In 2010 I was invited to be a guest on this documentary produced and directed by Theresa Grainger. 8 years on and the content is equally as valuable for anybody wanting to manage the stressors in their life and examine other ways to achieve wellbeing.
Since the global economic downturn in 2008, many of us may feel that laughing in the office might send a signal that we don’t have enough to do. Discussions that might previously have been conducted in person at a colleague’s desk increasingly take place over e-mail or Slack.
In that context, office chatter can at times seem unnecessary. But what if, rather than signalling inactivity, laughing together is something that improves team collaboration and stimulates innovation?
After years of not paying much attention to laughter, scientists are starting to reach that very conclusion.
So what is laughter? In the past two decades, probably the most work to understand this has been done by American neuroscientist Robert Provine, currently a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He reminds us that laughter is akin to our animal call sign, saying in his 2001 book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation: “Laughter is the quintessential human social signal. Laughter is about relationships.”
We are 30 times more likely to laugh when we are with other people than when we’re alone
Provine studied when we laugh, and found that we are 30 times more likely to laugh when we are with other people than when we’re alone. In his book, Provine’s critical point is this: “We tend to overlook the fact that laughter evolved because of its effect on others, not to improve our mood or health.”
When do we laugh, in Provine’s work it often tended to follow fairly mundane office conversation. It came after comments like “we can handle this”, “I think I'm done” or “there you go”. Most of us reading those triggers can probably recognise how our own office conversation might similarly be followed with laughter. These aren’t jokes so much as moments of connection – reaching out to colleagues to show relaxation.
Laughter is a subconscious signal that we’re in a state of relaxation and safety, says professor Sophie Scott from University College London. For instance, many mammals exhibit laughter-type reactions – but that they can be stopped by certain emotional states.
Professor Sophie Scott found that rats stop laughing if they feel anxious (Credit: Getty Images)
“Rats stop laughing if they feel anxious,” she says. “Humans do the same thing. It’s a sign if people are laughing that they’re not in that anxious state. It’s a marker than the group is in a good place”.
In other words, if a group is laughing together, then it suggests that our protective guard is down.
This matters because there’s research to suggest that when our brains are relaxed, we more easily achieve free idea association, which can lead to creativity.
Flashes of inspiration
Mark Beeman from Drexel University and John Kounios from Northwestern University wanted to see whether laughter could help people solve tricky logic puzzles.
They showed subjects Robin Williams delivering comedy zingers in a stand-up routine and then asked them test questions. They were interested to see whether laughter would facilitate more flashes of inspiration in the superior anterior temporal gyrus (a part of the brain just above your right ear which is associated with connecting distantly-connected ideas).
Researchers Mark Beeman and John Kounios found people who laughed at Robin Williams comedy clips were better at solving puzzles (Credit: Getty Images)
A short laugh at a comedy clip was shown to increase puzzle-solving by 20%. Why would this be? Beeman and Kounios say this laughter-linked lack of focus appears to allow our minds to juggle and connect concepts in a way that rigid concentration does not. A laughter-linked lack of focus appears to allow our minds to juggle and connect concepts in a way that rigid concentration does not
Maybe laughter just helps us remove stress from our workplaces. Teresa Amabile is a Harvard professor who has spent 40 years building an understanding of when we’re most creative. Her observations – some of the most widely cited in the field of work psychology – are that a positive working environment is more creative than a stressful one. Stress is the enemy of inventiveness. A well-known work of hers dramatically asserted: “When creativity is under the gun, it usually ends up getting killed”.
Laughter then has multiple functions. It makes us feel more bonded as a team and as a consequence our creative guards come down, leading to more expansive idea generation. So how would we achieve more of this?
Provine suggests that we attempt to adopt a “laugh-ready attitude” – which means being more open to laughter. “You can voluntarily choose to laugh more by lowering your threshold for amusement. Just be willing and prepared to laugh,” he wrote.
He also suggests arranging more social events – company gatherings that are intended just to get people to together, rather than to hammer through 30 PowerPoint slides.
This suggestion seems to be backed up by one of the pioneering studiers of workplace dynamics, MIT professor Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland. Pentland is clear that the modern office owes most of its productivity to the oldest forms of interaction. In a 2014 talk at Google, he said “email has very little to do productivity or creative output”. But rich channels of communication, such as face-to-face discussion, have a huge amount to do with productivity: “conversation predicts 30 and sometimes 40% of the productivity in work groups”.
In straitened economic times, the notion of prioritising discussion and laughter as one of the most important things to do as a team might seem superfluous and trivial, if not to yourself, then to others. But remember that science is on your side – and perhaps, the next time you laugh, inspiration will strike.
Bruce Daisley is the European Vice President of Twitter. He runs Eat Sleep Work Repeat, a weekly podcast on improving work culture. To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
For almost the past 100 years, mental health professionals have told us that that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, there's a much more realistic theory that depression happens due to an imbalance happening outside of your cranium. Johann Hari, author of "Lost Connections", believes that depression these days stem from societal issues. Johann offers some staggering statistics showing that antidepressants seem to be doing much more harm than good — among them, that one out of every four middle-aged women in the United States is taking a chemical antidepressant in any given year.
If we want to get rid of modern-day depression, he says, we have to change society.
SHARE HAPPINESS AND BE PART OF SOMETHING AMAZING
Take part in the International Day of Happiness 2018.
This year's theme is Share Happiness - focusing on the importance of relationships, kindness and helping each other.
Without even knowing you in this moment I am going to say "Yes" to the above question!
I have the temerity to do that because I have had occasion now to reflect on my own stories and thousands of "others stories" and see the impact stories make on the listener !
Being able to relate in story form the significant events in our lives and their relationship to furthering our own path or the path of others gives people such a sense of connection. It is not that you have all had the same experiences but the patterns may be the same and they essentially "nod" thinking "that kind of thing happened to me !"
"When you tell a story to a friend, you can transfer experiences directly to their brain. They feel what you feel. They empathize. What's more, when communicating most effectively, you can get a group of people's brains to synchronize their activity. As you relate someone's desires through a story, they become the desires of the audience. When trouble develops, they gasp in unison, and when desires are fulfilled they smile together.
For as long as you've got your audience's attention, they are in your mind. When you hear a good story, you develop empathy with the teller because you experience the events for yourself. This makes sense. Stories should be powerful." https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-illuminated/201106/why-sharing-stories-brings-people-together
If you are interested to develop and refine these skills please be in touch and book a FREE 30 minute discovery session
I flirt therefore I sell....or I flirt therefore I date?
Descartes was not thinking about Valentines Day when he said “ I think therefore I am” .
Pat Armitstead , the worlds first Joyologist, holds the notion that " I flirt therefore I sell", and says if that is the truth then the same can be true for "I flirt therefore I date?"
With Valentines on our doorstep Pat says we can bring a little love into our business and our lives by looking at what it means to flirt.
A large number of people hold some fear around flirting. They despair of finding a new partner, and wished they did not feel so awkward amongst strangers. Perhaps we can dig deep and explore flirting, and help overcome some initial barriers. So, for starters, lets not call it flirting. Lets think of it as using our own inbuilt charm! Olde world charm and modern day flirting are perfect partners. Exuding charm is a social skill. It can be learned and as you practice it you get better. Then one day you don't need to flirt because you have found your partner!
True or false?
Well I will halt you right there because I think you need it always. Just because you have found a partner and are no longer "hunting" does not mean you stop being charming and flirtaceous. To do so would be to stop being friendly. And since when was that an option? So, flirting needs to be put in context. Our many daily encounters provide opportunities to flirt and have fun. Yet we let the mundance and ho-hum take over sometimes.
So...what is this thing called flirting then? I think it is putting your best foot forward to encourage interest in another. It is the first step towards building a new relationship. It is the reparte that tests the water and identifies when the others interest is sparked. With out the banter and a hint of naughtiness....just cheeky fun, everybody loses interest.
Ah...I see i have your interest! Why the naughtiness? Well in romance if it is too plain and ordinary there will be no spark. Without the spark there is nothing to ignite the flame. Without the flame there is no passion. Flirting requires so little effort, just simple diligence to the task.
The only thing that stands in the way is our memory of old hurts....and the possibility of rejection. When we concentrate on treating others with care we appear alive and attractive.
There are only 2 positions in the flirting game. You can either say you flirt....or you say you can't. You work out which choice you will make...and, even if you are a tad nervous....then "fake it till you make it". You are really just being friendly! And flirting is a solitary activity, and nobody else will know if you "fail".
Oh, and here's some tips for the readers/viewers.
There is a myth about mirth in business. It sounds a bit like this..." You are in business to make money, not have fun"
Using humour and a flirtaceous manner in business does not mean you are being a clown. It shows you are a warm, responsive, intelligent and considerate person. I put it to you that humour is the most effective human resource, and lets us inform, educate, enhance personalities and entertain. It's been proven to boost morale and productivity....and therefore profits!!
"You can't lift your bottom line if your people are down"
I have been vilified for daring to paint this piece !!
26/1/2018 - I have been villified for daring to paint this piece.
It seemed appropriate today to talk about that!
The vision for this was channelled at a healing ceremony conducted by Beverley Iffla in Auckland. She played the crystal bowls and channeled aboriginal chanting. I sat in the audience and just wept for the miracle I was seeing in my minds eye as she chanted and harmonised.
I went home and in the next 24 hours painted this piece called The Rise of Indigenous Humour.
NB. On the same day my son in Australia sent me a newspaper clipping notifying of Dr Pearl Duncan's completion of her thesis on Aboriginal Humour !!
The image is depicting the following:-
The central figure is the voice of humour rising from a 3D lump of land at the bottom of the canvas. While we all have our own individual "laugh", the componants of a laugh are the same in everybody!
The genial spirit and soul of laughter is rising, moving through night and day - expressed in blue and brown circles- and across nations. The spirit of everyones laughter rises to meet the sun, projecting the same warmth and healing embrace as the sun itself.
The 2 figures are Mimis or mischievous spirits, present always to "give rise" to humour.
The hands are those of a Maori lady embracing all as one. awhi katoa e he
I studied aboriginal culture and art extensively and have worked for many years with the Bundjalung tribe on NSW north coast. I was privileged to capture history from 4 elders 20 years ago, walking with them on a 10 day intensive into the past. I know the symbolism and resonate with it.
Irene Daley, Troy Cassar Daleys mother, wrote this to me after my tour with Patch Adams.
“I owe you a hug for being so brave to do what you have done …lesser persons would crumble! I love what you have done in Russia and wish I could do the same. Maria Elsyeva’s plea left me screaming to the world …let our children be free of the shackles of domination. “
Irene Daley, Aboriginal Artist NSW, Australia
In the book Power versus Force it lists the gradings of how our consciousness now expresses itself.
All levels below 200 are destructive of life and society.
Enlightenment 700 - 1000
An aboriginal lady recently challenged me for daring to paint Aboriginal style, saying I had no right, and that she would report me.
For me this has been a gift from spirit and nothing to do with cultural theft. I was channelled this piece as part of my outflow to be a voice for all that is joyful about humanity. I believe it is "inclusive thinking and practice" that will support our rise in consciousness and build strong nations.
The low level of consciousness of our predecessors does not have a place in our consciousness now!
I painted this person and the canvas as an entry in one of the NZ Body Art awards.
As you will see in the imagery it is the co-creation that gives a thing energy. If my model had not been able to internalise and "walk in the shoes of the aboriginal Man' the portrayal would not have received the ovation it did.
I always wanted to be an artist and my mother said "get a proper job".
Today my art is informed by my encounters with humanity and reflects the intimacy of true communion with spirit
Will you join me today in rising up for all of humanity to step into this new way of being?
"I can no longer get up as the same person that sat down"
Dr Joe Dispenza
In the book Power versus Force it lists the gradings of how our consciousness now expresses itself. All levels below 200 are destructive of life and society.
Enlightenment 700 - 1000
Part of a book written by Johann Hari.
Made my heart sing to find this today as it affirms so many of my own beliefs around depression.
Excerpt only here....further reading in the link below
In the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression – one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression – like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.
Sign up for the Bookmarks email
Read moreThe manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?
The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called “the grief exception”, and it seemed to resolve the problem.
Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the frontline started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain – it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. It’s not caused by your life – it’s caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances – losing a loved one – might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?
Drug companies would fund huge numbers of studies and then only release the ones that showed success
The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way – by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill – down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.
inRead invented by Teads
AdvertisementDr Joanne Cacciatore, of Arizona State University, became a leading expert on the grief exception after her own baby, Cheyenne, died during childbirth. She had seen many grieving people being told that they were mentally ill for showing distress. She told me this debate reveals a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering: we don’t, she said, “consider context”. We act like human distress can be assessed solely on a checklist that can be separated out from our lives, and labelled as brain diseases. If we started to take people’s actual lives into account when we treat depression and anxiety, Joanne explained, it would require “an entire system overhaul”. She told me that when “you have a person with extreme human distress, [we need to] stop treating the symptoms. The symptoms are a messenger of a deeper problem. Let’s get to the deeper problem.”
I was a teenager when I swallowed my first antidepressant. I was standing in the weak English sunshine, outside a pharmacy in a shopping centre in London. The tablet was white and small, and as I swallowed, it felt like a chemical kiss. That morning I had gone to see my doctor and I had told him – crouched, embarrassed – that pain was leaking out of me uncontrollably, like a bad smell, and I had felt this way for several years. In reply, he told me a story. There is a chemical called serotonin that makes people feel good, he said, and some people are naturally lacking it in their brains. You are clearly one of those people. There are now, thankfully, new drugs that will restore your serotonin level to that of a normal person. Take them, and you will be well. At last, I understood what had been happening to me, and why.
However, a few months into my drugging, something odd happened. The pain started to seep through again. Before long, I felt as bad as I had at the start. I went back to my doctor, and he told me that I was clearly on too low a dose. And so, 20 milligrams became 30 milligrams; the white pill became blue. I felt better for several months. And then the pain came back through once more. My dose kept being jacked up, until I was on 80mg, where it stayed for many years, with only a few short breaks. And still the pain broke back through.
AdvertisementI started to research my book, Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, because I was puzzled by two mysteries. Why was I still depressed when I was doing everything I had been told to do? I had identified the low serotonin in my brain, and I was boosting my serotonin levels – yet I still felt awful. But there was a deeper mystery still. Why were so many other people across the western world feeling like me? Around one in five US adults are taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem. In Britain, antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in a decade, to the point where now one in 11 of us drug ourselves to deal with these feelings. What has been causing depression and its twin, anxiety, to spiral in this way? I began to ask myself: could it really be that in our separate heads, all of us had brain chemistries that were spontaneously malfunctioning at the same time?
To find the answers, I ended up going on a 40,000-mile journey across the world and back. I talked to the leading social scientists investigating these questions, and to people who have been overcoming depression in unexpected ways – from an Amish village in Indiana, to a Brazilian city that banned advertising and a laboratory in Baltimore conducting a startling wave of experiments. From these people, I learned the best scientific evidence about what really causes depression and anxiety. They taught me that it is not what we have been told it is up to now. I found there is evidence that seven specific factors in the way we are living today are causing depression and anxiety to rise – alongside two real biological factors (such as your genes) that can combine with these forces to make it worse.
Once I learned this, I was able to see that a very different set of solutions to my depression – and to our depression – had been waiting for me all along.
To understand this different way of thinking, though, I had to first investigate the old story, the one that had given me so much relief at first. Professor Irving Kirsch at Harvard University is the Sherlock Holmes of chemical antidepressants – the man who has scrutinised the evidence about giving drugs to depressed and anxious people most closely in the world. In the 1990s, he prescribed chemical antidepressants to his patients with confidence. He knew the published scientific evidence, and it was clear: it showed that 70% of people who took them got significantly better. He began to investigate this further, and put in a freedom of information request to get the data that the drug companies had been privately gathering into these drugs. He was confident that he would find all sorts of other positive effects – but then he bumped into something peculiar.
Illustration by Michael Driver.We all know that when you take selfies, you take 30 pictures, throw away the 29 where you look bleary-eyed or double-chinned, and pick out the best one to be your Tinder profile picture. It turned out that the drug companies – who fund almost all the research into these drugs – were taking this approach to studying chemical antidepressants. They would fund huge numbers of studies, throw away all the ones that suggested the drugs had very limited effects, and then only release the ones that showed success. To give one example: in one trial, the drug was given to 245 patients, but the drug company published the results for only 27 of them. Those 27 patients happened to be the ones the drug seemed to work for. Suddenly, Professor Kirsch realised that the 70% figure couldn’t be right.
AdvertisementIt turns out that between 65 and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. I had thought that I was freakish for remaining depressed while on these drugs. In fact, Kirsch explained to me in Massachusetts, I was totally typical. These drugs are having a positive effect for some people – but they clearly can’t be the main solution for the majority of us, because we’re still depressed even when we take them. At the moment, we offer depressed people a menu with only one option on it. I certainly don’t want to take anything off the menu – but I realised, as I spent time with him, that we would have to expand the menu.
This led Professor Kirsch to ask a more basic question, one he was surprised to be asking. How do we know depression is even caused by low serotonin at all? When he began to dig, it turned out that the evidence was strikingly shaky. Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is “deeply misleading and unscientific”. Dr David Healy told me: “There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy.”
I didn’t want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldn’t ignore it.
So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world – from São Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London – I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we’re good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.
Let’s look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful – that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It’s a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing – our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are “engaged” in their work – they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are “not engaged”, which is defined as “sleepwalking through their workday”. And 24% are “actively disengaged”: they hate it.
Antidepressant prescriptions have doubled over the last decade. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PAMost of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realised, are in the 87% who don’t like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed he’d found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: who’s more likely to have a stress-related heart attack – the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?
AdvertisementEverybody told him: you’re wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because he’s got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?
And that’s when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed – and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. When you are controlled, you can’t create meaning out of your work.
Suddenly, the depression of many of my friends, even those in fancy jobs – who spend most of their waking hours feeling controlled and unappreciated – started to look not like a problem with their brains, but a problem with their environments. There are, I discovered, many causes of depression like this. However, my journey was not simply about finding the reasons why we feel so bad. The core was about finding out how we can feel better – how we can find real and lasting antidepressants that work for most of us, beyond only the packs of pills we have been offered as often the sole item on the menu for the depressed and anxious. I kept thinking about what Dr Cacciatore had taught me – we have to deal with the deeper problems that are causing all this distress.
I found the beginnings of an answer to the epidemic of meaningless work – in Baltimore. Meredith Mitchell used to wake up every morning with her heart racing with anxiety. She dreaded her office job. So she took a bold step – one that lots of people thought was crazy. Her husband, Josh, and their friends had worked for years in a bike store, where they were ordered around and constantly felt insecure, Most of them were depressed. One day, they decided to set up their own bike store, but they wanted to run it differently. Instead of having one guy at the top giving orders, they would run it as a democratic co-operative. This meant they would make decisions collectively, they would share out the best and worst jobs and they would all, together, be the boss. It would be like a busy democratic tribe. When I went to their store – Baltimore Bicycle Works – the staff explained how, in this different environment, their persistent depression and anxiety had largely lifted.
It’s not that their individual tasks had changed much. They fixed bikes before; they fix bikes now. But they had dealt with the unmet psychological needs that were making them feel so bad – by giving themselves autonomy and control over their work. Josh had seen for himself that depressions are very often, as he put it, “rational reactions to the situation, not some kind of biological break”. He told me there is no need to run businesses anywhere in the old humiliating, depressing way – we could move together, as a culture, to workers controlling their own workplaces.
With each of the nine causes of depression and anxiety I learned about, I kept being taught startling facts and arguments like this that forced me to think differently. Professor John Cacioppo of Chicago University taught me that being acutely lonely is as stressful as being punched in the face by a stranger – and massively increases your risk of depression. Dr Vincent Felitti in San Diego showed me that surviving severe childhood trauma makes you 3,100% more likely to attempt suicide as an adult. Professor Michael Chandler in Vancouver explained to me that if a community feels it has no control over the big decisions affecting it, the suicide rate will shoot up.
This new evidence forces us to seek out a very different kind of solution to our despair crisis. One person in particular helped me to unlock how to think about this. In the early days of the 21st century, a South African psychiatrist named Derek Summerfeld went to Cambodia, at a time when antidepressants were first being introduced there. He began to explain the concept to the doctors he met. They listened patiently and then told him they didn’t need these new antidepressants, because they already had anti-depressants that work. He assumed they were talking about some kind of herbal remedy.
Master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to’
Read moreHe asked them to explain, and they told him about a rice farmer they knew whose left leg was blown off by a landmine. He was fitted with a new limb, but he felt constantly anxious about the future, and was filled with despair. The doctors sat with him, and talked through his troubles. They realised that even with his new artificial limb, his old job—working in the rice paddies—was leaving him constantly stressed and in physical pain, and that was making him want to just stop living. So they had an idea. They believed that if he became a dairy farmer, he could live differently. So they bought him a cow. In the months and years that followed, his life changed. His depression—which had been profound—went away. “You see, doctor,” they told him, the cow was an “antidepressant”.
To them, finding an antidepressant didn’t mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place. We can do the same. Some of these solutions are things we can do as individuals, in our private lives. Some require bigger social shifts, which we can only achieve together, as citizens. But all of them require us to change our understanding of what depression and anxiety really are.
AdvertisementThis is radical, but it is not, I discovered, a maverick position. In its official statement for World Health Day in 2017, the United Nations reviewed the best evidence and concluded that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “must be abandoned”. We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’”, they said, to focusing more on “power imbalances”.
After I learned all this, and what it means for us all, I started to long for the power to go back in time and speak to my teenage self on the day he was told a story about his depression that was going to send him off in the wrong direction for so many years. I wanted to tell him: “This pain you are feeling is not a pathology. It’s not crazy. It is a signal that your natural psychological needs are not being met. It is a form of grief – for yourself, and for the culture you live in going so wrong. I know how much it hurts. I know how deeply it cuts you. But you need to listen to this signal. We all need to listen to the people around us sending out this signal. It is telling you what is going wrong. It is telling you that you need to be connected in so many deep and stirring ways that you aren’t yet – but you can be, one day.”
If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.
• This is an edited extract from Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, published by Bloomsbury on 11 January
As a conscious leader, your job isn't to run around trying to save the world.
n a world where motivating others is just one inspirational Instagram meme away, it can be easy to skirt the surface of what it really takes to embody true leadership, or conscious leadership.
Conscious leadership is about more than being seen by others; it's about seeing yourself. When an entrepreneur sets out to make a difference in the world through leadership, the motivation often stems from a desire to be of service to others, which is an undeniably powerful intention to have. But, in order to embody conscious leadership, you must start by looking at how you can be of service to your own growth, your own expansion, and your own willingness to step outside of your comfort zone over and over again.
As a conscious leader, your job isn't to run around trying to save the world. Your job is to go within, do the inner work that allows you to show up as your most powerful, authentic self — which will in turn inspire others to do the same. Conscious leadership requires you to identify, plan for, and move through the patterns that come up every time you're about to step out of your comfort zone. These patterns can be self-sabotage, procrastination, fear of success, fear of failure, ego trips, comparison overload, and any other number of ways that you've learned to "play it safe" throughout your life.
Here are four steps for developing your conscious leadership skills:
Step 1: Know Where You Stand, Right Now
It's tempting to skip over the "stuff" in your personal life or career that you'd rather not look at so you can hurry up and grow already. You know that you've picked up some patterns over the years that don't serve you (procrastination, worry, planning for the worst, self-deprecating thoughts, self-sabotage, etc.), but what's the point of spending time with the stuff that holds you back?
Think about it this way: The most detailed roadmap in the world is useless if it's not marked with a "YOU ARE HERE."
So, if you want to be able to draw out your roadmap for success, you've got to be willing to start right where you are.
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
Step 2: Gather Your Tools And Create Safety
Once you've identified where you are, it's important to give yourself the tools that can support the kind of growth you want to experience. So often we pick up tools throughout our lives that are designed to numb out the "bad stuff" and eliminate fear or pain. Drinking, gossiping, avoiding responsibilities, and playing it safe are a few ways we do this that come to mind. But your fear and your pain aren't the enemy. They are shining a light on the parts of yourself that are genuinely scared of growth. It's called a "comfort zone" for a reason, and your fear will do everything it can to keep you there.
Safety actually plays a significant role in how quickly and consistently you will experience growth. The problem is, somewhere along the way you learned that "playing it safe" also means "playing it small," but that doesn't have to be your only option.
Implementing the kinds of tools that allow you to be with the "stuff" you'd rather not look at is where the rubber hits the road for the conscious leader.
Instead of using tools that numb your fear and pain, begin gathering the tools that help you get to know more about yourself and the patterns that continue to emerge in your life and career. Working with a coach, finding a good therapist and surrounding yourself with other people who practice this type of radical responsibility are all wonderful places to start.
When you've got the right tools in your tool belt, you're unstoppable.
Step 3: Stay In Your Own Lane
Authenticity is your x-factor — that thing that no one can recreate or even put their finger on. It's that thing that makes people say, "I don't know what it is, but I like her."
This is the kind of energy, the kind of permission, that is embodied by someone who fully accepts themselves for everything they are. All sides. The "good" and the "bad." The person who has danced with their shadows and still knows how unconditionally worthy she is. This is what attracts people to you, your self-proclaimed permission.
Everyone is running around asking for permission to dream, to build, to start —and yet, we're the only ones who hold the power to give it to ourselves.
So, as a conscious leader, while it's impossible for you to grant someone else permission to be themselves, it's your duty to show someone what that looks like, that it's safe to shine, that being different is something worth celebrating. To be a walking invitation for others to grant themselves permission to step into their own version of greatness.
Step 4: It's Not What You Do, It's How You Do It
Your audience, followers, fans and clients are inspired by how you show up in the world. When you commit to being seen, when you commit to showing up for yourself, when you commit to self-care and inner growth, you become the embodiment of conscious leadership. You become a mirror of what's possible for others.
Every time you grow, you invite your audience to do the same.
Throughout each transformation that you experience in your life and career (and there will be many), you will be confronted with uncertainty, doubt, fear, ego-trips, and thoughts that are overwhelming enough to make you never want to get out of bed. And yet, with your tools in hand, you will get up.
You will move through each step once more, inviting even more growth and evolution into your life, because it's not what you're doing, it's how you're doing it. With trust. With conviction. With purpose. With intuition.
• Own it.
• Train it.
• Be it.
• Share it.
That is how you develop conscious leadership.
You can't lift your bottom line if your people are down!!!