Chief Happiness Officer Edwin

In San Francisco I also met with Edwin Edebiri, Chief Happiness Officer of “I’m Happy Project” that has representatives in 62 cities in 18 countries with the biggest number of members in India ~ 1000.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=vxYyZiferEk

Just by looking at Edwin, you can tell he is a happy person, and you genuinely want to respond back with the same kind smile he approaches everyone. I met with Edwin and his lovely wife at the Pier 3 the day before his birthday. They were going to take an evening cruise for dinner and dancing while in the city. I felt very special that they found time to meet with me on a short notice. We were sitting at the pier on a sunny Saturday and discussed happiness as something you can learn but you don’t need a degree for it.

I asked Edwin how he came with an idea of starting this movement. Back in Sacramento during the financial crisis of 2008, many people in the area were unemployed and distressed and he felt compelled to change it.
It was hard in the beginning because you realize that there are many people and how can you possibly help them all, but he decided that one person at a time is a good start.
Just by talking to a person in difficult time and telling him/her your own experiences and stories about other people’s lives, you can make a huge impact. That happened to Edwin several times: he spoke to a stranger who looked gloomy and later Edwin learned that the sad stranger was going to commit suicide as soon as he got home that day. Thanks to Edwin, it didn’t happen, because a caring human is all he needed to keep living.
A conversation after conversation, step after step, Edwin’s desire grew into movement. Edwin interviewed thousands of people and wrote a card with 10 ways to be happy.
On 10.10.10 he organized the Happiness Summit in the Bay Area with 16 speakers. It was a great event with many happiness professionals and enthusiasts, including members of The Happiness Club. Here is what Edwin’s movement is about today:
We are a non-profit organization focused on spreading happiness globally in the following ways:

1. Happiness at school sessions
2. Focus on Happiness Global teleseminars
3. My Happiness Journals
4. By wearing the “I Am Happy” pin
5. Distributing the “Ten ways to be happy” cards
6. Efforts of local “I Am Happy Project” meet up groups
7. Performing a series of “Ten Days Of Happiness”
8. Networking with other “Happy People”
9. Promoting Random Acts of Kindness
10. Community outreach including schools, children hospitals, nursing and retirement’s homes

I asked Edwin, why is it important to teach children about happiness and how to learn it? He said:
“Children are taught a lot of things with the goal of hopefully helping them live a productivity and happy life. By teaching them how to be happy, you cut through the chase and go directly to the source. Once they realize that happiness is an inside job and theirs to choose, it affects the rest of their decisions and actions. All we need to do is continue to reinforce that and it could become second nature to them like learning music, bike, reading and writing, they have it for life. They will not need gangs, clicks, or the most popular person or toys as much if at all.”
I got “I’m happy” pin and a card with 10 ways to be happy. The first one is the most important: Decide that you want to be happy. There are other ways, like attending a conference call with happiness professionals, starting your happiness journal, joining one of I’m happy chapters or starting your own and leading happiness events in your town. Great work, Edwin!
According to Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego:
“When an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only his friends, but his friends’ friends, and his friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year.”
Imagine a world with happier people!
“One person can make a difference and every person should try”.

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The Happiness Club in SF

When I visited San Francisco, I was lucky to meet with Dr. Aymee Coget, who is the Sustainable happiness expert, CEO of American Happiness Association and the founder of The Happiness Club in SF.Aymee Coget

Marina: How did you get into happiness field?

Dr. Aymee: In 1996 I asked myself a question about what I want to do in life, what is my strength, what puts smile on my face, what gives me endless energy and makes me get up every day. I was born a happy person; I was raised in loving supportive environment. So I came to this place knowing that I want to help people have happier lives.

Marina: How did you do that?

Dr. Aymee: I focused on happiness at work: not everyone loves it. I studied organization psychology and was the first happiness coordinator on the trading floor for Wells Fargo back then. There was a lack of happiness on the floor and too much stress. Happiness coordinator was an unofficial title, I was hired in HR but they liked my specialty. I have a BA in industrial and organization psychology and PhD with emphasis in leadership and positive psychology.

Marina: What changed in your career over the years?

Dr. Aymee: In 2003 I switched focus from corporation to the individuals, couples and consulting. Hilton hired me to consult on travel and happiness. I became the CEO of American happiness organization. One of the happiness tips about traveling: to feel happier make several shorter trips instead of one long trip during the year. I give speeches and consult. I recently was at the event for 60 judges and taught them how to use positive psychology for stress relief.

Marina: How do you teach happiness?

Dr. Aymee: Teaching happiness is harder than knowing how to be happy. My program called The Happiness Makeover that consists of 5 steps that you complete by doing exercises. There is a progress tracker sheet so that you know where you are heading through the course. Based on Barbara Frederickson work, I created a system to expand positive experiences in someone’s life. My audio program How To Be Happy is the latest and greatest version of the program and it comes with protocol to keep progress too. You can also try home study E-course How to be happy: Self-help guide.

Marina: How long is the program?

Dr. Aymee: It is usually a 3 months program, but if you do it on your own, you can do activities at your own pace. If you do the course with me I will help with the process along the way.

Dr. Aymee: I’m also working on a book Sustainable happiness in 5 steps. Sustainable happiness is a part of positive psychology, which is my specialty and my calling. Now I’m working with San Francisco State on brain neuro imaging to see results before my happiness activities course and after.

Marina: What are main mistakes people make in the realm of happiness?

Dr. Aymee: People who project happiness through achieving things in the future are usually unhappy within 3 months of achieving what they wanted because of hedonic treadmill… In our achievement based culture it is hard to be happy, if you are not doing something. You gotta be achieving something all the time. We always want to be happier than before… But true happiness comes from within and doesn’t depend on external factors.

Marina: Do you think that happiness is a popular subject nowadays?

Dr. Aymee: Happiness movement and especially sustainable happiness is on the rise. World map of happiness was printed in 2006 and the world happiness index is 67%. Bhutan that started to measure Gross happiness product has longevity and productivity increase… Whole countries are now looking into national and organizational happiness, ex. Germany.

Marina: What about our country?

Dr. Aymee: There are many factors involved. On macro level, billions of dollars are spent covering depression disability. If we apply just some part of that money to create happiness programs at work, we will be doing ourselves a favor… On the individual level everyone has to understand that if you are unhappy – you will be unhappy everywhere, so you should make it your priority to get better. But sometimes people make easy choices. Shock therapy instead of getting motivated to learn happiness. Another way in our quick gratification culture is to put your responsibility on something other yourself, like medication. Statistically, less than 25% of depression cases get treated well in the United States.

Marina: Can people be on antidepressants and still get the benefits of your program?

Dr. Aymee: Of course. But even before getting on antidepressants, make right decisions: do you want to gain weight, never sleep again and lose your sex drive or learn to be happy? There are various side effects with antidepressants, but they do help function better in the beginning.

Marina: What do you think of volunteering?

Dr. Aymee: It is part of my program. Volunteering helps create meaning/purpose in life. What is the change you want to see in the world? Create your happy profession workbook is about leadership, positive psychology and self-reflective process. After you do the test, it spits out one word which is a recommendation on your happy profession. This test was created by 5 therapists.

Marina: Do you have more tips on happiness?

Dr. Aymee: Use positive psychology daily and you will feel better… Follow your heart, not your brain! In my program people find how to listen to their hearts and follow their own path…

If you want to try one of Aymee’s online products, feel free to use code Answer to get 25% discount.

Read more about Dr. Aymee, see the NYTimes article.

Alone Together (Part Four)

The computer scientist says, that we will evolve to love our tools, our tools will evolve to be lovable. Tools will allow us to do things that we’ve never done before. John Lester sees a future in which something like an AIBO will develop into a prosthetic device, extending human reach and vision. It will allow people to interact with real physical space in new ways. We will see “through its eyes”, says Lester, and interact “through its body… There could be some parts of it that are part of you, the blending of the tools and the body in a permanent physical way.” This is how Brooks talks about the merging of flesh and machine. There will be no robotic “them” and human “us”. We will either merge with robotic creatures or will become so close to them that we will integrate their powers into our sense of self. A robot will still be other, but the one that completes you (extension of us, meaning that we are not powerful today and have limits, but not in the future). We will know love which is a reflection of our love.

When the brain in your phone marries the body of your robot, document preparation meets therapeutic massage. Here is a happy fantasy of security, intellectual companionship, and nurturing connection.

Tools will be an extension of us and more – love, power, together we will never be alone. We will begin to embed them in our rooms. They will collaborate with us. They will have a sense of humor. They will sense our needs and offer comfort. They will play Binguez with us. Our rooms will be our friends and companions.

Robots will not be incompetent, they are introduced to make up for human flaws like laziness; safe, they will be specialized and personalized.

The Japanese believe in a future, in which robots will babysit and do housework and women will be freed up to having more babies, also restoring sociability to a population increasingly isolated through the networked life.

The Japanese take as given that cell phones, texting, instant messaging, email, and online gaming have created social isolation. They see people turning away from family to focus attention on their screens. People do not meet face to face, they do not join organizations. In Japan, robots are presented as facilitators of the human contact that the network has taken away. Technology has corrupted us, robots will heal our wounds. Robots, the Japanese hope, will pull us back toward the physical real and thus each other.

Robotic companions can become mentors. My real baby was marketed as a robot that could teach your child socialization. Sherry is skeptical as believes that sociable technology will always disappoint because it promises what it cannot deliver. It promises friendship but can only deliver performances. As if we will be manufacturing friends that will never be friends.

Roboticists argue that there is no harm in people engaging in conversations with robots, the conversations may be interesting, fun, educational or comforting. But Sherry finds no comfort here. She feels in a shadow of an experiment, in which humans are the subjects.

Another example of a sociable robot is a diet coach; the user provides some baseline information and the robot charts out what it will take to lose weight. With daily information about food and exercise, the robot offers encouragement if people slip up and suggestions for how to better stay on track. Things happen that elude measurement. You begin with an idea about curing difficulties with dieting. But then the robot and person go to a place where the robot is imagined as a cure of souls.

When we make job rote, we are more open to having machines to do it. But even when people do it, they and the people they serve feel like machines. People are always performing for other people. Now the robots too will perform. The world will be richer for having a new cast of performers and a new set of possible performances.

Finally Sherry says, if robots are designed to complement humans and not replace them, then I’m all for it!

Alone Together (Part Three)

Will our reliance on technology compromise our relationships with humans and will the benefits be on individual and society level? It depends. Someone who had trouble with romance for many years will be living with robot girlfriend, not human girlfriend. If they are happier in personal relationships, they would perform their role better as citizens. As for other humans, they may not like to compete with robots.

With Paro children are onto something: the elderly are taken with the robots. Most are accepting and there are times when some seem to prefer a robot with simple demands to a person with more complicated ones. Quiet and compliant robots might become rivals for affection. People want love on their own terms… They want to feel that they are enough.

“It is common for people to talk to cars and stereos, household appliances, and kitchen ovens. The robots’ special feature is that they simulate listening, which meets a human vulnerability: people want to be heard. From there it seems a small step to finding ourselves in a place where people take their robots into private spaces to confide in them. In this solitude, people experience new intimacies. The gap between experiences and reality widens. People feel heard but the robots cannot hear.”

Humans don’t want to get hurt, they have a fear of rejection, pain, and the desire for acceptance and belonging. So a relationship with robot that will never leave, betray, reject is logical, but it will alter humans’ behavior in becoming more unwilling to change and compromise.

It could possibly lead to the situation when people will become so intolerant of each other that they will only be able to have companions robots, not humans (because humans are so hard to handle), so there will be even more isolation between humans, as they will live in their only bubble or delusional worlds.

We have more love in ourselves than people can take from us… We want to give love, but there is not always a person to receive it… That is where robots come to play… Yes, we should transfer those surpluses of love to apply them to people. But people want to receive love and care on their own terms. It gives an opportunity to love and to be useful and what we don’t always get in reality – get the same in return… None wants our unconditional love and care on our terms, and we don’t always want love on their terms either – it is too demanding…

Humans need validation that we are right and enough the way we are. Robots don’t cure our flaws, but don’t see them and give us an opportunity for better realities, where we are a hero, or at least good.

We put robots on the terrain on meaning, but they don’t know what we mean. Moral questions come up as robotic companions not only “cure” the loneliness of seniors but assuage the regrets of their families. An older person seems content, a child feels less guilty. As we learn to get the most out of robots, we may lower our expectations of all relationships, including those with people.

Alone Together (Part Two)

One of the important questions in the book is about possible replacement of humans with machines: “Don’t we have humans for those jobs?” In my opinion, it is not one or another, it is better to have a robot than no one. Especially in health care. The point is that there are not enough humans for those jobs…

Unfortunately, people have needs that are not always satisfiable by people around us, due to limitations in geographies, extreme conditions, physical limitations…

“There are not enough people to take care of aging Americans, so robot companions should be enlisted to help. Beyond that some argue that robots will be more patient with the cranky and forgetful elderly than a human being could be. The robots will simply be better.” Yes, if somebody’s caretaker is abusive and over exhausted. Why not alleviate patient’s pain by introducing robots.

“If the elderly are tendered by underpaid workers who seem to do their jobs by rote, it is not difficult to warm to the idea of a robot orderly. Similarly, if children are minded at day-care facilities that seem like little more than a safe warehouses, the idea of a robot babysitter becomes less troubling. We ask technology to perform what used to be “love’s labor”: taking care of each other. But people are capable of the higher standard of care that comes with empathy. The robot is innocent of such capacity.”

Sorry, Sherryl, but humans could do worse than what you can even possibly imagine – they can abuse other humans, they can act with so much cruelty that no well-programmed robot would ever perform. Humans are capable of treating each other as if they are worse than robots or spare parts. If their behavior cannot be regulated, robots will at least provide bare minimum of services and would not go below/underperform (the way they programmed). But there could be a glitch/hacker who can change programming and robots will start abusing humans.

“Loneliness makes people sick. Robots could at least partially offset a vital factor that makes people sick.” Of course, interaction with humans would be better, but if the person is dying from loneliness, and robot can cheer up, how can you deny it?

Sheryl is against robots as social companions. They force us to ask why we don’t as the children said it ”have people for these jobs”?

Our allocation of resources is a social choice. We don’t have capacity, time and resources to take care of all humans, especially elderly. There are preferred jobs and non-preferred jobs. Not to impose some jobs on others, we have to take care of it creatively and use tools to help. In some culture youngest person in a family is assigned against their will to be the caretaker. Well, if we speak of true freedom, some people don’t want to do certain jobs. So robots can do them. What if Miriam’s son doesn’t have money to stay at home with his mother and take care of her, but he can hire caregivers to keep her company, just the Paro.

I agree that there should be people who do these jobs. But if hiring humans or doing it yourself is too expensive, robots are cheaper way to make people happy. Everyone needs support. I agree that a mechanism should be in place that government reallocates resources where they are needed, but we don’t want to make people do things against their will. Since robots don’t have will, they can do hard jobs… where humans would be stressed and inefficient.

Alone Together (Part One)

Recently I was reading again Sherry Turkle’s book “Alone Together” and would like to share some thoughts about the first part of the book: “The robotic moment: In solitude, new intimacies”.

Sherry describes several robots including those available on the market as social companions. They are, to name a few, Aibo, My Real Baby, Seal Paro, GOV, Kismet, Doll Madison, etc.

I was surprised to learn how critical Sherry is of robots: tech evil that will corrupt humanity.

Let’s look at the simple tech solution called Eliza. It is a program that chats with people, and very often in their conversation with Eliza people open up about their problems and seek advice from an application that can’t really think for them. The author says:

“The idea that simple act of expressing feelings constitutes therapy is widespread both in the popular culture and among therapists (way to blow off steam) and is very helpful”. However, “in psychoanalytic tradition – The motor for cure is the relationship with the therapist. The term transference is used to describe the patient’s way of imagining the therapist, whose relative neutrality makes it possible for patients to bring the baggage of past relationships into this new one. In this relationship, treatment is not about the simple act of telling secrets or receiving advice. It may begin with projection but offers push back, and insistence that therapist and patient together take account of what is going on in their relationship.

When we talk to robots, we share thoughts with machines that can offer no such resistance. Our stories fall literally, on deaf ears. If there is meaning, it is because the person with the robots has heard him or herself talk aloud”.

I shall argue that exactly the talking aloud sometimes is very important. Once in a while we need to hear ourselves and to listen to the voice of consciousness that we often suppress, but when we let ourselves talk it out, we learn more about ourselves… especially what our beliefs and priorities are. Now, I’m not saying we should stop here… This is not enough. And I agree with vicious circle, the author mentions.

“We may talk ourselves into a bad decision…” I get that, lest correct it. First, lets create robots or tools that do give push back with knowledge me may lack and act as therapists.

What if Eliza is just a hint of a new generation of smart machines that incorporate knowledge of the universe and give us support in difficult moments… and instruct us to consider all possible options (even the ones we don’t know about yet), and calm us down in the moments of despair… Or make people check-in with human mentors, who can arbitrate and give useful tips.

Everyone can use knowledge from people, enlightened and normal people who struggled through same issues themselves, that is knowledge of the human mind or the Universe… to become more humane and compassionate… If for now robots are just a recording machine, lets record the best we can and constantly make updates… Why isn’t it possible to create what inspires human to do the best, not the worst…

Currently, people use Eliza because they don’t get judged but feel safe to express their feelings freely, because humans may not understand them or will not listen to them for free. They have to pay… No one is completely substituting humans with programs, technology should enhance our decision-making and mitigate problems, and be therapeutic. The best of both worlds.

Anatomy of an Epidemic (Part Five)

Many of the people on SSI or SSDI that I interviewed spoke about how they felt they were caught in the tangles of a business enterprise. “There is a reason we are called consumers” was a comment I heard several times. They are right of course that the pharmaceutical companies wasn’t to build a market for their products, and when we view the psychopharmacology “revolution through this prism, as a business enterprise first and a medical enterprise second, we can easily see why psychiatry and the pharmaceutical companies tell the stories they do, and why the studies detailing poor long-term outcomes have been kept from the public. That information would derail a business enterprise that brings profits to so many.

The marketing machinery has lured more and a more Americans into the psychiatric drugstore. As new drugs were brought to market, disease “awareness” campaign was conducted and diagnostic categories were expanded. Now, once a business gets a customer into its story, it wants to keep that customer and get that customer to buy multiple products, and that’s when the psychiatric “drug trap” kicks in.

The “broken brain” story helps with customer retention, of course, for it a person suffers a “chemical imbalance”, then it makes sense that he or she will have to take the medication to correct it indefinitely, like ”insulin for diabetes”. But more important, the drugs create chemical imbalances in the brain, and this helps turn a first-time customer into a long-term user, and often into a buyer of multiple drugs.

The patients’ brain adopts to the first drug and makes it difficult to go off the medication. The first drug triggers a need for a second, and so on.

Such is the story of the psychiatric drug business. The industry has excelled at expanding the market for its drugs, and this generates a great deal of wealth for many. However, the enterprise has depended on the telling of a false story to the American public, and the hiding of results that reveal the poor long-term outcomes with this paradigm of care. It also is exacting a horrible toll on our society. The number of people disabled by mental illness during the past 20 years has soared, and now the epidemic has spread to our children. Indeed, millions of children and adolescent are being groomed to be lifelong users of these drugs.

What patients say: “The meds isolate you. They interfere with your empathy. There is flatness to you, and so you are uncomfortable with people all the time. They make it hard for you to get along. The drugs may take care of aggression and anxiety and some paranoia, those sorts of symptoms, but they don’t help with the empathy that helps you get along with people.”

From a societal and moral point of view, this is a bottom line that cries out for change.

Loren Mosher believed that psychosis could arise in response to emotional and inner trauma and in its own way, could be a coping mechanism. As such he believed there was the possibility that people could grapple with their hallucinations and delusions, struggle through a schizophrenic break, and regain their sanity. And if that was so, he reasoned that if he provided newly psychotic patients with a safe house, one staffed by people who had an evident empathy for others and who wouldn’t be frightened by strange behaviors, many would get well, even though they were not treated with antipsychotics.

“I thought that sincere human involvement and understanding were critical to healing interactions. The idea was to treat people as people, as human beings, with dignity and respect.” It was a twelve room Victorian house in Santa Clara, CA. which opened in 1971, Soteria House.

Another interesting theory is Tony Stanton’s “attachment theory”, which is based on the importance of emotional relationships to a child’s well-being. In the late 70s, he (while in charge of a psychiatric ward for children at a county hospital in CA) assigned a “mentor” to every child. The children were not medicated, and he saw a number of them become attached to their mentors and “blossom”.

“You just can’t organize yourself without a connection to another human being, and you can’t make that connection if you embalm yourself with drugs”. When a child enters Seneca Center’s residential program, Stanton doesn’t ask “what is wrong” with the child, but rather “what happened to them”.

He gets the department of social services, schools and other agencies to send him all of the records they have on the child, and then he spends eight to ten hours constructing a “life chart”. As might be expected, the charts regularly tell of children who have been sexually abused, physically abused, and horribly neglected. But Stanton also tracks their medication history and how their behavior may have changed after they put on a particular drug, and given that they children who arrive at Seneca Center are seriously disturbed, these medical histories regularly tell of psychiatric care that has worsened their behavior. The children regularly arrive at the center on drug cocktails, and thus It can take a month or two to withdraws the medication. And often they do become more aggressive for a time.

“Most times when the kids come in, they can’t keep their heads up, they are lethargic, they are just a blank and there is minimal engagement. You just can’t get through to them. But when they come off their meds, you can engage them and you get to see who they are. You get a sense of their personality, their sense of humor, and what kinds of things they like to do. You may have to use psychical restraints for a time, but to me, it’s worth it”.

Once they are off meds, the children begin to think of themselves in a new way. They see that they can control their own behavior, and this gives them a sense of “agency”, Stanton said. The Seneca center uses behavior-modification techniques to promote this self-control, with the children constantly having to abide by a well-defined set of rules. They have to ask permission to go to the bathroom and enter bedrooms, and if they don’t’ comply with the rules, they may be sent to a “time-out” or lose a privilege.

But the staff tries to focus on reinforcing positive behaviors, offering words of praise and rewarding the kids in various ways. The children are required to keep their rooms clean and perform a daily chore, and at times they will help prepare the evening meal.

“The question of feeling in charge of yourself and being responsible for yourself is the central issue in their lives.” Stanton said. “They may only partially get there while they are with us, but when we are really successful, we see them develop this sense of “O, I can do this; I want to be in control of myself and my own life”. They see themselves as having that power”.

Even more important, once the children are off the medications they are better able to form emotional bonds with the staff, and the staff with them. They have known rejection all their lives, and they need to form relationships that nurture a belief that they are worthy of being loved, and when that happens, their “internal narrative” can switch from “I’m a bad kid” to “I’m a good kid”.

Please, read the rest of the book by Robert Whitaker “Anatomy of an Epidemic” for more thorough understanding of mental health situation in the United States.

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