Happy Brain: How to Overcome Our Neural Predispositions to Suffering | Amit Sood, MD | TEDxUNI


Translator: selena kim
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven How are you doing this evening? Good? Motivated, inspired,
wonderful speakers. I bet you’ve not heard
“Slumdog Millionaire” accent so far, so here I bring that,
right in the middle of Midwest. So, I came to the US in 1995. I had been in medical training
for ten years before I came. In my first year
of medical school in 1984, I witnessed one of the worst
industrial disasters, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, where we lost, maybe,
tens of thousands of people overnight. I was a first-year
medical student at that time. Over the next eight to ten years, I saw a lot of disasters, a lot of challenges
because of malnutrition and infections and so on. By the time I was preparing
to come to the US in 1995, I thought I was going
to come to Disneyland. I thought everybody here was happy. I thought, as a child here,
you grow up in Disneyland; when you’re an adult,
you play slots in Las Vegas; and you retire in Florida playing bingo. I heard that’s what,
pretty much, American life is. I was seeing too many movies. So when I came here, and I saw that there was
almost as much stress and suffering here as I was seeing overseas,
that’s what shocked me. I had come here
to become a cancer specialist. I changed my direction,
and I said I’m going to understand: why does the human brain
not know how to be happy? Why do we struggle with that? So I’ll share with you a few pearls
I have learned on that journey, and we’ve sort of put together
a program that we offer to over 50,000 people every year, at this time. There’s some neural predispositions
that predispose us to suffering. There’s the external situation, of course, but also some neural predispositions. For example, we spend
a lot of time mind wandering. When you are doing dishes, you know, right at that time
your brain is not doing dishes; your brain is going through all of that. And you’re not saying, “I have
the most wonderful partner in the world.” “I have the best children.” “How come I have so much
more money than I ever needed?” We’re focusing on all
the imperfections, all the challenges. Our mind is wandering. An average person has
about 150 undone tasks at any time. We spend a lot of time
with wandering attention. So this is one big challenge
of the human brain. Do you want to guess what proportion
of the time we are like that? About 50 to 80 percent
of the time, during the day. Our colleagues at Mayo
actually took a few patients and tried to scan them, and see how their brain looks at rest, at rest, when they were doing nothing. And this is the scan of brain at rest. So, I know many of you
don’t have a degree in radiology, but perhaps you can see
that it seems like a pretty busy place. It seems a bit like a fish market. (Laughter) What you are seeing
is blobs of blue and red forming and dissolving; those are actually networks in the brain. The way the brain operates,
our brain is designed as a giant network
of about 86 to 90 billion neurons. These networks collaborate
to create two modes of the brain. The first mode of the brain
is the focused mode. Focused mode is engaged when you are processing
something very interesting, very novel, very meaningful. For example, if you step out
and you see a baby elephant jaywalking in the parking lot, that’ll get your brain
in the focus mode, right? Or when you’re bungee jumping, right at that time
in the middle of the air, you don’t say, “What was
that email I had to answer?” Boom. It’s too late. Playing with a little baby
gets you in the focused mode. You know, the baby is happy with all the attention
that she is getting. So that is the first mode of the brain:
the focused mode. Our brain loves to be in this mode. But we don’t give ourselves
enough doses of that. The second mode of the brain,
I realized was, is the default mode. Have you experienced
when reading a book, you read half a page,
you say, “What was I reading?” Where were you at that time? You were mind wandering. You were with all your open files, and an average person has
about 150 undone tasks at any time. So we spend- do you want to guess what proportion
of the day we are like that with that wandering attention? 50 to 80 percent of the time. So right now, as we speak,
two to three billion people are walking around the planet
with no idea where they are. Because they are experiencing
wandering attention. That’s the reality.
It’s kind of scary, isn’t it? So, I’m sure you’ve experienced this
or not experienced this. You tell three things to your partner, and this is how they look, totally blank, as if your sounds are
like clicking sounds, your words. Yeah, I can see some of you
resonating with that, right? Have you ever read a book to a child, and have no idea what you read,
and maybe tried to skip pages, and then you get caught skipping pages? Yes, yes, yes? So those are the two modes. So this is the default mode,
where we spend a lot of time. What research is showing is that the more time
we spend in default mode, the greater our risk
of anxiety, depression, attention deficit, perhaps even dementia. And the way the brain operates, when you use a particular network,
it becomes stronger. So we get stuck here. So we seesaw between
these two modes all day long, but what happens is
when we have too many open files, which everybody does- is there anybody here
who has less than twenty user IDs? (Laughter) Our brain didn’t evolve around our need
to process twenty user IDs, right? So we were focused
on safety and survival. So that is a challenge: Our brain evolved
around safety and survival; we want it deliver peace and happiness. And that is why we get stuck. So this was a first challenge, I realized, the neural predispositions, our tendency for our mind to wander. The second challenge is our focus
on threat and imperfection. I have personally had
multiple medical problems. I’ve had several heart attacks,
I’ve had multiple strokes, several cancers, nearly died many times – all in my head;
none of this actually happened. I’m imagining all these illnesses. So I have- yeah, I look pretty preserved
for all of that, right? One of my oncologists said that. So, I spend a lot of time
living with imaginary fears. When you’re looking at this picture, I’m sure your attention
is going to that spider, right? Because a spider
has immediate threat focus. But let me ask you this:
What is more threatening in 2015? Is it spiders or donuts?
What do you think? How many of you think it’s donuts? So let the record show
everybody’s saying donuts. So, when you go to a party, and they’re serving donuts, and you’ve got twenty donuts
staring at you, shouldn’t you run away, shouting, “Oh my god, they’re serving donuts!
They’re out to kill me! We’ll never go to Smiths again, because they tried to kill me
by feeding donuts,” right? No, but we get attracted to them because our ancestors
got attracted to calorie-dense foods. So we’ve got some
evolutionary predispositions that are not really adaptive. So this is the second challenge:
negativity bias. Another challenge is hedonic adaptation. I’m sure you’ve realized this, “Honey, I love you,
but now please change.” Has that ever happened to you? First year of marriage,
it’s all wonderful; twentieth year of marriage – and we have been married 21 years,
I’ve said this in front of my wife – partners become
borderline boring after 20 years. 30 years, even worse. So we get used to good. One of my patients said,
“I divorced the wife I loved.” Which is a very sad thing to hear because what happens
is we get used to the goodness and start focusing on imperfections. There are several
other neural predispositions; I’ve just shared a few of them. So what happens is
these neural predispositions take away from enjoying life. And that is what I realized. So happiness has very little to do
with having too much resources, or not having malnutrition or infections. Happiness is really that inner state.
So how do we cultivate that? I’ll give you a little sample of that. What I will do is share
with you a few sprinkles, a few practices that you can
apply in your life right now; we will do a couple
of practices right here, so that you can bring those
to your life. And I’ll do what we call
the “5-3-2 program.” The first skill is with five people. When you wake up in the morning, how long does it take for your mind
to wander after you wake up? Is it less than a few seconds,
or is it minus five seconds? Minus five seconds, right? What should I do?
What should I dread? So here is my suggestion. When you wake up tomorrow morning, think about five people
in your life you’re grateful for before you step on the carpet. Let us practice this together so I can explain what I mean by this. Let us all sit with eyes closed
for the next two minutes, and I’ll guide you
through this practice, and if you’re watching it
on video in a safe place, you can please do that. So I’ll take you through this practice. Imagine you’re waking up this morning. Notice the color of the floor
where you woke up. Think about the first person in your life
you want to be grateful for. Think of the many ways
this person has touched your life. And send your silent gratitude
to this person. Second person. Look into the eyes of this person and notice the color of the eyes. And then send silent gratitude. Third person. Go back to the first memory
of this person. Then send your silent gratitude. Fourth person. And imagine this person is very happy wherever he or she is right now. Then send your silent gratitude. Go back in time and look at yourself
when you were eight years old. Notice your hairstyle at that time. And send silent gratitude
to your eight-year-old self. Think about someone
who has passed away, who you loved. Give that person a virtual hug. Send silent gratitude to that person. When you are ready
you can open your eyes. I didn’t even know where I had reached because my eyes were closed too. I’m glad I was on the red carpet. So, this is the first practice. It will help you focus
on what is most important in your life. How many of you have someone who is worth
several trillion dollars to you? Everybody, right? So, I invite you to focus
on your maximum net worth, what is most valuable to you. Don’t wake up thinking,
“What should I do? What should I dread?” or chasing deadlines. And then in an afternoon at three o’clock, you feel like you’re being judged. Anyone here struggles
with being appreciated too much in life? Like you’re appreciated too much;
no one judges you negatively? That’s not the challenge, right? So when your self-esteem is low,
and you are on the rumble strip, think of three people who care about you;
it brings you back to the highway. The idea is not to not end
on the rumble strip because we will all be there. How quickly we recover, that’s the key, so we don’t end in a ditch. So, this is the first practice. One suggestion: take a post-it note, write ‘gratitude’ on it
and stick it to your mirror. When you wake up,
if you forget this exercise, find yourself in the bathroom,
see that note, go back to bed and start over. That’s how it will become a habit. So this is the first practice. The second moment of intentionality is
when you get back home. Say you’re with your spouse,
and your high school buddy shows up. Who will be more interesting
for the next five minutes? High school buddy. Absolutely. Why? Because there’s novelty. Between you and your
high school buddy is novelty, between you and your spouse,
I assume, is love. See how novelty beats love? 100 percent of the time. If you want to enjoy your personal life, the key is to find novelty where love is. Let’s say you have not met
your partner for 30 days. Are you going to find them
a little more novel after that gap, yes? So the idea is to meet your family
at the end of each day, intentionally, as if you are meeting them after 30 days. So what I do is – I don’t have my cell phone with me
right now, assume this to be it – the first thing I do
when I am in the garage is I look at my cell phone, I check all my emails. Once I am done-
I don’t want to be- You know, there was
a recent picture on the internet with a husband and wife
hugging each other, and behind the shoulder
they are both checking their emails. I don’t want to be doing that at home. So I get that out of the way; I tell myself I’m going to meet
a bunch of very special people who I haven’t met for quite some time, and for three minutes I meet them as if I haven’t seen them for a long time. Remembering transience,
because our ten-year-old daughter will be off to college in 2000 evenings. I have finite time.
We have finite time with everything. And third and very important and very difficult thing to do will be: for the first three minutes
when you’re with your family, don’t try to improve anybody. That’s going to be very difficult because we have
this fault-finding machine, right? Your smile is an admission of guilt. Two supporting ideas here. One is to be genuinely interested
in what is of interest to them, and second is creatively praise. Probably this is going to be
my most useful line of this evening. Whenever you’re not getting
your spouse’s or partner’s attention remember these words. They work 100 percent of the time. They start with something like this: “Honey, you were
really right when you…” and then fill anything after that. (Laughter) It’ll work, everybody loves
to hear how they were right. You’ve got five minutes
of undivided attention. “Yes, yes, tell me how was I right.” We don’t do that enough. The third practice is two seconds. And that is how we look at each other, how we engage with each other. Let’s say you were doing
barbeque in your backyard, and this gentleman shows up. Umm… are you going
to invite him to join you? “Come, please have my dinner.
Please have me for dinner.” Or something like that. You’ll probably call 911, right? But our ancestors didn’t have 911, so they had to make a quick judgement: Is this person trustworthy? Can I trust him with my cattle,
my house, my family? Right? So we develop a judgmental attention. So when you look at this gentleman,
looks perfectly fit, but that is how long it took
for you to make those five judgments. You know, it takes 30 milliseconds for us to decide if someone
is trustworthy or not. 30 milliseconds, before we even know
who that person is. But when you look at him, he has the same neural predispositions. He spends a lot of time mind wandering. He focuses on threats and imperfections. He carries negativity bias. He adapts to the good. He compares,
doesn’t feel good about himself. So kind attention is very simple. When you see people,
before your mind starts judging others, for the first two seconds, instead of seeing negatively or neutrally, align your heart and send them
a silent “I wish you well.” I wish you well. I wish you hope.
I wish you healing. This is how we need to create our world; we keep silently wishing each other well. You don’t have to say it. It’s just a private intention. You can consider a two-second prayer
for the other person, if you have a faith-based practice. What happens is that your whole engagement
with the world changes. Your threat perception goes down. Now, I don’t want you to start this
downtown at 2 AM in the morning when two big shadows
are coming towards you. You want to start in a place
where it feels safe, etc. So looking at the world the way we want the world
to look at your kids. These are all intentional
sprinkle practices. We are not meditating
on emptiness or breath. We are meditating on wisdom,
and love, and relationships. That is what we need,
and we are sprinkling it. So we are not adding
more milk to your glass of milk; we are adding
chocolate powder to your milk. So the whole life becomes better, because they join together
to lift your entire day. The next group of practice is
once your attention is in your control, is to reframe life’s challenges
using higher order principles, and these are
the five principles in our life: gratitude, compassion,
acceptance, meaning, and forgiveness. The way we’ve structured our program
is Mondays are our days of gratitude. On Monday be a little bit
like Matthew Henry. He was once robbed in London
and he said: “I’m so grateful. This is the first time I’m being robbed.
Never been robbed before. How nice it is.” And, “I was the one robbed;
not the one doing the robbing.” Tuesday is compassion. Be kind to others. Wednesday is acceptance. Be creatively working with what is. Think about: will it matter
five years from now? Thursday is higher meaning. And Friday is forgiveness. Note that in our program,
you only have to forgive on Friday, you don’t have to forgive the entire week. (Laughter) This doesn’t mean if you’re very nerdy
that on Friday you don’t say, “I can’t be compassionate
because compassion is only on Tuesdays.” It means to be flowing and easy. So the idea is by applying
these principles, when science has met spirituality, it creates a milieu for transformation. This is wisdom, this is timeless wisdom that sages have told us,
that scientists are finding. Science is nothing
but systematic study of spirituality. That’s what I believe;
science doesn’t know it. Science will know it at some point. I believe that this is
what the children of our world need. They want us adults to be grateful,
to be compassionate, to be accepting,
to live our life with meaning and have forgiveness,
and if we do that, we will create a wonderful world for them. Thank you. (Applause)

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Comments

  1. Just Amazing 🙂 First thing to watch in the morning… & you feel so grateful for having watched it … something that really opened the door to transformation 🙂 Just Amazing 🙂

  2. Before buying on gearbest, know that it's thieves.
    They do not repay,
    on google search for "Thieves Gearbest".

  3. dont you think default mode is the place where one expects themselves to be –which is what they were taught we were supposed to be.

  4. Unfortunately for me, he speaks so fast I miss too much of what he says. I wanted to hear it all but can't.

  5. I love this talk. Couldn't agree more. It was so pleasing to see how science can be combined with spirituality. As a happiness coach, I love the exercise given in this talk as well.

  6. It appears suffering has lessons… "Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit." ~Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks

  7. Summary: humans have neural predisposition to be unhappy. We have 2 modes of the brain: a. focused mode (processing info, engaged) b. default mode (mind wondering, 50-80% of our time). Also, humans have this evolutionary predisposition to focus on threats, negative bias. These neural predispositions keep us from enjoying life.

    Few practices to train the brain to be happy:
    a. morning gratitude meditation – think of 5 ppl you're grateful for
    b. afternoon validation session – think of 3 ppl who care for you
    c. evening intentionality practice – meet your fnf as if you're seeing them after a long time, look for novelty and find creative ways to praise
    d. send silent wishes to random ppl instead of silent judgement

    5 keys: gratitude, compassion acceptance meaning forgiveness.

  8. Frickin brilliant. I KNOW all of this but having a concise way to practice it is revolutionary. Thank you, Dr. Sood.

  9. 15>30 As-salamu alaykum. As-salāmu ʿalaykum (Arabic: السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ‬ [æs.sæˈlæːmu ʕæˈlæjkʊm]) is a greeting in Arabic that means "peace be upon you". The greeting is a religious salutation among Muslims, whether socially or within worship and other contexts.

  10. Neural predispositions
    Mind wondering 50 to 80% of the time
    Networks in the brain
    #1 focus mode. elephant 🐘 jaywalking in the parking lot. The brain loves focus mode.
    #2 default mode. Wondering attention 50 to 80 % of the time = anxiety depression, attention deficit, dementia.

    How the brain works: the brain uses a particular network (focus mode or default mode) and it grows stronger.

    First Challenge: our brain evolves around safety and survival. We wanted to deliver peace and happiness.

    Second challenge: thread and imperfections (example: imagining heath attacks, multiple strokes, cancer etc.) “negativity bias”

    Third challenge
    Hedonic adaptation: example marriage partners become bored after 20 years. We get used to this goodness and start focusing on imperfections.

    “This are just a few predispositions that take away from enjoying life”
    “Happiness is not about resources but the inner state”

    Intentionality practices
    #1 Morning time: gratitude to five people in your life.

    #2 afternoon around 3 pm give 3 minutes to your loved ones as if you haven’t see them for a long time.

    #3 2 seconds before judging a person wish them well, happiness, healing etc.

    After your mind is focus practice higher state values during the week days example:
    Monday gratitude
    Tuesday compassion
    Wednesday acceptance
    Thursday meaning
    Friday forgiveness

    That is what our children and the world need parents who are grateful, compassionate, accepting, meaningful and forgiving.

  11. I love this. I have been inadvertently doing something like this for a while and it works. Focusing on the people you love (even if it's just by thinking of their face and feeling gratitude) makes you feel connected, even when you're physically alone. It's pretty amazing.

    I am all for using science and am 100% pro research/evidence — But I think spirituality is so fundamental to our health as humans. We are smart and we can be rational, but our brains are wired to thrive on people and community. Saying a prayer, at its core, is not intended to be a literal conversation with people who aren't present. It's a way of setting intention towards the things that bring comfort and happiness (which is almost always a sense of connection with others).

  12. Oh my gosh, I wish he was in my friends circle! He’s so entertaining and is probably a lot of fun to be around. 😃

  13. Love this Guy ..a gentle spirit so clever and has not lost the child within ..Total respect ..Thank you

  14. That moment when you are on 7th minute of this talk, and then you realize you have already listened to it before, but forgot most of it, over mind wandering during that time.

  15. Wonderful talk but why the subtitles? I decided to watch it without the subtitles- no problem. This man is treating patients at the Mayo Clinic and how condescending to subtitle his talk.

  16. Negative Adaptations:

    1. Mind Wandering – uncontrolled thoughts
    2. Negativity Bias – we remember negative over positives
    3. Hedonic Adaptations – we get used to the good.

    The Solution: Science and Spirituality

    1. Gratitude in morning: think about 5 people you are grateful for
    Focus on maximum net worth…

    2. Find novelty where love is: Meet family each day as if you're meeting them after 30 days

    3. Creatively Praise! Do not judge

    4. Silently wish people good when first meeting. Look at the world the way you want people to look at your children.

    5. Reframe your challenges
    Gratitude
    Compassion
    Acceptance
    Meaning
    Forgiveness

  17. this is perfect! I wake up feeling low and just go jogging, on returning home, the low feelings have disappeared

  18. Fabulous! Informative, insightful and funny! Spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down! Thanks Dr. Amit Sood!

  19. I actually dont quite experience what he is describing. When I do "automatic" physical work like washing dishes, cleaning etc, I get a lot of new ideas, solutions, inspiration for my creative outlets etc. Stepping out of focus mode can also feel like meditation, and just being… Maybe due to years of spiritual practice and meditation?

  20. Interesting your name is ''Amit''—in Hebrew, a beloved name; it means friend, companion, colleague, soul mate. Suits you! Great talk.

  21. Amazing and lucid talk. Loved this as a simple and profound meditative technique to send gratitude. It works thank you.

  22. Thanks for this very wise and insightful talk ! I took copious notes and will incorporate what I learned here into my daily "bullet proof" ritual and also share with all my loved ones and not so loved ones LOL…..thanks again Dr. Amit Sood ! God Bless you and peace and love to you always 🙂 !

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