Divine 14:45

I’m kind of curious, like, how did this start and what have been some of the biggest breakthroughs findings? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   14:50  

Well, what’s so unique about it is that it is the longest study of the same people going through their lives that’s ever been done. We’re in our eighty-fifth year. 


Mark Divine 15:01



Dr. Robert Waldinger 15:02

It started in 1938 with two groups, a very privileged group of Harvard College undergraduates, sophomores, and a very underprivileged group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods and most troubled families living in tenements, often with no hot and cold running water, and familial problems like domestic violence and alcoholism. And the question for both groups, the privileged group and the underprivileged group was how do people thrive? So it wasn’t a study of what goes wrong with human life, which is commonly what we do. It was a study of thriving, how do people manage to stay on good developmental paths as they go through their lives? And so we started with 724, all young men, and then we quickly brought in wives as they got older, and then their children, more than half of whom are women.


Mark Divine  15:57  

So it expanded? Was it originally intended to be an eighty year long study?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   16:03  

No, they thought, maybe five years, maybe ten at the most. My predecessors would never have dreamed that I’d be talking to you today about the study, and that it’s still going that we’re still collecting data, even as we speak.


Mark Divine  16:17  

That’s incredible. So what were some of the early findings? And now what are we able to do with, you know, the technology that we have today, you know, go deeper?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   16:26  

Sure. Well, some of the early findings are, first of all that education and privilege matters. So our Harvard group lived on average, 10 years longer than the inner city group. 


Mark Divine 16:37



Dr. Robert Waldinger 16:38

We think that had a lot to do with their access to health care, and their economic resources and their education, because they could keep themselves healthy as information began to come out about not smoking, not abusing alcohol or drugs, exercising regularly, all that. But the other thing that came out, which will not surprise you is that taking care of your health matters hugely 


Mark Divine 17:01



Dr. Robert Waldinger 17:02

For how you get through life, your happiness, and certainly your health and how long you live. Of course, many studies have found this, but our study found that one of the most powerful predictors of who’s going to do well, throughout life is taking care of your body.


Mark Divine  17:18  

That’s fascinating. I mean, it makes obvious sense to me. I mean, I’m a yogi at heart and a Navy SEAL. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   17:24  

I mean, what, you know, Navy SEALs are the fittest people on the planet, right.


Mark Divine 17:27



Dr. Robert Waldinger 17:28

And then do you want to hear about the one that surprised us? 


Mark Divine 17:30

Yes. I’d love to.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 17:31

That is the finding about relationships. What we discovered was that the people who stayed healthiest and happiest and lived the longest, were the people who had the warmest connections with other people. And we didn’t believe it at first. 


Mark Divine 17:47



Dr. Robert Waldinger 17:47

So we thought, okay, it stands to reason, if you have good relationships, you’ll be happier. Okay. But how could good relationships make it less likely that you’ll get coronary artery disease, or less likely that you’ll get type two diabetes or arthritis. And so first of all other studies began to find exactly the same thing. So we began to have real confidence in these results. And then we’ve spent the last 10 years in our laboratory studying how this works, how relationships affect our health.


Mark Divine  18:19  

And that’s the substance of your book, The Good Life, right? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 18:22



Mark Divine 18:22

Yeah, I notice that every chapter really has some different angle and look at how thriving individuals relate to others to family members to significant others. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 18:31



Mark Divine 18:32

That’s interesting. Like now if I can move back out into my kind of Zen Yogi mind, it makes sense to me, right. Because you’re opening your heart in relationships, you’re letting positive energy permeate your body mind system, right. Your Body Keeps the Score, right. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 18:49



Mark Divine 18:49

So if you score if you’re pessimistic and all that negative energy is getting, you know, you unhealthier, unhealthier until you get disease. But if you’re positive and optimistic, and you have faith, and you’re in relationship with others, this is why church groups and meditation groups working out together and all these things when you do it in relationship.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 19:07



Mark Divine 19:07

It leads to all sorts of positive health benefits. But that’s just anecdotal. It’s so cool that you


Dr. Robert Waldinger   19:12  

Well, right. And what you’re talking about anecdotally, is what the science shows us in the science is about stress and stress reduction.


Mark Divine 19:21



Dr. Robert Waldinger 19:21

So what we find is that good relationships help us manage stress. And as we know, stress comes along all day, every day, right. And you know, you know from your SEALs training, that when you face a challenge, the body revs up, the body goes into fight or flight mode, and that’s a good thing. We want that to happen. 


Mark Divine 19:40



Dr. Robert Waldinger 19:40

But then when the stressor is removed, we want the body to come back down again. 


Mark Divine 19:45



Dr. Robert Waldinger 19:45

What we believe is that if you don’t have anybody at home or anybody you can call to talk about your stresses with, upsetting things that happen your worries, if you don’t have that, then your body stays in a kind of chronic fight or flight mode, like higher levels of circulating stress hormones and higher levels of inflammation. And these things gradually wear away body systems.


Mark Divine 20:10



Dr. Robert Waldinger 20:10

And that’s how they it could affect the coronary arteries in one person and the joints in another person.


Mark Divine  20:16  

Right. That’s exacerbated by the speed of information, and also the negative nature of just all the information that’s flowing into everybody. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 20:24



Mark Divine 20:25

And I’ve recently been interested in this idea of hyper arousal, which, you know, it’s kind of what you’re referring to is everyone being in a state of fight or flight. Hyper arousal actually occurs because the neuro pathways that turn on and off the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and digest, they get stuck on.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 20:44



Mark Divine 20:45

You can’t actually activate the parasympathetic calming system anymore. And that’s devastating for your health.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   20:51  

Exactly. And so what we did, we ended up bringing people into our lab and stressing them out deliberately. And then watching how they recovered from stress and watching how soon the parasympathetic nervous system could kick in to get some indicator of how people did recover from stress, as one index of well being.


Mark Divine 21:10

You use some terms in your book, I love to kind of like get a little bit of insight on social fitness is one, I mean, I can guess what that means. But what does that mean? And how do we develop social fitness?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   21:21  

Well, we made up that term, okay. And we coined the term to be analogous with physical fitness.


Mark Divine 21:29



Dr. Robert Waldinger 21:30

Because what we found was that perfectly good friendships and good family relationships would atrophy, they would wither away, just like muscles atrophy, from inattention from neglect.


Mark Divine 21:42



Dr. Robert Waldinger 21:42

And so what we found was that the people whose social worlds stayed active and stayed energizing, were the people who put effort into it. 


Mark Divine 21:53



Dr. Robert Waldinger 21:54

Even small efforts over and over again, kept those connections, vibrant and alive. And so our thinking is, this is like physical fitness, right.


Mark Divine 22:03

You got to work on them.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 22:04

It’s like something, you got to work at it, you got to keep it going. You don’t just stop, I don’t go to the gym today, and then come home and say, Good, I’m done. I don’t ever have to do that, again. Because I used to think, no, when I was in my 20s, I like got my friends from school, from college from work, they’re always going to be there, they’re always going to take care of themselves. And that’s just not the truth.


Mark Divine 22:25



Dr. Robert Waldinger 22:25

And so what we find is that the people who really, really take these active steps over and over again, are the people who end up with these benefits that we’re talking about.


Mark Divine  22:35  

Wow, I can attest to that. Just from my own experience, I think that’s so accurate, especially for high achievers, like for me as a CEO, and for people who tend to be you know, academics who are out doing their thing, and you tend to end up siloing yourself in this little bubble of professional peers who, you know, may or may not be intimate friends with but most likely not.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 22:56



Mark Divine 22:57

Right, where you’re going to share your challenges and what struggles are, and you’re gonna get relief from that relationship. And I recognize this as a four or five years ago, and I’m not a spring chicken either. You know what I mean? I’m 59 right now. So it took me that long to figure this one out. And I’m like, Oh, my God, I’ve got to nurture my old friendships and want them and need them in my life.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   23:14  

Well, that’s what we’re hoping that people will read the book, people will get these ideas and really see how they might do their life differently in just the way you’re describing. 


Mark Divine 22:24



Dr. Robert Waldinger 22:25

And ideally, they do it when they’re starting when they’re young. 


Mark Divine 22:28



Dr. Robert Waldinger 22:28

Yeah, it’s never too late.


Mark Divine  23:30  

It’s not really oftenly taught, and this is kind of modeled in your family. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 23:34



Mark Divine 23:34

So it’s great to bring that kind of to the forefront. Having close friends is going to bring that kind of ability to down regulate the nervous system and to feel more nurtured. But looking at the opposite. If you don’t have that if someone’s listening and going, Man, I really need to get that I’m just kind of lonely loner. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 23:51



Mark Divine 23:52

What are the negative effects physiological and psychologically from I mean, we know the psychological effects of loneliness, right, can be depression and anxiety. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   23:59  

We know that loneliness is a stressor. 


Mark Divine 24:01



Dr. Robert Waldinger 24:02

And then we know that it has all these effects that you know, that I just named. 


Mark Divine 24:05



Dr. Robert Waldinger 24:05

And so for example, we know that loneliness makes us heal more slowly and less well. There was a study at Ohio State University, where they gave people skin biopsies, little punches of skin, it wasn’t as awful as it sounds. But they did this with people who were taking care of a demented relative, and people who were not. The same age and everything else was comparable.


Mark Divine 24:29



Dr. Robert Waldinger 24:30

And what they found was the people who were taking care of those relatives healed their little wounds 39 days later on average, than the people who were not taking care of…


Mark Divine 24:43



Dr. Robert Waldinger 24:43

…impaired relatives. And what we know is that, for example, taking care of a demented person is one of the most stressful things you can do. So stress has real powerful effects, and that means loneliness and social isolation, have real powerful affects on how we bounce back from viruses on how we heal from surgery. So many ways that stress prevents us and loneliness prevents us from essentially being our best physically as well as emotionally.


Mark Divine  25:15  

That’s amazing. You talked about in the book, how happiness is not an achievement, and how we can often overlook some of the simplest things around us that can be a source of happiness. Can you talk a little bit more about that.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   25:27  

Oh, yeah, well, and you know, this as a Zen meditator, right, that looking at the most ordinary things, but giving them our full attention can be wonderful. It can be mind blowing. I mean, if you go outside and just spend time looking at a tree, but really look at it, for like five minutes, you’ll be amazed at what you discover that you’ve never seen before. If you watch an ant crawl across a floor, like just watch that, just do that, I’m telling you, one of the things that I did at retreats a lot, we do mindful eating.


Mark Divine 26:00



Dr. Robert Waldinger 26:00

So you eat but very slowly and very mindfully, you take a bite of food, and then you really savor it, you feel exactly what it feels like in the mouth, and you savor the flavors, and then what it’s like to swallow each bite, it’s mind blowing to do that. All it is is the stuff we do every day. But if we give it our full attention, everything pops with an aliveness that normally we miss.


Mark Divine  26:25  

I love that. And I love this idea that it is similar to what we were talking about earlier, like becoming more aware, and even attaining some sort of awakened awareness state, which some people believe is becoming more and more accessible. And more and more people are experiencing it. Because we have so much information and so many opportunities to access people like yourself who are teaching these things. But it’s not an achievement is not something you know to get us back to our conversation like of the striving of the western model of personal and professional development or psychological development is more of the surrendering, it’s not an achievement, it’s actually within you. It’s not something you’re grasping outside of you. So happiness is within you, and peace is within you. It’s not something to grasp for.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   27:09  

Right. And one of the things that we know is that happiness comes and goes.


Mark Divine 27:14

That’s right.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 27:15

So that experience of being happy is never present all the time.


Mark Divine 27:19



Dr. Robert Waldinger 27:19

And we can give each other the impression that it’s possible to be happy all the time. You know, if I just do all the right things, right, if I eat the right things, and I do the right physical activity, and I have the right mindset, I’ll be happy 24/7. That is not the truth of any life. And it’s important to name that, because we can look at other people’s Instagram feeds, and Facebook pages, these curated lives that we put out there for each other. And we can believe that other people are having these happy lives. And we’re the only ones who you know, who don’t have it all figured out. And I can tell you from all of my work as a researcher and a psychiatrist, and a Zen practitioner, nonstop happiness doesn’t exist for any human being on the planet.


Mark Divine 28:03



Dr. Robert Waldinger 28:03

Just want to say that.


Mark Divine  28:05  

No, I love that I’d like to draw the distinction between contentment and happiness. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 28:08



Mark Divine 28:09

So you’re right. I mean, this is what the Buddha’s teaching, right, you’re always swinging between running toward that what you desire and running away from that which you fear is going to bring you discomfort. And so happiness is often found that the relief of either one of those, right.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 28:25



Mark Divin2 28:26

And then it’s gone as you send back in the other direction. But contentment is knowing that in spite of all that, everything’s okay. You know, you learn to not get caught up in the drama of it.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   28:35  

Yes, exactly. You know, in Zen, we talk sometimes about the basic okayness of life.


Mark Divine 28:40

I love that.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 28:41

That even at the worst of times, there’s a sense of this is okay, I can be with this.


Mark Divine  28:45  

Since we bounced back into Zen for a second. What is like, your most powerful tool to help people experience what you just said, that sense of being alive, right, because I’ve often said, hey, people said, What is witnessing? What’s the experience? I said, well, the experience is not of the mind. But just imagine right now or just close your eyes and experience being alive. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 29:11



Mark Divine 29:11

It said, if you can experience being alive without thinking about it, just knowing that holy shit, I am alive. There’s a certain quality to that that is ephemeral and very, very concrete, though at the same time.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 29:23



Mark Divine 29:23

Most people they dismiss it, they don’t pay attention to they’re so wrapped up in their thoughts.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   29:27  

Well, and that’s where I think simply bringing attention can be a huge factor in that sense of aliveness. So if you think about it, like why does time seem to go at such a different speed when we’re traveling in a new place? If you think about like arriving in a new place, the days seem really long, in a good way.


Mark Divine 29:45



Dr. Robert Waldinger 29:46

Because you’re having so many experiences and you’re paying attention because you need to pay attention.


Mark Divine 29:50


Dr. Robert Waldinger 29:51

Where am I going and what am I going to see now? Right?


Mark Divine  29:53  

Right, and it’s all new. You’re lingering and you’re savoring, and you’re…


Dr. Robert Waldinger   29:56  

All new. 


Mark Divine 29:57

Right, I love that.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 29:58

But then think about When you drive to work, and it’s a commute you’ve done every day, right? And a lot of times you’ll get in the car, you’ll get and you’ll arrive at work. You’ll think I don’t even remember this drive. Like how did I get here? Right? So it’s time disappears. And so I think what we know is that if we can bring what they call beginner’s mind, in Zen, that mind of freshness, to something as simple as brushing my teeth.


Mark Divine 30:24



Dr. Robert Waldinger 30:24

Like suddenly it there’s an aliveness to brushing my teeth that most of the time I don’t even notice it. Sometimes I have trouble remembering if I brush my teeth already, because I’m on automatic pilot, what if we take ourselves off of automatic pilot for even the most ordinary things?


Mark Divine  30:39  

Yeah, I love that. This probably relates to this next question, you use the term another one of your coin term phrases that I love is empathic accuracy. And I think when it comes to empathy, you know, I think of intuition, right? It’s that ability to kind of like feel into how someone else is feeling. But if you’re not very clear and present, you are often projecting into that relationship or into that feeling. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 31:01



Mark Divine 31:01

So you can get an inaccurate read. Am I getting close to what you mean by that?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   31:05  

Oh, yeah, you are. I wish I had coined the term I didn’t. It’s a term though, in psychological research. You’re defining it exactly right. It’s understanding what someone else is feeling. And there’s an interesting experiment that I think you’ll like, they looked at couples, like who were just dating, and then couples who had been together 5-10 years. The question was, who’s better at tuning into their partner’s feelings? Because you would think that we get better and better the longer we’re together.


Mark Divine 31:33



Dr. Robert Waldinger 31:34

Then when we first are getting to know each other. It turns out, it’s just the opposite. 


Mark Divine 31:38



Dr. Robert Waldinger 31:38

That the people who are best at tuning into someone’s feelings are when we’re just dating, because if you think about it, you know, you’re looking at this person and saying, are they into me?


Mark Divine 31:48



Dr. Robert Waldinger 31:48

Right. And so you’re watching every gesture, right.


Mark Divine 31:52



Dr. Robert Waldinger 31:52

And every eyebrow raise. And then they found that the people who’d been together 5, 10, 20 years were much worse at knowing what their partner was feeling, because we assume we know. And so I’m, can I bring in another Zen quote?


Mark Divine 32:05

Please do. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 32:06

So it’s from Suzuki Roshi, who talked about beginner’s mind. 


Mark Divine 32:10

Zen Mind was the first book I read on Zen.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 32:12

Exactly. And he says, in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. And in the experts mind, there are few. 


Mark Divine 32:22

That’s right. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 32:22

So we all think we’re experts in this partner we’ve been with for 20 years. So bring beginner’s mind again.


Mark Divine  32:29  

I love that that discussion about I use the Zen story, I co opted for a parable in my book, 8 Weeks to SEALFIT. And I’m talking about the arrogant guy who wanted to come out to meet the master. And that was, you know, me. I didn’t say that in the book. But it was obvious, you know, and we sat down and had a beer to talk about it. But he was so full of his ideas that I just kept pouring the beer and it flooded all over the place. He’s looking at me like, What are you doing, sir? You know, you need to empty your cup. Like you don’t have any room for my teaching. So I used the Zen parable, but yeah, you got to empty the cup. Because knowledge ultimately, even in a relationship, I never thought about it. I usually think about it in terms of like content areas, but as the same is true in content areas, right? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 33:13



Mark Divine 33:13

ven if you’re an expert in psychiatry, if you’re not emptying your cup, you’ve got no room for new information.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   33:19  

And what they find is that the more expert people become, the more expert you are, the more you’re aware of how much you don’t know. That if you’re really an expert, you’re more and more aware of what you don’t know.


Mark Divine  33:31  

That’s exactly right. As an expert, you’ve also had the benefit of some dissolution of ego. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 33:37



Mark Divine 33:37

You’re not saying I own all this knowledge. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 33:39

I don’t have to know.


Mark Divine 33:40

You don’t have to know. Now, back to empathic accuracy. How do we know when we’re around, and it’s probably fairly obvious because we can feel it. I get a lot of people who tell me they get stuck in relationships, that for years, they don’t realize that they’ve been drained. Now, they’re like Vampire relationships. How do we know when someone’s really uplifting us and has are energetically beneficial for us? Or they’re not, you know, they’re negative for us.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   34:03  

Yeah, you can feel it. And I bet we’re probably so accustomed to screening out that feeling that we don’t notice it. But you can feel when a connection you’re having is energizing, or when it’s draining. You and I you know, we’ve never met before talking to you right now, I’m getting more energy.


Mark Divine 34:22

Yeah, ditto.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 34:23

So this is an energizing encounter, right? But you probably know what it’s like to be with somebody and you just feel like..


Mark Divine  34:31  

Oh, even on a podcast. Yeah, I’ve been drained by podcast guests before. I’m like, Oh, my god.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   34:36  

I bet, I can imagine and that must be difficult.


Mark Divine  34:40  

Hopefully, I’ve never done it ti anybody else.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   34:42  

Oh my gosh. Yeah. So what I’d say is that maybe what the message might be to cultivate your own sense, which is within you. Try to notice what it feels like to have your energy raised by being with somebody and what it feels like to have your energy depleted. 


Mark Divine 35:00



Dr. Robert Waldinger 35:00

And it doesn’t mean you have to go away from the depleting ones. In fact, sometimes we want to stay right there in relationships that drain our energy, but we need to learn how to manage that.

Mark Divine 35:10

How to protect ourselves. And..


Dr. Robert Waldinger 35:12

yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s a physical feeling. It’s visceral.


Mark Divine  35:16  

Right. I totally agree. Yeah. And you can just simply, you know, be present and ask yourself after the interactions is, do I feel uplifted? Or do I feel drained? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 35:24



Mark divine 35:25

Do I feel drained, and there’s a good chance that that relationship is draining.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   35:27  

And you know, the other place you can do that is when you use social media.


Mark Divine 35:31

Right, I was gonna get there. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 35:32

Oh, okay. I didn’t mean to


Mark Divine  35:34  

No, I’m anxious because I was thinking, but this also relates to technology and the cacophony of the townhall that we deal with. So what are the some of the strategies for using that in a positive way?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   35:44  

Well, there is some research about this. And what it shows is that if we use social media actively, to connect with people, that increases our well being often it increases our energy. So for example, a friend of mine, during the lockdown of COVID, reconnected with his elementary school friends.


Mark Divine 36:03

How cool.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 36:03

And now they have coffee every Sunday morning on Zoom, and they are just thrilled getting reconnected with each other. Right. So that enhanced his well being. On the other side, if we use social media passively, if we scroll through other people’s Instagram feeds, for example, it lowers our wellbeing, it makes us feel like we’re missing out, like we are not having the good lives we want. And this is particularly difficult for adolescents, adolescents are very susceptible to depression and anxiety from this kind of passive social media use.


Mark Divine 36:40



Dr. Robert Waldinger 36:40

So again, the test you could use for yourself is, after I spent 10 minutes on this site, or doing this thing on the internet, how do I feel? After I’ve spent 10 minutes doing this other thing, how do I feel, and point yourself toward the more energizing things? 


Mark Divine  36:58  

Right. That’s awesome. Probably have to wrap up soon. I want to be sensitive to your time, but a couple practical takeaways for the listeners, you have a model in your book that is an acronym WISER, I’d love for you to just walk us through what that is as a high level kind of thing. And then for someone saying, Oh, that’s great. Now, what do I do tomorrow? Is there like a start here kind of best practice?


Dr. Robert Waldinger   37:20  

Okay, sure. So the WISER model is really just a way to make sense of something upsetting or confusing that somebody else did. Right? So let’s say you get a text saying, I need to talk to you right away all caps exclamation point… right. So you don’t know what that means.


Mark Divine  37:39  

That’s gonna trigger your sympathetic nervous system a little bit. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   37:42  

Yeah, exactly. And so what if you say, oh, my gosh, it’s my boss, and she’s mad at me. And she’s going to fire me and I’m going to be fired? And what am I going to do? And how am I going to find another job? Well, you could go down this cascade. So what we find is that when somebody does something we don’t understand, or that’s upsetting, we fill in the blanks about why they did it. So the WISER model is just a way to slow it down, not to fill in the blanks, but to say, oh, that takes up, I got to see you right away. Maybe it’s because something exciting happened in this person’s life. Maybe it’s because they won the lottery? Who knows? 

But in other words, you slow it down, you think well, what are the possibilities? And then how do I want to respond, given all these different possible scenarios, and then you engage with the person, see how it worked out, rather than just firing off an upset or angry response. Or a scared response.Or, you know, so it’s really just slowing it down when we can. So that’s the Wiser model.


Mark Divine 38:41



Dr. Robert Waldinger 38:42

And then what can people do? So one of the things people can do like you could take out your phone right now and think of someone you want to connect with, that you miss, or you haven’t seen in a while and just send them a text, send them an email and say, just thinking of you and wanted to say hi, and send it. That’s all you have to do and see what happens. Just see what happens. You will be amazed at how much positive stuff comes back to you. If you do it again and again, won’t happen every time with every person. But more often than not, it will.


Mark Divine

By the way, start with your wife, or husband and kids. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 39:17



Mark Divine 39:18

I make it a point several times a day to just send a quick note to my son and my wife say hey, thinking about you. It’s powerful.


Dr. Robert Waldinger 39:25

Fabulous, fabulous. And then the other thing, let’s say you’re lonely and you feel like I don’t have relationships, what we find is that if you put yourself in situations where you’re doing something you care about, alongside other people who care about the same thing, that’s a natural place to start conversations because you have something in common. It could be anything. It could be a gardening club, it could be a basketball league, it could be a political cause could be anything, right? So do that. Another thing you can do is to put yourself in a situation where you are of service to other people.


Mark Divine 40:02



Dr. Robert Waldinger 40:03

Volunteer at a food bank or a soup kitchen. Volunteer to read to children. Teach English as a second language. So many things you could do. Bring meals if you have a car bring or if you can walk, bring meals to people who are shut in. So there’s so many ways that being of service brings you into contact with people who want your help who want to connect with you. 


Mark Divine  40:26  

Yes, we should probably pin it there. The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness, phenomenal book. I recommend everyone listening get a copy and read it. Is there like a platform for the book? Or where do you like people to kind of like connect with you? Or where do you like to connect with people who are interest? 


Dr. Robert Waldinger   40:42  

Oh sure, there’s a book website, the goodlifebook.com You can find it. There’s my Robert Waldinger.com website. Or you could look for me on Insight Timer.


Mark Divine  40:54  

There you go, I love Insight Timer. I’m going to do that. 


Dr. Robert Waldinger 40:55



Mark Divine 40:56

Dr. Waldinger,  thank you so much for your time, It’s been a phenomenal and very insightful conversation and brought me a lot of energy and joy. So thank you so much, and happy practicing.


Dr. Robert Waldinger   41:06  

This was a total pleasure. Thank you for doing this with me.


Mark Divine  41:09  

Yeeah, it’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much. Hooyah. What an incredibly fun and enlightening conversation with Dr. Robert Waldinger. Fascinating. I love talking about Zen with him, and meditation and the possibilities that come from not striving for happiness, but surrendering to the awesomeness that is already us. Going to be an incredible show for folks to listen to. So thanks for doing so. And please share it with your team shownotes are up at Mark Divine.com videos up at YouTube on our YouTube channel. You can find that on my website as well. You can reach out to me on Twitter at Mark Divine and on Instagram and Facebook at Real Mark Divine or my LinkedIn channel. My newsletter Divine Inspiration comes out every Tuesday, I bring you the show notes for the podcast of the week, as well as my blog. In the book I’m reading with some notes and other interesting things that come across my desk as well as a weekly practice. Go to MarkDivine.com to sign up, and please share it with your friends shout out to my incredible team Jason Sanderson, Geoff Haskell and Catherine Divine , who bring this show and the newsletter to you every week with great guests. Like Dr. Bob, thanks so much for reviewing the show. If you haven’t, please consider rating and reviewing really helps others find it it keeps us at the top of the ratings, and gives me motivation to continue doing this world is challenging and we’re living VUCA. To thrive. We must be strong in body, mind and spirit and work with a great team. And that’s what we do at SEAFIT. That’s our specialty. We train strength in body strength and mind and we build strong teams go learn about our unbeatable team program, which is a year long immersion. It’s incredible program. We’ve got some slots open as well as the other cool things we do at sealfit.com. Till next time. This is your host Mark Divine


Transcribed by catherine and https://otter.ai



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