Rethinking Happiness, What We’re Getting Wrong | Stephanie Harrison

Stephanie Harrison

What if the pursuit of happiness itself is actually making you unhappy?

My guest today, Stephanie Harrison, challenges the way we’ve been conditioned to think about happiness in her new book, New Happy: Getting Happiness Right in a World That’s Got It Wrong.

In the second chapter of her book, Stephanie introduces the concept of the “happiness myth”—the lies we’ve been told about how to be happy, like chasing achievements, accumulating wealth, and focusing only on ourselves. As she describes from her own experience, directly aiming for happiness often backfires.

I’ve found in my own life that the more I cling to happiness as a goal, the more elusive it becomes. Stephanie encourages us to unravel the cultural conditioning and narratives that lead us astray. Instead of pursuing happiness, she offers a refreshing approach centered around sharing our unique gifts with others—our humanity, wisdom, and talents.

Imagine being able to tap into a deeper well-being, one that ripples out and elevates not just yourself, but everyone around you too. What would your life look like if you could get happiness right?

Through her innovative philosophy and pioneering work, Stephanie gives us the tools to rewrite what happiness means and create positive change in our lives and communities.

You can find Stephanie at: WebsiteInstagram | Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript:

Stephanie Harrison: [00:00:00] Every person has three different types of gifts. There’s your humanity, which is who you are as a person. That’s what shows up in those helping moments. When you’re with somebody you love and you want to be there, there’s your wisdom, what you’ve learned from the unique life that you’ve lived that nobody else will ever have access to. And then there’s your talent, which is all of the great things you know how to do or you want to learn how to do. And the funny thing is, though, is that your humanity gifts are the most reliable source of happiness because they connect you to other people and they allow you to express all of your inner goodness. So if we neglect those, then often we’re neglecting a really big source of well-being.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:39] So what if the pursuit of happiness itself is actually making you less happy? My guest today, Stephanie Harrison, she challenges the way that we’ve been conditioned to think about happiness. In her new book, New Happy Getting Happiness Right in a World That’s Got It Wrong. In the second chapter of her book, she introduces the concept of what she calls the happiness myth. It’s all about the lies that we have been told about how to be happy, like chasing achievements, accumulating wealth, and focusing only on ourselves and so many other elements. And she describes from her own experience directly aiming for happiness often backfires. Yet that is exactly what so many of us spend so much of our waking lives doing. I found that my own life that the more I cling to happiness as a direct goal, the more elusive it becomes. And Stephanie really encourages us to unravel the cultural conditioning and narratives that led us to this point. Instead of pursuing happiness, she offers a refreshing approach that’s centered around sharing our unique gifts with others our humanity, wisdom, and talents with really interesting and innovative new framework. Imagine being able to tap into a deeper well-being, one that ripples out and elevates not just yourself, but everyone around you too. What would your life look like if you could get happiness right? That’s where we’re headed today. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:10] It’s interesting. I feel like the sort of the quote canon of Happiness books was kicked off, I guess, more than a decade ago now with Dan Gilbert’s book, you know, like Stumbling on Happiness. And then Jonathan Haidt came after it, and then just a series of books in it, and all of a sudden everyone’s like, whoa! Like the world of positive psych has been into this for decades before, but now it really became part of the public conversation in a different way. And I feel like, you know, we just keep having better and better understandings of how to explore these ideas and from different voices and different perspectives. For you, it sounds like this is also really personal.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:02:49] Yeah. I think with a topic like happiness or any of the work that we do, how do you separate the personal out of it? Right? Because you get to benefit in so many ways from learning this knowledge. But for me, it was motivated in part by my own profound unhappiness and the struggles that I had trying to find a way to be happy where nothing ever really worked for me.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:11] Take me into that a little bit, tell me what was going on and what led you to sort of say, like, I need to really explore this.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:03:16] When I think back to my childhood and my young adult life as a teenager and into my early 20s, I don’t remember being very happy. I don’t have these emotional experiences that really had any level of any sort of joy or positivity. I felt was very intense and short-lived and then quickly faded away. There wasn’t anything that felt like it provided me with a grounding or any sort of stability. And often those highs were also accompanied by lows that lasted for a long time and were hard to get out of. And for me, what really started to change things was when I had gone through and sort of checked off this list of all of the things that I thought I had to do in order to be happy. And then I looked at my life and I looked at myself, and I thought, why am I still so miserable? What’s wrong with me? And it was only in that moment that I realized, well, maybe something isn’t wrong with me at all. Maybe I just was given the wrong manual to pursue this goal of happiness that I have. And maybe I should look into that a little bit more. And little did I know that that would end up dictating the next ten years of my life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:04:24] Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting the I know you ended up at University of Pennsylvania in their their Masters in Applied Positive Psych, which I have a number of friends who’ve been through from the I think it was the second class up until like fairly recently when you drop decide to sort of like say like this is actually becoming so important to me. I really need to understand this, that you want to devote yourself to a year of devoting, like going and getting your degree in it. Was that more personal, or did you have a sense underneath that you wanted to actually transform this into something that you would then turn around and somehow bring to the world?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:04:55] At that point, I felt this was the time that I decided to go to Penn and do the degree was probably about. It was about two and a half or three years after that moment, that low point in my life, and I had sort of figured out a lot of the personal stuff for me at that point, I had identified. Here are some of the problems, and here are some few ways to fix it. But what I was really motivated by was discovering that there was this research underpinning it, and how I could learn more about that. I felt like I had kind of come to the point where my personal study, I was in a good spot, but there was so much more I wanted to learn, and I needed help and support and teaching to help me to be able to get a firmer grasp on it. And my hope was always to take whatever I learned out of my own pain and share it with others in hopes that maybe they could avoid it, or at least maybe get out of it a little faster than I did. So it was always motivated by that. And specifically, I was just so enthralled by the idea that there were these scientists out there studying these really hard topics that I’d always been obsessed with and inspired by from a spiritual perspective, or from a religious or kind of all these other different angles on well-being. But the scientific one was something that felt really interesting and appealing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:09] Yeah. It’s so interesting. I think, you know, we do have such a robust body of science around the study and the exploration of happiness. But I remember one of the first realizations that I made when diving into the research is how so many of us try and sort of like, head go headlong into I want to be happy, like, give me the things to do to be happy. And yet, it seems like increasingly the research shows that, you know, happiness. Actually, the direct pursuit of happiness often leads us to be less happy rather than happier.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:06:40] One of those interesting paradoxes, isn’t it? I think you’ve said it so beautifully. And I think for me, in my case, I felt like my direct aim at happiness, like what you’re describing, was it was all external stuff. It was all of these things that I thought would then lead to happiness. It wasn’t pursuing them for the sake of pursuing those things. It was only for the result that I believed would ensue. And I think that unfortunately, we have. All this conditioning happening in our lives that leads us to believe that those things will make us happy. And I suppose I want to invite us to question those narratives a little bit more and reconsider what it is that matters most.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:23] Yeah. And I want to dive into this, because you kind of laid this out as what you call the happiness myth. But before we get there, the word happiness alone is interesting, and I feel like it’s also a little bit loaded and probably more than a bit confusing, because if you ask ten different people like what is happiness? You’ll probably get ten different answers. So when we’re talking about happiness for the purpose of this conversation, what are we actually talking about?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:07:47] Such a good question. I think that the type of happiness that I think we should be talking about, if you agree, I have to tell me if you agree with this definition, is a more lasting state, probably something more similar to contentment, but also encompassing states of joy and purpose and meaning. I think if you think about happiness as a short-termed, pleasure-based emotion, that is going to lead you astray. And so I wanted to be a broader, more, I think, more holistic understanding of what that word might mean.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:20] Yeah. Are you familiar with Arthur Brooks? Sort of like he coined the phrase ‘happierness’ to sort of denote the fact that there’s no there there that this is more just like something, it’s more just a moving toward. And also it’s not it’s not something where you like, you check off the happy box and I’m good.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:08:38] I love that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:39] So take me into the notion of and you were referencing it in sort of like the context of your own life. It’s so many of us pursue happiness from the outside in. We think it exists out there. Um, take me deeper into the ideas behind this.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:08:54] I think that from the time that we’re born, we developed this idea about how the world works, and we use all of the information that we receive from our caregivers or from the way the experiences that we have, the messages that we get in the media and from our schools and from all sorts of culture. And then we build this mental framework about how we should live our lives. And what I have essentially tried to argue with my work is that within that set of beliefs, there are three core beliefs that that matter most, that end up having this disproportionate impact upon your pursuit of happiness. And the beliefs are about who you are as a person, about what you should do and how you’re related to other people. And I believe that the messages that we have internalized about the answers to those three questions are ultimately convincing us to pursue the wrong things, even though we think we’re pursuing the right things. We think that we’re moving to your point about happiness. We think that we’re moving towards happiness, but we’re not. And then unfortunately, you have to go through all that pain. You get to the end, it doesn’t work. And then you have to start all over again. And you’ve invested all this time, and it becomes a very difficult cycle to break for people.


Jonathan Fields: [00:10:10] Yeah. And I think we probably all felt that maybe as an example, one of the things you talk about in this, sort of like the mythology of it, is the notion of happiness based on material success, accumulation of stuff, things, status. And that is such a common part of what we’re told, like we’re taught from the earliest days, that when you get X, you will feel Y. That’s not the case.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:10:32] I have so many memories. If I really think about it, I think, oh man, my life is going to be so much easier if I get this new computer to do my work on, and I get the computer and I’m happy for what, like an hour? I feel the sense of relief that I expected. But to your point, how many commercials have you watched that promise eternal happiness when you buy that thing? It’s just countless.


Jonathan Fields: [00:10:53] What is the research actually tell us about the relationship between happiness and the achievement of or the accumulation of things, the acquisition of stuff or status?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:11:02] Yeah, it’s a negative relationship. So the more that you value getting all that stuff and the more materialistic you are, the less likely that you are to be happy, and the more challenges that you’re likely going to have with your mental health. And unfortunately, these messages, they’re very prevalent in young people. So, you know, we are exposed to these ideas from a very early age. And some interesting research has also found that if you grow up in a less privileged background economically, then those messages hit even harder for you and it becomes an even more difficult belief to overcome. And so I often, you know, say that if you have placed your faith in happiness and stuff in the past, it’s not your fault. You’re just a product of our environment. And we can start to unwind that with awareness and time. But it goes deep. One of those ones.


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:52] Yeah, I would imagine, you know, and I wonder if there was a there was a time where a lot of those messages were coming through, quote, mainstream media or old media. But now with social media, it’s literally coming from everywhere. It’s almost impossible, yeah, to not get hit by. And I’m not a Luddite. Like, I think there are some great advantages to social media. Like it flattens the world and connects us. But it does seem like a lot of research is starting to show that there are real problems. And part of it, I think everyone’s trying to figure out what’s really happening here, but I wonder how much is what you’re talking about, is it just sets these expectations that you will feel better when you get or accumulate or have this thing in your life because you see all these people having it and you’re like, oh, they look awesome.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:12:38] Yeah, they look really happy, right?


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:40] But that’s just a fiction, you know, it’s like the story they’re telling in order to get, you know, likes and all these other things.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:12:46] Yeah. It’s so painful, isn’t it? Because sometimes I just think about social media. The best way to think about it is everyone’s just pretending. Like if you have that perspective in your mind of if you just assume that nothing is is real and everyone is showing a front, so to speak, then you can start to separate yourself a little bit from it because it is really hard, right? Like when you’re if you’re feeling unhappy with your life or dissatisfied or lonely, and then you open your phone and you see all of these people who seem to have everything and living these beautiful, joyful lives. It’s very hard not to compare yourself to that and to feel inadequate in so many ways.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:26] Yeah. And to believe that what they have is the key.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:13:28] Yeah, exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:29] That’s gonna make me feel better. Like, beyond the fact that it’s fake. Yeah. Like then it also like, it’s, it just breeds, um, intensity into the lie. Yeah. Speaking of lies, you sort of tease out what you describe as these, like, three different lies. Um, let’s walk through them. Lie number one: you’re not enough.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:13:49] Yeah. When I started doing this work publicly, which was about, I guess, like almost five years ago, I thought I was the only one who didn’t think I was good enough. I thought it was just all me and it was my problem. And then I started doing this thing with the community that I facilitate on Instagram. And I would ask people, you know, what’s something that’s feeling hard right now? Or what are you struggling with? And every single time I would say about half the responses all said the same thing. I don’t feel like I’m good enough. And I started to realize that it’s not a me problem. It’s a we problem. We are all struggling with these feelings that we’re not enough in so many ways. And to your point, social media can be a prime breeding ground for that belief. And providing you with all this evidence, presumably to show you why you’re not good enough. And unfortunately, it seems to be this core wound that so many of us carry around.


Jonathan Fields: [00:14:45] Mm, I’m curious. You said you had that feeling like for a long time, when you’re doing your master’s degree in applied positive psychology, surrounded by, like, you know, like every weekend when you go there, these brilliant researchers and professors who are talking about all this research, but you’re also in a cohort of people who are smart, who are striving, who, like, want something in that environment where literally you’re being taught about all of these different things. Did you have the feeling of like, I’m not up to this, like I’m not enough in this context, in that room, in that setting.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:15:22] I definitely did before going into it. I was so scared walking into that, you know, the first room where you gather as a class, I was so nervous. I remember going for a walk around the campus to try and psych myself up and then looking around at, you know, Penn has such a gorgeous campus and looking at all the buildings and thinking, this is a mistake. I should have just stayed in my room. Um, the program does such a great job at making people feel welcome. So it it did fade after a little while, but yeah, of course I felt, who am I to be here with all of these people? Why should I think that I deserve any of this? And I’m probably going to be the worst student and, you know, have nothing to contribute. And all of those horrible things that we say to ourselves. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:16:05] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. This is sort of a broad question. It may be just too individual, but I’m curious just what your take is like. Where does that come from? You know, because it is such I don’t want to say universal experience. Maybe not every single person experiences, but it is so common. Yeah. You know this feeling of not-enoughness. Do you have a take on where it comes from, what it’s about?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:16:30] Yeah, I argue that these beliefs come from the values and forces of our society, and specifically these forces that shape so many of our values and our systems, including, you know, individualism, capitalism and domination and specifically this feeling of not enough. Well, it’s exacerbated by the other two. I think it’s really rooted in these ideas of domination that some people are better than others, and that your self-worth as a person is determined in comparison with another. For example, like going back to our social media example, if I’m having a good day, let’s say, and then I open Instagram and I see a friend of mine who’s just won a prestigious award or something amazing happening for her. If my self-worth is based upon my comparison to her, then I might feel like deep sense of oh wow, I’m not good enough, I’m behind, there’s something wrong with me. And previously, up until that point, I was having a great day. There wasn’t anything going wrong in my day, but because my self-worth is unstable and it’s founded on this form of comparison, ultimately what happens is that ending up fluctuating based upon who you are and who you’re talking to, and how successful you are and what you achieve. And that in turn creates even more instability, where you want to go out and prove how good you are through different activities. And ultimately, you get locked in this cycle of never feeling enough and striving to show how good you are, which then contributes to other people feeling not enough. And so it’s the system I think we’ve we’ve gotten locked into. And it’s also then exacerbated by many of the forces that we and the, the kind of institutions and things that we participate in, which have a very narrow understanding of what it means to be good enough and what it means to be worthy as a person. And so if you don’t measure up to those levels, then you’re constantly getting poked all of the ways that you need to be better.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:31] Mhm. So part of it then also is about the, the metrics that we, that we choose to use as or like measure our enoughness to a certain extent, like we’re looking at all these things that almost can’t help but make us feel bad.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:18:45] Exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:47] That sounds fantastic.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:18:48] Yeah. It’s great, great news. I’m like the happiest person to come on this podcast bringing all the positive news.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:54] Yeah, that bridge one gap here for me though, because I’m curious, because you used the word domination and need for domination. Walk me into how that contributes to this feeling.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:19:03] If we live in a world that says some people are better than others and that all lives are not equal, and there are specific types of people who are valued, there are specific activities that are valued. And then we have all of these systems that then in turn implement rewards or punishments in order to force those and coerce that kind of behavior. Then ultimately it becomes, in everybody’s self-interest to conform to that system and to participate in it. And that ability to step outside of that and to say, I’m not basing who I am on anyone else, and I’m not judging myself in comparison to anybody else. That would be removing yourself from a system of domination and instead saying, I’m operating from a system of collaboration or of compassion or of equality. And those shifts that we can make are often just really small. Like it can start with just refusing to judge yourself based upon somebody else’s actions, who really has nothing to do with you. You know, my friends award. It’s all about her and her work and all of the great things that she has strived so much to do. And it doesn’t have to be a reflection on me. It’s only that because I’ve been conditioned into thinking that it should be that way, and I can start to break that cycle and that pattern through my choices and my actions.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:29] Yeah. As you’re describing that, you know, I think so many people who came up in the world of business who were a little bit further into their careers. Also, they came up in an ethos where whether it was stated or not, the ethos was kill or be killed, right. You know, and that was literally taught, um, as a model in, in grad schools, um, when that is the way that you step into the world of work and then it’s going to ripple out into all, every other part of work. It’s kind of what you’re talking about here. It’s that sense of dominate or be dominated, right? Yes. That’s how we succeed. And then that’s going to give us that magical like capital H happiness that we seek. And yet so many people, even when they quote. When they’re not feeling what they want to feel.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:21:12] No, no. Because how can really like how can you experience real happiness through domination? Like, how can you expect that it’s never going to help you to truly feel good? Because as we all know, truly feeling good is far more likely to be found in helping people and connecting and being supportive and caring and kindness. And to your point about that mantra that you’re taught, right? Like, it still happens, I think about I started my career in management consulting, and the big fear I had was like, up or out, if you’re not performing, then you don’t get to stay and it’s tamer than kill or be killed for sure, but it still has the same kind of message. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:49] I mean, and that even exists in academia. I mean, the mantra there is publish or perish, which on the surface doesn’t sound like kill or be killed or dominate or be dominated. But like if the mindset is okay, there’s scarcity here. There are only a certain amount of articles that can be accepted by a certain number of journals every year. And if I don’t have mine accepted, that puts my entire career and my tenure in jeopardy. So I have got to somehow basically like I’ve got to beat all the other people. Like that’s the only way that I get what I want, which is just fascinating. Like, I would imagine that if you looked in almost any domain, you could see this culture in some way woven through it. Does that make sense?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:22:28] Yes, I think you’ve nailed it. That’s it’s a perfect way of describing it. And work is probably the best lens for us to start to notice its presence in that way. Right? Because it’s almost like, to your point, domination is coded into the workplace in many ways, right? You get promoted, you get into a leadership position, and in many ways that gives you the right to tell other people what to do and to assert control over them. And luckily, you know, thanks to work like yours and many others, we’re shifting towards a better way of working and to creating collaborative relationships at work. But I think that it’s so deeply coded into the way that we see the world, and even taking a step back from it can be very disorienting at the beginning.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:11] Yeah, I would imagine in the world of work, it’s it’s like the level of wholesale change that has to happen within the culture of an organization. It’s like it’s a bigger, older organization. It’s just knocking your head up against a really big wall. Yeah, I would imagine with your work you’re like in management consulting. It’s like, okay, I’m dropping into a big organization and like to try and even steer that ship, you know, a fraction of one degree this direction or another. It’s just it takes massive amount of effort.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:23:42] It really does.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:43] So the second lie is and we’ve kind of talked about it a little bit, but it’s this notion of you’ll be happy when. But we talked about in the context of accumulation or achievement, is there something else or other things that might follow that dot, dot dot as well?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:23:57] Yeah and it’s funny, you already nailed it really, when you talked about the, um, you know, like the currency of, of how we value ourselves because in our world, achievement is the currency of how we value ourselves. So achievement might be that acquisition of material goods, but it could also be the pursuit of goals or power, fame, popularity, anything that exists outside of you or that is acquired for the purposes of giving you something other than what it is. So, for example, if you’re striving to get promoted because you think it will lead to happiness versus you’re striving to get promoted because you really want to learn and you want to become a leader. And that feels really fulfilling for you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:37] Yeah. I mean, so part of it is about the intention of that underlies the striving. So you’re not saying that striving in and of itself is bad. No. But it’s about like what is driving the striving. Yeah.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:24:50] Oh, that’s so good. You need to copyright that. That’s so good. Um, I think that’s spot on. The like, we’re driven to do stuff. We’re action-oriented creatures. We can’t get rid of that. And I’ve been studying, like, for example, Buddhism for a while, and I’ve, I was very attracted to a, almost like a monastic view of happiness at the beginning in terms of contentment, in spite of everything. And I thought there was so much to admire in that, obviously, so much to admire in that that way of life and that perspective. But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s not very practical. And it first of all, of course. And then second, it’s for most of us, it denies that truth of our nature, which is like where we want to make things. We want to do stuff, we want to build things. We want to create experiences that have never existed before. And there’s a profound satisfaction and fulfillment in that. So how do we take that, that striving energy and use it for good and for positive outcomes, rather than having it be sort of funneled on autopilot towards these things that we think will make us happy, but don’t actually?


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:01] Hmm. Yeah, I know so many folks who have at some point considered or even like said yes to the monastic life and vows and then come back. To sort of like the quote, ‘householder life’ because they’re like, you know what? I believe deeply in the ideas and the philosophy. But like, I really feel like my place is in the world and there’s these human impulses that, that I have that I don’t think are bad. You know, they just need to be like, sort of like properly held and directed.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:26:30] I love that. I remember reading something back in the day that really changed my perspective on this as well, which was, um, the Dalai Lama, I believe, said that there’s more spiritual growth in one parents night of nursing a sick child than there is in a year of meditation practice. And I was so struck by that because I had, you know, sort of attached all these mental ideas about, oh, this is the right way to do things, or it’s the most worthy way of doing things right. It’s treating it in many ways like an accomplishment, of course, and realizing that actually you can have this profound personal and spiritual and professional growth simply by the way that you live your life and show up for the people in it. And that’s where a lot of the goodness or most of the goodness is for many of us.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:21] So agree with that. And as somebody who’s actually had both experiences, like with the kid overnight and meditating for a year and studying, um, I think I agree with that.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:27:30] Wow, that’s so cool.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:31] You will learn a lot, really, really fast in like an eight-hour window overnight when, yeah, everything’s on the line. The third element is this notion, and this ties back to a certain extent of one of the things that you referenced, this sort of like notion of, of individualism is this notion that you’re on your own, and that is one of the other lies that you kind of say like, mhm.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:27:51] You’re not separate. That’s what that’s this is the lie that I think is most for me, the hardest one to spot and the hardest to divest myself from as well. In many ways, because the idea that we are separate from one another is, you know, it’s coded into us from the very beginning. Like, there’s Stephanie, Stephanie is in school, Stephanie is doing this and that and the other. And we have so much of this attachment to the self. And what has fascinated me about some of the emerging research in this area is that you really can’t have a self without other selves, like there’s no way to be truly separate from people, and even thinking about people living a monastic life, they’re not separate either. They’re reliant upon other people and they are engaged in relationships with them, even if they look very different. And the more that we can realize just how connected we are, the more that we’re motivated to invest in those relationships that we have, and that is the source of our truest well-being.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:52] Um, I’m nodding along. And yet, at the same time, as with so many of the other things that we’ve been talking about, like so much of just culture tells us, like it’s based around this like myth of, quote, rugged individualism, like you quote, you shouldn’t be dependent on others. That’s not happiness. That’s that’s weakness. That’s. And whether it’s said overtly or whether it’s just like, you know, the, the, the undercurrent of what you observe as a kid or wherever it may be, whereas, you know, it’s it’s so baked into us. Yeah. That to break from the notion that, you know, to need somebody else to be like, open and vulnerable to and with somebody else is not weakness. It’s for a lot of people. It’s no easy thing.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:29:38] No it’s not actually just found a study about this that showed that by the age of seven, kids are already reluctant to ask for help because they know it will make them look weak.


Jonathan Fields: [00:29:50] Wow.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:29:51] It just broke my heart a little bit when I read that. And so I’m thinking, God, like, what about us? 27, 37, 47 year olds? Like all of those years on top of it, we have a lot of unlearning to do on that front.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:05] Yeah. Where do we start with that unlearning, especially in the context of of that?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:30:11] I think that the first step that I think can make a really big difference is starting to acknowledge how connected you are to others in any way that you can. So whether that’s looking for the things that you share with another person, or the ways in which you see yourself in them, or looking for their, you know, like their goodness and all of the wonderful qualities within them. And then when you feel connected to them, think about how they have contributed to your life and how you have contributed to theirs. Like imagining what does this if we imagine, you know, these two people, and then the space between them and all that they have given and received in that space, bringing it to mind and reflecting on the fact that this relationship is one of entire mutual need and care, that there has been nothing in that relationship that wasn’t based upon that in one way or another. And then reflecting on the fact. That it’s perfectly human to continue that relationship. And whether that means that you have the capacity today to offer help to them, or whether today is a day where you need some help, that’s what the flow of connectedness should be all about. And the more that we can start to practice in small ways, asking for help, showing others that it’s okay to ask for help, the easier it becomes. Also to continue giving and to contribute in the ways that we want to as well. And I think that this mantra I have is we’re here to help each other. That’s what we’re here for. It’s the point. And if I buy into that idea, then that means that I can’t just be the only one helping. I also have to be willing to receive from others, because if not, I’m cutting them off from participating in this flow. And so in many ways, I argue that asking for help can be a very selfless act because it allows somebody else to experience happiness.


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:06] Mm. No, that makes a lot of sense. It’s like Ram Das’s, you know, like sort of like famous quote. In the end, we’re all just walking each other home. Um, but but I think what you’re also teasing out here is if this lands with you, the distinction between dependence and interdependence, you know, like one being sort of like one sided and the other really acknowledging the mutuality of it. Does that make sense?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:32:28] Yeah, absolutely. I think that interdependence is the ideal of what’s possible in many ways. Right. Like your individuality in service of somebody else, somebody else’s well-being or the greater good, whatever it is. And at the same time, it’s also okay to be dependent. Sometimes, you know, it’s okay to really need other people and to feel like I’m not in a place right now where I can contribute and and give in the ways that I wish I could, but I’m going through something really hard or I’m in need, and this is just where I’m at right now. And you can also know that in those moments that there will come a time where you will be able to do the same for another person, you will be able to contribute to their lives in some way, and perhaps be there for someone who who truly needs you. And ultimately, I think that ends up contributing to interdependence in the long run. It’s more of taking a step back and knowing that moments of dependence are okay as long as we’re situated in this broader, interdependent context where people are participating in that ecosystem.


Jonathan Fields: [00:33:35] Yeah, I mean, that makes a lot of sense to me. And even the notion that maybe it’s not that person who helped you, but a year later it’s going to be some other stranger, you know? But like when you if you say yes to what you were saying before, which is that we’re kind of like, all in this together or like a sea of humanity, it’s all going to come around in one way or another. But I wonder also if people sometimes resist this idea because there’s also a bit of a in addition to sort of like the the dominance oriented or the killer-oriented things. I feel like so many of us were brought up with this like scorekeeping tendency.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:34:10] Yes.


Jonathan Fields: [00:34:10] You know, it’s kind of like, okay, so I really am in need and I really need somebody to help me out right now. But if I really need help and I take everything they have to give at some point, there’s a deficit like on on the books now, and I’m going to have to pay back that same amount because, you know, at some point we need to balance the books. Right. And that people will say no because they don’t want the sense of obligation that’s been sort of drilled into them has to happen down the road. Rather than saying maybe that entire assumption is wrong.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:34:42] Yeah. Wow. So profound. I couldn’t agree more with you. And it’s tragic how people hold themselves back when they really need help from asking from it in that worry that maybe if they cash in their chips now, they won’t be able to use them in the future. Like how devastating is that? That that’s the world that we live in and that we feel that way. I would like to see that fixed. That would be amazing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:35:08] Yeah. I feel like in times of just profound mass crisis and trauma that we often drop in to that for like a hot minute. I mean, I was in New York and like living there and not 911 was in New York for the first part of the pandemic. And there was this sense of, what can I do? Like, I’m not keeping score like I’m in pain. Everyone around me that I know is in pain. I just need something to do. I need some way to help. And if somebody’s like, can figure out a way to help me, like I’m down with that. But I feel like when we move away from the the window of the immediate trauma or crisis like that ethos fades. I’m wondering whether you see that also.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:35:50] Yeah, it’s been documented as well in studies like there was this body of work I read about nine over 11, actually, and how essentially, um, these psychologists went back and interviewed people who were volunteering on the ground and basically what they all said was I ran there to help. I ran toward Ground Zero because all I could think about was the people who were suffering, and I had to do something about it, and I didn’t even think about it. It was almost instinctive, and I believe that this comes from that lack of separation that we’re talking about. So if you feel like if I’m not connected to you, then your problems are yours, not my problem. Right? I don’t have to deal with them. But if I am connected to you, then they belong to me as well. So I have a responsibility and a duty and a care to be there for you and to support you. So when you’re separate, not only does it hurt you in the short term in that way, but it also ends up cutting you off from the source of joy of your relationships, of giving and receiving. You know, I think that people I respect the need to be mindful about the exposure we have to traumatic events that are happening in the news and to be mindful of, you know, what we consume and how we do it. But the more that we say, you know, oh, that’s not my problem. It’s too much for me to handle all that kind of stuff. The more we’re cutting ourselves off from people who are suffering, who need us, and who we might very well be able to help. But we have to start with that, that connection in order to be willing to jump in. And those moments of trauma that you’re talking about, like the pandemic, we’re all in this together. Let’s go out on our balconies and cheer for the healthcare workers. Like that’s a moment of profound connection where the separation goes away. And so we become motivated to help.


Jonathan Fields: [00:37:41] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. Part of what we’re talking about here, and you write about this beautifully is is empathy and compassion, you know, so take me a little bit deeper just into what these concepts are and how these may be more of like the the true or core ingredients of genuine and more lasting happiness, like happiness.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:38:06] Yeah. When we’re connected, when we’re no longer separate and I’m attuned to you, then I can experience empathy. So feeling with you, feeling your emotions like they’re my own or your pain like it’s my own. And then we can take the next step, which I think is the most important one, which is shifting into compassion, which is essentially giving love to the person who is suffering and giving of yourself in the ways that they might need. And when you’re in a state of compassion, you can bear many challenges and stresses. You can face traumas and difficulties, you can do incredible things and acts of service because you actually have this source of positive emotion and meaning that’s driving you forward, and you don’t have access to that when you’re just at the empathy level. So if you’re really sad and we’re connected, then I might end up feeling really sad too because of that. And then that might make it hard for me to help you, right? Like if you’ve I’m sure we’ve all had this experience where like, you’re crying and then you tell someone what’s wrong and they say they get upset about it and then you have to comfort them. And like, how did this happen? How did we get into this spot? And that’s because empathy is really powerful. Um, so the more that we can shift from that place of connectedness into compassion and helping and expressing love in the ways that we can, the more joy that we get to experience, and the more motivation and power and energy that we have to keep doing it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:39:34] Um, how do we resource ourselves in a way that allows us to make make that move from empathy to compassion, because, like, it takes a certain almost like activation energy to go from feeling what another person feels to saying, I’m capable of not just I want to do something about it, but I’m capable of doing something about it and not feeling similarly locked down or sad or paralyzed like. And some people may be just, you know, like more organically able to flip that switch. But I would imagine others, you know, like are feeling like, how do I bridge that gap? I want to do something, but I’m concerned about sort of like dropping into the same abyss as this other person. And also I’m concerned about my own well-being, um, in giving energy to this right now.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:40:22] Your second point, I think, is the key issue that prevents us from doing that, because, yes, when you’re in that state of empathy, it can be draining. But when you’re in the state of compassion, you’re benefiting. So giving doesn’t actually end up depleting you. When you’re coming from that state, it ends up fulfilling you. So to your first point, we have to figure out how to, like, make that shift as often as we can so that we can resource ourselves appropriately. And from a very practical perspective, I think that something that holds us back is not knowing how to help. When people are having a hard time, like not knowing, you know, like you have a crying person in front of you who’s just, um, lost their job or been broken up with, like, what do you do in that moment? No one ever teaches us how to be there in those ways that might be supportive. And then, of course, every person is different and has different needs. So it’s a little bit like, um, helping is a whole other additional skill set that we have to develop in order to reap those benefits that, you know, that we’re talking about.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:24] Yeah. On the one hand, as you’re saying that, I’m thinking, well, maybe, maybe a good thing for us to all do is like, like literally ask the other person, what do you most need right now? But then, on the other hand, part of me is saying, is there a potential for that question alone to actually add to their burden?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:41:40] So hard.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:42] It’s complicated.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:41:43] It’s really complicated. I made this tool for the new happy, which is basically like a big list of needs. And the idea is that if you’re having a hard time, you can sit with somebody you love and, you know, like check off the things that you think would make you feel better and like start to build that vocabulary a little bit because it is really hard. Like sometimes I think about my own needs and, you know, like I think about my partner. If I’m having a hard day sometimes I want him to know what to do. Right. It’s kind of unfair. It’s my responsibility. I have to learn how to name my needs and the things that I want. And so I think that one of the best ways we can exist in interdependence with one another is that practice of claiming, I would like this, or I or I need this right now. And again, it sort of ties back to what you mentioned about how hard it is to ask for help. It’s the barrier getting in the way.


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:35] Yeah, it’s one thing, I guess, to see clearly enough to really understand what’s going on, another thing to even then know what to do, and then a third thing to then act on it. It’s like. Yeah, we are complicated little beasties.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:42:50] I love the way you say that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:51] You know, one of the other things that you talk about is this notion of understanding or uncovering, like like why you matter. How you matter. Take me deeper into this.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:43:01] Yeah. So I think that everyone wants to know that they’re special, right? And that they have something within them that matters and that can be shared. And there’s so many different ways to approach this question of identifying who you are and what unique capabilities you have. And I know you’ve done such fantastic work in this area. The model that I’ve proposed in this book is that every person has three different types of gifts, and those gifts can be used to help other people. When you use them, you experience joy, and then also you create happiness for other people at the same time. And so I argue that there’s your humanity, which is who you are as a person. That’s what shows up in those helping moments when you’re with somebody you love and you want to be there, there’s your wisdom, what you’ve learned from the unique life that you’ve lived that nobody else will ever have access to. And then there’s your talent, which is all of the great things you know how to do, or you want to learn how to do. And the more that you can identify those gifts, you can start to share them with the world and make the impact that only you can make, because no one else has your unique combination of gifts to share.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:11] Do you feel like at different points in our lives, we might feel like we have more or less access to one or more of those three different gifts?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:44:20] Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I haven’t thought about it before, but yes, I do. I think, I think luckily you develop most of them with with age, particularly humanity and wisdom can grow and grow and grow. And of course you can continue learning. Maybe your range of talents becomes slightly more limited as you get older, but you can still always master new skills and capabilities. So I think that aging presents us with an opportunity to develop those gifts more and more. And ultimately, I think that they all do need that level of cultivation. You know, for the most part, there are obviously masters and people who seem to spring fully formed with their talents and their gifts out of their. I’m not one of them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:08] Nor am I, so.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:45:09] Definitely not one


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:10] I’m literally stumbling and fumbling to this.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:45:13] Me too. Oh yeah, like doing the messy work. That’s me. Um, so I think that you have to put in, you know, the effort and the time and like anything, that’s what pays off. So and I do think that to your point, it might also be dependent on the environment that you’re in, the support that you’re getting, what’s valued in the relationships that you have, all of that can help to bring it out.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:35] Yeah. It does occur to me, and I’m curious what you think about this, that I wonder if many of us really like in the earlier stages of life, we of those three, like humanity, wisdom and talent, we tend to lead with talent. Like if there’s a way for us to help, like, where’s my skill? Where’s my guy? Like, where’s that unique thing about me? Because it just seems most on the surface and maybe most what we’ve been recognized for. And maybe we feel like we’re not like we don’t have the wisdom yet to actually be able to offer that in a meaningful way. Um, but I wonder if the humanity side of it is which we all have from the earliest days, like, yeah, that’s maybe like not necessarily the most ignored, but like least tapped in a way. Maybe we don’t recognize that it’s there for us to offer.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:46:23] I agree with you completely. I think like some people, there are some people who seem to have a natural grasp on their humanity gifts and are so loving and kind and funny and, you know, just all of those wonderful human qualities, and they share it broadly. But yeah, I mean, I didn’t ever believe when I was younger that your humanity could be a gift. It felt like a liability. So, um, the funny thing is, though, is that your humanity gifts are the most reliable source of happiness because they connect you to other people and they allow you to express all of your inner goodness. So if we neglect those, then often we’re we’re neglecting a really big source of well-being. And to your point, we’ll often put talent well ahead of it and ignore all of the potential expressions of our humanity gifts in thinking that, you know, again, once I get there, I’ll be happy and then it’ll all be worth it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:21] Yeah. And I would imagine this ties into what you were sharing earlier about like one of those big lies, which was like the sense of not enoughness like.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:47:28] Yeah


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:29] If we feel like, you know, if we’ve been maybe told at a young age that like just on a human level, like you’re not enough, then you’re like, who am I to think that even just who I am as a human being is adequate to in any way, shape or form, like share with another person?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:47:46] Yeah. And like, that could be good enough. Like, you know, one example, um, I’m curious to hear if if, um, this resonates with you is I was always told I was too sensitive and, um, overreacting to stuff, and I would cry too often. And it became something that I was really ashamed of when I was younger. And especially when you’re young and you don’t have the ability to regulate your emotions, it becomes even more difficult. And I never, ever once thought that my sensitivity could ever be a gift, and now I couldn’t do any of the work I do without it. It’s probably one of the things that has helped me the most, and all of that time I spent beating myself up for something that’s just a part of who I am. I could have been using it in ways that would have helped me and helped others. And gosh, like, we should just try and avoid that wherever possible.


Jonathan Fields: [00:48:36] Yeah, and I think that probably resonates. It resonates with me. I’m sure it resonates with so many people who are like listening right now. Part of it is, you know, there’s so much conditioning and that’s part of what we’ve been talking about. You know, that so much of what we’re talking about here is, you know, it’s an unwinding process. And this is actually like one of the words you use, like unwinding the old happy. So we can basically set ourselves up to step into the new happy. Mhm. When you think about, you know, if somebody’s listening to this and say like this makes, makes so much sense to me and yes, it makes sense that we need to unwind these things and, and access empathy and compassion. And it’s like the relationships that are really powerful and they matter. And, and the notion of, of wisdom and talent and humanity like that all lands. And maybe they’re feeling okay, but like there’s this voice inside of them that says, but I could feel better. I could feel different. Where do we start with that? Because I think, you know, a lot of folks would probably be like, but this feels a little bit, a bit overwhelming to me. Like, yeah, what are the easy on ramps here?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:49:39] Yeah, yeah. You know, I think that one of the on ramps is the next time that you’re having a bad day or a tough time, just go help somebody in some small way try and show up using your humanity gifts. It’s free. It’s simple. It takes five minutes or less and it can make such a big difference in your day. Simply calling a friend or reaching out to a family member who’s having a hard time, or helping a stranger, or whatever it is that comes to mind. And then when you’re done, just notice how you feel. And if it’s changed anything within you, if you feel more connected to yourself or to the other person, and if you have any joy or a sense of purpose, the next is to start thinking about those gifts that you have and making a list of some of them. To be honest, thinking about, okay, what have I learned? You know, um, everyone has had a unique life, and no matter how old you are, you have been through some stuff that has taught you something, and we just have to extract it from those memories and those moments. So I often counsel, you know, think back to the things that you’ve achieved in your life that were meaningful for you, or the experiences that were painful for you, that you got through and overcame, and then write down what you learned and what you’d like to do with that information.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:50:56] Because oftentimes our purpose is found in, hey, I went through this hard time, and now I want to help other people going through that hard time, or I want to prevent it for them in some way or help support them in navigating it. And the other bit is again, like, no matter, no matter how young you are, there’s always somebody younger than you who wants to do what you’ve done, who is excited and would be grateful for your support. And so figuring out how to contribute your wisdom in those ways. And then for your talents, think about somebody who you look up to, who has a life that excites you, you know, thinking about someone who gets up every day and they do something with their day. And you think, I want to do that with my day, and then think about the talents that they have and how you might start to develop them for yourself. And you do that by, you know, starting to practice and get feedback and all of that good stuff. But with those, those three steps, you can really invest in your talents and your wisdom and your humanity, and then start to offer them up to others in a way that’s not about overhauling your whole life. It’s just making a couple of small changes as you go about it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:02] Um, that resonates so much. And the notion that, you know, even starting with the humanity side, like literally, there’s probably not a day that you move through where once you become open to it, once you sort of like set yourself on scan, like, okay, so how can I bring my humanity gift to like to someone something some moment? Like, you’re probably just going to start to see them all around the place.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:52:23] Totally. And it’s like it’s think about them as moments for your happiness, right? Like, here’s a chance to feel happier. What a gift. I’m so happy I can help.


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:33] Yeah, it feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Stephanie Harrison: [00:52:43] Helping people in any way I can. 


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:48] Mmm. Thank you.


Stephanie Harrison: [00:52:49] Thank you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:51] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Dan Lerner about the science of passion. You’ll find a link to Dan’s episode in the show notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help by Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor? A seven-second favor and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

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