In this episode we discuss how you’re wrong about what you think will make you happy. Research shows that the vast majority of people are terrible at predicting what will actually make them happy and even when you think you know what makes you happy, you’re often wrong. We break apart the core delusions that stop you from being happy, and we dig into a scientific analysis of the state of “enlightenment” to uncover that it’s not just something for Buddhist monks, but a measurable brain state that can achieved by anyone, anywhere with our guests Dr. Ash ElDifrawi and Dr. Alex Lickerman.
Dr. Ash ElDifrawi is a thought leader in clinical, social, and consumer psychology. He's been featured in The Economist, Forbes, Bloomberg, the WSJ and much more.
Dr. Alex Lickerman is the author of The Undefeated Mind and physician. He is the former assistant professor of medicine, director of primary care, and assistant vice president for Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of Chicago. His work has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, USA Today and much more!
What you think you need to be happy is wrong
Your current beliefs about how to achieve happiness are “delusions”
Most of the things you think will make you happy are are “delusional beliefs"
How do you create happiness that actually lasts or endures?
If you’re searching for lasting happiness - that can’t be taken away from you - it comes from something very different than what you think
Your “delusions” about happiness will make you happy temporarily, but not permanently
Does happiness come from getting the things you want?
What happens when you lose the things that you’ve anchored your happiness to?
It’s like a stick of gum - you get a hit, but then the taste and flavor fade over time
The science shows that this is a neurological phenomenon - we habituate to any attachment we have. We start to take things for granted.
It’s delusional to think that getting something you want is going to make you a happier person.
Because of our psychology and our neurology - you can get stuck on a hedonic treadmill and you always come back to your baseline level of happiness.
The question for happiness began with empirical study of science, psychology and research
Buddhist philosophers have been observing the mind for 2500 years, in many ways they were some of the earliest psychologists
Is the 2500 years of buddhist thinking reflected in modern science?
There has been an explosion of research on happiness and yet unhappiness is increasing, too much of the current research is too superficial
How do you think about incorporating science into your worldview and forming your decisions?
You are going about trying to find happiness the WRONG way
It’s your beliefs about what you need to be happy that shape your inner state, feelings, thoughts, and actions
Do you believe that happiness comes from avoiding pain?
How can the belief that happiness is about the avoidance of pain lead to more pain, suffering and unhappiness?
What should you do if you get caught in a cycle of constantly being worried whether or not you’re making the right decision?
The vast majority of people are pretty bad at predicting what will make them happy
When we think we know what will make us happy, we are often wrong.
The Nine “Core Delusions” that prevent you from being happy
“Hell” - the core belief that you are powerless to end your suffering and you don’t know how to end it
“Hunger” - the core belief that happiness comes from getting what you want
“Animality” - the core belief that happiness and pleasure are the same thing
“Anger” - the core belief that happiness comes from being superior or better than others, often rooted in insecurity, often looks like arrogance or control
“Tranquility” - the core belief that to be happy you have to avoid pain
“Rapture” - the joy that comes from having an attachment (material possession, relationship, ideas, health, etc), contemplating those attachments brings you joy
“Learning” - the world of value creation, the core belief that in order to have a happy life your life must be meaningful
“Realization” - the core belief that to be happy you must constantly improve yourself
“Compassion” - the core belief that to be happy you must help other people be happy too
Each of these 9 core delusions shows you the primary “attachment” you have that is driving your beliefs, feelings, and actions
Any attachment, by definition it’s ability to provide you joy is temporary. All external attachments are eventually lost. All attachments are temporary. Every attachment contains the seed of future suffering.
How do you get ENDURING INDESTRUCTIBLE HAPPINESS? Instead of temporary happiness?
How do we break down enlightenment, from a scientific perspective?
The core truth of enlightenment is that the world around us is sublime. There is an order and a beauty in the universe.
You probably have your “basic life tendency” which is the world / core belief that you primarily experience the world from, but you likely experience the world, in one way or another, from all the worlds.
The same stimulus can have radically different impacts on two different people
At it’s core - this is because we have different fundamental “core beliefs” about the world and what makes us happy
What is the science being achieving enlightenment?
In every history, in every time, there have been people who’ve described the experience of enlightenment - through all of history they are remarkably consistent.
How do you create Transcendent Joy in your life?
Could enlightenment be a reproducible life experience? What does the neurological research say about what our brains actually do and actually experience during moments of “enlightenment."
What did scientists discover from studying the brains of people on mushrooms?
“The default mode network” - the self referential part of the brain
How do you “pierce the veil of the illusion of the self?"
When the “default mode network” down cycles - people begin to experience the feeling of one-ness, a reduced sense of self, fearlessness, and transcendent joy
The chattering, autobiographical “sense of self” (the default mode network) is actively surpassing the state of transcendent joy
The surrendering of the sense of self is a key component
Why inducing a feeling of “awe” dramatically shrinks the sense of self
Being out in nature
Astronauts in outer space having a “cosmic perspective"
Enlightenment, the scientific brain state of transdencent joy, is something that can be achieved by anyone, anywhere. It’s not just for buddhist monks.
By seeking to be awed every day by our surroundings
How can we reach for the state of awe in our every day lives? How can we move towards enlightenment in our everyday lives?
Awe is there for us to see, it’s a matter of pausing to try and see it in the moment.
Homework: Become mindful to the degree to which these core delusions determine how happy you are. When something makes you unhappy, ask yourself what has happened that has made you unhappy, what core belief has this event stirred up in you that has made you unhappy?
Thank you so much for listening!
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Want To Dig In More?! - Here’s The Show Notes, Links, & Research
[Article] Positive Psychology Program - “Daniel Gilbert: The Expert on Predicting Happiness”
[Wiki Article] Default mode network
[Article] Neuroscientifically Challenged - “Know your brain: Default mode network”
[Article] Daily Stoic - “The Undefeated Mind: An Interview with Buddhist and Author Alex Lickerman”
[Article] PR Newswire - Redbox Names Ash Eldifrawi Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer
[Article] Psychology Today - “The Good Guy Contract” By Alex Lickerman,M.D
[Article] Fast Company - “This is what you’re getting wrong about your pursuit of happiness” by Stephanie Vozza
[Podcast] News/Talk WSVA - DR ALEX LICKERMAN-DR ASH ELDIFRAWI-THE 10 WORLDS
[Podcast] Inquisitive Souls - The New Psychology of Happiness
[Podcast] The Art of Manliness #40: The Undefeated Mind With Alex Lickerman
[Podcast] BlogTalkRadio - Denise Griffitts: The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness
WOCA the Source Radio - Dr. Alex Lickerman and Dr. Ash Eldifrawi Interview - The Ten Worlds
Brian Johnson - Optimize Interview: The Undefeated Mind with Alex Lickerman
Gogo channel - Interview with Gogo CCO Ash ElDifrawi
Leo Flowers - BOOK REVIEW: THE UNDEFEATED MIND by Alex Lickerman MD
COAST TO COAST AM - December 02 2018 - ACHIEVING HAPPINESS
[Book] The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness by Dr. Ash ElDifrawi MA PsyD and Dr. Alex Lickerman MD
[Book] The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self by Alex Lickerman
[Book] Cosmos by Carl Sagan
[Book Review] Psych Central - Book Review: The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness
[SoS Episode] When the Impossible Becomes Possible - The Secrets of Flow Revealed with Steven Kotler
[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss how you’re wrong about what you think will make you happy. Research shows that the vast majority of people are terrible at predicting what will actually make them happy, and even when you think you know it makes you happy, you’re often wrong.
We break apart the core delusions that stop you from being happy and we dig into a scientific analysis of the state of enlightenment, to uncover that it's not just something for Buddhist monks, but a measurable brain state that can be achieved by anyone anywhere, with our guests Dr. Ash ElDifrawi and Dr. Alex Lickerman.
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In our previous episode, we discussed the important difference between competence and confidence and looked at the dangers of focusing too much on building up your self-esteem. We explored the gift of failure and why sometimes it's better to let children fail than to try to make them feel better. We learned why frustration is a vital and important piece of the learning process, while we must consider the inevitability of failure, and we uncovered one of the most powerful teaching tools that you can use to learn, grow and improve with our previous guest, Jessica Lahey. If you want to know the truth about the relationship between failure and self-esteem, listen to that episode.
Now, for our interview with Ash and Alex.
[0:03:22.5] MB: Today, we have two exciting guests on the show; Dr. Ash ElDifrawi is a thought leader in clinical social and consumer psychology. He's been featured in The Economist, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and much more, and Dr. Alex Lickerman. Alex is the author of The Undefeated Mind and a physician. He's the former assistant professor of medicine, director of primary care and assistant vice president for student health and counseling services at the University of Chicago. His work has been featured in New York Times, USA Today, Time Magazine and much more.
Together, they've written the best-selling book The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness. Alex, Ash, welcome to the Science of Science.
[0:04:01.5] AE: Thanks for having us.
[0:04:02.5] AL: Great to be here.
[0:04:03.7] MB: Well, I'm really excited to have you both on here. I think the topics and themes that you cover within Ten Worlds are fascinating, and I really want to explore this with the audience. To start out, one of the core premises that you begin the book with is this notion that our current beliefs about how we can be happy are wrong. Tell me a little bit about that.
[0:04:24.1] AE: Yeah, so the premise of the book is that people all across the world have different beliefs about what they need to be happy. A common one would be they need to have the right job, the right money, the right amount of money, the right spouse, certain things external to their lives they have to have correct. Actually, if you would imagine every single thing that everyone on the planet believes they need to be happy and you added them all up together and then try to derive what the core beliefs that all those multiple beliefs slot down into, they really slide it found into 10 core beliefs.
Our thesis is that nine of those beliefs are actually delusional. Meaning, we think they will bring us long-lasting happiness, or happiness that endures, when in fact, they will not. Even more basic than that, it is in fact the beliefs we have about what we need to be happy themselves that determine how happy we are able to be. It's not what we have. It’s what we believe we need to have to be happy.
[0:05:18.0] MB: That's a really powerful word when you call it a delusion. Tell me a little bit more about why, and we'll get into the various core delusions and talk about them. Tell me about why you use such a powerful language when you describe what often people think they need to achieve happiness.
[0:05:37.4] AL: The reason we use that word delusion is because we believe that people are looking for a happiness that actually lasts, or endures. They're not looking for happiness that’s temporary and then can be taken away, or snatched away based on something that happens in their lives, or circumstances changing.
I have to say that people achieve temporary happiness all the time, they do. The reason we call these delusions is because we believe what those things are people believed they would be happy, are only things that are going to get them temporary happiness. People cling to those beliefs very strongly and their lives are governed by them. Because of that, we wanted to be very clear that those are delusions, because if you're searching for happiness, they will last and not be destroyed but what happens to you. Ultimately, it's an incorrect belief and that's what a delusion is.
[0:06:22.8] AE: I want to add to that. It's important, because it gets a little nuanced that the things that people believe, these nine delusions, or core delusions as we call them, they will make people happy temporarily. That's part of the reason why they're so difficult to disbelieve. They're so difficult to turn away from when we're searching to become permanently happy. The delusional part of this is that the happiness they bring by definition is temporary and we posit that there is a different type of happiness that people can attain if they want to work towards it, that is more long-lasting, deeper and more permanent.
[0:06:55.0] MB: I'd love to hear a specific example around one of these delusions, just to give this a little more context for the audience. I also think you made a really important point that in all of these cases, if you build your happiness on any external anything, right? Whether it's another person, whether it's an achievement, whether it's your legacy, all of these different things, at the end of the day, that's a fragile, or impermanent place to put it. Correct me if I'm misunderstanding this, but what I hear you saying is basically, that by doing that, you're putting yourself in a situation where you can never attain permanent, lasting happiness.
[0:07:34.8] AE: Let's talk about the world of hunger, where the core delusion there, the belief there that people hold is that happiness comes from getting the things you want. Sounds absolutely logical, right? People think, “If I can get the right job, or make a lot of money, or get the right wife, or get the promotion, or get my kids in the right school, get the house,” whatever that might be, people attach themselves thinking, “If I can just get those things, I'll make me happy.”
When you do achieve them, they do provide temporary happiness. Think about how long that will last, or how quickly that fades. Even more, thinking about what happens when you lose those things, your happiness plummet with them. We talk a lot about the metaphor, or analog of it's like a stick of gum; you chew it, it tastes great and sweet at first, but ultimately, it always fades.
The hint of that happiness is very powerful and very real, which is why we continuously pursue it again and again and again. The world of hunger is really this world is literally aching and longing to get that next thing and to drive yourself to get that next thing all the time. While it's very powerful and very rewarding when it happens, it is ultimately a delusion if you believe those things are going to achieve a happiness that lasts a lifetime, because we know they don't.
[0:08:44.6] AL: In fact, I want to add to that, because the science shows it really is a neurologic phenomenon that we habituate to all of our attachments, right? At first when we get them, we're incredibly focused on them, we're often obsessed with them. Then they gradually just become things we have and our attention gradually turns from them towards other things. Especially if we are – you really engage with this belief that to be happy, we have to get what we want. Once the thing we get stops making us happy and just becomes something we have, something we're used to and in fact, take for granted, we light on other thinking, “Okay, maybe we made a mistake there, because I'm not as happy as I used to be when I got this job. Maybe the problem was the job was the wrong thing to make me happy. I have to find the right spouse, or maybe I have to buy the right house, or whatever.”
People who are caught with this particular delusion think that by getting something they want, it's going to fundamentally change them into a happier person, because it makes – it gives them that hit at first. Because of our psychology and ultimately our neurology, the research is really clear that we got on this hedonic treadmill and the longer we run on it, the longer we accumulate these things, ultimately, we return to our baseline level of happiness and we wind up right back where we started thinking. Well, the problem is we just wanted the wrong thing. We have to find the right thing to want and we go after that next thing.
[0:10:02.9] MB: You made a great point and we'll get into this a little bit more. The reality is a lot of the things you're talking about it and I think listeners will certainly have this experience as we unpack more of these ideas, but can seem a little bit mystical, especially once we get into enlightenment, which we're going to talk about in a little while, but the reality is there's a ton of science that backs up this idea that we're not really very good at all at figuring out what actually makes us happy.
[0:10:32.6] AL: Yeah, Alex can get into a little bit more around the roots of the 10 worlds and the paradigm, which is based in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism particularly. In fact, the idea and the concept of the 10 rules was born of me, the intersection between science and psychology and actually empirical cases, and then and then even into then mysticism, or at least into a philosophy.
I think that there's components of that in all of this, but everything that we talk about in the book ultimately, is rooted in what we hear be sound science running from a psychology or neurological perspective, so you're right in that.
[0:11:09.2] AE: I guess, I would say Buddhist philosophers been observing the mind for 2,500 years and contemplating and writing about it, and in a way consider them some of the earliest psychologists, because they would make empiric observations about the different life states, or different conditions in which people's thinking would appear, and overtime categorize them. The reason we began with that organization was because it really did reflect the experience that Ash and I both had in our respective fields, his in psychology, mine in internal medicine, of the way people were predisposed, or disposed, I should say their mindsets.
We got very interested to know is the 2,500 years of Buddhist philosophical thinking reflected in modern-day scientific studies and it really did. It really does. Our interest is not in perpetuating mysticism, but in finding a better understanding of the way human beings think and then most importantly, how they become happy based on the science.
I would add that one of the things that Ash and I have found in the last 20 years is we've been thinking about this and working on this and observing the literature on the science of happiness, which was sparked in the 1990s by the positive psychology movement by Martin Seligman, is that the research that's been done up till now is very useful and very valid, but we think it's focusing on two superficial level that is not really getting down in addressing what are the core beliefs that people have that motivate both their thinking and their feeling and their behavior surrounding happiness, that there's some science to describe. That's really why we thought this is an important time to write this book and bring forth some of these ideas.
I guess the last thing I want to say about this is and I want to be very clear about this because Ash and I really are very strict with ourselves in terms of designs here. A lot of this book is speculative. It's based on a lot of studies, but the paradigm we put forth that we are proposing is really a model that we put together from our own observations and our practices, as well as what the science is saying. I'm hoping that there will be people who will read this and say there's more studying to do here, and let's try to validate this model and take a whack at it and see if it holds up.
[0:13:14.1] MB: I really respect that framework and that admission that at some level, you've done a ton of homework, you've looked at all the research, but at the end of the day, you have to take all that research in and form a viewpoint, or a framework, or perspective. I don't want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but there's a really insightful lesson there for anybody listening, which is at the end of the day, it's hard to ever really truly be completely certain about anything, even science is disproven sometimes.
The flipside of that is the scientific framework is generally a very useful empirically-driven, the scientific process has critical feedback and peer reviews and all these different things that help it move in the direction of truth, much more so than a lot of other frameworks or ideas. I like that you said, it's rooted in science, you've done all the homework, but at the same time you've internalized all that and said, “Here's what we think it's saying.”
[0:14:02.3] AE: That's exactly right. Exactly right. As you say, you point out very aptly, science moves very slowly, because it has to be tested empirically. That's expensive and time-consuming. That's how you really get it, right? There are a lot of people out there who want to believe in the enlightenment, who turn towards the more mystical aspect of practice and that may be for many people a path they want to take.
Our interest is in uncovering what's the real science behind this, right? If enlightenment and happiness are a phenomena of the mind, there must be a science and principles that describe and explain how we get there, and that's really what we're interested in getting at the truth about that.
[0:14:39.4] MB: You touched on something really important, which is how beliefs underpin and shape all of this. Before we talk about that, I want to come back to this one interesting tidbit that touches on what we're talking about a second ago, which you shared in the book, which is this idea that there's a tremendous amount of research about happiness and it's actually exploding and yet, unhappiness is increasing at the same time.
[0:15:03.4] AL: Yeah, ironic, right? Actually, there's some recent studies that show that more than ever, the world is more depressed ever before and unhappy than they've ever been. That is a paradox that you point out? We're actually not surprised if our thesis is true, in that part reason that's happening is people are actually going about, trying to find happiness in the wrong way.
In fact, as this comes into people's consciousness more and they actually search for it more, then you can imagine if they're chasing that and not able to grasp, but that could actually lead people to becoming more frustrated and unhappy, which might explain what's going on. There's obviously a lot of factors that probably influence why the world is where it is. Some of them exogenous, more internal in terms of psychology.
We do believe that more than ever, that we need to challenge the current paradigms that are out there and how to address this. Like Alex said, spark a conversation that's rooted in some real empirical observation in science, to see whether or not we're thinking about this in the right way. That was really the purpose of – one of the purposes of writing this book.
[0:16:09.1] MB: Let's dig into this power of beliefs and how beliefs underpin and shape our experiences and our as you call them, our worlds.
[0:16:18.9] AE: Imagine, let's take an example, one of the core delusions we talk about as an example, to try to explain that. If you think about the world of animality, the core delusion that underlies that world, that creates that world and we're arguing that it is your beliefs about what you need to be happy that create your inner life state, which reflects your thinking, the types of thoughts you have, the things you feel and the actions you'll take, as well as even your energy level.
The core delusion world of animality is that pleasure is equal to happiness. Pleasure and happiness are one in the same. By pleasure, we mean basic pleasure, which typically revolves around physical pleasure. If you think about for a minute, so let's say you believe that, you really believe the key being happy is do as much physical pleasure as you possibly can. How will you behave? What will you do and what experiences will you have as a result of that?
People for example, become addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, eating, physical comfort, all those things. Those will be the things that you will pursue. In pursuing those things, you will achieve pleasure and pleasure clearly as we talk about later in the book, a part of happiness. The pursuit of pleasure, people who live their lives in that way, typically develop lives that are far more full of suffering than they are of joy and happiness.
That actually the overindulgence of pleasure is not the way to have a happy and successful life. In fact, we can characterize the types of things that people who believe that will say and do and the types of lives it will create for themselves. They are surprisingly consistent and stereotypical. If you know people who are in general, like addicts, addict to some physical pleasure, the way they think and feel and behave and the lives that construct themselves are remarkably similar.
It's the belief itself, the belief that physical pleasure is happiness, that actually puts the ceiling on how happy they're able to be, right? You can achieve pleasure, you can say get drunk, or have sex, or have a delicious meal and over indulge in that. While you're experiencing those things, you'll feel pleasure, you may even very well feel joy. Overall, the level of happiness you are able to achieve is set at a very low-level. In fact, most people who indulge that way suffer from it than they feel joy.
We're arguing that the core reason for this, the core cause at the very center of the lives that these people who are trapped in the world they create is this belief, that their happiness are one and the same.
[0:18:47.9] AL: Yeah. I can give you another example of a little more subtle world that I can talk about my world, the world I come from, which is the world of tranquility, which by the way based on some of the research we've done so far based on survey we have, which is the most common world, at least for the people who've taken it, that people seem to come from.
The core belief of the world tranquility is that happiness comes from avoiding pain. If you think about the life, if you believe that, again, if you will let the core, that's your guiding principle, your guiding belief, then you construct the life that's avoiding negative, or bad consequences, or bad outcomes. You don't take much risk financially, or with the relationships, or with jobs. You construct your life in a way that's somewhat safe and through the decisions you make.
Then it can also be very paralyzing, in terms of making decisions, because you worry too much that making the wrong decision will take you down the wrong path. You place a lot and way too much emphasis on making the right decisions, which can obviously will lead to a lot of anxiety, because it's impossible to control that. In fact, we point the research in the book that shows that people are actually really bad at predicting, which decisions will ultimately make them happy or not. I think, Alex correct me if I’m wrong, but we were actually wrong most of the time in thinking we know what outcomes will make us happy.
When you construct a life that it would live that, you can imagine that every decision is approached with a lot of anxiety and a lot of avoidance. It's living a very safe existence of playing defense all the time, which can obviously lead to a lot of consequences around what you don't experience life, as much as is protecting you for negative outcomes, which looks – that's a life that looks very different, for example, than the life from the world of animality, which is almost the opposite.
[0:20:28.4] MB: It's fascinating and it's interesting actually that you say that that, the world of tranquility is the most common, because I would say that's a very frequent and resonant theme of questions that I get e-mailed from listeners all the time, which is essentially, some variant of the same question of I have a big decision in my life and I feel paralyzed. I feel I can't make it. I don't know if I'm going to make the right decision. I'm stuck. They get caught in this analysis paralysis. It's really fascinating that that's one of those resonant themes that you found as well.
[0:20:59.3] AE: Well, I don't think it's not that surprising if you think about how our brains evolve. Fundamentally, they are designed to keep us alive. Fear is a dominant force in everyone's life to some degree. When it becomes such a dominant force when we're trying to avoid it so much, that we believe to be happy, we must be free of it and free of pain, because we've been programmed to avoid those things and that becomes our central reason is as our guidepost. That takes over our behavior. It takes over our thinking. Absolutely again, set the ceiling on the limit of how happy we can be.
Because imagine, in fact, you didn't feel and you didn't believe that a happy life is a lot that requires the absence of pain and you were accepting them pain. All the ways you'd think about happiness and decision-making and even anxiety and physical and emotional pain, be completely different. The ability that you would have to experience happiness, the things that you think would make you happy would be very different. In fact, we argue that you would potentially be much happier.
People can say, “I'm at peace. Everything's okay,” and that is their goal. Certainly, they're not suffering, but they're also not so happy either. Many people have come to believe, that is the best that they can hope for, whether they consciously admit it to themselves, to recognize it or not, that's the state that they're aiming for. Again, because of their fundamental core delusional belief that happiness is a life free from pain.
[0:22:26.6] MB: That comes back to something Ash said earlier that was really interesting, which is that we're really bad at predicting what actually makes us happy.
[0:22:35.2] AL: I don’t know if you're familiar, or your listeners are familiar with Daniel Gilbert's work in predicting our effective outcomes. Meaning, when we imagine something happening in the future, whether good or bad, our imaginations are actually pretty poor at forecasting how we will react to them, because we only imagine in a very rough way. I think with any other characteristic that you could spread out among people and see who's good at, there's probably a bell-shaped curve, there are probably some people who are incredibly good, effective forecasters, meaning they can predict how happy, or unhappy they will be when certain things happen to them.
The vast majority of people, his research was are actually pretty bad at it. As Ash pointed out, directly belies the core delusion in the world of hunger, meaning when we think, we know what will make us happy. Long-term, were often wrong. It's just the way our minds are built.
[0:23:29.8] MB: To give the audience a little bit more context for all of this, let's zoom out and would you briefly, and I don't want to go super deep in each of these, but would you briefly summarize all nine of the core delusions?
[0:23:43.8] AE: It starts with the world of hell. Whereas, most people modern-day, probably think about that as depression, which is a very close analog to it. That's the world of suffering. The core delusion of that world is that basically, that you are powerless to end your suffering, or at your pain. The world of hell is really this state of perpetual suffering that you think you can't escape it, which is then why not surprisingly, we call it hell.
What makes it particularly hellish, maybe even worse sometimes and some types of depression, is that you are – there's this belief, this core belief that you can't end it. You don't know how to end it. That in itself continues to plunge you further and further into the world. Then we talked about already, the world of hunger, which Alex gave the example of, which is happiness comes from getting what you want. We also talked about the world of animality, which is the belief that happiness and pleasure are the same thing, and Alex I think, went into good detail in terms of what that looks like from whether it's pursuing physical pleasures and food and sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Then you get into the world of tranquility, the world of anger. This world is a world where you believe that happiness comes from basically killing the [inaudible 0:24:55.5] better than others, than everyone else. This world is characterized a lot by really core, rooted in insecurities and the need – this need to prove yourself better than others around you, or be seen in that way.
As you can imagine, that's a world that's full of – can look like arrogance or control, but under the day is rooted in insecurity. Then you get into the world of tranquility, which is the world I described, which is the belief that to be happy, you have to avoid pain, and we talked a little bit what that looks like.
[0:25:27.1] AL: Then I can take on from there. The world of rapture, is typically what people when they think about happiness think about. That is the joy that comes from having an attachment. That attachment could be anything from an external attachment, like a material possession, to an external attachment like a relationship, to an internal attachment, like one's sense of health and vitality, or even ideas that you're particularly taken with and just thinking about them and contemplating those attachments brings us joy.
In the book, we talk a lot about the science around this. There's been an explosion in the study of the neurology around this, and very interesting for those who are more science-oriented. The problem with the world of rapture is we've been talking about is that any attachment, any attachment whatsoever, whether external or internal, by definition, its ability to provide you joy is temporary, number one.
Number two, while some attachment, especially internal ones are harder to lose, and there's our external attachments; not only are they often lost. In fact, they're always lost, if you think about it, whether because they go away, or because ultimately one day, you go away. They're all temporary. Every attachment we gain that brings us, joy contains within the seed of our future suffering.
While many people aim at the world of rapture as their ultimate goal in life and we're arguing, there are forms of happiness that our superior and that our better targets. Not by the way that you should avoid rapture. This is very important, right? We're not arguing that happiness that's temporary is in some way a false sense of happiness, or happiness not worth pursuing. It is, but it's not the happiest we think people can be. We think, we're hoping to inspire people to aim for something more.
That something more would be, I would lie in what we call the higher worlds, which are the top four worlds. By the way, the order of these worlds is not an accident. It is the order in which the ceiling on one's happiness, the degree of joy one feels, the higher the world you go, we will argue, the greater your core effect, the happier you are. After rapture is learning and learning and that it's next world realization. Our sister worlds, they're very closely linked.
Learning is the world of value creation and learning itself and that the core belief, or core delusion that people are driven in this world is that in order to have a happy life, your life has to be meaningful. You have to be creating things of value. This happens to be the world that I tend to come from. I'm very familiar with it.
The sister world realization is very similar, except that the value that you create in this world is thought to be, or needs to be centering around improving yourself, the world of self-development. People in this world believe that to become happy, they must in some way be continuously developing themselves. Then the world above that is the world of compassion. This is the world in which we believe that in order to be happy, we have to be helping other people to become happy too. This is the world of value creation for others.
Taken altogether, these higher worlds of learning, realization and compassion, they're really the attachment that tribes are desired to – or that we are after in these worlds, I should say. It is an attachment, but is the attachment of a very particular attachment. It's attachment of meaning, so that the world of learning, the type of meaning we're creating is the meaning that when we are expressing our values in some way, in creating things at represent what we feel is important, the world the realization, the value of self-improvement, then what we would argue is among the highest of a meaningful value is the value created for other people.
Altogether, what we've just described are the nine worlds as we think about them, that are governed by what we call core delusions. Again, I want stress that these delusions are delusional only because they don't bring us in a happiness that is indestructible and enduring, which is what we will argue is what we're really all after in our hearts. They bring us happiness that's temporary.
The tenth world, the world of enlightenment, there's a lot of mystical connotations to that word and we spend the chapter in the book, which is the longest chapter, trying to break that down and approach it from a very scientific point of view. We can talk about this, but there's actually a lot of fascinating science around this. In general, the core truth of the world of enlightenment is that the world around us is sublime. What we mean by sublime is that there is an elegant, beautiful and a good order to entire universe, and that it is in perceiving our surroundings and ourselves in that way, we obtain a life state and a joy that cannot be destroyed by anything, because it is not based on any attachment, whatsoever.
It's not based on having anything. It's based on perceiving the world in a certain way. We can get into that further, but that is what we consider to be we've labeled a core truth that if you can find a way to manifest that, and that's another discussion we can have about how the different ways we can believe things and why that's so important. If we can stir it up within ourselves, we can enter that world of enlightenment and experience what has been described as the joy of joys.
[0:30:39.9] MB: I definitely wanted to get into the science of that and how we can manifest enlightenment. Before we do, I want to come back and talk a little bit more about the nine core delusions, only from the perspective of when I look across these, I see myself, I see my behavior in a number of different worlds. Is this something that there's only one place where you spend your time, or can you be in multiple different levels? Or how does that work?
[0:31:06.4] AE: I'll start that and Alex can expand on it. No. Absolutely, we actually can move from world to the world literally minute to minute. You can be on one and enter the other, as one belief might slip out your mind, another one come into it. It happens to you probably literally when you're look staring at a desert, or in a part of a chocolate cake, you’re in the world of animality, versus if you're focused on getting something – if you're buying, goes to some other place and you’re focus is something else that you want to achieve, or some promotion you're trying to get. You can literally move in and out of different worlds and even stay there for extended periods of time.
What we argue is that though everybody has their basic life tendency, which is the world in which they come from, think about it, or where they come back to, which is the governing principle around that mostly bucks the life around them and the majority of the time. Everybody experiences all the different worlds. I would argue that in trying to understand that and trying to understand what grips you from one to the other, that you can gain control over that. Absolutely, we all can experience all the different worlds.
[0:32:12.1] AL: The reason for that is because we are at one time or another, have the different core delusions that create these worlds stirred up in us. It's not that we disbelieve these to become a lightness to suddenly realize, “Oh, I don't need to be happy. I don't need to get what I want to be happier, or experience physical pleasure to be happy,” the ability of those beliefs to seduce us and to control us and to deepen our approach to life never goes away.
The question is when we encounter environmental experiences, when things happen to us, which of these beliefs has stirred up most strongly? That seems to be just an individual thing determined by perhaps, the way we were born, perhaps the early life experiences we've had, or reflections we've gone through as we thought about what lives we want to actually create for ourselves. All those things go into determining when things happen to us, which beliefs get stirred up in response.
It is those beliefs that determine which world we are thrust into at any one moment. It turns out from our observations that people just tend to have one particular core delusion that is stirred up far more often and more powerfully than the rest, that it determines the world they spend the most time in and the world they want to be in the most.
[0:33:19.4] AE: Yeah, Matt. I mean, it's a great question, Matt, because this actually, this what you just touched on is actually what got me the most interested potentially in pursuing this and as a psychologist, I was always struck by how the exact – this seems very basic to say, but how the exact event can impact different people in profoundly different ways, right? Somebody [inaudible 0:33:39.5] get broken up with. For some people, will plunge them into a world of hell, or some that they don't recover from, while other people, it can empower them through the level of self-discovery that propels them into the world of realization and they start really – and they turn it into something very powerful themselves.
Why? Because it stirred up something different, or a different belief, which is common for that person. Again, it's not so much the external event. It's the belief that stirs up that determines our overall condition of our life, or the way we experience the world, there are life state, which is really the root, the core thesis of the book.
[0:34:15.7] MB: Yeah, I thought that was a really interesting point, that the same stimulus can have a radically different impact on two different people.
[0:34:23.4] AL: Which is I mean, doesn't it? Don't we see that happen all the time? I mean, some people, that they lose a job and they're thinking, “This is great. What an opportunity.” Other people lose a job and they are plunged into a deep seeded depression. We're arguing that at its core, it is pause, those that one event has stirred up different, fundamentally different core beliefs, within each of those people that then determine everything.
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[0:36:10.8] MB: I want to come back to the question of enlightenment, or even to phrase a different way, the science of enlightenment. Tell me a little bit more about how you came to this conclusion, what some of the research says and what your perspective on enlightenment is.
[0:36:28.4] AL: Yeah, I'll take this one. The first thing to note about this is that what's interesting is that the description of what enlightenment is like, has been consistent from the beginning of recorded human history. In every society, at every time, there are people who have described experiencing this state. They used from terminology based on the culture of the time and what the predominant beliefs have been and because for most of human history, they've been powerfully associated with religious beliefs. A lot of the language that's used is religious language.
If you actually look at what the features of this state are, they are remarkably consistent through all of history. We talk about there's seven features in the book that are this, and one of the ones we're most interested in is this transcendent joy that comes with that life state. In fact, if you – there's been some recent science that the number of people who experienced that state, even temporarily, is far more than most people would think. Most people listening to this podcast probably know somebody who has had an experience of this life state.
Where that brought our thinking is that if it's a real-life state, not just among people we know, but throughout all of human history in recorded history, there has to be neurologic correlates in the brain. There's no such thing as any experience that doesn't and it occurs outside of that.
Ash and I are both fundamentally scientists, and so are very interested in the neurology of that. As we got into that and started looking at some of the studies around this and put together a lot of these studies to synthesize our thinking about this, the thesis we came up with really relates to a lot of some recent work that's been done around the use of psychedelics, specifically psilocybin, which there's been a rebirth and interest in the research field about what the effects of psilocybin are.
What caught my attention originally about this was there's a cohort of people who have terminal illnesses, usually terminal cancer, who as you imagine, as you could imagine are paralyzed with fear and anxiety, as they're facing their end. Some scientists actually decided to try in a controlled setting the use of psilocybin, to see if that would have an official effect on the anxiety of these patients. What they found was it had a dramatic effect. In fact, it was a sustained dramatic effect in reducing levels of anxiety and depression and increasing joy.
When they studied in functional MRI scanners what was going on in the brains of people who are given the psilocybin, what they found was consistent parts of the brain were being down-regulated and as that was happening, other parts of the brain that aren't normally speaking to each other again, are cross-talking.
Part of the brain that is down-regulated with not just psilocybin, but other psychedelics is something called the default mode network. What we know from other research is that the default mode network is the part of the brain that is most active when people are focused on basically, themselves, and how the world is relating to themselves. It's self-referential.
What's fascinating about this is that when people also meditate and are looking to as they say, pierce the veil of the illusion of the self, in some sense recognize that their sense of self, or the sense of permanency of their sense of self is in a loop. That is also the part of the brain that is down-regulated and which was fascinating, right? The other parts of the brain that begin cross-talking are parts that at least one of them, which is the insula, which is a part of the brain that has many functions, but one of them seems to be related to a feeling of joy.
We synthesized other research to suggest that it really is this constant chattering of the sense of self, specifically the autobiographical self that correlates to the default mode network, the neurologic portlet, that when that is silenced and other parts of the brain begin talking to one another, because they're now dysregulated, they're not being regulated by default mode network, is just like the conductor, if you will, of how the brain processes.
That's when the state seems to arise, where people feel among other things, this noetic sense of that some greater truth has been reached. They can't put it in words, but they have that feeling that they’re perceiving this greater truth. They have a sense of oneness with not just their media and environment, but all of the universe and all of people, this overwhelming sense of love and this joy and this fearlessness in the face of death have all been described.
It correlates remarkably well to very specific changes we see in functional MRIs in the brain. Then people have described achieving the state and losing their sense of self without psilocybin, meditators who describe this. In fact, the thesis that we've come up with is that it really is the chattering autobiographical self that in some way is suppressing this particular life state. That if you could in some way, down-regulate that sense of self in regular basis, you might be able to achieve this brain state, which corresponds to a psychological state that is really what we would call a state of absolute happiness. You're not delusional, you're not overwhelmed with narcotized, like with a narcotic, we were just giddy.
You are your most joyous, wisest, most compassionate self and see things and value things in their most proper portion. It seems to be related to the ability to surrender one’s sense of self. People have described this that it is this renunciation of the sense of self in a particular way. If I could describe the exact steps to take to do that, I would be much wealthier than I am, because we just don't have the science yet to definitively say, “How can everyone achieve this state?” Here's really seems to involve surrendering the sense of self. The thing that the science suggests, maybe the way into this, the best way into this is actually by inducing a feeling of awe.
There's a lot of science around this. When people are able to induce a sense of awe, their sense of self dramatically shrinks. Now, it's not that they feel they're small and insignificant in a negative way, but their connection to this chattering sense of self quiets down dramatically. This has been described in people who have been in nature. This has been described, our astronauts who've been traveling to and from the moon and having this perspective, this cosmic perspective thrust in their faces and they've described this incredible [inaudible 0:42:48.6] in the sense of self.
Our thesis, our ultimate thesis is that this is something everyone can pursue by seeking to be awed at every moment by our surroundings, by actually really paying attention to our surroundings in a way we don't normally do, by not taking our surroundings for granted, but looking at them at a particular way and perceiving the sublime beauty of our surroundings. We can induce awe. We can then quiet the sense of self and manifest this life condition enlightenment, where we feel our most joyous selves.
As you can imagine, if you can practice this and do this, the way an actor might practice on command, making themselves sad, it really seems to be something that should be within our grasp with a little bit of training. We can achieve this perspective that cannot be taken from us. The joy we feel cannot be removed by any loss. We don't become impervious to pain in this lose things we care about in the state. We still feel that pain of that loss, but we don't suffer because that's the idea is that it is a way to fundamentally challenge our vulnerability to suffering and to develop lives and achieve a life state and a life that comes from that life state, that really is we think should be the ultimate goal of everybody.
[0:43:59.3] MB: I really like this perspective that enlightenment is from a physical perspective, the scientific state of the brain that correlates with these historical descriptions and records of what enlightenment is, is something that's not hidden away in monasteries for Buddhist monks, who are meditating for 30 years. It's something that can be achieved by anyone anywhere really at any time.
[0:44:23.8] AE: I think it can. I mean, we don't and I want to be really strict with what we're saying here. We don't have proof of that. We don't have proof that everyone is equally capable of doing this, but we have enough proof that people throughout history have done that it seems like an achievable state. I should also point out that people have meditated. Meditation has really penetrated the west, have meditated for three decades and never come close to this. It's not a guarantee of this.
The fact that every single person who's been given an adequate dose of psilocybin has described this state, tells you that our brains are capable of experiencing it. The question is is there some other way, some practice that isn't a shortcut that doesn't leave us hallucinating as psilocybin can do, be dysfunctional and able to enjoy this state in a way?
Our thesis is if it's something that is intrinsic to the neurology of our brain, some way to bring that state out with a drug, it's reasonable to believe that there's a practice that could do it as well. An evidence that other people have done it without the drug, I think only bolsters that hypothesis.
[0:45:22.3] MB: One of the other things that I'm not sure if you came across this in your research that I've encountered and seen research around shutting down, or down-cycling the default mode network is being in a flow state, a really, really intense flow state. Did you come across at all, or see that in any other work that you did?
[0:45:37.3] AE: We did. Yeah. We write about that actually. Flow gets you very close there. I think anyone who has experienced it, there is an incredible sense of joy and lost a sense of time in the flow state. I can only speak from my personal experience. It's not the same thing. I don't know if that's because when you're in a flow state, your default network is so down-regulated, you're not consciously aware enough to recognize you're in such a joy state in the way that you are, because it doesn't also activate brain structures lower down in the brain that may be responsible for that transcendent joy that you get.
Having experienced both the world of enlightenment and a flow state, I can attest that they're different. Similar but different. I think that aiming towards flow is a very valuable, laudable goal, but I don't know that it's necessarily going to get you to the state of enlightenment we're talking about. Honestly, I don't know. I'd love to see a study that looked at that.
[0:46:30.5] MB: One of the things that came to mind for me when I was researching this and trying to understand how to create awe in my life was Cosmos by Carl Sagan, the old school TV series, or his book, Pale Blue Dot and that famous speech. I mean, those are some things that I think I've had moments in my life where I've experienced this moment of awe and the realization of how expansive and massive the universe is and how inconsequential we are in the grand scale of time and space and the cosmos.
[0:47:01.6] AL: Tell me something, Matt. How joyous an experience was that for you?
[0:47:04.9] MB: It's an awesome experience.
[0:47:07.1] AL: Yeah. No, I mean, it is. I think that the task before us and when we talk about something pragmatic that listeners can take away is how can we reach for that state in our everyday lives, right? We're not all sitting on the beach looking at the most beautiful sunset in the world, or in front of the Grand Canyon, or in a space capsule looking at earth and the moon. I will tell you, since I've written this book and I've begun practicing looking for awe in everyday things, what I've discovered is that it's everywhere. It really is there for us to see. It's a matter of pausing to try to actually see it and practicing it, like anything, I'm finding makes it easier.
You learn the mental pathway to travel to get there faster. Studies have shown and we quote some of this work in the book, that there are very particular things that induce nature being one of them, because part of what I mean to be sublime is that it's so large, our mind can't quite take it in all at once. That's a great way for stimulating the sense of awe and bringing out this life state. I would contend, it can be found in everyday things that surround us all the time. We just have to look for it.
[0:48:11.1] AE: Yeah. In terms of we talked about some practical things, I think there's a couple I'd like to add that don't necessarily have to be even in pursuit of the state of enlightenment, but just in general to try to battle or bring into awareness some of these core delusions, so that these beliefs don't grip you so much and you can start getting some control over them and subsequently, the control over the happiness in your life.
One thing was interesting, Alex and I, we have this survey where people can – that tells us what world we believe they come from. It's been interesting to watch people taken lights come on for them as they start thinking about those beliefs and bring in how it’s thrust into their awareness and then how they start and being more in the moment, understanding how it’s governing some of the decisions and some of their beliefs they have.
Just in that act of serving that in [inaudible 0:48:55.2] and being able to evaluate it and assess it and interrogate it in yourself as you go through the day-to-day life and notice that your life condition go up and down, and then trying to connect that to why that might be the case is actually very empowering and liberating.
Just taking the time to maybe understand world tends to have you most and it’s great to what belief you really cling to that makes you happy and examining that, and just trying to bring that into your awareness as you find your mood fluctuating and then force yourself to ask one or two questions about why that's the case, is this one simple thing you can do to try to understand what beliefs hold you in their grip.
[0:49:33.2] MB: You may have already, or just answered this question, but what would be one specific action step, or piece of homework that you would give the listeners who've been listening to this whole conversation who want to concretely begin down this path?
[0:49:46.1] AL: Well, I think Ash put his finger on a thing that's easy to do than what I was describing, which is to become mindful of the degree to which these core delusions actually determine how happy you are. By pausing and when you're – the way you have a trigger that's that a belief about happiness has been activated is if your mood shifts. If you go from being happy to being depressed, or angry or some other emotion comes out, to ask yourself, okay, what's happened and then what particular belief, what core delusion has this event stirred up in me to actually see, to look at that self, it’s surprisingly powerful how much control over that belief going through that exercise, becoming mindful of it gives you, where you suddenly realize, “Oh, it's really true. The reason I'm scared right now, but I lost my job because I really believe to be happy, I have to avoid pain.” Recognizing that it actually tampers the response to it.
In fact in some sense, it can almost free you from the grip of that belief itself and realize, “Well, I don't have to be afraid of pain. I'm strong enough. I can handle pain. The fact I've lost my job, all that it means is I may have to go through some pain. If I'm okay with that, then maybe this isn't the worst thing in the world and maybe in fact, I don't have to be not just not happy, but even depressed about this.”
I don't mean to make light of how profound certain losses can be and have an effect on us and certainly wouldn't say if you're dysfunctional in some way, you shouldn't go get professional help. Recognizing what's going on in your belief system, in your mind psychologically when you react to things is a surprisingly powerful way to get control of them. I think there's a practical way to just watch yourself and looking at the book, this list of core delusions, they're very, very basic. If you can ask yourself, and so we've provided readers with, or listeners with what we think are the core delusions, they can ask themselves, “Which of these is being startup for me right now?” Because we've challenged readers and acquaintances of ours to do this, they usually figure it out. In figuring that out, it really is often a profound moment of insight for them.
[0:51:46.1] MB: Great piece of advice. Ash, Alex, where can listeners find you? You mentioned a survey. Where can they find these resources and the book online?
[0:51:55.3] AE: The survey, they can find or we definitely call on our website called the tenworlds.com. You can go there and it's quick five-minute assessment and it will take you which world we believe you come from, or at least your strongest tendency and a quick description of what that world is. The book you can get at any place, Amazon, or Barnes & Nobles, or any place you could find local bookstore that you – the book, it's available.
Then great if you could connect the dots to walk around like hey, I would encourage you to walk around with delusions of belief written out. As you find your mood fluctuating, even if there's something on there that you feel belief that you think is being stirred up and then that's just a very simple practical thing to do.
[0:52:39.3] MB: Awesome. Well Ash, Alex, thank you both so much for coming on the show for sharing all of this knowledge and wisdom. A fascinating conversation, so many interesting ideas and I really love the approach that you both took to solving this challenge.
[0:52:54.7] AL: Great to be on. Really enjoyed it.
[0:52:56.4] AE: Yeah, thank you very much, Matt. Loved it.
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