Interview: Tim Samuels.
Tim Samuels is an award-winning British documentary film-maker, BBC and National Geographic broadcaster, and author.
His most recent book is Future Man.
He's done a lot of thinking about issues that relate to happiness, so I was interested to hear what he had to say on subjects like work, relationships, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Tim: Avoiding the subway and walking through the park to get to town. Swapping people’s sweaty armpits for lush trees is a game-changer. And the ten thousand steps mean you’ve earned that dark chocolate bar.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I used to occasionally—and often after a few pints (to sound very British here)—fall into a fast-food joint late at night. But I’ve managed to crack this with a zen-like focus on how you feel after eating the burger. Focusing on that burpy, greasy postburger moment (when the gherkin pleasure has morphed into the sensation of eating cardboard) just about seems to do the trick.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
Skilled workers—like tradesmen—are twice as likely to be “extremely happy” in their jobs compared to those of us that work in offices. There’s something particularly satisfying about mastering a skill—and not being trapped in an open-plan office (which can be so distracting it affects your ability to do basic math). It’s useful to know that beyond work, having a hobby where you master something is a real boon to happiness.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That men and boys needs to vent their masculinity to feel good about themselves. Not in negative ways (like fighting) but in smart modern ways—to feel part of a bigger tribe or a sense of being productive. Giving testosterone and risk-taking tendencies a good work-out. Just as we count or steps or calories, guys need to make sure they’re getting enough "good masculinity" during the week. Or else there’s all sort of problems!
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
A serious Questioner. Which makes sense having been a journalist asking awkward questions for 20 years!
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Living alone…which is such a strange things for humans to do—when compared to how we’ve always lived. If you’re not careful, you fall into bad habits—and spend too much time with the couch and boxsets. That’s why I really need a dog (Italian greyhound please).
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Remember that we’re basically just "cavemen in suits." We only stopped living the Flintstones life 10/12 thousand years ago—and are living in bodies wired to be hunter-gatherers. We need to respect this ancient hardware—or else we malfunction and crash.
In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
The misconception that because "men" are dominant they’re doing just fine. Sure, the over-dominant men at the top are doing more than fine; but a lot of guys out there are struggling and having a hard time—especially with so much economic insecurity and inequality.
Men are more vulnerable than people think. We need to take seriously what’s going on with a lot of men these days: not just for them, but their partners and society and politics as a whole. Angry, frustrated men are not a good thing!
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