Is it always the best decision to trust your gut?
When it’s time to make a simple decision, (where to eat, what car to buy, where to go on vacation) we rely on resources and data at our disposal. We check reviews, compare ratings, and ultimately decide based on available data. So why does it often feel like we’re winging it when it comes to bigger life decisions? Am I happy? Am I working on the right things? Is my career on the right path?
What would our lives look like if we took a data driven approach to some of life’s bigger questions?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an author, data scientist, and speaker who studies what we can learn about people from new, internet data sources. His 2017 book “Everybody Lies,” was a New York Times Bestseller and an Economist Book of the Year. Seth is a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times and has worked as a visiting lecturer at the Wharton School and a Data Scientist at Google. His new book, “Don’t Trust Your Gut; Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life,” hit the market in May of this year, and is now available for purchase.
In this episode, Seth discusses why you don’t need to wing it as much as you think you have to. There is legitimate value to following your intuition and trusting your gut at times. However, good decisions come from considering and comparing all information and resources available to make sure you’re arriving at conclusions with broad and detailed perspectives in mind.
Seth gives examples of online data sets that can be utilized when contemplating big decisions. There is so much information readily available to us that can help nudge us in the direction of the right/healthy/smart decision if we take the time to look. If we arrive at decisions from strictly a gut sense, we run the risk of acting from an emotional and reactive state, rather than from a well thought out, data driven, logical perspective.
Seth’s call to action is to observe the data that is readily available to you. Use them as guide posts. If we consider the collective experience of others in our own decision making, we start to understand ourselves on a deeper level; and that is a powerful place to make decisions from.
Listen to the Podcast
Chase: Hey everybody, what's up? It's Chase. Welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on CreativeLive. 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.
Chase: 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 is 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, however you're consuming this show. This is a doozy. I can't wait for you to check it out.
Chase: Seth. Thank you so much for being on the show. Grateful to have you today.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Thanks so much for having me, grateful to be here.
Chase: So you're good at writing books, you've written a couple that have, I would say bulldozed my brain in a completely new way, and that's not often because 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 12 years. So before we-
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Well then I appreciate you being open to having me on the show.
Chase: 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 demolish 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 just orient us in modern culture, around you, your ideas, what you stand for and just a little bit of background?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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. The irony of my life is, I'd say, I've largely just followed my gut in my career. And just anytime something interests me, I follow it down a rabbit trail or whatever, and I think... So the first book, Everybody Lies, 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 it shows anonymous aggregate data, 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 or 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 disturbing stuff. And then just abusing stuff 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 motivations for the book. But I would say one of them was, I'm such a huge fan of baseball and any baseball fan notices that baseball is just a radically different game than it used to be because of data analytics.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 occurred to me that if we face, think of the big decisions that we face in life, how to pick our romantic partner, how to date, picking her career, how to spend our time, how to be happy. We're like the pre-Moneyball version of life. We're just winging it all, all of us are just 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?"
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And so I reached out to, for this book, a whole bunch of researchers. I think I literally read a thousand academic studies over the course of writing this book. Most of the academic studies I read I didn't really like them. But I am 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 a data geek that I literally just make different decisions based on data. I'll read a study and if it's good, a rare study that I think is really good, there's a study talking about a book where they show this really convincing evidence of how much being in nature increases your happiness, including just being by water.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And literally, I read that study and the next day I just started spending more time in nature and started taking, I live near water, I take a walk every day by the river. I'm like, "If the study's convincing and it tells me that nature's going to make me happy and being by water's going to make me happy, I'm just going to do it." So this is sharing these insights for people. People may not be as extreme as me where they literally just 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 for your life approach to big major decisions.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And you don't have to wing it quite as much as maybe you thought you did, or you have been doing. And you can really, I think, learn a lot and make, and I are, if you make better decisions based on what the data actually says. Not just what feels about right or what your grandma told you or what you feel. What some friends said that doesn't really know what they're talking about. There are really better ways to approach some of these big decisions of life.
Chase: 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 of things in there that you mentioned, one you were jesting early on, but you said, "My career is largely a product of following my gut, my instincts." And then a little bit later in that same intro, you said, "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, because 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?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: I think, so as you said, Don't Trust Your Gut, you need a shocking title, if you read the book, it's not a debate about your gut or when your guts flawed. Some people thought my book was about your gut microbiome. They're like, "Oh, it's another book about 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 I gave the example of how valuable, I think convincing overwhelming evidence, it's by Susanna Merado and George MacKerron, this Mappiness project. How valuable being in nature and being near water is for one's mood. So it doesn't mean every time you're deciding what to do you have to go back to that study and now I need to go to nature.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Like, "Oh my, I just celebrated Passover recently. My Passover Seder is in an apartment, but I'm going to go buy a lake instead, because that makes me happy". Obviously I want to celebrate Passover with my family. That was a reasonable decision, but it just nudges you in the direction of if it's close, Ty goes to nature and Ty goes to being near water and keep track if you're having... I talk about, I've struggled with depression a lot in my life. If I'm depressed there are all these, I glue these charts, things that make people happy, being in nature, being with friends, being like obvious things, 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And if you're not, then that's a simple adjustment you can make. And I talk about the research on, they've analyzed tax records and they've found the best places to raise kids for improving your income. And I think, Chase mentioned what 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 I don't think you should read that study or read that analysis and say, "Oh, tomorrow I'm going to 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 or you may not have friends is going to, may go against that.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And then the importance of having a job. So if you don't have a job set up in Seattle, you don't just pack up, go move to Seattle and then my kids are going to do great and everything's set. But then there are these things within the study where they actually said, "Okay, what are the qualities of the areas where kids really thrive?" And it tends to be the adults in that area. 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 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 bottle themselves around their neighbors.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And if people are returning census forms, they're probably responsible people doing well in life and that's going to do be good for kids. And they're 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 and 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. 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 going to be like, "I'm just going to think a little more about the adult I'm exposing them to," because any time you bring a friend over that could change your kid's life.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Your kid may adopt their career. If you're like, "Wow, I would if my kid turns into that person." Just expose your kids more to those people because in some ways it's 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 want to do what you and sometimes they won't do the exact opposite of what you do. But usually the other people you're exposing to them... Very rarely are your kids like, "Your friends an idiot or your friends the dumbest person." They're always like, "Yeah, that person seems cool." So they're going to have more of an impact than you realize.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And just think a little more about who you're exposing your kids to. Because the data shows 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-
Chase: Oh, sorry to step on you there. There was a little delay.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 nudge you a little bit. That's the goal of reading the book is not that you're going to stop everything and again, move to Seattle or immediately buy a lake house because being by water makes people happy. You know a lot about your situation that, reasons that you wouldn't tomorrow buy a lake house or tomorrow move to Seattle. But there are definitely, 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, 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.
Chase: Well, let's peel back some of this because 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 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. Just 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.
Chase: So I started looking beyond my industry, to the people who were inspirational to me, doing amazing things and all sorts of different disciplines from data science to sports performance, to politics and spirituality, the whole realm. 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?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Yes. And I think also, so you say photographer, filmmaker, the other thing that data shows is the value 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, they had this, the career directories of 400,000 painters and they said, "Why does some rise to the top and others languish?" And they looked at the presentation styles, the galleries the painters went to of those at languish and those that succeeded. And the languishes by and large presented their work over and over again at the same galleries, one or two galleries. And they spend all their time in their paintings. And then they're like, "Here," to this one gallery and the worlds got to 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: So they were presenting everywhere. They weren't necessarily going to the Guggenheim because they were unknown. The Guggenheim wasn't inviting them. But anywhere they could get, 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 on cruise control. 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. The coolest of these studies they've broken it down by extroverts and introverts.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: So I consider myself a 99 percentile introvert and I'm a writer in part because I'm like, "Hell is other people. I just want to be left alone with my computer and 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 a boost in their mood when they're around people compared to when they're by themselves. So basically introverts to sub degree are lying to themselves in thinking that they don't need other people to be happy. They're they're social creatures, we're all social creatures. And I think we can fool ourselves into thinking we're islands and that's just not true. I think talking to people, being out and about, both can help your career, the research says. 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.
Chase: I'm going to call you, this is like my fortune teller. I'm going to 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 share 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 lengthen in my most recent book, Great of 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 the mentorship and connection and a home for your work, the role that has.
Chase: Now, this is just one of gazillion studies that 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 going to 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."
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: No, you can place me on the study.
Chase: 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. I want to speak to those that I 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?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Yeah, I think it's not just getting your ideas out of the world. So the painter study, remember it's not just that they presented because 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're still out in the world and you're going, but it's the same gallery. It's the same show you're repeating yourself. And if you haven't gotten your break at this one gallery for five years, to think that tomorrow you're going to get that break at that gallery is a mistake. Whereas the painters who are more hustling to try to find some gallery that's going to, try to find some spot that's going to give them break and meeting a wider range of people I think is a bigger lesson from that.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: As far introverts and extroverts. I think these studies, again, you should read a study and be like, "Introverts and extrovert, get the same mood boost from being around people. Therefore, even though I'm an introvert, now I'm going to go party every night. I've been wrong this entire time in defining myself as an introvert and thinking I need to recharge and needing you energy." But what I do again is you read these studies, it's just a little nudge. It's a little nudge and is it possible since so many introverts seem to underestimate how much pleasure they get from other people? And they may be right about energy recharge and managing their energy, but is it possible that maybe I should say yes, a little more often to social events. And maybe I'm not being by myself as much as I currently am, isn't quite as good for me as I think it is.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: So it's all these little nudges, even the painter study. I don't think you read that study and you're an artist and you're like, "Oh next week I'm going to fly to Zimbabwe to show my work because 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 reached a wider range of people." It will 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 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 a wider range of people and a wider range of ideas who could spread your message further to different type of people that didn't know about it."
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: It's not that these studies tell you, taking the less of 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 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.
Chase: That's to me, the punchline of your work and what I again, I'm throwing these out there for you to bat them around and get to the point that this is not for every piece of science there, you could probably find some other science. You talked about the different validity and quality of studies and that says something different. But what it seems like is on the, 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 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 a 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?
Chase: 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? 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 use Google Trends to help us find this? Or are we better left leaving that to the experts and reading secondary studies?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: I do think you have to be cautious with what you listen to. As you said, a study can tell you anything. And one of the reasons I read a thousand studies in writing this book is that I wanted to really... 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 well, we need... A lot of 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." They just Google for a study that shows them this. And there's a study that tells you 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 going to read every study and only tell you about studies that gets through every filter I have as being really convincing."
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 and I'm like, "Well, these are the ones that really, I believe are credible. And this is the main point that you can take away." So I think if you're not an expert, finding people, outsourcing it to people who are, 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 experience in marketing or data science. So many people have told me, "I read Everybody Lies and I hadn't known about Google Trends. And I started telling my boss. And 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 quiet I get it." But there definitely are, if you have just a little experience and you're willing to put some time into it, I think you can leap ahead of people by understanding these tools. But I talk about Moneyball in the book and there are 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 bonds were overvalued and college pitchers were undervalued, all these really cool things.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And then Billy Beam 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 and also an ability to broadened the organization and deal with the owners and win over the players. So he was able to outsource the data to other people, but still get the benefits in improving his organization. So I think 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. Because everybody's just throwing out these ideas, this study, that study, this study, that study. 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.
Chase: There's got to 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 going to drop everything and move to the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. But knowing that if I take my kids into nature, that they'll have a higher propensity to be happier or more content or whatever.
Chase: So if we use that as a guidepost, I would like to, if we can turn from a moment here to some of the key chapters in the book because, what I love the way that you oriented some of 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 want to, if there's any, if you want to 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 want to reserve some time there. So floor is yours if you want to put a bow on where we've already been.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Totally happy to move on to individual topics.
Chase: Okay. So let's talk about the leaving your couch and you've already hinted about it. It's getting into neighborhoods and we are just coming out of a pandemic. Where we were largely secluded pandemic again, is a global scale 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 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 being outside, relative to our current state?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Yeah. So it's a great question. So the first point is they now have, I include my book, it's again this Mappiness project that George MacKerron co-founded, a researcher Alex Bryson. It's the coolest project I've ever come across in all my 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. 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 high on the happiness activity chart.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 to it. 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 going to 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 lazy.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Everybody knows that feeling like your friends say, Do you want to come over and hang out? Or we're going apple picking," as my friends recently invited me to or, "We're going on a hike or we're going to play basketball." And it seems fun where you're just, "Ah, I don't have the energy. I want to lie down and watch Netflix." Everybody can relate to that feeling. And I think that's instinct that you really have to overrule way more than you're doing. If you want to be happier. 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, you're going to have that feeling that everyone can relate to. But the data says you're going to actually, when you're doing it, feel a lot happier.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And as to the pandemic, it's been hard, but 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 of anything being outside, being in nature has been easier because it's been harder to be indoors. So I think there really hasn't been much of an excuse I would say to not get off your couch and 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 taking another nap or whatever.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: If left to our own devices, I think we're all going to, we all feel that urge to be really lazy. And I think the data's pretty clear that's bad for your happiness. And my solution to this, that I don't know if anyone's going to follow, is I purchase an iPhone call with the happiness activity chart. So you can actually, anytime I'm thinking of going out, I can look at my chart and be like, "Oh yeah, should I go on a hike with my friends?" Absolutely, that's going to give me eight points of happiness. Whereas playing a computer game is going to give me negative four points of happiness or whatever. So 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And the people who are told this actually reported higher levels of happiness afterwards. So that's what I'm hoping comes out of this book, that there literally is value in this information. That if you're looking at this chart, the happiness activity chart or you're looking at the happiness geography chart, the happiness people chart. What actually makes people happy all from this Mappiness project of the Karen and Barrato, if you're actually told this stuff, you're more likely to be happy. 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 moods. So a pandemic or no pandemic, everybody needs to go on more hikes. I think that's really clear in the data and there's no pandemic that's going to make hiking impossible. So it really is the type of thing that does make does tend to make people happy and that people, but people don't want to do because it seems like a lot of energy,
Chase: 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 here? I think it's six, let me 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Yeah. So there's no question, there's a lot of luck in life. And if you think of your own experience the best things that have ever happened in your career, in your romantic life, in your social life, it was a total lucky break. Just think romantically you, so you had to both sign on to this app, or if you met online and you had to both click on each other and you had to both be free that night. And there are all these things that go into a particular 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 going to get.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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. 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 going to be judged, hits. They're 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 Board to Run, now considered one of the greatest albums of all time. Before he released it, he begged his manager not to release it.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 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 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 how did that 10 end, how did that three end up with that 10 or whatever.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And it's not a great question to ask, but that's 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 ask 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 send a message to a 10, an online dating site. If 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 then get a response. But those odds aren't quite as low as I might've suspected. I would've thought a one's asking out a 10, it's a one in 10,000. It's a one to million.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: You need divine intervention to hear back. And 14%, that's not that terrible. And the math actually shows if you have a 14% chance of something and you try it 30 times, you're almost certainly going to get a yes at that point. So if you're, let's say not the most conventionally attractive male or female, and you ask out 30 people who you really want to date, you're very likely to get a yes in that. Almost certainly going to get a yes in that group of 30, let alone, if you ask out a 100 people, 200 people, whatever. So if you can get over the fear of rejection from the world and put more stuff out in the world, you're going to get a lot luckier in life. I would say the simplest life hack is, 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 asks. Most of which didn't go well.
Chase: That is so prudent to our audience for chasing your dreams for putting workout 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. The idea of practice and repetition and all those things come into play.
Chase: 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 want to 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: There are some things where even knowing it's hard to do. There are 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 think that 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 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 going to be hard. 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 my apartment. There are certain foods that I just know, if I have Skittles, fruit snacks, Cheetos or Doritos, I'm going to eat the entire thing in one sitting. There's nothing that's going to get in the way of that. So the only option I have is just never ordering them and I 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. There's a good book, How to Change, by Katy Milkman, which goes through the best science on how to change habits.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And it has some interesting things, things like that, making it easy to change your habit, giving yourself little rewards. 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, chocolates actually good for you and bananas are bad for you." We're just knowing that, it's not a challenge to necessarily do it. So the things related to happiness, the section on happiness, I conclude one of the profound insights from happiness research is that the things that make people happy are really easy and obvious.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: So I conclude the happiness chapter with saying that the data driven answer to life uncovered in 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. Telling people that, I'm not asking you to lift 200 pounds. I'm in many ways, I'm asking you the opposite. Instead of working your off 80 hours a week at a job you don't like, trying to get rich which probably isn't going to make you happy anyway. 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 some times where the information does lead to painful choices, and then you have to get into this, how to change stuff.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 want to do. But sometimes data really just does tell you that you, could give you the freedom to do things that maybe you suspect it all along or that are at that huge, a challenge. And that can, 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. The whole point of a life hack is, it should be easy. And I think some of this book has, I would argue easy life hacks.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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. I would argue that learning that, should make parenting much easier. You don't have to worry that much, can lighten up, relax a lot, but then just, "Hey," invite your friend over and talk to your kid about, about the thing they do. That's pretty cool that you might want your kid to follow.
Chase: 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 list for I think 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 that 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, this is not a cure-all, but you can be happier by doing a handful of things that we've spoke about on this show.
Chase: 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 or represent your art. This is the profundity of the work, which I think, I want to put an exclamation. You said something in this last little response that is also worth talking about. And it misses 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Well, it's totally true. So everything is amazing, but nobody is happy. It's this great bit by Louis C.K. Although Louis C.K was disgraced when I wrote this. So my publisher wanted me to take him out, I don't know. That seems a little to cancel culturally for me, but so I'll just say it on the podcast. That it was a Louis C.K bit that was totally hilarious and you should watch it. That he talks about how we live in this wondrous age where you can go in an airplane and look at your iPhone and then, 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?"
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: And the percent of people say they're very happy, has been flat if anything gone down a little bit during the COVID pandemic. So that's, 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 and 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 day driven answer of 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.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: People are spending less time socializing. People are working way harder and not working with their friends. And the world has placed 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. 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 the study show when people are working, on average they tend to be very unhappy. Actually in the mappiness study they referenced, of 40 activities, work is the second lowest on the chart. Only being sick in bed ranks lower than that. And people like to say that work is this path to happiness and great fulfillment.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 going to be really hard to have a happy existence under those conditions. Urban life, 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 really understanding that the modern world is putting these traps in your way that are false.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 quit their job. They have a family and a mortgage, or just read my book and are like, "Oh, work makes people miserable now I will quit and just 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 do a deep think, if you're 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.
Chase: 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 success and fulfillment all through the lens of data. Congratulations on another brilliant book. I think we should take a second for those folks who may not have been tracking.
Chase: Earlier work is Everybody Lies, Big Data New Data and what the internet can tell us about who we really are fascinating stuff about, 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, how should we think about becoming a supporter?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: 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 Seth, S underscore D would be the other place to, I guess, find my, keep up my work. I occasionally tweet articles I write or I'm thinking of starting a newsletter. So I'll maybe think of moving, think of doing that and let you know if I do. And maybe we can talk about more of these things. 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, never trust your gut or your gut instinct is always wrong. But just know these secrets about the world that are hidden from you, but are now being uncovered in data sets.
Chase: Yeah, this is 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 at a cellular level, that 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 career choice, that just a lovely layer for us to add in. Thank you so much for being guest on the show, Seth, you're welcome anytime. 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 happy to be in your ears. Thank you very much for listening to the show.
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