Data-Driven Life Decisions with Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Hey, everybody, what's up? It's Chase. Welcome to another episode of "The Chase Jarvis Live Show" here on Creative Live. This is the show where I sit down with amazing humans and unpack their brains with the goal of helping you live your dreams. Now, if you're familiar with this show, I have for more than a decade been talking about trusting your instincts and leaning into the things that feel good, make us feel good, and steering clear of the things that make us feel bad. You will understand why when the book called "Don't Trust Your Gut" was announced by author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, when that was announced I had to have him on the show because obviously that flies in the face of so much that this show was about. He is our guest today. And as you can imagine, we cover a lot of ground on all of life's big questions, things like job and career choice, how to be successful, what does the data say versus what do we intuit? How artists and entrepreneurs can break through. There is data...
that says how this happens, and then there is the cultural belief on how it happens. The same is true with happiness, with love life. It's all in this episode. I cannot wait for you to listen, enjoy, watch wherever you are, whatever, however you're consuming this show. This is a doozy. I can't wait for you to check it out. (upbeat music) They love you! Seth, thank you so much for being on the show. Grateful to have you today.
Thanks so much for having me. Grateful to be here.
So, you're good at writing books. You've written a couple, couple that have I would say bulldozed my brain in a completely new way, and that's not often 'cause I read a lot. And one of the reasons I wanted to have you on this show today is a new book, and the title is evocative as hell. It's "Don't Trust Your Gut." And the irony about saying don't trust your gut on this show is that I've been talking about how much to trust your gut for like 12 years. So, before we-
Well, then I appreciate you being open to having me on the show.
Not only do I want you on the show, but obviously I've been reading your book, and it's brilliant. And the ideas in there I've come to discover don't actually, you know, don't actually demolish my, you know, this idea that I've been espousing for a decade or more. But you have carved out just an amazing insight that I want to talk about. I also want to talk for those who might not be familiar with your work, you had a very successful earlier book called "Everybody Lies," which is also fascinating, and I think we would be remiss not to retrace some of those steps. But before we get into any of these huge ideas that you've put out into the world, I'd like to start off by in your own words, if you could explain to the handful of people who might not be familiar with your work, give a little background on yourself and sort of just orient us in modern culture around you, your ideas, what you stand for, and just a little bit of background.
Okay, so I don't know what I stand for. My career is all over the place. I literally majored in philosophy, then I studied economics, and now I'm a data scientist. And yeah, I like, I basically, the irony of my life, as I'd say, I've largely just followed my gut. (everyone laughs) In my career, and I just, anytime something interests me, I kind of follow it down a rabbit, you know, rabbit trail or whatever I think. So, the first book, "Everybody Lies," was I had found this new tool, Google Trends, which Google released to researchers or really anybody, anybody can just Google Google Trends. It's an amazing tool if you haven't used it. And I'm just like, and it shows anonymous arrogant data, like where, when everybody makes searches. And I'm just like, holy crap, this is the coolest data set I've ever seen because people are so honest on Google, so you see all these wild things that people aren't otherwise saying. Sometimes they're disturbing things. I've done studies on the extent of racism in parts of the United States where people if you ask them in a survey, "Are you racist?" Nobody says they're racist. And yet people are going on Google and typing things like N word jokes in big numbers, and, you know, disturbing stuff and then just abusing stuff, you know, and a lot of stuff on human sexuality just that nobody talks about normally but you learn a lot on Google. So, that was book number one. And then book number two was motivated, basically, I had a lot of motivation for the book, but I would say one of them was, I'm such a huge fan of baseball and I'm kind of like, you know, any baseball fan notices that baseball is just a radically different game than it used to be because of data analytics. So, there's a book and movie famously, "Moneyball," the book by Michael Lewis that just teams could do way better, dramatically over perform by using data analysis instead of relying on their gut or intuition or what scouts said. And it kind of occurred to me that if we face like, think of the big decisions that we face in life, you know, how to pick our romantic partner, how to date, picking our career, how to spend our time, how to be happy, we're like the pre "Moneyball" version of life. Like, we're just kind of winging it all. All of us are just kind of winging it. Like, yeah, this seems good. Seems like a good idea. This feels about right. And I'm like what if we actually took a data driven approach to some of these questions? And, you know, so I reached out to, for this book, you know, a whole bunch of researchers. I think I read, I literally read 1,000 academic studies over the course of writing this book. Most of the academic studies I read I'm just like, I kind of didn't really like them. I'm very skeptical of a lot of academic research I read, but occasionally I'll come across a study that's just like, wow, that just totally blows my mind. And I'm such like a data geek that I literally just make different decisions based on data. Like, I'll read a study and if it's good, a rare study that I think is really good, there's a study I talk about in the book where they show this really convincing evidence of how much being in nature increases your happiness, including just being by water. And literally like I read that study, and the next day I just like started spending more time in nature and started like taking, I live near water. I take a walk like every day by the river. I'm like if the study's convincing and it tells me that nature's gonna make me happy and being by water's gonna make me happy, I'm just gonna do it. So, like this is kind of sharing these insights for people. People may not be as extreme as me where they literally just like read a chapter of my book and then change their whole life based on that. But just know that there is a lot of really cool data out there, really cool studies, really convincing studies that allow you to have a more "Moneyball" of your life approach to big major decisions. And you don't have to wing it quite as much as maybe you thought you did or you have been doing. And, you know, you can really I think learn a lot, and I argue make better decisions based on, you know, what the data actually says. You know, not just what feels about right or what your grandma told you or what you feel, what some friends said like that doesn't really know what they're talking about. You know, there are really better ways to approach some of these big decisions of life.
Amazing. So, there's plenty to unpack there. I appreciate the context. It's very helpful for people who might be new to your work, and to me, in fact, who is familiar with your work because there was a couple things in there that you mentioned, one, you were jesting early on, but you said, you know, "My career is largely a product "of following my gut, my instincts." And then a little bit later in that same sort of intro, you said, you know, data is incredibly valuable for some decisions. So, I think an interesting place to start is how do you know for which decisions data is going to be wildly valuable? And how do you determine for which decisions it is and for which decisions, 'cause presumably there are some that it's maybe not helpful or for there's not enough data. How does one, if I'm interested as a believer in your book, I think your work's incredible, how do I distinguish those places where I seek large data sets and others where I do listen to that voice inside?
I think, so, as you said, "Don't Trust Your Gut." You need a shocking title.
If you read the book, it's not like a debate about, you know, your gut or when your gut's flawed. Some people thought my book was about your gut microbiome. They're like, "Oh, it's another book about, you know, dieting." And it's not that at all. It's more just cool data that's out there that you might not know about that can nudge you in a direction of making decisions. So like, you know, I gave you the example of how much, how valuable, I think, convincing overwhelming evidence. It's by Susanna Morrato and George MacKerron, this happiness project, how valuable being in nature and being near water is, like for one's mood. So, it doesn't mean like every time you're deciding what to do you have to go back to that study and now I need to go to nature. Like, oh my I just celebrated Passover recently. My Passover seder's in an apartment, but I'm gonna go by a lake instead because that makes me happy. Like, obviously I want to celebrate Passover with my family. That was a reasonable decision. But it just nudges you in the direction of like, if it's close, tie goes to nature. Tie goes to being near water. And, you know, keep track. If you're kind of having, you know, I talk about I've struggle with depression a lot in my life. If I'm depressed, like there are all these, you know, I include these charts, things that make people happy; being in nature, being with friends, like kind of obvious things, but, you know, taking hikes. If you're not doing those things, like step back and question whether you're doing the things that data says actually makes people happy. And if you're not, then that's kind of a simple adjustment you can make. And, you know, I talk about the research on, they've analyzed tax records, and they've found like the best places to raise kids for improving your income. And I think Chase mentioned the top is Seattle where he lives. So, you can feel happy. I don't know if you have kids, but you've done well. So you don't have to make any adjustments based on the data. But, you know, I don't think you should read that study or, you know, read that analysis and say, "Oh, tomorrow I'm gonna pack up my bag "and move to Seattle," in part because that conflicts with other evidence, for example, the importance of your friends for happiness. So, if you've met a whole bunch of, if you live near a whole bunch of your friends, then just packing up to Seattle where you may not have friends is gonna, you know, may go against that, And then, you know, the importance of having a job. So, if you don't have a job set up in Seattle, you don't just like pack up, "Oh, I'm gonna move to Seattle, "and then my kids are gonna do great and everything's set." But then there are these things within the study where they actually said, okay, what are the areas that, what are the qualities of the areas where kids really thrive? And it tends to be the adults in that area. Like, there are all these random things. If you live on a block, if a kid lives on a block where a lot of the adults return their census form, which is just like a random thing that they happen to have data on, that correlates highly with kids doing well. And I think what that says is kids kind of model themselves around their neighbors. And if people are returning census forms, they're probably responsible people doing well in life and that's gonna be good for kids. And there are more extensive studies where they've found that little girls who grow up in the neighborhood of adult female scientists are more likely to become scientists themselves. And black boys who grow up around black fathers, even not their own father, successful black fathers are more likely to be successful themselves. So, what I take from that study is not, you have to reorient and move to Seattle, and there's actually a website where you click on the actual block and how good exactly it is for your kids. Like, I think that might be taking the "Moneyball" for life approach a little too seriously. Although some people might do that. That's fine. But from that study, if I had kids, which I don't, or when I have kids, I'm gonna be like, you know, I'm just gonna think a little more about the adults I'm exposing them to because like, you know, any time you bring a friend over that could change your kid's life. Like, your kid may adopt their career. So, if you're, you know, if you're like, kind of like, wow, I would like if my kid turns into that person, just expose your kids more to those people because in some ways it's kind of outsourcing parenting a little bit because any parents will know that kids half the time they, sometimes they love you and sometimes they think you're the biggest idiot in the world and they rebel against you. So, sometimes they wanna do what you do, and sometimes they wanna do the exact opposite of what you do. But usually the other people you're exposing to them, like very rarely are your kids like, "Your friend's an idiot," or "Your friend's the dumbest person." They're always like, "Yeah, that person seems cool." So, you know, they're gonna have more of an impact than you realize, and just think a little more about who you're exposing your kids to because the data shows, like these really cool studies of millions of people have shown these really subtle patterns that little girls are literally being exposed to female scientists, not their parents, and more likely to become female scientists. Well, if I wanted my girl to be a, if I had a daughter and I wanted her to be a female scientist, I'd use that study and be like, "Oh, my female scientist friends, "hang out with my daughter and talk about what you do," because it could really have a big impact. So-
It does. Oh, sorry. Sorry to step on you there. There was a little delay.
Yeah, so "Don't Trust Your Gut" really is just these big findings that are in these enormous data sets. Just keep them in your mind to like nudge you a little bit. That's kind of the goal of reading the book is not that you're gonna stop everything and again move to Seattle or, you know, immediately buy a lake house because being by water makes people happy. Like, you know a lot about your situation that, you know, reasons that you wouldn't tomorrow buy a lake house or tomorrow move to Seattle, but there are definitely, you know, should you use this data to expose your kids if you have them to more adult role models? Yes. Should you use this data to spend more time in nature, more time near water? Absolutely, yes. And there are many more examples. You know, romantic. I have a whole chapter on what to look for in a romantic partner, and I think that's a definite area where the data can nudge people in a healthier direction.
Well, let's peel back some of this 'cause you've put a lot on the table there. Thank you very much for doing so. That was my ask. Gives us a lot of options to dig into the conversation now. One of the most profound things that I heard, if you take, for example, the idea that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, or more generally what you just said about exposure to people and to, you know, high quality people that are interested in things that you want your friends, peers, family members, et cetera, to be interested in. Do you believe, and does the research suggest that for example, this show, part of my goal with this show originally, confessionally was very self-serving. I wanted to, I was just, you know, as a photographer and a filmmaker, I was spending all of my time around other photographers and filmmakers, and it seemed like the idea pool was tiny. So, I started looking beyond my industry to the people who were inspirational to me, doing amazing things and all sorts of different, you know, different disciplines from data science to sports performance to, you know, politics and spirituality, the whole realm. So, is it fair to say that shows like this or other shows, if you can get even a para-social relationship with someone who is interesting, different, whose life reflects some of the values and the experiences that you want in your own, is it a reasonable assumption based on your data that this experience that we're having right now and sharing with hundreds of thousands of watchers and listeners, is there value there? Does the data suggest that there's value there?
Yes. And I think also, so you say, you know, photographer, filmmaker, the other thing that data shows is the value of kind of being out there in the world and hustling. So, one of my favorite studies that I talk about in "Don't Trust Your Gut" is this study of more than 400,000 painters. And they tried to study the career trajectory of 400,000 painters. And they said, why does some rise to the top and others kind of languish? And they looked at the presentation styles, like the galleries the painters went to of those that languish and those that succeeded. And the languishers by and large presented their work over and over again at the same galleries, at the same like one or two galleries. And they're just like, here. And they spend all their time on their paintings. And then they just like, and then they're like "here" to this one gallery and "the world's gonna find me," and the world's not looking for the next great painter. And the painters who made it in contrast, they did a relentless and exhaustive search for their break. So, they were presenting everywhere. They weren't necessarily going to the Guggenheim 'cause they were unknown. The Guggenheim wasn't inviting them. But anywhere they could make a connection, they went there. And they were just traveling like bees looking for their break. And inevitably they stumble on some gallery that gave them their big break, and then they met the right person. Then they eventually they were in the Guggenheim and their career was kind of on cruise control. So, I think kind of what you're describing of being out and about in the world meeting with people is definitely good for advancing your career, and it's also probably good for happiness. There's really cool studies on the importance of other people, you said you're by yourself a lot, for happiness. And these studies they've broken it down by extroverts and introverts. So, I consider myself like a 99 percentile introvert. And I'm a writer in part because I'm like hell is other people. I just wanna be left alone with my computer, and, you know, the data and this research and studies and that's it. And they've done these studies where they found that extroverts and introverts both get just as big of boost in their mood when they're around people, compared to when they're by themselves. So, basically introverts to some degree are lying to themselves in thinking that they don't need other people to be happy. They're social creatures, we're all social creatures. And I think we can fool ourselves into thinking we're, you know, islands, and that's just not true. I think talking to people, being out and about, both can help your career, the research says. You know, networking and meeting people can help you in your break, but just being with people is really good for your mood. So, yes, I support both your living in Seattle and your hosting a podcast.
I'm gonna call you. This is like my fortune teller. I'm gonna call you and check in on all the things I'm doing and you can judge me based on the data that you're seeing.
Well, I would like to dig in just for a second on that idea that you shared about the painters. I'm a huge advocate of community. I feel like community created my break as a photographer and as an entrepreneur. And I've written at length in my most recent book "Creative Calling" about the role of community. In fact, 25% of the book, one quarter of it was dedicated specifically to this largely misunderstood point about the role that community and others and building community and seeking, you know, the mentorship and connection and a home for your work, the role that that has. Now, this is just one of gazillion studies that, you know, you're actually interested, my understanding, is in the data of all things. So, is it reasonable for me to ask you a couple more questions about that study around painters? Or are you gonna park it right there and say, "Chase, I know no more data that suggests "on how to be successful as a creator "or as an artist or an entrepreneur."
No, you can quiz me on the study.
Okay, okay, cool. So, let's go one level deeper. And you talked about introvert and extrovert, and I understand the difference to be how we recharge. Not that we don't get some sort of a benefit from it, but that when we recharge after a social event. So, I wanna speak to those that identify as an introvert. Is it possible to be, to stand in your introversion and still get all of the benefits and still recognize in the data that by getting your work out there in the world that you are more likely to be successful? Is that a reasonable statement? And is that supported by that study that you just talked about?
Yeah, I think, it's not just getting your ideas out in the world. So, the painter study, remember, it's not just that they presented, it's that they presented to a wide range of places. So, I think the mistake that some people make is doing the same thing over and over again. And, you know, you're still out in the world, and you're going, but it's the same gallery, it's the same show. You're kind of repeating yourself. And if you haven't gotten your break at this one gallery for five years, to think that tomorrow you're gonna get that break at that gallery is a mistake. Whereas the painters that are more hustling to try to find some gallery that's gonna, you know, to try to find some spot that's gonna give them break and meeting a wider range of people I think is a bigger, is a bigger lesson from that. As for introverts and extroverts, I think, you know, look. I think these studies, again, you shouldn't read a study and be like introverts and experts get the same mood boost from being around people, therefore, even though I'm an introvert, now I'm gonna go party every night. You know, like, I've been wrong this entire time in defining myself as an introvert and think I need to recharge and needing new energy. But what I do again is you read these studies, it's just a little nudge. It's a little nudge. And okay, is it possible since so many introverts seem to underestimate how much pleasure they get from other people, and they may be right about, you know, energy recharge and managing their energy, but just is it possible that maybe I should say yes a little more often to social events and maybe I'm not, you know, being by myself as much as I currently am isn't quite as good for me as I think it is. So, it's all these little nudges. Even the painter study, I don't think, you know, you read that study and you're an artist, and you're like, oh, you know, next week I'm gonna fly to Zimbabwe to show my work. Because like I read this study on showing things to a wide range of galleries. You just read that and say, well, look, is it possible that I'm doing the same thing over and over again and not getting my break, and I need to do, I need to be more wide ranging in what I'm doing in life and reach to a wider, you know, range of people. It'll be the same in your podcast. You said you have a wide range of guests, and that's probably a good thing. But if you were interviewing like the same type of person over and over again or even the same person over and over again, and it wasn't really catching on, then I'd say, have you thought of, you know, a wider range of people and a wider range of ideas who could spread your message further to different people who didn't know about it? So, it's, again, it's not that these studies tell you, you know, taking the lesson for the study that you have to do exactly what the people in the study did to maximize your career success or your happiness or your parenting success. That's the wrong way to think about it. But almost always when I read a really, really good study, as the studies I talk about are, I nudge myself a little bit in my understanding of the world and make different decisions based on that.
That's to me the punchline of your work. And what I, you know, again, I'm sort of throwing these out there for you to bat 'em around and get to the point that this is not like for every, you know, piece of science there, you could probably find some other science, you talked about the different validity and quality of studies, that says something different. But what it seems like is on the, you know, some of these areas of our lives where we do have questions or where we're not breaking through, we're not experiencing, this turning and like examining the data that is readily available can help us. And so, that makes me want to ask before I get into some other topics of your recent book, it makes me want to ask about Google Trends, right? You discovered this thing and anyone can type it in. Is that a treasure trove? Is that a potentially an unlock for anyone? Or are we better off reading the refined research of a professional like yourselves, what they say about data and trends and whatnot? So, should we look at secondary material or should we go to Google Trends and say, if we're upset and not feeling well, the role of location in success, should we type, or in happiness. The role of our spouse in a successful marriage say. Are you advocating or would you advocate that we, you know, use Google Trends to help us find this? Or are we better left leaving that to the experts and reading secondary studies?
I do think you have to be cautious with what you listen to. As you said, a study can tell you anything. And, you know, one of the reasons I read, you know, 1,000 studies in writing this book is that I wanted to like really... I didn't just, I think a lot of people, so I consider "Don't Trust Your Gut" a self-help book. And I've noticed that a lot of self-help books is somebody has an idea, and they're like, well, we need, self-help books that are "science based," someone has an idea and then they're just like, well, I need a study to justify this, so they just Google for a study that shows them this. And there's a study that can tell you anything. It's just not a very good study. So, my approach in this book was instead to be like, I'm gonna read every study and only tell you about studies that I'm like, that gets through every filter I have as being really convincing. So, before I wrote every chapter for "Don't Trust Your Gut," I had no idea what I wanted to say. I didn't know what I wanted to say about happiness. I didn't know what I wanted to say about parenting, about dating, about anything. And I read every study. I'm like, well, these are the ones that really I believe are credible. And this is kind of the main point that you can take away. So, I think like if you're not an expert, finding people, outsourcing it to people who you trust can be really reliable. As for Google Trends itself, there are definitely people in marketing who have had a lot of success. If you just have a little kind of experience in marketing or data science. So many people have told me like, "I read 'Everybody Lies,' "and I hadn't known about Google Trends. "And I started telling my boss. "They're like, 'This is amazing, tell us things.' "And I told them all these cool things "from the Google Trends data "about how our products taking off or not taking off, "what questions people have about our business." It is somewhat of a confusing site. And some people when they first go to it are like, what does this actually mean? I don't quite get it. But there definitely are, you know, if you have just a little experience and you're willing to put some time into it, I think you can kind of leap ahead of people by understanding these tools. But I talk about, you know, "Moneyball" in the book, and there are like different players in the "Moneyball" revolution in baseball. So, Bill James was the guy who did all the original studies and had his computer simulation, and his computer simulations and found out that walks were undervalued and steals were overvalued and bunts were overvalued and college pitchers were undervalued. All these really cool things. And then Billy Beane didn't have any data analysis training, but what he had is good curation ability. He's like, that's actually a really good idea, and he could spot talent. So, he is the guy who ended up running the end also an ability to run an organization and deal with the owners and win over the players. So, he kind of was able to, you know, outsource the data to other people, but still get the benefits in improving his organization. So, I think, you know, people can do a lot of that if you have talent in spotting whether people know what they're talking about and also a good bullshit filter, that could be really valuable. 'Cause, you know, everybody's just throwing out these ideas, this study, that study, this study, that study. But like, do you really, these people seem to really know what they're talking about. Then you can really use the insights that have been found to your advantage, so.
There's gotta be a product of resonance, right? Does this resonate with, for example, Billy, I forget his last name who was able to basically operationalize some of the data. There's the raw data, and then can you make this work for you and how does it work for you? And like you said, I'm not gonna drop everything and move to the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. But, you know, knowing that if I take my kids into nature, that they have a higher propensity to be, you know, happier or more content or whatever. So, if we use that as a guidepost. I would like to, if we can, turn for a moment here to some of the key chapters in the book. Because what I love the way that you oriented the book around some of life's big decisions. You mentioned earlier choosing a mate, we've already talked about deciding where you live. So, if you're open to it, I mean, I want to, if you wanna put a bow on this last chapter of our conversation, the space here is yours to do so. But I am interested in getting into some of these very specific things because you chose incredibly wisely these very powerful areas to go deep on. And I do wanna reserve some time there. So, floor is yours if you wanna put a bow on where we've already been.
Totally, totally, totally happy to move on to individual topics.
Okay. So... Let's talk about the leaving your couch, and you've already hinted about it. It's sort of getting into neighborhoods. And we are just coming out of a pandemic, right, where we were largely secluded. Pandemic, again, is a global scale sort of by definition. So, it's fair to say that everyone who's listening and watching was affected. And yet we were largely stuck on our couch for all kinds of, you know, lack of information, lack of understanding for many of the right reasons. We did not want to expose ourself to a harmful virus. What role do you think that has played on our ability to get off the couch and what the data says about, you know, being outside relative to our current state?
Yeah, so it's a great question. So, the first point is they now have, I include in my book, it's again this happiness project that George MacKerron co-founded, a researcher Alex Bryson. It's the coolest project I've ever come across in all my, you know, talking to researchers where they ping people at different times of the day, and they say, what are you doing, who are you with, and how happy are you? And they built this amazing data set more than three million points of basically people's happiness. And they divide, they have 40 activities, and you can actually see, okay, these activities tend to make people happy. And one of the striking things of the chart is that active activities, things that require a little energy, and particularly if they're outdoors, so hiking, exercising, sports, playing sports, taking walks, going to a show, these rank very, very high on the happiness activity chart. And things that don't take a lot of energy and frequently don't involve leaving your couch, so watching Netflix, playing computer games, lying on your couch, relaxing, when you actually ping people in the moment, and you say, how are you feeling? People tend to say they're feeling very bad, feeling not very particularly happy when they're doing these things. And when they ping them and they're taking a walk, they're out with their friends on a hike, whatever, they tend to say, they're really happy. And people tend to underestimate how much happiness these active activities give us. There have been studies that show before you exercise, you ask people how happy are you gonna be during your exercise routine? And they tend to underestimate before the exercise compared to when they're actually exercising. They give a much higher score when they're actually doing it. So, I think one of the dangers that we all face in our quest for happiness is we're kind of lazy. And, you know, everybody knows that feeling, like your friends say, do you wanna come over and hang out? Or, you know, we're going apple picking, as my friends recently invited me to, or we're going on a hike, or we're gonna play basketball. And it seems fun where you're just like, I don't have the energy. I wanna lie down and watch Netflix. Like, everybody can relate to that feeling. And I think that's an instinct that you really have to overrule way more than you're doing if you wanna be happier. Like, anytime it's close, go in the direction of the doing something, of the getting off your couch, of the seeing friends, of the being out in nature, going on a hike. Like, you're gonna have that ugh feeling that everyone can relate to, but the data says you're gonna actually, when you're doing it, feel a lot happier. And as for the pandemic, it's been kind of hard, but like the interesting thing is the things that really make people happy, let's say hikes in nature, during the whole pandemic, that's been an option. You know, of anything being outside, being in nature has been, you know, easier because a lot has been harder to be indoors. You know, so I think there really hasn't been much of an excuse I would say to not get off your couch and get, you know, go outside, take a walk, see some friends even if you have to socially distance or do it outdoors. So, I think one of the reasons that probably many of us have been so depressed during the pandemic is the pandemic has allowed us to lean into this instinct that we all have that we all need to fight more of lying on your couch and watching Netflix or playing an iPhone game, or, you know, taking another nap or whatever. Like, if left our own devices, I think we're all gonna, we all, you know, feel that urge to be really lazy. And I think the data's pretty clear that that's bad for your happiness. And, you know, my solution to this that I don't know if anybody's gonna follow is I purchase an iPhone cover with the happiness activity chart. So, you can actually, anytime I'm like thinking of going out, I can look at my chart and be like, oh yeah, you know, should I go on a hike with my friends? Absolutely. That's gonna give me eight points of happiness. Whereas playing a computer game is gonna give me negative four points of happiness or whatever. So, you know, just really keeping in mind, there is actually evidence that just telling people, they've done experiments where they've just told people what activities tend to make people happy. And the people who are told this actually reported higher levels of happiness afterwards. So, that's kind of what I'm hoping comes outta this book, that there literally is value in this information that if you're looking at this chart, you know, the happiness activity chart, or you're looking, you know, at the happiness geography chart, the happiness people chart, what actually makes people happy, all from this happiness project of, you know, MacKerron and Morrato, if you're actually told this stuff, you're more likely to be happy. Just, you know, just knowing that. Just knowing the activities that make people happy, the place that make people happy, the people that make people happy, really can improve, lead to better decisions that will improve your mood. So, a pandemic or no pandemic, everybody needs to go on more hikes. I think that's really clear in the data. And, you know, there's no pandemic that's gonna make hiking impossible. So, it really is, you know, the type of thing that does tend to make people happy, and that people, but people don't wanna do 'cause it seems like a lot of energy.
Incredible insight. So, you've given us two pots of gold already. This pot of gold that says that the artists and creators, entrepreneurs who will work hard to get their work out in the world through numerous channels, that is invaluable takeaway for our audience, as is this parallel conception around happiness. That is a great hack to have the happiness chart on your iPhone case. That one's going down as all time hack. What should I do right now? See phone. See the back of the phone. Notice you're not going into the phone to get all the, I call that the good news machine, sarcastically, your phone. So, this is a great hack. And that brings me to this idea of in chapter, gosh, what chapter is this? I think it's six. Scroll to it here. You talk about hacking luck, and you open that chapter with some guests who've been on the show before Joe Gebbia, the founder of Airbnb. I'm wondering if you can talk to us about hacking luck.
Yeah, so there's no question, there's a lot of luck in life. And if you think of, you know, if you think of your own experience, like the best things that have ever happened in your career, in your romantic life, in your social life, it was a total lucky break. Like, you know, just think romantically, so you had to both sign on to this app if you met online, and you had to both, you know, click on each other, and you had to both be free that night. And there are all these things that go into a particular, you know, situation happening that if they didn't happen, it wouldn't have worked. But there is evidence that you can increase your luck. There's a phrase Sahil Bloom has, "increase your luck surface area," which I really like. Basically, the more opportunities you have for luck, the more luck you're gonna get. And one of my favorite ways to do this is putting more quantity into the world. So, there have been studies also of artists that one of the biggest predictors of artistic success is a huge quantity of work. You know, so we see these artists, and we know their five hits, and we don't realize they had 400 pieces out there, and 395 of them the world just said, no, we don't care about this. But five of them, the world loved. And frequently the artists themselves don't realize beforehand which of their pieces are gonna be judged hits. There are these famous stories. I'm a huge music guy and a big Bruce Springsteen fan. And Bruce Springsteen's album "Born To Run," include the song "Born To Run," now considered one of the greatest albums of all time, before he released it, he begged his manager not to release it. He thought it was a piece of garbage and he was embarrassing himself by putting it out into the world. And thankfully his manager said, no, no, no. We're putting this out there. And thank God, Springsteen put the work out there and allowed the world to appreciate it. So, I think one way to get kind of luckier is putting more work out there in the world and not pre-rejecting yourself basically. And this is clear in dating as well. So, sometimes I'm walking down the street, and, you know, so I live in New York City, and I walk down the street, I'm always asking myself or frequently asking myself, how did that person end up with that person? And it's a little superficial. It's like, how did that, you know, 10, how did that three end up with that 10 or whatever. And, you know, it's not a great question to ask, but that's kind of where my mind always goes. And my conclusion based on some data I've seen is that people who date way out of their league just asked way more people out and got rejected more. And there's some data that if a one, literally a one as judged by other people sends a message to a 10 in an online dating site, the odds of hearing back are something like 14% if the one is a man and for a woman it's like 30%, which are definitely lower than 50/50. So, you're more likely to not get a response than get a response. But those odds aren't quite as low as I might have suspected. I would've thought like a one's asking out a 10, it's like a one in 10,000, it's a one in a million, it's a, you know, you need divine intervention to hear back. And, you know, 14%, that's not that terrible. And the math actually shows if you have a 14% chance of something and you try it like 30 times, you're almost certainly gonna get a yes at that point. So, if you're a, let's say not the most conventionally attractive male or female, and you ask out 30 people who you really wanna date, you're very likely to get a yes in that, almost certainly gonna get a yes in that group of 30, let alone if you ask out out 100 people, 200 people, whatever. So, if you can kind of get over the fear of rejection from the world and put more stuff out in the world, you're gonna get a lot luckier in life. That's kind of I would say the simplest life hack, life luck hack is just being willing to be rejected more, and then occasionally you'll get this shocking acceptance that will seem like great luck but was really the result of many, many asks, most of which didn't go well.
That is so prudent to our audience for chasing your dreams, for putting work out into the world, for getting rejected as you gave us already the example of the artists and the galleries, and there's the apocryphal, maybe one of the studies that you're referencing is the ceramic teacher who graded one group of the class on one final project that everybody obsessed over, and the other one was the volume of work. And obviously the group that played at the higher volume had more work and the work was on average much better. You know, the idea of practice and repetition and all those things come into play. And it's so easy for us to look at these studies, to hear you on the show here saying, this is not even close. This is very available data that says this. And yet, we sometimes refuse to follow it, which is where I wanna pick on just for a second. Why when we know something is good for us, we know that it's better to eat an apple than a box of red vines, is there anything in the data that tells us why about following data or science? I mean, this is a little bit of a meta question.
I mean, yeah, there are some things where even knowing it it's hard to do. You know, there's some things that aren't. So, there's actually evidence from dieting that particular foods, what food is good for you or bad for you, there's much more variation than you think. So, sometimes, you know, you think that, you know, chocolate is bad for you and a banana is good for you. And they've actually tracked individuals over time and how their glucose response to different foods, and they found that some people chocolate's good for them and bananas are bad for them. So, they may be in a, so sometimes just knowing the information, you don't have these hard choices where you really are faced with something delicious and something not delicious and have to pick the not delicious thing, which is always gonna be hard. Things like that, the best, those studies I haven't seen a compelling, sometimes when you don't have a compelling study, you just have to go with what works for you or what works for your friends. So, the food thing, the best thing that's worked for me by far is just not having the red vines in my house or not at my apartment. So, if you don't buy, like there are certain foods that I just know if I have Skittles, fruit snacks, Cheetos, or Doritos, like I'm gonna eat the entire thing in one sitting. There's nothing that's gonna get in the way of that. So, the only option I have is just never ordering them and, you know, I kind of keep my fridge and pantry fairly empty and have a lot of fruit in them and things that I don't really, that aren't that tempting. So, you know, I think that's kind of the, there's a good book, "How To Change" by Katy Milkman, which goes through the best science on how to change habits. And it has some, some interesting things, things like that, making it easy to change your habit, giving yourself little rewards. So, if you have the, if you have the banana, then reward yourself with doing something fun afterwards, so it doesn't have to be so torturous. There are some evidence based paths to fighting habits that you can follow a little bit. But I think the things I'm talking about in my book, I'm hoping are things that just knowing the data by itself will be enough to make decisions. The things I'm asking people aren't that hard, I think. They're really just more in the category of like, oh, chocolate's actually good for you and bananas are bad for you. Where just knowing that it's not a challenge to necessarily do it. So, you know, the things related to happiness, you know, the section on happiness, I conclude one of the profound insights from happiness research is that the things that make people happy are like really easy and obvious. So, I conclude the happiness chapter with saying that the data driven answer to life uncovered in, you know, smartphone pings and these enormous data sets only available in the last five years, the data driven answer to life is to be with your love on an 80 degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex. And that's not, like telling people that, I'm not asking you to like lift 200 pounds. In many ways, I'm asking you the opposite. Like, instead of working your ass off 80 hours a week at a job you don't like trying to get rich, which probably isn't gonna make you happy anyway, like have you thought of spending this weekend by a lake with your romantic partner, with your friends, and taking walks and doing these things that really are more likely to make you happy. So, I think there are sometimes where the information, it does lead to painful choices, and then you have to get into this how to change stuff and these books on habits, and there have been about 30 books in the last three years on how to change your habits. So, you could read any of those. And you're really struggling to do things that go against what you wanna do. But sometimes data really just does tell you, give you the freedom to do things that maybe you suspected all along, or, you know, that aren't that huge a challenge and that might actually be easier for you and maybe more tempting for you. So, data doesn't always have to push you in the direction of doing these hard, impossible things. I mean, the whole point of a life hack is it should be kind of easy. And I think some of this book has, I would argue easy life hacks. You know, the whole parenting section suggests that most of the things that parents do don't actually matter that much. And as I said, the biggest thing is the adults you expose your kids to. So, that's kind of, I would argue that learning that should make parenting much easier. You don't have to worry that much, confide enough, relax a lot, but then just, hey, invite your friend over and talk to your kid about the thing they do that's pretty cool that you might want your kid to follow.
That's part of, you just put your arms around what I found so brilliant about the work. Just straight up. It's not that there's, again, James Clear who wrote "Atomic Habits," been on the New York Times best seller list for, I think, you know, seven years straight or something. It's an amazing book, and there's a lot of detail about how to make things easier. But some of these, the areas around happiness, around relationships, around career, just some of the big buckets that we've talked about in our conversation today, that should be eyeopening to anyone who's watching and listening right now. And just to restate, if you're walking down a path right now, sitting in traffic on the subway listening to this, you can, this is not a cure-all, but you can be happier by doing, you know, a handful of things that we've spoke about in this show. You can create your own luck by increasing the number of at bats that you have, whether that's in relationships, or getting your ideas out there, or having people buy your, or represent your art. This is the profundity of the work, which I think I wanna put an exclamation. You said something in this last little response that is also worth talking about, and this is probably a reasonable place to, reasonable concept as the last one for us to explore here in our conversation today, which is, the chapter title is "The Misery Inducing Traps of Modern Life." And that chapter opens up with the quote, "Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy." I would invite you to speak about these two points, this misery inducing traps of modern life and everything is amazing, but nobody is happy.
Well, it's totally true. So, everything is amazing, but nobody is happy is this great bit by Louis CK. Although Louis CK was kind of disgraced when I wrote this. My publisher wanted me to take him out. I don't know. That seems like a little too cancel culture-y for me, so I'll just say it on the podcast that it was a Louis CK bit that was totally hilarious and you should watch it. He talks about how, you know, we live in this wondrous age where you can go on an airplane and look at your iPhone, but everybody's miserable and always complaining about how everything's terrible. And if you actually look in the data, everything is amazing, and nobody is happy is basically true in the sense that GDP is basically doubled in the last 30 years. And the same time they've been asking people, how happy are you? And the percent of people say they're very happy has been flat or if anything gone down a little bit during the COVID pandemic. So, that's like a striking contrast. How can a society get so much richer and the people not be any happier? And I think one of the answers to the puzzle is indeed that there are these traps that get in our way of our happiness, that modern life keeps putting in front of us and prevents us from doing these simple things that make us happy. Like I said, the data driven answer to life, be with your love on an 80 degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex. And almost all those things have gone down over time. People are having less sex than they've ever had. People are living by themselves without romantic partners. People are spending less time socializing. People are working way harder and not working with their friends. And these, you know, and the world is placing these traps in front of us. Social media is a great example. There have been studies, they've randomly paid people to stop using Facebook. And people who stopped using Facebook, their depression levels just dropped. Like, there really is strong evidence that using social media does lead to depression, anxiety, lower levels of happiness, and people are using social media more and more. Work is another example where work is a dangerous path to happiness because when, the studies show when people are working, on average they tend to be very, very unhappy. Actually in the happiness study that I referenced, of 40 activities work is the second lowest on the chart, only being sick in bed ranks lower than that. And, you know, people like to say that work is this path to happiness and great fulfillment, and it can be for some people. But I think workaholism is really dangerous and can really get in the way of happiness. And people have to be very cautious. If you're commuting to a job and working 60 hours, 70 hours, and you don't like the people you work with, it's gonna be really hard to have a happy existence under those conditions. And yeah, there are innate urban life, you know, as I said, nature tends to make people happy and we spend less and less time in nature. More and more people are living in cities, which is not a path to happiness. So, I think, you know, really understanding that the modern world is kind of putting these traps in your way that are kind of false, they're bright, shiny lights that the data says are unlikely to make you happy. And keeping that in mind, again, I'm not recommending that people all of a sudden, you know, quit their job, they have a family and a mortgage, or just like read my book and are like, oh, work makes people miserable, now I'll quit and just, you know, be a bum or whatever. But you need to keep in mind that modern life is tricking you in many ways in offering you these paths to supposed happiness that the data says don't actually make people happy. And, again, it's a nudge. It's not read this book and change everything, quit your job, but should you, you know, do a deep think. If you're, you know, in a job, spending way too many hours in a job you don't like with people you don't like in a part of the world that doesn't allow you to do some of the things that make people happy, it's definitely worthy of a deep think, that the data suggests that you're not on a path that's likely to make you happy.
Amazing. Thank you so much for being a guest on our show, for sharing. This is truly, it feels like a culmination of so many previous episodes where we're able to talk about things like work and life and happiness and romantic partners and career choices and, you know, success and fulfillment all through the lens of data. Congratulations on another brilliant, brilliant book. I think we should take a second for those folks who may not have been tracking. Earlier work is "Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, "and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are." Fascinating, you know, stuff about... I'll just, I'll leave it. The fact that everybody lies is a brilliant topic, very seductive, and the work is incredibly insightful. And especially again, this most recent work, congratulations on "Don't Trust Your Gut: "Using Data To Get What You Really Want In Life." Now, we are big fans of your work here. This community will rally during your pub week to buy these books. Is there anywhere else you would steer us to be more familiar with your work? Is it all in the books? Do you like us to know other, like how should we think about the-
The books are-
The books are probably the best place. I also have a Twitter handle, Seth. S-E-T-H-S underscore D. I have a hyphenated last name. So, SethS_D would be the other place to, I guess, find my, keep up with my work. I occasionally tweet articles I write, or I'm thinking of starting a newsletter. So, I'll maybe, you know, think of moving, think of doing that and let you know if I do. And maybe we can talk about more of these things. 'Cause I've kind of, I've become obsessed with this idea that data is a better path to life. And I think it goes to your point that it's not, I agree with your point that it's not like, never trust your gut or your gut instinct is always wrong, but just know these kind of secrets about the world that are hidden from you but are now being uncovered in data sets.
Yeah, this is, you know, the punchline from my representation of the show is that there's plenty of science that says that your gut actually does know, that it's way more intelligent than your brain because it includes your brain and all these other data inputs that we've, you know, at a cellular level, it's why it's trust your gut, right? Because you feel it in a much larger sphere and sense than you do just through intellect. But to supplement those powerful feelings with data, specifically on these big questions about happiness and fulfillment and, you know, career choice. Just a lovely layer for us to add in. Thank you so much for being a guest on the show. Seth, you're welcome any time. Just keep putting out this great work. We'll always have you back. Grateful. And for everybody out there in the world, from Seth and yours truly, we hope you have an amazing day. And until next time, we'll be happy to be in your ears. Thank you very much for listening to the show. (upbeat music)