Is Happiness A Moral Obligation? with Justin Wren

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In the fourth and final episode of a series with MMA fighter and author Justin Wren, Dr. Daniel Amen and Justin discuss the impact emotional trauma can have on a person, and what happens when you hold on to the hurt. They also touch on the benefits of EMDR therapy, self-care, and why happiness should not be seen as merely an option.

Read Full Transcript

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with my friend Justin Wren, Fight for the Forgotten book, a website, a foundation and you're hearing the amazing work that he is doing. It started for you, really, out of pain. One of the things we saw in your scan was trauma, emotional trauma. I actually published a study on 21,000 people, showing we could see the difference between emotional trauma and physical trauma. Now as a boxer, you have both... Or as a fighter. You can see that pattern of trauma from the bullying and that gives you passion, but holding onto the hurt, you don't have to. It's one of the things we learned and there's a specific psychological treatment for trauma called EMDR. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and I love it. When I first started doing the work we do, it's outside of the box of standard medicine.
In 1996, I gave a state of the art lecture in medicine to the Society of Developmental Pediatrics. It's a huge honor for me. I must have really pissed somebody off because they reported me to the medical board. It was like, "He shouldn't be doing the scans," that we do. So I got investigated for a year and I was completely freaked out by the whole thing because they can take my license-
Justin Wren: I bet. Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Which means they can take my livelihood, I've spent all this time to become a doctor. I had an EMDR trainer, Jennifer Lendl, who worked in my office. One day, I just walked in her office when I was free. I'm like, "Can you help me? I'm completely freaked out." She did one session with me and the anxiety went away.
Justin Wren: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It was stunning. I'm like, "I'm going to do the best I can and if they don't let me do this, I'll go work in a grocery store."
I mean, I was just like, "Okay," and you can see the trauma pattern in my brain. The next scan I got, it was gone. Then I did a study on police officers who were involved in shootings, all traumatized, all off work. They all had the diamond pattern in their brain, and after an average of eight sessions, they all went back to work.
Justin Wren: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So if you're... We talked about being in a brain damaging sport or a brain damaging profession like firefighters or police officers, there is help. Fun for me yesterday, I started a six-month training program for the Newport Beach Police Department. We're going to create a brain-healthy police force.
Justin Wren: That's awesome.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The chief of police, he's phenomenal. I love him. What I said to them, and you know this is: That it's not the weak person that asks for help, that it's the smart person. It's the strong person who asks for help. So just imagine you own a business and the business is troubled, and you deny the trouble. Well, what's going to happen? It's going to go bankrupt. It's going to fail, right? It's the smart person who goes, "Who's the smartest person I can find? Let me have them as a consultant," and that way the business can grow and thrive and you can do what what you want. You're a fighter. You're strong. You're somebody people look up to, and you're going, "I need help." That's so freeing for the young people who know you.
Justin Wren: Yeah, well, I'm so grateful too, with everyone... Even when you say EMDR, my counselor Shawn Maguire in Oklahoma City, he suggested finding you and coming to you. He really pushed on it and I said, "Maybe I'll go to Atlanta." He's like, "No, you're going to LA, Costa Mesa." Anyways, he's done EMDR on me a couple of times and there was really legitimate marked change afterwards. I know I probably need to do it more, especially with my diamond pattern in my brain with the PTSD, and it's helped my wife as well.
I'm just so incredibly grateful to you and the work of Amen Clinic. I've just been here three days, but I've heard about you guys since February and now it's October. I've been watching all the podcasts and seeing how you're helping. You have this Brain Warrior's Way and create brain warriors and now I want to bring that into MMA. I want to help that with kids that are being bullied or the [inaudible 00:05:49]. How can we just take better care of ourselves? What I've learned from you is that self-care isn't selfish and you've got to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on others. I'm someone that loves to give, give, give and help as many people as I can, but what I've learned is I'll end up hurting myself in the process if I don't take care of myself first.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's actually this great video by Dennis Prager, who is a commentator. He has a video on how happiness is a moral obligation. He says, "Just think about being raised by an unhappy mother." What's the impact generationally on that? I mean, it's chronically stressful for the children. So taking care of your brain, taking care of your mind is literally a moral responsibility. It's not selfish. It's selfish not to take care of yourself because then our negativity leaks to our marriage, to our children, to our parents, and so on. So the investment you've made in yourself will pay off over and over again. One of the questions I have... Maybe the listeners have is when you were suicidal, when you were young and even tried, what brought you back from that?
Justin Wren: Honestly, you've met my mother now, Terri. She's saved in my phone as best mom ever. That's her name. The thought that stopped me was: What would this do to my mom? I didn't grow up with an unhappy mother. I grew up with the most positive mother one could have, and I really needed that. That was God's gift to me, going through those incredibly hurtful bullying moments. Then what brought me back is having a sense of purpose to live for, that my life matters. If I can leave this world better than I came into it, and if God can use me to bless the mess out of people because he came and loved the hell out of me, how can I do that in a way that doesn't push people away? I don't want to judge people away. I want to love them in, and just say, "Hey, your life matters." Discovering that my life matters really changed me. It doesn't mean I don't struggle and that I'm not a jacked up person from time to time. Yeah. I think it's just [crosstalk 00:08:29].
Dr. Daniel Amen: I know when you struggle... You and I talked about it, I want you to be curious, not just furious, because every time you struggle you have memories in your head of all the pain.
Justin Wren: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right? So anytime you get close to that, you just have a bad day because you didn't sleep well, it triggers a chain reaction and all of the pain can jump on you.
Justin Wren: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So if I can get you to be curious about the down times, not furious about them, and then go, "So what happened?" Often, it's around sleep, it's around not eating good food. For some people it's around drinking and dropping their frontal lobes. It could be you believed every stupid thought you had. We talked about killing the ANTS, the automatic negative thoughts, right? If you can just get curious about it, then working with your really excellent medical and psychological team, you'll learn and the drops will happen less and less. That's what we want, and as you teach other people about what you've gone through, I always say you have to live the message to be a good messenger. Right? The first way to help other people is to be authentic, that you live the message, right? If I didn't live the message, if I went to Whole Foods and people saw that I put a whole bunch of crap in my basket, they would like go, "Oh no, I don't believe it."
Justin Wren: If you didn't go to Whole Foods, you're going somewhere else.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh no, Whole Foods has plenty of crap.
Justin Wren: Oh yeah. They do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's more expensive.
Justin Wren: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What thought do you want to leave our Brain Warrior audience with?
Justin Wren: So you mentioned my book. The way that I first... I sign my book now, "Live to love. Fight for people." How I originally started signing it was: "Live to love, love to live." I think I had it flipped backwards or oftentimes, people in our culture, it's all about self-gratification and you just want to love your life. I think if you first live to love-
Dr. Daniel Amen: You will love your life.
Justin Wren: Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I mean, there's a balance. Right?
Justin Wren: Yeah, for sure.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I mean, you have to take care of yourself.
Justin Wren: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But when you are outward focused-
Justin Wren: But live to love yourself too, and live to love others, and-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, I think that's what Jesus said. Love your neighbor as yourself. That sort of implies both of us are important. Justin Wren. Fight for the Forgotten, his book, and you can get the book anywhere. On Amazon-
Justin Wren: Yeah, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, on our website. All the proceeds go to the cause.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All the proceeds go to the cause, and watch his Ted Talk. Just Google Justin Wren, Ted. It will blow your mind in a good way.
Justin Wren: Thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If there's one thing you learned during the podcast, write it on any of your social media sites and hashtag Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to, leave us a review, questions. Tana will be back next time. Stay with us.
Justin Wren: Thank you.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode. While you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from Brain MD, you can use the code, podcast 10, to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at, or a 10% discount on all supplements at For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.