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Encore Presentation: Happiness Cure

Aired December 16, 2006 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, reaching out to Saddam Hussein's troops, a reconciliation conference is underway today in Iraq. And the government is telling military troops disbanded after the U.S. led invasion that they can come back to help curb the (INAUDIBLE) violence.
On the phone and talking shop, Cuba's communist party newspaper reports that ailing leader Fidel Castro spoke by phone to a work session. And this is the first that we've heard of him, speaking according to Reuters news agency. There's been no other official word about the 80-year old leader in 11 days.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba wants immediate presidential and parliamentary elections. He's calling on Palestinians to reject the formation of a unit government with a rival faction Hamas. Hamas is against new elections and calls this an attempt at a coup.

We have your next check of the headlines. That's coming up at the top of the hour. But first, HOUSE CALL with Dr. Sanjay Gupta starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up on HOUSE CALL, happiness and your health. If you feel more like this, than this, does your health suffer?

Plus, finding your bliss.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, we all want to achieve happiness. And yet some are cheated and some do not. And you wonder what is the difference?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is the happiest and why?

And what are these people doing? Looks crazy, but have they found the key to good health?

SANJAY GUPTA, DR., HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSE CALL. This morning, we're looking at happiness, and of course, its impact and your health.

Now it makes sense that feeling happy makes you feeling healthy. But there is some fascinating science that takes this issue even deeper. How exactly does happiness affect your biology? Well, let's start with some of the masters of happiness and the doctor who has joined their ranks.


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST (voice-over): Few exert more power to shape their emotional state than Buddhist monks.

BARRY KERZIN, AMERICAN BUDDHIST MONK: There's so much happiness, or joy, or bliss, you almost don't know what to do with it.

GUPTA: Inside this MRI scanner, American buddhist monk Barry Kerzin meditates with such focused attention, that he can generate his own bliss. His good feelings show up in an area of the brain where researchers think happiness lives, the left prefrontal cortex.

Negative emotions such as fear and anxiety show up on the other side of the brain. Now any of us can try to elicit happiness like his. But the feelings we typically generate disappear in less than half a second.

Kerzin meditates up to 12 hours a day. Somehow he and others well practiced at meditation can manipulate the feelings to last for minutes and minutes and minutes, sustained over time.

KERZIN: It kind of has a little bit of a blissful feeling. It feels nice. It feels lovely.

RICHARD DAVIDSON, MIND BODY CONNECTION EXPERT: They will tell you that they are in a state of deep and genuine happiness all the time.

GUPTA: Kerzin, who was a doctor before becoming a monk, is collaborating with Dr. Richard Davidson, one of the world's leading experts on the mind-body connection. Davidson calls buddhist monks the Olympic athletes of meditation, making them ideal candidates for research into how a positive disposition affects our health.

Already Davidson has found that people who are upbeat have a stronger immune response when they're given a flu vaccine. That means a positive outlook actually makes you less likely to get the flu. And population studies have shown that optimists live about seven years longer on average.

DAVIDSON: In general, there are data showing better health outcomes among optimists compared to pessimists on a number of different measures.

GUPTA: Meditation won't make you happier necessarily, Davidson says. But even beginners can reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body and improve their immune response.

Perhaps like the monks, all of us should think of happiness as a skill.


GUPTA: Now to be clear and fair, Barry Kerzin didn't reject modern medicine. He is still a doctor. But since becoming a monk, he's without a car, he's without a television, and a microwave oven. And yet, he says his lifestyle leads to inner joy and that other things don't seem so important anymore.

So does that possibly mean the old adage that money can't buy happiness might be true? Well, not necessarily. Here to talk with us about happiness, how to get it, why it's so beneficial to our health is Daniel Gilbert. He's Harvard University professor. He's also author of a great book "Stumbling on Happiness."

Welcome, good to see you.


GUPTA: Of course you are happy to be here. We're going to talk about what makes you happy at home a little later. But let's start with some biology, professor. What are some of the health benefits of being happier optimistic in life?

GILBERT: Well, it's no surprise that happiness and health go to together. But what does surprise people is it's not just the case that health causes happiness. Of course, it does. When you're free of distress, you're free of pain and you're able to engage in your life and have social relationships. You're a happier person.

What's surprising is that happiness can cause health. It shouldn't really surprise us, should it, because the stress hormones that we - that our bodies produce when we're feeling unhappy are poison for both our bodies and our brains.

GUPTA: It's interesting because you're right. I think most people sort of know this intuitively, but to hear some of the science behind it I think is interesting. And I think that's what a lot of the questions were that were coming in.

We have some questions sent into us by folks who were visiting the website. Let's start with Monica who's got a question. "Can you please explain the correlation between a healthy lifestyle and what impact that might have on an individual's state of happiness?" Now what do you say to Monica?

GILBERT: Well, there's no doubt that a lot of our own happiness is in our hands because our health is in our hands. Sure, there's a genetic component to our physical well-being. And we know there's a large genetic component to our happiness. But setting these aside, much of this is under our own control.

So the things we can do to keep a healthy lifestyle also enable us to be happier people.

GUPTA: You know, and we receive a lot of questions as well along that same theme, professor, about how to -- how to get happy and stay happy. Say, for example, if you're stressed at work or just not feeling like yourself, is there a strategy that people can use to sort of become happy or get happy?

GILBERT: Well, there's not shortage of strategies. And most of us know what they are. We know which kinds of things make us happy. Tickling the children, eating a piece of chocolate. We know which kinds of things don't.

The big mistake is thinking that we ought to be happy all the time. Understand what the brain has emotions for. Emotions are to tell you whether you're doing the right or the wrong thing for yourself.

There are times when you're supposed to be feeling bad. You're not doing something wrong if you're not happy all the time.

GUPTA: Yes, that is interesting. And we're going to get into that a little bit later on, a little bit more about that. We can also learn even more ways to find happiness. That's Sunday night on my special called "Happiness on Your Health". You're going to see how a company is transforming offices into happy places and how to unlock the meaning behind a smile.

Getting to see what happens when we pit the ultimate pessimist against an energetic optimist. The results Sunday night.

But first, stay where you are. We have more HOUSE CALL coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a lot less clothes, a lot less this, a lot less everything else.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the moment, I'm very grateful.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's happy. But why? Is it marriage? Kids? Even politics? Find out.

But first, answer this. At what age are men the happiest? A, 20-29; B, 40-49, or C, 60-69? The answer coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the break we asked, at what age are men the happiest? A, 20-29; B, 40-49, or C, 60-69? The answer -- between 60-69 years of age. The least happy men, age 20-29.

GUPTA: Hmm, now if you didn't get that right, not to worry. As we research the topic of happiness, we found something surprising. Something Professor Gilbert actually taught me. Many people don't actually know what will make them happy. Many assume it's money, it's youth, even the right car maybe could bring happiness. But the reality is quite different.


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST (voice-over): Dan Gottlieb is doing something he loves. He's a successful radio talk show host in Philadelphia and a family therapist.

DAN GOTTLIEB, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, THERAPIST: At the moment, I'm very grateful.

GUPTA: What may surprise you is that Gottlieb is paralyzed from the chest down, the result of a freak accident. A truck tire bouncing across the highway crushing his car and his spine. He says he's happier now than before his accident.

GOTTLIEB: I'm a happy man. But I would have struggled with that question when I was 30-years old.

DANIEL GILBERT, AUTHOR, STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS: Studies suggest that most people who are in Dan's situation lead reasonably happy lives. That surprises most of us.

GUPTA: Harvard Professor Daniel Gilbert studies what makes people happy. He has found most people are incredibly bad at predicting what will give them joy.

Does money buy happiness?

GILBERT: Well, you bet it does if you're living under a bridge in a cardboard box, because when people are moved from abject poverty into the middle class, their happiness increases dramatically. But it stops increasing thereafter.

GUPTA: So what does bring us happiness? According to a Pew Research Center survey, age. Older people are happier than younger. The happiest -- men 60 to 69. The least happy, men 20-29.

Education, college graduates are happier than high school grads. Religion, religious people are happier than those who aren't religious. Climate, Sunbelt residents are happier than residents elsewhere in the United States. Marriage, married people are happier than singles. Political affiliation, Republicans are happier than Democrats. Both are happier than Independents. No kids, married couples with no children are happier than those with kids.

The least happy group, single parents with children under 18. Dan Gottlieb says happiness boils down to love and gratitude for family and friends.

GOTTLIEB: I strongly encourage love who we love, only do it better.


GUPTA: Love better. That's what he said. It sounds like good advice. Some interesting results from that poll as well. Not what some would expect.

Helping us decipher happiness is our expert from the piece. He's Harvard professor and author, Daniel Gilbert.

Professor, we have a lot of questions about this. The genetics of happiness was the theme we saw. This question coming from Shobhana in New York City, who writes this. "Is it true that we can 'will' the setting of our internal happiness barometer by positive thoughts? Or are our tendencies genetically preprogrammed?"

Professor, are we born a certain way? Can we only achieve a certain level of happiness?

GILBERT: Well, that's not an either/or question. The answer to both parts of the question is yes. We can do a lot about our own happiness.

Willing it isn't the easiest way. Actually, going out and doing things, and particularly doing things with other people is a much more effective way to change your happiness than closing your eyes and wishing it were so.

Happiness does have a large genetic component. But I always tell people so does weight, so does height. It doesn't mean you can't work on things like your weight and your physique by exercising.

So set aside the fact that some of your happiness is genetically determined. There's nothing you can do about that. And concentrate on the parts you can affect.

GUPTA: And there are a lot of parts. And we want to talk about that. But something from our piece you might find this question interesting, an e-mail coming from John in Massachusetts who writes this. "Why is it that some of the oldest people seem to be the least happy?"

Now as you know, professor, our polls showed men 60-69 were the happiest years for them. What's going on here?

GILBERT: Well, your polls agree with all the scientific research. Men usually - usually people in their 50s and 60s are in the happiest times of their lives. So I think this gentleman's observation is a little different than the scientific observations that most of us make.

Really being young, we're in a youth-obsessed culture, and so this is heresy to say, but being young is some of the unhappiest years of people's lives. One of the best investments in your own happiness you can make is hang on and get older.

GUPTA: Right. Can't wait until I'm 60-69, professor. And John maybe needs to go out and meet some older people as well who are happier people.

We are talking with Professor Daniel Gilbert about happiness and your health. Much more HOUSE CALL after the break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is laughter the best medicine? This doctor thinks so. Find out his prescription for a boosted immune system.

Plus, one man's quest to get kids moving. A "Fit Nation" solution, coming up.

But first, this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Exercise does more than keep you in shape. Two new studies show it may help prevent breast cancer and help build stronger bones. Mayo Clinic researchers studied nearly 42,000 post menopausal women. Those who jogged, swam, or did some other vigorous exercise two more times a week a 14 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who got less exercise.

Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that losing weight through exercise is better for your bones than dieting doctors claim men and women who lost weight by cutting calories also may be losing bone density. Exercise did not bring us the same results.

Scientists may be one step closer to finding the first definitive tests for Alzheimers. Researchers in New York appear to have found proteins that are a marker for the disease in spinal fluid. Doctors say more study is needed before they start recommending spinal taps.

Judy Fortin, CNN.



GUPTA: For a guaranteed smile, click over to You're going to find a ton of information that we've gathered researching this topic, including the list of the happiest countries. Curious where the United States ranks? Well, check it out.

Also, check out to find the latest health news. And I started blogging. Check out my thoughts. Send me yours as well.

Now you all heard the adage laughter is the best medicine. Sounds fine. But really, how much good could laughter possibly do for a person's health? Just watch and find out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, big breath in.


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST (voice-over): Every morning on Laguna Beach, California, you'll find a group gathered on the sand laughing. There are no jokes. No punch lines. They're laughing for no reason at all.

Before you write this off as just another off the wall California fad, you should know laughter yoga was the brainchild of Indian Dr. Madan Kataria. He was doing research for an article called, "Laughter, the Best Medicine," when he got the idea.

MADAN KATARIA, DR., LAUGHTER CLUB CREATOR: I was a very serious physician practicing medicine in India. I never laughed so much because I don't have a great sense of humor. It just came from - and suddenly, 4:00 in the morning I got this idea, why not start a laughter club?

GUPTA: What began with five people in a Mumbai park in 1995 has spread to more than 5,000 laughter clubs in 50 countries.

KATARIA: You don't need any sense of humor to laugh. You don't need to be happy in order to laugh. In fact, when you laugh, you develop your sense of humor. You develop the joy within yourself.

GUPTA: More than that, Kataria says the breathing and laughing of laughter yoga will improve your health, even if you have to fake the laughter.

It's a claim backed up by Lee Burk at Lo Melinda University. Burk has found laughter decreases stress hormones, improves our immune system, and boosts endorphins. Those are the brain chemicals associated with the runner's high. Dr. Kataria, who began the laughter club movement, says people who laugh are like the Dalai Lama, living in the moment.

KATARIA: Joyfulness makes you feel good immediately. It's now. And that's what children do. And I want all -- everybody in this world to live like a child, now, just now.



GUPTA: It might look crazy, but I bet you you probably laugh just watching it. And maybe your body is reacting.

Our guest Harvard professor and author of "Stumbling on Happiness", Daniel Gilbert, he's back with us.

Professor, when you and I talked, you talked about living in the now to find happiness, because we're not good at remembering or predicting our happiness. Explain that.

GILBERT: Well, people are very poor at remembering how happy they were in the past. They're remarkably poor at predicting how happy they will be in the future. They often can say how happy they are in general.

But one thing people can tell you is how happy they are at the moment you ask them that question.

I don't think living in the now, though, means that we have to lose sight of our futures, not plan for tomorrow, not take care of our health. But I do think that it means not always being in the future, and not always being in the past. Sometimes being here.

GUPTA: You know, professor, this is a surprisingly difficult topic, because I thought this was going to be easier. And you've really clarified a lot of things for me. Daniel Gilbert is our guest. And we got more HOUSE CALL coming up after the break. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Move over, Jane Fonda.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't forget to breathe.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A new exercise DVD is out just for kids. The details just ahead.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. We've talked with hundreds of experts about the obesity epidemic in this country. Now while they may disagree on the causes, they all seem to agree on the solution. Eat less and move more.

Here now is one man's quest to get kids moving.


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST (voice-over): Like most physical education teachers, Todd Sisneros wanted his students to be healthy and fit, but he noticed a disturbing trend.

TODD SISNEROS, FIT NATION WINNER: It is a different world. We can't expect kids to put down video games, and put away the computers, and go outside and play all the time. As much as we would like that to happen, it's not going to.

GUPTA: Add to that the energy sapping 100-plus degree temperatures in Laughlin, the Nevada desert town where he teaches and the high number of low-income single parent families, and you have the making of an obesity crisis.

TIM FRYE, PRINCIPAL: I think we and education always face the dilemma that we only have the students for the six hours a day. If we try to provide a healthy lunch here at school, but we don't get that opportunity to really monitor what they eat outside of the school setting.

GUPTA: So with the principal's support, Todd set out to level the playing field.

SISNEROS: I was just trying to find a way to get kids to exercise, despite the obstacles that are there.

GUPTA: The result was Mr. S., DVD workouts for kids, an interactive workout Todd created with just a simple camcorder, a DVD burner and some seed money that he raised with his students in the community.

The program has been an overwhelming success with both kids and parents. The only complaint Todd has gotten...

SISNEROS: Say Mr. S., really upset that my child gets up at 6:00 in the morning, puts a DVD on, and I hear him stomping around in the house.

GUPTA: Todd's story inspired me and all of us here at CNN so much that we declared him the winner of our 2006 "Fit Nation" contest. Todd's response when my producer told him he won $5,000...

SISNEROS: To be honest with you, I about drove off the road. Making a teacher's salary, I might be able to go a week without having to eat ramen and dollar TV dinners.

GUPTA: Congratulations.


GUPTA: Yes, Todd Sisneros, congratulations from all of us here at CNN. And good luck to you as you continue helping kids enjoy being healthy.

We have more HOUSE CALL coming up.


GUPTA: We are back with HOUSE CALL. Daniel Gilbert, the professor and the author, has been our guest.

You know what's so interesting, Professor Gilbert, talking about happiness, I'm feeling better myself. But you say that it's hard to predict happiness. And as people ponder that, they may ask themselves well, if it's so hard to predict, how do I actually get happy? How do I become happy? What do you say to them?

GILBERT: Well, it's a great question. It is very difficult to look into your own future and know what will make you happy. But it isn't very hard to look into somebody else's present. Human beings it turns out are remarkably similar in the things that make them happy across ages, across genders, and across cultures. The things that you observe making other people happy are likely to make you happy as well.

GUPTA: I think that's a great response. And I -- I hope everyone gets something out of that.

Unfortunately, we're out of time for this morning. Professor Daniel Gilbert, thanks so much for being with us.

Don't forget to send us your e-mail questions on health topics from A to Z. That's at You can see if they're answered on HOUSE CALL every weekend.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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