Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Do We Ever Have a Right to Be Miserable?

Question: How can you rediscover happiness after a tragedy?

Tal Ben-Shahar: It's very difficult to talk about or think about happiness when one has experienced tragedy. In fact, when people actually break down, when they give themselves the permission to be human whether it's by crying or sharing their emotions with others; when they break down they're actually much more likely to get over their tragedy. Whereas people who said, "Okay. I'm going to pull through this. I'm going to be strong, I'm not going to let these emotions take over me." They're actually people who would struggle for much longer periods of time after the tragedy has occurred.

We need to give our mind, our body, our emotions, a time to heal. That's when the natural healer kicks in, when we let it take its course rather than suppress it.

Question: Can a trauma lead to growth in happiness?

Tal Ben-Shahar: Many people talk about PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, which is quite common whether after 9/11 or people coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq; however, very few people talk about post traumatic growth, which potentially is more common than PTSD.

Post traumatic growth comes about when we give ourselves the permission to be human, when we allow oursevles to experience the emotions. It comes when we interpret or reinterpret the event and look for, actively look for a meaning in what had just happened to us. It comes when we share our experiences, when we open up rather than close down. So it is possible to experience post traumatic growth. It's possible for many more people who have gone through trauma, who have gone through difficult experiences to experience growth as a result. This is the power of positive psychology, of research, because what psychologists know today is what we can do, what we can actively do to experience more growth following hardship.

Question: How do you console those with bad luck that feel a right to be unhappy?

Tal Ben-Shahar: There is actually very interesting research about luck by Richard Wiseman, who is a British psychologist. And what he shows is that there are actually certain characteristics that can be learned and can be taught associated with lucky people. So it's things like being more open to opportunities, little things like trying new things, whether it's walking back home using a different route every day, or varying one's menu. And it's also people who believe in luck who end up having more luck. So he created a luck school, teaching people how to become luckier. And it works.

Question: How would you defend an unsuccessful yet happy person?

Tal Ben-Shahar: Yeah. The ultimate currency is happiness. It's the end toward which all others -- the ultimate currency is happiness. It's the end, in the words of Aristotle, toward which all other goals lead. Why do we want to be successful? Because we believe that it will make us happier. Why do we want more money? Because we believe that it would make us happier. And if working hard at a certain profession or certain area does not make us happier, but it will make us more successful, then why bother? And ideally, what we want to find is something that is personally meaningful to us, something that we experience as pleasurable, and then pursue it. And then we can have the best of both worlds; we can be successful as well as happy. But the key to that is to also enjoy the process, the journey, toward that success, because success in and of itself cannot, will not, make us happier.

Recorded on:  September 23, 2009

In the face of tragedy, lack of success, or plain bad luck, those promoting happiness can be frankly annoying. Tal Ben Shahar told Big Think that true happiness is only possible by feeling true pain and that luck can actually be taught.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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