Interview: Daniel Lerner.
Dan Lerner teaches the most popular elective at New York University, "The Science of Happiness." One of my favorite subjects!
His new book just hit the shelves. U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life) is a fun, comprehensive guide to staying happy and productive in college -- and beyond. It's a mix of science, tips, and example from real life.
Obviously, with a daughter going off to college in a few months, this title caught my interest. I hope that she'll go forth unafraid, and thrive once she arrives.
Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?
Dan: While there are many influential components of effective habit formation, one that is not only among the most powerful is may also be the most pleasurable: positive, supportive relationships can turn a chore into a welcome challenge, and pain into pleasure (well...almost). You are more likely to drag yourself for a run when you know that you have committed to do it with a pal. People regulate their study or work habits study more effectively when scheduling it with others. And, hey, none of us quit smoking because the body just stops craving nicotine – we do it because we want to see our kids grow up, and not just live longer lives, but do so longer with friends and loved ones. You’ve got to have a darn good reason to develop (or quit) a habit, and other people can help get you (and you can help get them) over the hump. [Dan, I'm guessing that you're an Obliger.]
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
Cell phones, email, and surfing the web. OMG, make it stop. I did a boys' week last summer with my buddy, his sons and my son. We were in the wilds of Colorado, an hour away from any and all connectivity. Once I stopped jonesing for wifi, life was old school awesome. Even the boys –- whose ages range from 7-10 -- were over the moon happy with board games and slingshots. Here in the city when I hang with my boy I often leave the phone at home, and for work I am constantly on the lookout for wifi free cafes. I think that my work is important, but it’s not like I am needed to save lives at any given moment. I mean really…what is so important that I can’t go for an undistracted game of catch or focus on some quality writing time?
Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
If I haven’t worked out in over 48 hours I am a different person – and by that I don’t mean a better one. Just ask my family – they have actually kicked me out of the apartment with a stern “Maybe you should go to the gym. Now.” Two hours later I have gone from rabid pit bull to playful puppy dog. Oh, and every night since he was born 9 and a half years ago, the last thing that I do before I go to sleep is tiptoe into my son’s room as he sleeps, kiss his forehead, and whisper to him that I love him more than anything in the world. It is such a lovely way to remind myself of what’s important, and a regular reminder that no matter how the day went, I am truly blessed.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)
When I am in New York City, I won’t let anything get in the way of physical exercise, because I know how much better I am for my family, friend, and work when I am able to move. On the road though it can get tough to maintain as I generally fly into a city and spend time with colleagues and students from wheels down to wheels up. That said, my sleep habits when I travel get a major boost. As the saying goes, early to bed (that’s been freshly made, where I am alone, without two dogs, and no chance of an early morning surprise superfly full body leap from the nine-year-old animal that is my son), early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and…you know the rest.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
I used to enjoy the occasional cigarette – a social smoker if you will. After my dad passed away I never lit one up again. It wasn’t that he died of cancer related illness – he lived a happy, full 88 years -- but I remember the moment that it happened thinking that I didn’t want my son to have to go through that kind of sadness any sooner then he absolutely needed to. I have changed many habits as a result of my son, getting more sleep (to be a better dad), cutting back on the work obsession (to be a more present dad) and meditating (to be more present when I am present). Kids? Wha-BAM! They are a walking, talking source of lightning energy anytime that we choose to tap in. [Yup, Obliger.]
Dive into The Blog
More Posts For You
Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.
The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.