Interview with Dan Baker
by Jane Gerloff
© 2004 by More Than Money. All rights reserved. For permission
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Dan Baker, Ph.D., is the founder and
director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch
Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona. In their book
Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can
Change Your Life for the Better
(Rodale, January 2003),
Dr. Baker and co-author Cameron Stauth discuss principles
and tools from the field of positive psychology and how
they can be used to help people become happier. Dr. Baker
also holds an adjunct position in community and family medicine
at the University of Arizona. Previously, he was a tenured
faculty member at the University of Nebraska, with appointments
in the departments of pediatrics and psychiatry.
You've worked with a lot of people to help them become happier.
Some of them have a lot of money. So tell us, does money
make people happy?
I know a lot of people who, from the outside, look in and
say, "Boy, it would be great to have lots of money." Barbara
Walters once interviewed entertainment mogul David Geffen.
She said, "O.K., David, now that you're a billionaire, are
you happy?" He shot back without hesitation: "Barbara, anybody
who believes money makes you happy doesn't have money."
a brilliant insight, because money
And why doesn't it?
Because of what psychologists call accommodation. In my
first job out of college, I made $6,500 a year and I thought
that was great; in college I had been working in the student
union for about $1.55 an hour. Today, when I think of making
$6,500 a year, it's not anywhere near the income I would
typically think about generating. Of course, there has been
inflation, but even so, the fact is that I've gotten used
to a certain level. I've accommodated.
survey asked people who made $10,000 a year, "Who is wealthy
and happy?" Their response was, "That's simple-people making
$50,000 a year." So Gallup went to folks making $50,000
and asked the same question. Their response was, "People
making $100,000." For people making $200,000, the sense
of who is wealthy and happy was a couple of million dollars.
We tend to push the bar above and beyond where we are, no
matter where we are, because of accommodation.
But it's not actually the money that people are expecting
will make them happy, is it? Isn't it what money will get
them-like freedom, security, or status?
Happy Companies Know: Discovering What's Right with
By Dan Baker, Ph.D., and
Cathy L. Greenberg, Ph.D.
In this new book, Baker and Greenberg
analyze the practices of outstanding, principle-centered
businesses. Each business they studied exhibited
at least three of the following characteristics:
1. Leadership is inclusive and visionary.
Leaders know they don't have to have all the answers.
They invite their employees, customers, clients,
vendors, and other stakeholders to talk to them
and share ideas.
2. Their employees are enthusiastic
and passionate. They love to get up and go to work
3. Stakeholders are their strongest
marketers. Clients, customers, and vendors market
freely for the company.
4. The company is an acclaimed,
constructive citizen of its community.
5. The company is profitable.
Yes. In particular, people do expect
them happy. Madison Avenue has had a mantra for years: Happiness
is in your next purchase. That's a great marketing concept,
because it's never-ending. There will always be one more purchase.
I understand that I'm being set up to keep looking for satisfaction-or
whatever it is I think will make me happy-in a never-ending
succession of purchases, I'm not going to think that the
new sports car, or the new home on the beach or in the mountains,
or this or that, is going to bring happiness, because I
begin to understand that happiness isn't in things.
happiness and how do you find it?
Happiness is a side effect of living life in a certain way.
It's not a mood-moods are biochemically regulated -and it's
not even an emotion, because emotions seem to be somewhat
event-dependent. What I'm talking about is a way of living
a meaningful, purpose-focused, fulfilling life.
we wrote our book,
What Happy People Know
Stauth and I studied the literature on happiness and identified
concepts or characteristics most frequently identified with
happiness. Of course, love is at the top of the list. But
the list also includes qualities like optimism, courage,
a sense of freedom, proactivity, security, health, spirituality,
altruism, perspective, humor, and purpose. These are qualities
associated with people who are essentially happy. So happiness
is both about living well in your own situation and also
about living meaningfully and fully in relationship to others.
That seems to go way beyond what people typically think
of when they say, "Are you happy?"
Your Own Happiness
How can people use their money to increase their happiness?
In almost every culture
and religion there is a belief that says you ought
to take a portion of what you have and share it
with others. I think that's very important.
To me, money is a tool. The question
is, do I use that money as an anesthetic, as a diversion,
as a way of creating a false sense of reality? People
can and do use money in those ways. Do I let that
tool lie idle in the toolbox, or do I take it out
and use it to create something? Do I build something
that makes life better for someone? I think human
beings, by their nature, are constructive. We want
to build families. We want to build neighborhoods.
We want to build communities. Intrinsically within
us is a desire to build. Happy people build lives
that contribute to others.
Absolutely. The thing about being happy is that it's not about
having more money or more things. Research shows that having
more does not make us happier, either as a society or as individuals,
once our basic needs have been met. In fact, in my own work,
I often observe an inverse relationship between money and
happiness: The more materi- alistic we are, the less happy
we are. I see so many instances of things owning people, as
opposed to people owning things. When people have a lot of
material things, they begin to worry about upkeep and management
and maintenance and staff. The list goes on and on.
In your book, you say that you can't have happiness without
choice. Yet it seems that the more money people have, the
more choices they have. Shouldn't people with more money
be happier because they have more choices? Why doesn't it
work that way?
Some research indicates that when people have too many choices,
they become overwhelmed. For example, I'm working with a
young man who is a talented businessman. He's like the proverbial
kid in the candy store, running from one possible job to
another without ever really focusing. He says, "I can do
this and I can do that." And all of that's true. But I said
to him, "O.K., but a handful of those things you do better
than all the rest." I had to sit him down with somebody
who could help him look at his strengths. We picked out
his top three or four strengths and now we will look at
his career options from that point, because otherwise he
has too many choices and he doesn't know how to deal with
You've written that children in high-status families are
less happy than other children. Why is that?
At Canyon Ranch, I work with a lot of parents who have come
from somewhat impoverished backgrounds and are now relatively
affluent. They're very proud of having overcome the challenges
in their lives. They'll say, "I had a paper route when I
was nine," or "I had only two pairs of jeans. One I wore,
the other was being washed." Their life experiences called
on them to fully develop their potential. Although these
people are very proud of having had those difficulties themselves,
they don't want their children to have them. So they give
their children things. They don't understand that they are
literally robbing their kids of the desire to develop their
it "enriched deprivation." Kids who get everything have
a very false sense of reality. Even if you're wealthy, you
don't get everything. You fall in love with somebody who
doesn't fall in love with you. You want your grandparents
to live and they die. Wealth doesn't keep you from being
knocked hard by life.
important money is to you, more than money itself,
influences your happiness. Materialism seems to be
counterproductive: At all levels of real income, people
who value money more than other goals are less satisfied
with their income and with their lives as a whole..."
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive
Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
by Martin E. P. Seligman, Free Press, 2002, p. 55.
Original research reported in "A Consumer Values Orientation
for Materialism and Its Measurement: Scale Development
and Validation" by M. L. Richins and S. Dawson,
of Consumer Research
, Vol. 19, 1992, pp. 303-316
and "Materialism and Quality of Life" by M. J. Sirgy,
Social Indicators Research, Vol. 43, 1998, pp. 227-260.
What can parents do to help their children be happier?
Every time you make a decision about your child, you must
ask yourself, "Am I challenging my child? Am I helping my
child to develop his or her own potential to live more fully-or
am I inhibiting growth by making everything come so easily
that he has no desire, no motivation, no passion for life?"
One thing you see in children who have been indulged is
that they're bored. There's nothing that challenges or excites
Do you encourage parents to insist that their children get
Absolutely. A lot of parents had jobs when they were kids.
I talk about VERBs: Victimization, Entitlement, Rescuing
by somebody else, and Blaming. These are attitudes that
are obstacles to happiness. I often see a sense of entitlement
in children of affluence, but in fact the world doesn't
entitle any of us. I don't care whether you're a king, a
pauper, a president, or whoever, the world really does not
respond to people who walk around with a sense of entitlement.
But we all imagine that it will, right?
Chores are an "astonishing predictor of adult success."
In youth-to-death studies of the Harvard classes of
1939 to 1944 and Somerville, Massachusetts inner-city
men, "having chores as a child is one of the only
early predictors of positive mental health later in
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive
Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
by Martin E. P. Seligman, Free Press, 2002, p. 224.
Original research reported in "Work as a Predictor
of Positive Mental Health" by G. Vaillant and C. Vaillant,
American Journal of Psychiatry
, Vol. 138, 1981,
Exactly. So that's another question parents need to ask: "Am
I giving my kid resilience?" If every time my child comes
to me I say yes, then I'm not teaching my child about the
real world. I need to be able to say no sometimes. The child
is going to cry and I'm going to feel bad that he's crying;
I might even be so emotionally connected to the child that
cry. But the point is, a lot of parents indulge their
children so that the
won't feel bad. That's
not good. They need to feel good that they're raising strong
children and that they're raising children who understand
the value of money. Even when parents could well afford to
buy the child something, they can say, "No, you go work for
it." Or, "You use your allowance to buy it."
Your book gives a lot of advice about how to be happy. You
tell people, for example, to keep their expectations under
constraint. What do you mean by that and how can people
actually do it?
People often make themselves unhappy by setting unreasonable
expectations. They might, for example, have the expectation
that their partner is going to be a certain way or do something
in particular. For instance, I might have the expectation
that my wife will be the smartest woman in the world. Well,
my wife is smart, she really is, but I'm not sure she's
the smartest woman in the world. Or let's say I expect to
become the president of the country club and I only make
it to vice president. Am I going to look at what I don't
have, or am I going to embrace and appreciate what I have?
Happy people are pretty good about appreciating what they
have; they don't spend a lot of time looking at what they
That seems similar to what you call "changing the story
of your life" because it's choosing to focus on the positive
Yes. For instance, I was working with a woman who had an
abusive childhood. She had told herself that she had a terrible
childhood, and she was very engaged in that.
asked her nonchalantly, "Do you love your kids?"
yes," she said.
"Do you ever make comparisons between your children's childhood
and your own?"
yes," she answered.
out that her children's experience of childhood is obviously
a lot better than hers was, and she agreed. So I asked,
"Why do you think you're such a conscientious mother?"
came to her eyes, and she began to get it. Because of what
she had endured, she had determined to be a good parent.
She wouldn't have any child be abused in any way. That's
the "180 principle." You make a 180Â° turn from what you
experienced and determine to do the exact opposite. If I
am hurt, then I can learn a lesson of kindness from that.
I don't have to become an abuser myself.
this woman realized that she had turned her painful experience
into something positive, she was able to change the story
she told herself about her past. She was able to say, "It
extremely painful and difficult, but out of that
I learned to be a very conscientious, loving, and nurturing
story you tell yourself about your life makes all the difference
in how happy you are. I always say, "If you paid the tuition,
get the lesson."
Secret of Altruism
Why does altruism make people happy?
One of the interesting
things about positive emotions is that they're intrinsically
reinforcing. When I do something kind for somebody
else, I feel good. People who are passive are not
particularly happy people. People who go out and
engage life actively, proactively, and meaningfully
are happier. It's kind of a side benefit of doing
good for others.
I'm happy because I've made
a difference in somebody's life today; I've done
something good for my little niche in the world.
Some people think trying to be happy is selfish. Why do you
think it's important to be happy?
Happiness is important because people who live a fulfilled
life are, on the whole, healthier than those who are less
happy. There is a lot of research that suggests that positive
emotions and good mental and physical health go hand in
hand. Happiness is also important for relationships. People
who are described as happy people typically have better
relationships with those they love and care about than unhappy
In your book you say that you think the quest to achieve
happiness can change a whole culture. What do you think
that new culture will look like?
When people are in a positive state of emotion they are
generally civil and even kind and caring human beings. To
ascertain the validity of this observation, think about
your own personal experience and that of the people you
know. You will never see a truly happy and simultaneously
hostile person because those two states are essentially
neurologically incompatible. This is because positive emotions
evoke activity in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal
lobes allow us to see abstract possibilities and to understand
concepts of good and evil; they are essential to the understanding
of ethics, morality, and civility. This is why I believe
that positive emotions, such as appreciation, happiness,
joy, and love-with all their power for good health physically,
mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially- are extremely
important to civilization and its continued evolution.
true that war is a "statistical norm" for humanity. Human
beings have been at war with one another somewhere on this
planet almost constantly since time immemorial. However,
we have within us the capacity to build a more constructive
future civilization by virtue of this "higher order moral
brain." Though we always carry with us the capacity to live
in fear and engage in massively destructive acts, I believe
that human beings will ultimately choose civility over destruction
and will benefit from all the consequences of this choice,
including creativity, ethics, and morality. .
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