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What Is the Number One Secret to Happiness?

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

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen take a more in-depth look at the concept of happiness and how traumatic events can shape a person’s satisfaction throughout their life.


Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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.

Daniel Amen, MD:

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 amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome back. We are in the middle of the 30-day happiness challenge, so you may be listening to this months later, but we are going to spend the next couple of weeks just talking about how to be happy, why it’s important. And today we’re going to do the number one secret to happiness, according to a 75-year study from Harvard. And the number one secret to happiness is actually sitting next to me.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Aw.

Daniel Amen, MD:

That’s what they discovered. To find the answers, a decades-long Harvard study has been following 700 men throughout their lifetimes. George Vaillant did this study. Actually got to talk to him about it. About 60 of the original volunteers are still living, and every few years, they have their blood drawn, their brains scanned, and they answer many personal questions. And the conclusions, the researchers say, all boils down to one thing.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

What? Married?

Daniel Amen, MD:

No.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

What?

Daniel Amen, MD:

Definitely not married.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I was going to say, that seems odd because you’re looking at me funny.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Love.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Ah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this. Good relationships-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s interesting.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… keep us happier and healthier, period. Robert Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development said in a TED talk. And what we talk about in the happiness challenge is, that’s six, that’s question number six. Am I reinforcing the behaviors I like or I dislike in others today? And it’s why I collect penguins. We have a great penguin story. You all probably heard it. But how does that impact how you deal with Chloe and the girls?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Focusing on what I like about them or what I don’t like about them? It makes a huge difference, because I can easily get frustrated. I mean, I can easily get frustrated if I focus on the dishes in the sink or leaving stuff all over the house. We’ve got kids at home doing school right now, so I think a lot of people are struggling with this. They’ve got their kids at home, and they’re frustrated by a lot of the things they normally don’t have to deal with.

For me, I’ll often focus on little things. I’ll think about memories, like my daughter’s little feet running down the hallway, and I’m going to be sad when she goes away to college, but I’ll focus on that memory of those things that made me so happy or the time we spend together. If I focus on those things, I automatically get happy. Little sad at the same time, but happy. So, that’s what I really want to focus on. The times we spend watching movies together at night. All of those things make me happy, so I don’t want to focus on the things that upset me. Now, we need to talk about it. We need to address it, but I don’t need to focus on it to the point that I get frustrated.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Well, within acceptable boundaries.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because if you only notice what’s right, and you never have consequences for things that aren’t right, then-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, no, we do consequences in this house.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… that’s not as effective is as it could be, but I think the world, because of the news media, is so focused on what’s awful, what’s terrible-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s why I stopped watching it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… what’s wrong, that people’s minds go to darkness.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Mine will do that very quickly. I stopped watching the news for that reason. I found myself very unhappy, and when I don’t watch it, I’m much happier. When I go outside and watch my hummingbirds, I’m happy. When I spend time with my family, I’m happy. Now, you made a good point, though. I actually think boundaries make you happier. I think when you can, in a healthy way, establish boundaries, you don’t feel taken for granted, you don’t get angry because you don’t feel like people have used you or abused you. When you can in a very healthy way learn how to establish boundaries, you tend to be happier, because you can do it in a healthy, loving way.

Daniel Amen, MD:

There’s a new book out I like called Boundary Boss. I did an Instagram Live with the author. It was so good. We should have her on the podcast. Boundary Boss book. I highly recommend.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen, MD:

But what I want us to just focus, dig into a little bit deeper, I know… In fact, all of you, should take the ACE test, Adverse Childhood Experiences. If you Google it, you’ll be able to take 10 questions. There’s an NPR site that has it. In fact, James, maybe we should put the link to it. So it’s on a scale of zero to 10. So, 10, common but awful experiences for children, stressful experiences for children. And if you score four or more, there are a whole bunch of bad things that happen to people, from a higher risk of suicide, depression, anxiety disorders, and seven of the top 10 leading causes of death. You have a higher increased rate. So, how your brain was shaped as a child makes a big difference. The more childhood trauma, the more you’re taught to look for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. When you choose [crosstalk [00:07:39].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Ever since I discovered this, it’s so eye opening. We’ve been talking to a lot of people we know, and the people we know, even the very well-known people we know, that have been through childhood trauma absolutely confirm this. They have more illnesses, they have more anxiety, they have more depression, they tend to notice what’s wrong. And I certainly do that, but it’s really interesting. Knowing it, though, for me, has actually helped.

So, number one, I think it’s funny, because you’ll often say, “Oh, it explains everything.” And it does. It explains the dynamics in a relationship, but what’s been really helpful is that I’ll now find myself, this is why I recommend that everyone listening right now actually take the quiz, if you think you’ve grown up with childhood trauma, because once you know, like your ACE score… For me, and we’ll talk about this in our family, because my nieces have been through a lot as well, we will often talk about it. It’s like, “Oh, is this me reacting to now, or is this me reacting to the past?” And so I’ll find myself doing that. It’s like, “Am I really being upset now?” Because, I mean, I just tend to notice everything wrong, even when there’s nothing wrong. If I hear a noise in the house, I’m up and running and so what-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Could you say that again? “I tend to notice everything wrong, even when there’s nothing wrong.” It’s so insightful.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Amen, MD:

And if you know that your nervous system got programmed for that-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, if I hear a noise-

Daniel Amen, MD:

… and even your genes from past generations-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And this isn’t just me.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So if your grandmother growing up during the Great Famine, changing her genes, and she lived her whole life-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

In fear.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… [crosstalk [00:09:31] with PTSD, and she lived her whole life that way, changed her genes. Your mother really struggled when she was young. Did your mother notice what she liked about you more than what she didn’t?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

She wasn’t really home. She was always too busy and too focused on surviving.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So she didn’t notice.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. I just felt invisible.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So she didn’t notice. When we come back, we’re going to talk more about noticing what you like more than what you don’t. I want you to make this a daily practice, which is why it’s in the great seven questions to ask yourself. We’re going to talk more, but I really want to talk a little bit more about the ancestral dragon and the dragons that shape our current reality and how to tame them. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code PODCAST10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.