Happiness Leads to Healthy Living with Dr. Gillian Mandich
Find a gratitude practice that works for you.
Dr. Gillian Mandich is an expert in the study of happiness and health. As the founder of The International Happiness Institute of Health Science Research, scientist, and sought-after speaker, she is on a mission to help people live their happiest life.
“If you want to be happy, you have to do things on a regular basis that make you happy.”
—Dr. Gillian Mandich
Dr. Gillian Mandich has a PhD from Western University in Health Science, and her primary areas of research are happiness and health. She is the founder of The International Happiness Institute of Health Science Research; co-lead investigator of The Canadian Happiness At Work Study; is a part of the Meant2Prevent research team at SickKids; appears regularly in the media on shows such as The Social, Marilyn Denis, Breakfast Television, The Morning Show, and CBC; and is a top-rated keynote and TEDx speaker.
“Expressing gratitude is not a cookie-cutter exercise. It’s a consistent, daily practice.”
—Dr. Gillian Mandich
Hello. I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and Co-Founder of Branded Group. Welcome to the #BeBetter Podcast. To me, our company’s mantra to “Be Better” is more than a tagline; it’s a culture that permeates our organization, propelling our team to Be Better to each other, our customers and our communities as well as to ourselves. Each week on the #BeBetter podcast, I interview leaders who authentically exemplify how they are being better in their professional and personal lives.
Today’s podcast is dedicated to The Priority Center whose mission focuses on delivering life-changing programs to assist people in crisis. The organization provides tools and support necessary to end the generational cycle of trauma- including prevention of child abuse and neglect, through early intervention and mental health services and advocacy. Learn more about The Priority Center at https://theprioritycenter.org/.
Michael Kurland (00:02):
Welcome to another episode of the #BeBetter podcast. I’m your host, Michael Kurland. Joining me today, very special guest, Dr. Gillian Mandich, who is a happiness researcher. Gillian, welcome to the show. Please tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what you do.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (00:21):
Hi. Thank you so much. I’m really happy to be here. And like you said, I am a happiness researcher. Usually when I tell someone that, the first thing that happens is they kind of look at me strange, and they wonder, “Is that a real thing?” I can tell what’s going on in their heads and maybe listening, you’re one of those people. Essentially, just like a physical activity researcher studies physical activity or nutrition researcher studies nutrition, a happiness researcher, such as myself, studies the science of happiness. This is a relatively, compared to other fields, new field. There is a continuing and significantly growing body of work, looking at the signs of happiness. How do we actually become happier? One of the things that we know is that, yes, there’s a genetic element to happiness. There’s an environmental aspect, which all of us this past year can really appreciate the effect of the environment on our happiness and our mental health. There’s another significant component and that’s the piece that’s up to us, which is our thoughts, our actions, and our behaviors. My work focuses on that aspect of happiness and looking at what can we do to cultivate more happiness in our life.
Michael Kurland (01:30):
That’s amazing. I love everything you just said. I have to ask you, though. How did you get into becoming a happiness researcher? I know speaking for myself, I went to school because I wanted to study sports management. My parents were like, “Yeah. You’re never going to make anything of yourself. Be a doctor. Be a lawyer.” I think I’ve done okay. How did you stumble into, or maybe not stumble. Tell us the story of how you became a happiness researcher.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (01:58):
This is such an interesting question because it’s not like when I was in high school, I sat down with my guidance counselor and I said, “You know, when I grow up, I want to study happiness.” That was not the case at all. I actually wanted to be a university professor growing up. My mom is a university professor, and I always thought she had such a really great job because she had a lot of flexibility. She was home. She was able to come to my soccer games and just like my mom, I was always a very curious person. I love asking questions. I went to school and got master’s degree in child and youth health. I was studying childhood obesity. I was looking at parent and family focused interventions to address childhood obesity. As I started getting into the literature, I realized that over the long-term, especially after childhood obesity interventions are done, a lot of kids and families go back to baseline. As soon as you remove the intervention, you’re not seeing those same positive changes anymore. I started looking into literature and I said, “Okay. Well, what else matters in terms of our health besides physical activity, besides nutrition? What are other factors that are at play? My area of focus has always been health promotion. I believe that we have one shot at life. I really am so focused on how do we make the most of that, whereas a lot of research, especially in the medical fields, tends to be “What’s wrong and, how do we fix it?” Where I am most passionate and interested in is what’s going right now. How can we learn from that? How can we make that better? Like you said, I literally stumbled into happiness research, just digging around in the literature. I started reading all these articles that were saying happiness and health are highly correlated. When you compare happy people to unhappy people, happy people live longer. They have low rates of cardiovascular disease. They heal faster from injury. They have stronger immune systems. They’re more collaborative, more cooperative, more creative, better problem solvers. The list goes on and on. I thought, “You know what? This, to me, seems like such a fun field to study.” Midway through my PhD, which is in health science, I switched topics from researching childhood obesity into researching the science of happiness and focusing on that part that’s amenable to change. Just like obesity interventions are looking to promote health, my happiness interventions have the same goal: health promotion. We just came at it from a different perspective.
Michael Kurland (04:19):
So much great information right there. I’m glad I asked that question. I am amazed. I have so many more questions. I’m just going to start firing them off.
Michael Kurland (04:28):
What does a happiness intervention look like?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (04:32):
The first one that I ever did was I recruited undergraduate students at the university that I’m at. This is quite commonplace. This is for my PhD dissertation. Oftentimes you’ll recruit university students. If you are listening and you’ve ever been a university student, you know that you’re recruited all the time because it’s just oftentimes in terms of accessibility of a population. What we did during this intervention was every week for four weeks, students registered. Before I even get into what happened, one of the things about this first intervention that really was shocking to me was that when I did my power calculation. Before you do a research study, you figure out what kind of sample size you need in order to get good enough statistics to get significance potentially at the end of your study. When I did my sample size calculation, I figured I needed about 50 students. You can apply through the university to send out a mass email to all the undergraduate students. With that one email, we had 1,322 students respond that wanted to be in the study.
Michael Kurland (05:37):
I have to ask you this, though. Were you like, “Oh, crap. What do I do?” or were you super excited or a little bit of both?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (05:45):
A little bit of column A and a little bit of column B. I found it very exciting that there was such interest. At the same time, when you applied to do a research study, you go through an ethics board. Before you even actually start to recruit, you have to get approval for every single step along the way, including what your sample size is. You always go a little bit bigger than what you need because you’ll have dropouts along the way. I definitely did not have approval for 1,300 students. At the same time, one of the challenges that I ran into, that I wasn’t even expecting, was that this is kind of when a lot more stuff was going digital and, whereas before, a lot of research studies were in-person. Really the limiting factor would be the researcher’s time or the research assistant’s time. With my intervention, it was completely online. What I did was I had a course, essentially. When the students would go in, they pick whatever course they were going to that day. My study was a course. Each week they would go in and watch videos that taught them skills that were highly correlated with happiness. Besides me basically admitting them into this course, if I had 100 students or 1,000 students, besides a little bit of administrative work, there really wasn’t a huge leap in terms of the work on my end and the research assistant’s end in order to get them into the study. We had to explain this to the ethics board, who was not really understanding. At the time, this was a very new thing to do. We ended up getting approval for about 500 students or so and were able to run it with that. What I did was at the beginning of the study and at the end of the study was measure the student’s happiness. We measured several different self-reported health outcomes. How grateful they were and then again at the end. What was really exciting was that was the first time I was able to see statistically significant changes in my research participant’s happiness in just four weeks from strictly learning about different skills that are highly correlated with happiness. Things like gratitude, mindfulness, social connection. These sort of skills and ideas.
Michael Kurland (07:51):
Great information. Also, great segue since this is a season about gratitude. I don’t even want to go there yet. I still have so many more questions [Dr. Mandich laughs] about studying happiness. Let me ask you this: Were you disappointed that they didn’t give you the green light for all 1,300? That seems to me like, just why not? Why not?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (08:14):
I honestly was. One of the things in happiness is this idea of controlling what you can and focusing on the things that you can control as opposed to the things you can’t. In research, we call this autonomy. Autonomy is actually more of a contributor to our happiness then how good looking we are, how popular we are, how much money we have, or how good our sex life is. Above all of those things. It’s interesting when you’re a researcher who’s aware of the data. I’m constantly reminding myself of this and, yet, at the same time, I’m living, trying not to be disappointed. Yes, there is definitely a learning curve in that, but it also was really eye opening for me in terms of figuring out the trajectory of my career. There’s a lot of pros to being at a university and being in that environment. There’s some of the challenges that come along with lengthy time waits while you wait for an ethics board and the bureaucracy that often happens there. One of the things that I came to realize through this entire experience is that while I love research, my field, where I wanted to study was outside of the walls of a university. I’ll still go back and do guest lectures and things like that. What I really recognized was, for me, the area that I wanted to focus on was how do we take the best available science and research and make it accessible for everyone? I sort of started to explore other areas, such as doing a lot more media, a lot of podcasts, a lot of public speaking, and now a lot of virtual education. I was able to take all of the things that I really liked about happiness research and just find a new home for it, where I was able to focus on the pieces of the work that I can control.
Michael Kurland (09:55):
I think you, like you said, the autonomy, you looked at the research. You’ve followed the research and it’s led you here. Kudos to you on that. Just for your reference, my dissertation in college was do pending free agents perform better the year of their contract year or not.
Dr. Gillian Mandich ( (10:18):
Michael Kurland (10:18):
It was really, really, really hard to find sample sizes on that back in 2001. And the answer is yes.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (10:28):
I was going to ask. What was the answer?
Michael Kurland (10:28):
The answer is yes, but just barely. It was 51%. That’s also 20 years dated. I got an A, audience, in case you guys are wondering. [Laughs]
Dr. Gillian Mandich (10:36):
Michael Kurland (10:36):
Speaking of that, we kind of talked about that now, but what is the most interesting thing that you found in terms of your research? What’s that one thing that you didn’t think of? Some of this stuff makes sense. I’m not poo-pooing it all. Yes, if you’re happy you’re going to be working out, and you’re going to be more social, etc., etc. What’s the one thing, the one statistic that you’re like, “I didn’t expect that, but that’s really awesome?”
Dr. Gillian Mandich (11:09):
There’s two that came to mind. It’s interesting because with happiness, we- you and I- when we started this podcast, we didn’t have to define what we were talking about. We all have a general understanding of what happiness is. Yet if I were to survey a hundred people, I would come up with a hundred different definitions of happiness. This becomes very confusing in a way. For me, when I started studying happiness, I wanted to figure out how to be happy because I realized I’m a researcher. I’m very good at asking questions. I’m good at looking at data. I’m looking at trying to get closer to the answers. Why not figure out what I want for myself? What I quickly, sort of in my mind, my goal was be happy all the time. Get rid of the challenging emotions that I’m feeling. I don’t want to feel sad. I don’t want to feel anxious. I don’t want to have depressive symptoms. I don’t want to feel all of those things. I want to get rid of those and just be happy all the time. What I quickly came to learn was that’s not the goal. The goal is not having this all the time. I always tell people, I’m a happiness researcher, and I’m not happy all the time. I don’t want to be. I don’t want my friends to be. I don’t want my family to be. I don’t want you to be. We need that full palette in terms of healthy, psychological functioning. What the goal is when we focus on that piece of happiness I was talking about earlier: our thoughts, our actions, and our behaviors. It’s like a skill that we learn. The more that we do it, we get better at it. I almost think of it like a muscle. If you want to get strong, you have to go to the gym and exercise on a regular basis in order to get stronger. If you want to be happy, you have to do things on a regular basis that make you happy then what happens is over time, you get happier. Yet, if we set the goal and the bar is being happy all the time, we’re essentially setting ourselves up for failure because there is no life that is happy all the time. There’s actually research sort of the opposite. They call it the dark side of happiness. People that put their blinders on and always want to be happy, tend to be less happy than other people. In terms of healthy, psychological functioning, what I learned was the goal is not happy all the time. What the goal is, is figuring out how happy am I and then trying to be a little bit happier. A little bit happier than you were yesterday. Knowing that there are going to be days that we’re not and that’s part of the process, too. What we kind of want is our highs to get higher and our lows to get higher. You kind of have this upward trajectory motion. When we’re feeling those lows, they become a little bit less low. We don’t marinate in them for days or weeks. We feel them fully and then, because we have that skill over time, we’re able to sort of bounce back, be more resilient, a little bit easier. Does that make sense?
Michael Kurland (13:56):
That totally makes sense. I wanted to hear everything you had to say. It’s the yin and the yang theory.
Michael Kurland (14:02):
Without sadness, then what really is happiness and vice versa. If you’re just happy all the time, that’s probably going to get boring after a while. It’s just like if you’re sad all the time, that’s going to be depressing.
Michael Kurland (14:15):
I totally agree with you. From my point of view, I have been called histrionic. I guess that’s kind of too upbeat all the time, which I guess is true. It makes sense because I’ve, in my definition for your and the audience’s knowledge, is happiness is the key to life. I came to that at a young age. I don’t think God put us here, whatever your higher power, put us here to like to suffer and repent and all these things. I think we were put here to be happy. When you’re spending a lot of time being depressed or down in the dumps, you have the ability to control those thoughts and those thought patterns. It’s really up to you how you view things, whether you’re a victim or a victor. I love everything you said. I’m a huge proponent of everything you said. I think a happiness expert is that’s amazing.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (15:15):
It’s so fascinating because very infrequently is somebody able to communicate with me about happiness in the way you just did, as recognizing the importance of it. When you said, happiness is key. Oftentimes, when I tell somebody about happiness research, I have to make a case for why happiness matters. Oftentimes, people tend to think it’s butterflies, rainbows, smiley face emojis. Yet, we don’t often appreciate the profound impact that it has in every area of our life. I will say one of the silver linings since the pandemic has really been, because we are all living and breathing, mental health and happiness in a different way within ourselves, within our family, within our colleagues and our friends, there is more of an appreciation for that aspect of our health- our mental health- than ever before. It’s so refreshing to hear people like yourself where you’re self-reflecting and coming up with a similar thing that I’m coming up with, coming at it from the data side. We’re both sort of on the same page. It’s really neat to see that.
Michael Kurland (16:23):
Thank you. It totally makes sense. I went through a time before I moved out to California, it was about a little over 7 years ago. I had just gone through a divorce. I’d gone through getting let go from my job of 7 years. I was overweight. I wasn’t happy in my marriage. I had been soothing myself with eating too much, with drinking too much. I wasn’t happy. At the end of the day, I wasn’t happy. I was masking all these issues with other things that were weren’t as good for me, and you can go down this pattern. Happier people are in better shape. They can recover from injuries better. I totally agree. I was not in a good place for a while, and I had hurt my foot when I was 25. I always told myself I could never run again. I could never be a runner. I could never go for a jog. After all that stuff started happening and I started getting happier, I started jogging. Now, I run 4 to 6 miles a week. I used to run 25 miles a week, but my back isn’t happy with me when I do 25 miles a week. I’m trying to find a happy medium. I love the research. I really am so intrigued and want to dive deeper. We don’t have enough time on this podcast, but I want offline to be able to start looking at your research. Let’s talk about gratitude. That’s what this season’s about, which is synonymous word with happiness or at least for most people.
Michael Kurland (17:57):
It’s through the pandemic. What has that taught you about being grateful? What’s COVID-19 taught you about being grateful?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (18:07):
It’s interesting because for me, I had a very profound way of seeing gratitude beforehand because I saw it from my personal practice. I saw gratitude from the lens of research participants. I saw it in their data where they filled out surveys to get numbers. I actually saw changes in gratitude. When I say gratitude, it’s as simple as much as thinking about or writing down things that we’re grateful for. Taking time. What I love about gratitude is it costs nothing. It doesn’t take a lot of time and can be done anywhere. Yet, we can see, especially if you are able to maintain a regular gratitude practice daily, ideally, that there are significant changes in terms of our happiness. When I look at gratitude, often before the pandemic, when I was doing a lot of in-person talks, I would talk about gratitude and ask people to put up their hand and say, “Who in here has a gratitude practice?” Maybe a third to a half of the room will put up their hands. Now that I’m doing everything online, I asked the similar question in polling. I’ll see a much higher percentage than I did before. I think right now, we’re searching. We’re trying to find ways to cope during the pandemic, and the gratitude is a great tool for that. At the same time, what I’m seeing on the other end, it’s kind of like too much of a good thing can be a pause as well. I’m almost seeing the pendulum swing the other way, where gratitude has become a meme on Instagram. We’ve lost some of the appreciation for the practice. It becomes an item on a to-do list for a lot of people. Wake up. Brush teeth. Check. Do my gratitude. Check. I think having a broader conversation than just practice gratitude is so key right now. It’s when we are doing it, we are present. We’re taking away any of the distractions. We’re being as specific and detailed as possible. We’re mixing up the things that we’re grateful for. We’re sharing them with other people when we can. We’re trying to really savor that practice as opposed to having it be an item on a to-do list, which can be happening a lot right now.
Michael Kurland (20:20):
I totally agree with you. We’ve had a couple other guests on this season and that’s the one thing that I keep hitting home with, too. Specifically, for me is, I was gratitude journaling, and I hit a block when my dad passed away. I have still not written in the gratitude journal, and it’s been about four months. The good news is, audience, I did go visit my father and wrote a nice, little note and left it on his tombstone. It was a gratitude note. That’s the block. He also always wrote me letters. He didn’t believe in email or text messaging.
Michael Kurland (20:58):
I would get letters in the mail. I left him a letter on his tombstone and that has released the block. I got my gratitude journal in front of me right here. I’m looking forward to diving into it, probably after this because I’m really grateful for this conversation. I’ve totally digressed, though. The point of what I was going to say is I think that you nailed it. Some people have just turned gratitude into two things. A checklist to do. When it becomes a checklist to do then you’re just journaling to journal.
Michael Kurland (21:32):
Doing whatever your gratitude practice is just to do it, which loses its effect on you. That’s what you’re doing it for. If you only do a gratitude journal once a month, but you get something good out of it, that’s just as good as if you do it every day.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (21:49):
Exactly. Making it your own personal practice. For some people, they want to practice in the morning. Some people in the evening, like you said. Maybe someone wants to spend an hour on Sundays reflecting on the gratitude. I think as opposed to it being as cookie cutter, you see a meme on Instagram. What are you grateful for? Taking it and making it our own.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (22:07):
Just like for each and every one of us, there’s no formula for happiness. Each and every one of us has a different formula. They have things that are similar and things that are different. It’s up to us to figure that out. I think it’s also up to us to figure out for ourselves. How can I bring gratitude into my life in a way that is meaningful to me in a way where I am appreciative of it, where it doesn’t become just going through the motions or taking off an item on my to-do list?
Michael Kurland (22:32):
I love what you said. Audience, I really want you guys to pay attention to that. It’s what works for you If you’re new, starting a gratitude practice. If it’s once a month on a Sunday. If it’s every Sunday. If it’s every day. If it is a meme on Instagram and that is where you get your gratitude.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (22:52):
Michael Kurland (22:52):
Then do it. No one’s saying don’t do that, but just do what works for you. Just be consistent with whatever works for you is the best of advice.
Dr. Gillian Mandich 23:00):
Yes. That word consistent is absolutely critical to this conversation. I’m so glad you said that. Especially if you’re listening right now, you may be so excited to start a gratitude practice after listening to the podcast. Maybe it’s not realistic for you to do it every single day. Maybe right now, especially you’re working from home. The kids are home. It’s not going to be something that’s realistic then you’re not going to be consistent. You’re better off to start with what’s realistic, knowing you can always build from there. Not the opposite, where you have these very optimistic, but potentially unrealistic, goals. When you don’t reach that, you end up feeling worse, and some is better than none. I think that’s big piece of the equation when you’re asking too. I really love that you said that.
Michael Kurland (23:49):
I got that from my acupuncturist. I started going to him a couple of weeks ago, and he said, “You’re dehydrated. You need to drink 100 ounces of water a day.” I don’t know what the equivalent of that is in Canadian is. Is it 30 liters? [Both laugh] I don’t know. He said, “You need to do 100 ounces a day.” I said, “I can do that. No problem. I’ll do that this week.” He said, “No. Don’t do that because you’ll fail and then you won’t want to keep doing it and then you’ll just give up. Let’s start at 48 ounces.” I say, “Okay. I can do that.” Guess what? I nailed 48 ounces. Now we’re up to 70 ounces or something like that. I’ve nailed 70 ounces all this week, so far. Yay, me! Let’s dive back into the gratitude. We were just talking about other people starting their gratitude journeys. How do you personally practice gratitude on a daily basis or weekly or monthly? Whatever your consistent frequency is.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (24:45):
I tried a lot of different things. One of the things about being a happiness researcher is I like to try a lot of things that I read about in the literature within myself. I have in the past done a variety of different gratitude practices, things such as having a gratitude journal. I’ve used the app. The app can be great if you’re starting to learn a habit because you can set it to send you push notifications so you don’t forget. Sometimes when people want to keep a journal, it will be out of sight out of mind. If you do have the journal, you’re leaving it out. The app is really great. Where I’m at now, I’m actually trying something new where I had an alarm set on my phone for the afternoon in the middle of the afternoon at 2:22. My phone goes off. You know how you can put a little message in your alarm? Mine says, “Who are you grateful for today?” Not what, but who. I think about that and then whoever popped in my mind, I either send them a text, send them an email, leave them a voice note, pick up the phone and call. Remember we used to do that?
Michael Kurland (25:53):
Wow. What’s that?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (25:53):
I know. One of the things that occurred to me when I was writing in my journal was, I might think of how wonderful my friend was that I had spent some time with, virtually, in this day and age, the night before. How much it inspired me or how touched I was or how connected I felt. I’ll write about it, and it’s so nice. Then one day I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if my friend knew about that? This is the practice that I’m trying right now. I’ve been doing it for only a couple of weeks. I really like it because what it’s doing is it’s sort of taking the practice one step further by sharing with somebody. Not only am I getting the benefits of actually taking the time to reflect, when we share with somebody else, that feeling of connection, can contribute even more to our happiness. Think about if you were on the other side of that. Out of blue, someone sent you a text and just said, “You know, I really wanted to appreciate the conversation we had yesterday and your insight into X, Y, and Z,” or whatever it is. You would feel so great if you got a text like that or an email. Oftentimes when we do nice things for other people, we see this sort of positive feedback loop where I feel good, and they feel good. In terms of right now, things that we can do to make a difference in the world and how I can incorporate gratitude into it for myself. That’s what I’ve been trying, and so far, so good.
Michael Kurland (27:15):
I love that. That’s a great little practice.
Michael Kurland (27:42):
I love that idea of just sharing with someone because of your alarm. We’ve gotten so many good tips on everyone’s different gratitude practice on the season. That’s another one I think I’m going to have to put my back pocket for a rainy day, such as today. I want to ask you: we’ve really kind of talked on the ancillary parts of it, but you’ve done the research. Why is it important to show gratitude?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (28:12):
It really is. Gratitude is highly correlated with happiness. I think we started at the beginning. We did start at the beginning of this call talking about how happiness really has a profound impact in so many areas of our life, from our physical health, our mental health to our relationships. If we’re looking at how do I improve an aspect of my life that has far reaching impact in so many other facets of life? Happiness. We look at how do I increase my happiness? One of the lowest barrier, potent, significant, meaningful things, highly correlated is gratitude. For me, gratitude in and of itself feels good and then the by-product of that is that we are happier. If we choose to be grateful, the other thing is what we focus on tends to expand. We have this negativity bias in our brain. It’s hardwired in from an evolutionary perspective where we tend to focus on the negative things and not so much on the positive or the good. What gratitude does is it gives us the ability to rewrite that story, to start looking for more good. And the more good we see, the more good we see. I really believe that from a personal experience of life, that we all get one shot at life perspective. Looking at life through the lens of gratitude is a much happier life. Not to say there’s not going to be ups and downs or pandemics because all of those things happen. Yet, when we look at all of those situations through the lens of gratitude, it helps us to be more resilient, to be happier. When you think about how do you want to choose to live your life, what can you control? This is something that we can. It costs nothing. It does not take a lot of time and really can have a meaningful, significant impact on life and our health as well.
Michael Kurland (29:54):
You kind of touched on what I’m hearing is you can be a victim or you can be a victor. I’ve said that before throughout the season. It’s just how your perspective on the negative things that may happen to you. How do you view it? What’s that lens?
Michael Kurland (30:12):
It’s great because we’re in this pandemic right now, and you touched on silver lining of the pandemic before. Let’s talk about that for a second. What are you seeing with that? From my point of view, it’s pretty much been a year or at least from our standpoint. It’s been a little bit longer for the world. We’re about a year in of being locked down at home. What are you seeing? What is going through the people out their minds? Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they able to respond better? Are they gaining weight? Are they losing weight? Are they able to focus on themselves and be happier? Are they really going into a shell negativity?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (30:53):
It’s so interesting. It’s really hard to answer that question because so many people are experiencing this pandemic in so many different ways. I just did an interview with a writer in Fast Company. Fast Company and Harris Poll just did a really big survey in the United States looking at happiness. The reason we were having this conversation was she was asking me why in their study did they find that some people were actually happier now than they were a year ago. They said, “This is a shocking piece of information of data,” because one would naturally assume that we’re all less happy because we’ve been locked down. A lot of our freedoms have not been as readily available. We haven’t been able to see a lot of people, and we know that social connections correlate with happiness. She was asking me, “Why is that?” It’s really hard to know for sure if overall this population were happier before or after. What I can say and based on a lot of the conversations that I’ve been having and people that I talked to and the research that I’ve been doing lately is that a lot of the things that we took for granted before the pandemic, we appreciate so much more. If we were having this conversation a year ago, and I said to you, “I went outside for a walk with my sister.” You’d say, “Wow! That’s so great.” If I said that a year ago, you’d say, “Okay. Cool.” Or the opportunity to actually have dinner physically across the table from somebody or to gather as a family. Whereas a lot of family, for some people, family get togethers may have been a sense of dread and an item on the to-do list. Now, to even have the opportunity to see everybody virtually, it is the ray of sun in a day. I will say that a lot of the things that we’ve taken for granted and those small things. I’m using small in terms of not an impact but in terms of time or a sort of low barrier entry. Daily things are what we are really appreciating and savoring, those things. Focusing on those pieces of our life. The time we get to spend with people. When we are able to be free to go to work. To sit at the park. To do all of those things. We are really definitely appreciating those things in a way we never have. We’re having conversations around those things. A lot of conversations around happiness and mental health have been more normalized than ever. There often is a stigma associated with having a lot of these conversations. It’s really, for a lot of people, gone beyond the pre pandemic, “Hi. How are you? Fine. I’m fine,” to now, “How are you? You know what? I’m having a hard day,” and to have that be a normal piece of the conversation.
Michael Kurland (33:34):
Agreed. I’m glad that that’s what you went to. That’s what your research is telling you. That’s what I think, too, is just the things you take for granted. I went and volunteered a couple of weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to do this. There were people, socially distanced, masks on. All that. All that good stuff, but I hadn’t been able to do this. In the past, I would’ve just said, “Okay. I’m volunteering.” However, you think about it. I was so happy to be back, being able to give back and pack some food for some seniors around town. It was just great, and I had taken that for granted. I had taken even the ability of giving back for granted. That’s a great segue for me. I wanted to ask you: why is giving back important to you and to other people and their companies? Why is that important?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (34:27):
It’s so synchronous that you just asked this question. I’m from Canada for those of you listening. I live in Toronto, Canada. We have a show here called The Social, which is sort of the American equivalent of The View where women sit around at a couch or and have conversations. I’m a happiness expert on the show. I was actually writing a script for my next segment, which is all about volunteering. We were trying to figure out how volunteering has changed for a lot of people. That’s one of the things that often has dropped off for people, especially if it was an in-person activity, or volunteering now looks differently. Volunteering is now buying groceries for somebody or making masks to donate. What was really interesting, as I was going into the literature and found that, yes, absolutely giving back benefits the community. It also benefits the person that gives back. What’s interesting though is it’s not specific to in-person. It can be virtual as well. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t do other things. Yes, it does look differently for a lot of people. I was finding some information where a lot of people are missing that piece of their life but have had a hard time labeling what it was because when the pandemic hit, we went into like crisis mode. Figure out where is my money coming from to pay my rent, to buy my groceries. How am I working from home potentially? Often the volunteering or some of those more extracurricular activities were not on the list. Now, here we are a year-ish into it and that void is still there. For a lot of us, we haven’t identified that or found a different way to sort of satiate that need. I think that it’s a really important conversation and a question for all of us to ask is, “How am I giving back or contributing in some way? What does that look like for me? How can I use my skillset to do that?” It really is an important piece of this. In terms of potency of doing things, not only does volunteering make us feel good in the moment, it gives us sort of more feelings of motivation, of being proud of what we do, of accomplishment, of meaning, of purpose. All of those are really important elements in having this as well.
Michael Kurland (36:41):
Yeah. You get a little high. I know I do. It sounds a little bit selfish. That’s why I enjoy it. I enjoy doing it because I know I’m helping. I also feel good about myself.
Michael Kurland (36:51):
I feel happy that I just went and packed some boxes up and put some food. I know some people are going to eat because of that.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (36:57):
Interesting that you just use the word. You feel a little high because there’s a lot of research, they actually call it a ‘helper’s high.’ We see a very similar physiological response in humans when they volunteer or give back. It’s very similar to the high- the endorphin high and the runner’s high- that we’ll often get when we have a really good workout. From a physiological perspective, they are extremely similar, and it’s actually called a ‘helper’s high.’ It’s a real thing. It has really positive effects for us that lasts beyond the time that we do the act, the residue of that, continues to see benefits for us.
Michael Kurland (37:31):
I believe it. I guess I’m addicted to running, working out and helping. I’m better that than other things.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (37:40):
Michael Kurland (37:40):
Dr. Gillian, this has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. I hope the audience has, too. I like to finish the conversation with the same question to everyone, but it’s not going to be fair for you because you already are an expert. The question is: what do you consider yourself to be an expert at? What advice do you have for the audience to become an expert at said thing?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (38:05):
I’ll take happiness out of the equation since we were talking about that. Fair enough?
Michael Kurland (38:09):
Dr. Gillian Mandich (38:10):
I’m not even kidding you. I’m an expert at jigsaw puzzles. This one here is the one I’m going to be starting tonight. It’s a periodic table. Very excited.
Michael Kurland (38:22):
My business partner is jealous. He likes things like that.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (38:26):
When the pandemic first hit, I started looking for ways that I could do things that weren’t on a screen, and I started jigsaw puzzling. I have a whole system. I have boards, and I do a preliminary sort by color. I sort the edges. I find the corners. I love jigsaw puzzling. I think I’ve been reflecting on why is that? Not only did I go to the literature and realize that doing jigsaw puzzles is very connected to productivity, mental health, happiness. It really can help us to down-regulate. It’s an activity to do that is not on screens, which is a big one these days. I don’t like to do the really hard ones where it’s just mountain and water. [Laughs] I like to do ones that are a little bit more fun where you make some progress. I think that for me, what I have become an expert in this past year, I can do a jigsaw puzzle in a night. Over Christmas, I was doing so many jigsaw puzzles that I calculated it out. If I would have had to budget every month at that rate, granted I took time off work over Christmas for the first time in a very long time, I would have been spending $600.00 a month on puzzles. [Laughs]
Michael Kurland (39:38):
That seems like an addiction. What do you do with them when you’re done with them? Do you just break them all down and put them back in the book?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (39:45):
It’s so anti-climatic. Yeah, I’ll usually film like a slow-mo video of me crumpling it, putting it on my Instagram story. Here’s a really good tip. If any of you are listening that are into jigsaw puzzles. I just learned this. Once you’re done, get a large Ziploc bag, and put the pieces in the bag before you put them back in the box. That way, sometimes the puzzle pieces will slip out the sides. This is a good way to keep it contained. I will share my puzzles. I live in a condo, so I don’t have a ton of storage. My storage locker has actually got a lot of puzzles in it. I will give them away to friends, family. We’ll trade puzzles. I’m in a puzzle chat on WhatsApp.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (40:23):
I basically just break them down and give them away.
Michael Kurland (40:27):
I got a buddy. He glues them and frames them and hangs them in his man-cave. That’s the total opposite of that.
Dr. Gillian Mandich (40:35):
I would run out of wall space in my condo at this point. I do so many!
Michael Kurland (40:40):
Dr. Gillian, it has been great having you on the show. If the audience wants to get ahold of you, how can they do so?
Dr. Gillian Mandich (40:47):
Just had over to be my website. It’s gillianmandich.com. My handle on all the socials is @GillianMandich. There’s a contact page on the website if you have any questions, want to get in touch or socials as well. This has been so fun. Thank you so much for having me!
Michael Kurland (41:10):
Thanks for coming on. Audience, until next time.
I’d like to take a minute to thank you, our valued listeners. My intention is for this podcast to inspire you, in some way, to be better. Change starts from within and radiates outward. Therefore, start with being better to yourself and only then will you recognize how to be better others and your community. Thank you for joining us today! If you want to learn more about Branded Group, then visit us at www.branded-group.com. From our website you can follow us on social media. Also, always feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Until next time, Be Better.