Episode 10 Transcript
(Robert Lipsyte) Coming up on "Life (Part 2),” are you happy? Some studies show that older people are the happiest of all. And how can you be that way? We'll find out. And later, Frasier's TV brother, David Hyde Pierce gives a moving, informative account of why the fight against Alzheimer's Disease is so personal for him. Plus, a humorist and why he prefers the serenity of middle age to the terrifying uncertainty of youth. All coming up on "Life (Part 2)."
(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies-engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."
[bass, & plucked strings play in playful rhythm; bright in tone]
(Robert Lipsyte) Welcome to "Life (Part 2)," I'm Robert Lipsyte. A recent survey showed that the most popular course at Harvard was not about world domination; It was about how to be happy. We'll meet the professor in a moment, but first, we wanted to know
what people had to say about what makes them happy.
(man1) I am, generally speaking, a happy person.
(man2) I am not a happy person.
(man3) I have joy in my heart!
(man2) I look at this city, I look at this country, I look at the world; nothing is going right.
(man4) I only need simple things to make me happy. We're in a nice little cafe here having a great cup of coffee and hot chocolate. What's better than that?
(man5) I haven't had a car for two weeks. Try living without a car for two weeks.
(woman1) I think the stress of just trying to be happy is enough to make me pretty unhappy.
(woman2) Don't sweat the small stuff; it sums up everything I've learned over the years.
(woman3) My happiness is mainly based on my kids and where they're heading and the decisions they're making. As a parent, that's it, that's what makes me happy.
(boy1) The thing that contributes to my happiness is being around girls every day, that's a big plus.
(man6) Being alive makes me happy, being alive-- that makes me happy.
(woman4) Eight hours of sleep, that makes me happy.
(man2) I didn't know that I was happier when I was younger, but I actually was. I think people become more happy as they get older.
(man) Younger people are happier.
(man5) It's the mortgage, it's the car.
(man) Managing my money is a constant struggle.
(man5) It's not that I'm less satisfied with my life, but I look back at some of the moments in my 20's, and I think how wonderful that was.
(man2) As you get older, you look at the world and you see what's really going on and you don't have that naiveté that you might have had when you were younger.
(man) You know too much; sometimes knowing too much makes you not as happy, I think.
(man2) What would make me happy? Oh a couple billion dollars maybe, they need to bail me out.
(man) When I was a kid, I thought what would make me happy was having a big house and fancy cars, and that helps, that certainly is one thing that makes one happy. [hearty laugh]
(Robert Lipsyte) Well, I'm very happy to be sitting here with some experts on what it takes to be happier at any age. Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar taught Positive Psychology, that very popular Harvard class I mentioned earlier. His latest book is... Dr. Kevin Fleming specializes in Geriatric and Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. John Cacioppo is Director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. He is the author of... Welcome all to "Life (Part 2)." Now, I take this subject very seriously, but what keeps running through my mind is a kid's song I remember, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." Do we know it, Tal, do we know when we're happy?
(Tal Ben-Shahar) We know when we're happy; we don't know what will make us happy. And this is where the research comes in. So many people mispredict their happiness level thinking that for example, more money or a bigger car, a better job will make them happier, when the case is actually not so.
(Robert Lipsyte) Are you happy?
(Tal Ben-Shahar) I'm happier today than I was 10 years ago. I hope to be happier 10 years from now. Happiness is not an end point; it is a process, a journey, a lifelong one.
(Robert Lipsyte) And in the course of a day and a week and a year, there will be spikes, highs and lows in your feelings about happiness, is that right?
(Tal Ben-Shahar) Yes, just like every other person. There are 2 kinds of people who don't have the emotional lows. And these are the psychopaths and the dead, so actually, having these highs and lows is a good sign and it means we're not psychopathic and we're alive.
(Robert Lipsyte) Kevin, you talked about contentment as something perhaps easy to achieve or more accessible.
(Kevin Fleming) Yeah, I wonder about the term "happiness" because it has a certain burden to it and I'm not sure it's achievable in the way that people think about it. I think it sets an unmeetable expectation to think that you're going to "be happy" and that's how you're going to feel all the time because I think it actually pushes young people, middle-aged, and even older people to seek new experiences or new relationships because they no longer feel that with that person. That they get the sense that they must have that high or it's not happiness.
(John Cacioppo) I think there's change over the life's course. When one is young, they think about happiness as having won the lottery or acquiring that big house or fancy car. As people get older, they get wiser. They are more likely to think of happiness as being contented. Sitting down and enjoying time with a spouse or with grandchildren wouldn't be exactly what the young adult who's thinking of happiness as a lottery win would mean, but it's a source of happiness. So I think the language of happiness actually changes, depending on where you are in your life.
(Robert Lipsyte) I've talked this view with younger people in my family, my kids and they think some of what you are saying is a giving up, that as you get older, it's not really wisdom and it's not wisely adjusting, it's just well, that's what it's going to be.
(Tal Ben-Shahar) I think that's a misunderstanding. People think that the problem with happiness or not finding happiness is having too high expectations. And as you get older, perhaps you lower your expectations, but that's not the issue. The issue is not high versus low expectations. The issue is right versus wrong expectations, meaning if my expectation is that the lottery, if my expectation is that the next promotion will make me happier, then that's the wrong expectation. If my expectation is that spending time with my family, spending time with my close friends, appreciating, savoring life, if my expectation is that that will make me happier, then it will, then that is the right expectation.
(Robert Lipsyte) That's interesting that you're making those kind of judgments which kind of are almost moral judgments of what are the right expectations of happiness and what are the wrong expectations of happiness.
(John Cacioppo) He's actually just talking about what the research shows. It's not so much he's making a judgment of it, it's that if people hold those expectations, they're less happy than if they hold more accurate expectations. Again, we can tell when we're happy and I think contentment can be a source of happiness. And interestingly, it's not that the older adults that I mentioned were giving up, but rather if you have young adults do exactly the same thing, that is, they take the time to smell the roses, they spend the time with their family and friends, they're happier, perhaps even more and for a longer period of time than if they go out and get a promotion and now have to work longer hours as a result.
(Robert Lipsyte) Is there ages of happiness? I mean are middle-aged men happier or less happy than old women or your college students? Is there any correlation between age and happiness?
(Tal Ben-Shahar) There is correlation, generally, middle age is a difficult, tumultuous period, which very often leads to more happiness in older age. Why? Because people understand what the truly important things in life are.
(Kevin Fleming) It is really the crucible, that experience, that makes one into-- if you survive it-- the old person that you could be.
(Robert Lipsyte) Why should middle age, the heart of the Boomer years, be so difficult and tumultuous and perhaps less happy? That's what I heard?
(Tal Ben-Shahar) The reason why there is unhappiness there is because there is confusion. It's almost like a societal transition, these are difficult periods on the macro level, they're also different on the micro individual level. And the question is how we make that transition. There is a lot of fear among middle age, but also among the young today from old age. And people take extreme measures to slow down that process or reverse the aging process instead of looking at it as accepting it as something that is natural and even welcoming it. Because more happiness can actually come during that age and research shows that older people generally, on average, are happier.
(Robert Lipsyte) John, certainly, I'm sure you would say, after I've read your book twice, that the key to happiness, or a key to happiness is that cohort, community, posse, whatever it is you've surrounded yourself with.
(John Cacioppo) All of the above, in fact. One of the things that makes people happy, they often don't anticipate it, is just giving time and attention to other people. And one can do that with a team, with other individuals, that's perhaps multiplied through a reward that you might feel if you did it by yourself.
(Kevin Fleming) I also think people, very often, especially more in the last 20, 30 years, in the United States anyway, lack any kind of pattern, mechanism, method of dealing with pain and suffering. That they don't know how to approach it, that all bad things that happen are some sort of injustice that is beyond their due. And consequently, they're looking for the absence of stress as equaling happiness when, in fact, that's not even a possibility in human life. They've never solved what to me is a core question of just daily life, how do you manage the suffering that is human life? Because a lot of it is suffering. A lot of things that happen do hurt, a lot of things are very difficult. And the peak of it, as you said, hits in middle age, because you're taking care of your children, you may be taking care of your parents, and you're actually taking care of the country, quite literally, paying attention to politics and paying attention to how much money you're spending, and the weight of the world is really on the shoulders of the middle age.
(John Cacioppo) Even when you're miserable, let's say you have physical pain for some reason, you can either share that misery with others, or you can use others in a way to make it a more meaningful experience and then that helps transcend the pain and it's something that both people, if you will, if not find happiness, at least contentment with. There's research on social networks showing that one of the predictors of happiness is, are you around other happy people? And in fact, not only are you around other people, but are the people they know that you don't know happy? That influences your level of happiness.
(Robert Lipsyte) What's the first thing I should do when this roundtable is over to make myself happier?
(Tal Ben-Shahar) Go out and exercise. Physical exercise is, 3 times a week of physical exercise is equivalent to some of our most powerful psychiatric drugs in terms of its effect on depression and anxiety.
(Kevin Fleming) And I think of 2 things I usually advise patients when they seem most unhappy, which is a sense of gratitude is extremely important, gratitude for what you actually do have. But the other is to forgive yourself for your past, which is to not try to keep living as if your past is going to get any better. Or regretting your past as if that would have any effect on it. Those things are unfair to many people who lived through some horrible things. But you can do nothing about them. And the question is, how do you move on despite that and incorporate that into your life story as I overcame this, this is the person I became despite all this.
(Robert Lipsyte) Yeah, John?
(John Cacioppo) I'd take a friend with you to go exercise.
(Robert Lipsyte) You don't want me to be lonely.
(John Cacioppo) That's right.
(Robert Lipsyte) Thank you all so very much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(Robert Lipsyte) And now, being positive in the face of unhappiness. Actor David Hyde Pierce won 4 Emmys for his work on "Frasier" and a Tony for his work on Broadway. But he really should win an award for his work on behalf of the Alzheimer's Association. David's father and grandfather both suffered from dementia. Their caregivers, his mother and grandmother, gave out and predeceased their husbands. David brings a compassionate understanding of how far we've come in the battle against the disease and how far we have to go. David Hyde Pierce, thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(David Hyde Pierce) Glad to be here, thanks Bob.
(Robert Lipsyte) Your own involvement seems so personal. Could you describe how Alzheimer's got to you?
(David Hyde Pierce) Yeah, that's a good way to put it. It got to me originally through my grandfather, my mom's dad, and this was back in the late 80's and at that point, he started showing signs of very strange behavior and memory loss. We as a family noticed it probably around his 85th birthday. I now know, because I know more about the disease, that what we were seeing was a fairly late part of the early stage of the disease. His wife had clearly been dealing with this for many years before that, but we were seeing odd memory loss and suddenly couldn't read a menu at a restaurant, small things like that. There was a Christmas where we noticed for the first time ever he lost a game of chess to my brother and not only did he lose, but he also started moving the pieces in ways that the pieces don't move, and this was a man who...
(Robert Lipsyte) You saw this.
(David Hyde Pierce) Yeah.
(Robert Lipsyte) And what was your thought?
(David Hyde Pierce) Nothin'-- odd, old, forgetful, yeah. And as it developed, he also started to wander, which is common, and my grandmother would have to call the emergency squad to try to find him, and she was no longer able to restrain him to keep him from going and that led to him being put in a nursing home. The last time I saw him he was in a nursing home in New York State. He was in a wheelchair with his arms tied with straps to the arms of the wheelchair looking at cutout pictures in a construction paper book that some helpful volunteer had put together of flowers. Just sort of happily staring kind of blankly at this thing. So that was my...
(Robert Lipsyte) And how old was he when he died?
(David Hyde Pierce) He died, I believe he was 91.
(Robert Lipsyte) Meanwhile, what was the impact on his wife who I guess was caring for him?
(David Hyde Pierce) It killed her. I don't think it's too much to say that she took care of him. He went in the nursing home, she collapsed from a stroke and of course, she was not a young woman either, but the statistics are pretty significant about the physical as well as the emotional and financial effects on caregivers.
(Robert Lipsyte) Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. No, it's not. Now, was your father his son?
(David Hyde Pierce) No, my dad, that was my mom's dad that had that. My dad had a slightly different progression of the disease. His first memories or dementia problems happened because he had had heart surgery. He had quintuple bypass surgery and had a stroke in recovery. And then something else seemed to happen. When dementia is caused by a loss of blood to the brain cells it's called vascular dementia, which can be caused by a stroke, it can be caused by blood clots, whatever. Frequently, especially at that age, a person in his 80's, vascular dementia can go hand-in-hand with Alzheimer's. And ultimately, we moved him to my brother's house. He lived with my brother for a while, but his abilities continued to decline and my brother and his wife and their kids would start to miss work or miss school because Dad couldn't be left alone. And you'd leave a note saying, "Gone to the store, back in 5 minutes." He would forget the note; he'd panic. So they found a great assisted living place 7 miles from their house, moved him there. It turned out to be the best thing in the world. We usually think of that as a bad second choice. In this case, it was a wonderful choice because instead of being in a house where there were very few people around, 'cause people had to work or be in school, he was constantly surrounded by people. He flourished in a social environment. He was always a very social person. Because of the demographics, he was one of the few men among many women, so that was lovely. And he continued to decline. He never went as far as my grandfather did. My grandfather went the whole route of the disease. My dad was, as we think, mercifully, stricken with the flu and got very sick, and my brother called us all. We were all able to come up there and we were all with him and he still knew us when he passed away.
(Robert Lipsyte) These are 2 different faces of the disease, in a sense. Other than tons of money, which I don't have the authority to give to you at this moment, what do we need to do?
(David Hyde Pierce) We need tons of money because the ultimate answer to this is research, as with every one of these major diseases. What we need to do, I think, mainly is recognize how much we need the money. We will recognize this; we're going to recognize this in a very few years because so many people are going to have the disease. Just purely based on how many of the Baby Boomers will get into that statistically significant age where people get it. That ah, nobody will have to go to Congress to testify, and nobody will have to explain the loss to business or the destruction of Medicare or the destruction of the healthcare system, it will be happening. We won't be able to do anything about it. We'll be able to look back and say, "Gee, we knew it was coming, and we didn't do enough to stop it." Aside from how stupid that would be, it will also mean the loss of millions and millions of lives we didn't need to lose.
(Robert Lipsyte) Had your grandfather or your father gone through what they went through 20 years later, would something different have been accomplished? The family would have been more alert, the doctors would have been, what would have happened?
(David Hyde Pierce) So many things would have happened. For one, there are more treatments available. But your first point, that we would have known, although there are still places in this country where people aren't as educated as they should be, including physicians, as educated as they should be, on what Alzheimer's is and what the signs are and what the tests are. But there's a much better chance that as a family, we would have known, we would have been able to contact the Alzheimer's Association because we would have had some sense of what it was, and that the treatments that are available now, to slow down the progression, the drug treatments, and also the difference in attitude that's come over these 20 years. I think that in the early years, we didn't know what this was, families were struggling with this on their own, they were just overwhelmed by this tragedy. Now, it's still something we don't ever want to happen to us, but it's part of our understanding of what happens to people in the world, and I think that gives you more strength and perspective to fight it.
(Robert Lipsyte) 20 years later, would your grandfather and/or your father had a better quality of life, lived longer?
(David Hyde Pierce) Hm. They would have had better quality of life. Would they have lived longer? That I'm not sure. Would my grandmother and my mom lived longer? Quite possibly.
(Robert Lipsyte) They wouldn't have been hiding it from the world.
(David Hyde Pierce) That's right, that's right.
(Robert Lipsyte) The shame, to a great extent is gone?
(David Hyde Pierce) Oh yeah, I think it's something, you see it reflected in the mass media, when you see television shows, "The Sopranos," or "Boston Legal," or whatever, which are not even about Alzheimer's but they have characters who have this disease. There's a reason for that, and it's a reflection, a) of how much it has spread, that it's actually become something that people feel a need to respond to commercially in television, but also that it's not such a stigma, that it's a thing, it is a part of our life that we have to acknowledge and accept and then find a way to fight.
(Robert Lipsyte) David Hyde Pierce, thank you so very much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(David Hyde Pierce) My pleasure, thanks for talking to me.
Here's a Boomer who's acidic tone is no act. Joe Queenan is author of "Balsamic Dreams," a short, but self-important history of the Baby Boom Generation. Now firmly ensconced in middle age, Joe Queenan seems to have developed into a fairly content member of the generation he pickles.
(Joe Queenan) Is there anything good about getting older? Yes, you no longer have to deal with the horror of being young. Young people are terrified that they will not be millionaires by age 30. They worry that they will spend their entire lives hemmed in by appalling coworkers and revolting superiors. They live in dread that their children will turn out to be duds. They fear that they will not earn enough money to live in the style to which they would like to become accustomed, that society will implode, and they are rightfully apprehensive that the person they choose to spend the rest of their lives with will pack up and leave by next Thursday, taking both the iPod and the silverware with them. There are very few good things about getting older, but not being young is one of them. At the ripe old age of 58, I can look back and say that life has rewarded me with a delightful marriage, a fine career, the house of my dreams, and kids who do not sicken me. I also like my job. I figured out how to make a living as a freelance writer 25 years ago, and have been doing it ever since. Indeed, I would like my gravestone to read: "Here lies Joe Queenan, didn't spend a whole lot of time in the office." I no longer have to worry about networking or making new friends. I have all the friends I need and even a few spares warming up in the bullpen. I no longer wonder whether I will ever get to spend Christmas Eve at Notre Dame Cathedral, or visit the Great Barrier Reef, because I've already done these things. And I no longer obsess about learning Sanskrit or the mandolin or Mah-Jongg, as I deep-sixed those jejune dreams years ago. Obviously, I wish that I was 40 pounds lighter and still had all my hair, but given the choice between the terrifying uncertainty of youth and the serenity of middle age, I'll stick with the latter. I may not feel the same way when I'm 68.
(Robert Lipsyte) I've got some good news for you Joe. When I was 68, I felt exactly the same way! For now, that's it for "Life (Part 2)." Thanks for joining us. I'm Robert Lipsyte, see you next time, older and better.
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