The Future of Wellbeing: A Conversation with Deepak Chopra

The Future of Wellbeing: A Conversation with Deepak Chopra


[MUSIC PLAYING] MICHELLE A. WILLIAMS:
Good morning. AUDIENCE: Good morning. MICHELLE A. WILLIAMS:
Welcome to The Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan
School of Public Health. I’m Michelle Williams, dean of
the faculty here at the school, and I’m delighted to
see you all here today. I’m also delighted to
welcome our online viewers around the world,
including those tuning in from India, Hong Kong,
and other sites globally, as well as those
in our community who are spread across
the campuses in Boston and in Cambridge. Today, we are gathered to
discuss an essential concept that, at times,
may feel elusive, and that concept is well-being. I’m deeply honored and
really humbled to welcome our distinguished guest,
Dr. Deepak Chopra New York Times bestselling author
and founder of the Chopra Foundation. Dr. Chopra is a world-renowned
expert on well-being. He has recently
published a new book, The Healing Self, A
Revolutionary New Plan to Supercharge Your Immunity
and Stay Well For Life. This is a book that’s coauthored
with Harvard’s own neurology professor, Dr. Rudy Tanzi. This event this morning
is presented jointly with PRI’s The World and WGBH. And I am pleased to
welcome The World’s Carol Hills, our moderator for today’s
conversation with Dr. Chopra. We are streaming live on the
websites of The World and The Forum, as well as other
social media platforms. We will look at our
world today as we tend to focus on the
problems that many of us confront here at the
school and beyond. For example, think about
the problems we confront– chronic and infectious
diseases undermining the health of populations; natural
disasters strike, often hitting hardest the most
vulnerable populations; social injustices and
health disparities sadden and frustrate us
all; and mental health, a key part of overall
wellness, tends to go under-appreciated or even
unappreciated in some contexts. Yet, psychosocial
stress, depression, and anxiety impact
hundreds of millions of people around the world. So what can public health
do about these challenges? How can public health help? Let me offer a few
examples to illustrate how public health can help. We can recognize that healthy
lives across the life course are not just those lived
without sickness and disability. We can help people engage in
wellness across their life spans. What do we mean by that? We can help people
by easing access to affordable and
nutritious food. We can help by promoting
social connectedness. We can help by offering access
to good quality health care, and we can help by
educating people about the importance
of managing stress and getting enough
sleep and exercise. We can also encourage
an holistic approach that supports these
foundations with respect to personal health, as well
as within healthy communities. And perhaps most
importantly, we can help to bring evidence
that drives policy to promote systems
and approaches that bolster the well-being
of entire populations. We here at the
Harvard Chan School consider well-being as
such an important part of what constitutes a healthy
world that we have identified well-being and nutrition as
key components of our research mission. We will begin today with Dr.
Chopra giving brief remarks here at the podium,
and then he will join Carol Hills in a conversation. We have already received a
large number of questions in advance of our
session, and Carol will share some
of those with you, along with questions contributed
by our local viewing audience here. To start today’s program
I get to do an Oprah. I’m sure she’d like to know
that her name is a verb as well. [GIGGLING] I have an opportunity
to have a little fun. And what I’d like to
do is ask everyone here in the auditorium to
look at the postcards at the desk in front of them. And if your postcard has a
sticker on the reverse side, then I’m happy to
share with you that you will receive a complementary
copy of The Healing Self after our program. So read it, enjoy it,
be well, have fun. It is now my great
pleasure and honor to welcome Dr.
Chopra to the podium. [APPLAUSE] DEEPAK CHOPRA: Well,
thank you, Dr. Williams– Dean Williams. And thank you all
for being here. I’m very honored,
privileged, and always happy to come back to Boston. My training was here in internal
medicine, endocrinology, and then neuroendocrinology. So I was telling Dean Williams
that my career has spanned internal medicine,
endocrinology, discovery of neuropeptides
as molecules of emotion, getting into mind-body
medicine, integrative health, and well-being, and today,
addressing the hard problem of consciousness. So I’d like to
start off by saying that as biological organisms, we
are already a holistic process. All biological organisms
function holistically. The human body has more
than 60 trillion cells, which is more than all the
stars in the Milky Way galaxy. A human body can think
thoughts, play a piano, kill germs, remove toxins, make
a baby all at the same time, while monitoring the
movement of planets and stars as its own biological
rhythm– circadian rhythms, seasonal rhythms, gravitational
rhythms, even lunar rhythms. That homeostasis,
or self-regulation, is our natural state. And the extreme end
of the spectrum– if homeostasis of
self-regulation, which is a dynamic process of
non-change within change is one extreme, then
low-grade chronic inflammation is the other extreme,
which leads to disease. Only 5%– only 5% of
disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, which
means they cannot be stopped. 5%. If somebody has a BRCA gene,
for example, for breast cancer, that’s a fully-penetrant gene. And one needs to do remedial
measures as prevention. Angelina Jolie has gone public
with her preventive mastectomy and so forth, because
she had that gene. Now, what most
people don’t know, other than those who
are really involved, is that’s true of 95% of
chronic illness in our world. Even mutations that
lead to disease are not fully penetrant. So if you have,
say, 30 identified genes for Alzheimer’s, only
three are fully penetrant. Hundreds of genes are involved
in various types of cancer. Less than 5% are
fully penetrant. And the fact that
the risk factors for heart disease,
stroke, inflammation, cancer autoimmune illness,
infectious diseases are actually common, they’re
the same risk factors that we’ve been looking at
for cardiovascular disease for the last 35 years. So with that understanding of
our body as a holistic process, a body as a verb– and I’d like to say that nouns
are conventions of language, but they do not reflect reality. Reality is always an activity. A body is an activity. Even this is an activity at the
level of atoms and particles. But biological organisms are
so dynamic at maintaining self-regulation that if we put
attention to just a few things, so the neural sciences
of neuroplasticity– neuroplasticity means that
your conscious choices regulate your neural networks. And if you make
something a habit, you create something called
long-term potentiation of neural networks
that basically help to regulate
your own biology, and so neural feedback,
cardiac feedback. But just simple
things like meditation will change the way you look
at self-regulation and healing. The word “healing” comes
from the word “holy.” Healing, holy, wholeness,
health are the same word. It’s reminding yourself of
your connection to wholeness. So with what we know of
neuroplasticity, epigenetics, which means we– every experience that you
have– every experience, including the experience
you’re having right now, even if you’re online and
watching it from India– every experience is modulating
not only your neural networks but your gene activity. And similarly, your
microbiome, which is two million extra genes, is
responding to every experience you have, whether it’s sleep or
food or exercise or meditation or yoga. So over the years,
I’ve identified what I call the six
pillars of well-being. These are not necessarily
in order of importance. They’re all equally important. So the first is sleep. We can go into details
at any time on that. Second is stress management–
mindfulness, meditation, and many other
contemplative techniques that have been part of wisdom
traditions all over the world. And we have now
original research to show that even
a week of practice of mindfulness and meditation
will up-regulate your gene activity. Some genes will go up 17-fold– genes for wound healing,
genes for homeostasis. And genes that are responsible
for inappropriate inflammation will go down. We have shown that
telomerase, the enzyme that regulates your genetic
clock, in some cases, will go up by 40% in people
who practice contemplative self-inquiry, mindfulness,
and meditation. There’s no drug
that will do that. So that’s the second pillar. The third is movement. And if you add to that
practices, like yoga and breathing prana
and practices, you can specifically target
several different organs in your body. Because yoga has the knowledge
of which visceral nerves are activated with which
kind of movement– yoga postures, or asanas,
as they’re called. So movement is the third pillar. The fourth pillar is emotions. So we know that stress,
and anger, and hostility, and guilt, and shame,
and depression all aggravate inflammation,
and raise blood pressure, and cause sticky platelets,
and everything that goes wrong when homeostasis is disrupted. But we now also have evidence
that love, compassion, joy, equanimity, a peaceful mind, and
even keeping a gratitude list will decrease
inflammatory markers and activate the genes that
are responsible for homeostasis and self-regulation. So emotions become very
practical as a way to harness emotional and
social intelligence for optimal self-regulation. And finally, two more things,
which one is nutrition– Michelle mentioned. When I was training
in internal medicine, people called me and said,
you know, I changed my diet, and my arthritis went away,
or my asthma went away. I didn’t believe them. I had no basis to understand
how that happened. But now that we know that the
microbiome, two million genes in your gut, the first
thing they see is food. And if your food
is contaminated, has too much fat, too much
sugar, too many chemicals, or pesticides, or petroleum
products, or processed food, then you have dysbiosis,
inflamed microbiome that causes inflammation in the body. Your microbiome, your genes,
and your epigenetic mechanisms are all influences– the metabolic activity
in your body right now. So nutrition becomes
very important. And then, Carol was asking
me, I think, earlier, do I experience jet lag
because I travel so much? And I think this is a
very important point, that our biological
rhythms are very important in self-regulation. And so that we now know that
if you eat within the eight hours of daylight, if you
get good sleep at night, and if you ground yourself,
even by touching a tree or walking barefoot
on the earth, or on grass, or on the beach, or
even using a grounding device, that will decrease
inflammation in your body, avoid disruption of
circadian rhythms, which is what jet lag is all about. So with these six
pillars that I mentioned, you can hone in on your
biological sustainability. But if you want to go
beyond that to what, essentially, is the mission of
the School of Public Health, then you have to
address bigger problems. There is no social well-being
or community well-being in the absence of
personal well-being, because we are units of society. So if we want to move in the
direction of some of the things that were mentioned
by Dr. Williams, if you want to move in the
direction of a more peaceful, just, sustainable,
healthier, and joyful world, then we have to look at what
creates for purpose-driven well-being, or what we
call career well-being, people who have happy
careers, who are on purpose, who are engaged with other
people who complement their strengths, who have shared
vision and are emotionally bonded– create for extremely
successful careers. Then, you have social and
emotional and community well-being, which
is, do you have a close group of family and
friends that you can rely on? Are you socially engaged? As far as communities
are concerned, do you offer some
service as a volunteer? Do you gather in a
community to envision the future of your community? Do you have some kind of
practice, spiritual practice that you do together? In India– and I know people
are watching in India– we use these three words,
Seva, Satsang, and Simran. Seva means service. Satsang means a
gathering of people who are looking for ways to
improve well-being and search for what is called reality. And Simran is some kind of
contemplative self-inquiry. Those are the essence
of community well-being. Social well-being,
career well-being, community well-being,
and, ultimately, financial well-being are linked. Financial well-being
doesn’t have to do with how much money you
make, but the security that you have if you have default ways of
ensuring that you will be fine if you fall sick, that you
have employment, that you have disability, that
you have insurance, and that you can look forward
to security as you get old. And finally, the
spiritual well-being, which is another topic– who are we? The hard problem
of consciousness– is consciousness a
byproduct of our brain, or is it more
fundamental in nature? Is consciousness the
source of all experience? And that’s what I’m focusing
my work on now totally, looking at the hard problem
of consciousness and understanding
our consciousness both personal and collective as
a source of insight, intuition, imagination, creativity,
vision, higher purpose, and the power of intention. So when we look at well-being–
and it’s measurable. Everything I’ve said is
measurable– social well-being, community well-being,
financial well-being, physical well-being,
emotional well-being. In fact, now, in addition to
doing perceived stress scores, we’re also doing spiritual
well-being stress scores called understanding your relationship
with the ecosystem at large– not just the social
ecosystem, but our connection to nature and, ultimately, our
connection to the universe. It’s a big topic. Public health should be
the number one discipline for anyone wanting to go into
the future of well-being, because it’s going
to be predictable. It’s going to be precise. It’s going to be
preventable, in many cases. It’s going to be
participatory, and it’s going to be processed-oriented. And it’s going to require more
than academic institutions. It’s going to require a
global public awareness and require a global
action plan, which I think is feasible
through blockchain technologies and
other social networks, so that we can collectively not
only envision but practically embark in the direction
of a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier,
and joyful world. I was sharing with Michelle
some of our research now at the Chopra Foundation
through meta-analysis of big data. It seems the number one epidemic
of our civilization is stress, but it’s also connected
directly or indirectly to almost every
illness that you can think of and even to social
violence and conflict. And ultimately,
even climate change can all be linked to
our collective behavior. It’s time to take
schools of public health with leadership such
as this here at Harvard School of Public Health,
come together collectively, and bring about a
shift in well-being. And I’ll just end there. Well-being is more
than wellness. Wellness is having a
good cholesterol level and good blood pressure. But well-being is a
state of consciousness where you measure the
quality of your life in all the different buckets that
I’ve mentioned– physical, emotional, spiritual, community,
social, financial, and career. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] CAROL HILLS: Well,
It’s great to be here. I welcome everyone. I’m Carol Hills. And I wanted to
unpack a lot of what Dr. Chopra is talking
about in his new book and in his remarks. I think most of us in this
room are familiar with wellness and mindfulness, and there
is a whole genre of books and films and documentaries. And in many ways, it’s
focused on the individual and what individuals can
do to take responsibility for their own health. And I wonder, how do we– I want to frame this
conversation by thinking about, how do we apply these things
in the world of public health and where we’re talking
about populations? And we’re talking very
often about populations without access,
living in poverty, people whose lives
are full of stress and have very
little to work with. And so I wanted to start with– you mentioned one thing
in your opening remarks about blockchain technology. And I wonder if you
could elaborate on that and where it concerns
public health. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Well,
blockchain technologies are self-regulating
movements and technologies for just about everything. So one can create blockchain
technology– in fact, I’m in the process
of doing that, and I was talking to
Dean Williams about it– that you could create
a social movement where you have reward
systems for well-being and social engagement
and service. And those reward systems could
be recognition from, say, the Harvard School of Public
Health or opportunities to serve or get a job in
the area of well-being. And I think it takes
well-being and democratizes it, whether it’s through
blockchain technologies of cryptocurrencies that can
it be used as a reward systems. CAROL HILLS: Give an example. DEEPAK CHOPRA: So we create
a well-being community in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And everybody here
is part of it. And they have access to
it through a private code. And they share
ideas, and they share goals, whether it’s optimizing
nutrition, weight loss, better sleep, service to the
community, spiritual practice. In exchange, they get money
for it, cryptocurrency, that can be used
only for improving well-being and service. CAROL HILLS: Are there
examples or models for that approach in other
countries or among populations? DEEPAK CHOPRA: It’s
a very new model, and it’s moving very
fast, especially among the millennials. I see a future even for
democracy in the future globally, where as global
citizens and global citizen scientists, we can
contribute both our services and also get back advice
and participate even in the electoral process
by voting on values rather than on personalities. CAROL HILLS: And do you
see this translating among populations
that live in poverty? Are there ways to introduce
this kind of thing among the populations
that– the people involved in public health? DEEPAK CHOPRA: It’s not in
that demographic right now, but it could be, especially
in places like India, where everybody
has a mobile phone. So it could be part of that. But as far as managing
stress in impoverished areas, as Dean Williams knows,
we have a program in New York in very
impoverished areas. It’s called Urban Yogis, where
regular practices such as those I mentioned are bringing the
community violence and murder rate down just by doing this. Now, that could be
incorporated, ultimately, through a blockchain
technology as well. But I think for
impoverished areas, especially in
school systems, it’s very easy to introduce
some of these ideas. And meditation doesn’t have
to be a complicated process, or mindfulness doesn’t have
to be a complicated process. It’s just getting in touch
with your inner self. In fact, we could try
an experiment right now. We should take five seconds. Are you game for it? AUDIENCE: Yes. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Are
you game for it? So everyone who’s
watching us, I’m going to ask you a question. And the answer is yes. I’m giving you the answer before
I ask you the question, OK? So please say yes after
I ask you the question. Are you aware right now? AUDIENCE: Yes. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Can you be
a little more enthusiastic? [LAUGHTER] Are you aware right now? AUDIENCE: Yes. DEEPAK CHOPRA:
OK, now, I’m going to ask you the same question. But don’t answer it till
I lift my hand up, OK? So same question, and
then you can say yes when I left my hand up. Are you aware? AUDIENCE: Yes. DEEPAK CHOPRA: So are
you aware is a though. The answer is yes is a thought. In between is you as awareness. People are so overshadowed by
their thoughts and perceptions and experiences in
the external world that they never get in
touch with themselves. So now, I’m going to ask you the
same question, are you aware? And this time, just be aware
of that, which is listening. Are you aware? This presence is who you really
are, not your thoughts, which recycle in social media, but
the presence in which experience occurs. You can stop anytime and
ask yourself, am I aware. Shouldn’t be a
complicated process. CAROL HILLS: I want
to remind people that we’re going to have
a Q&A from online viewers and all of you here in
the form of e-mails. If you want to
email questions, you can email them to
[email protected] Or you can post them on
Facebook @HarvardPublicHealth, or post them on live
chat at The Forum site. And in terms of introducing
questions, I wanted to– we have some
questions in advance from people who have written
in prior to this event. And this was from Jasmine hall. And she asks, in some ways,
what I’m trying to get at. What practical steps can we
take to promote well-being to communities
that do not always have basic needs met,
to be more inclusive of socioeconomic status and
less-privileged populations? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Yes, I think
that’s the major challenge we have both in academia
and outside of academia. I think it is to
create partnerships, to create social
networks, to engage people through social media, but
focus on those three things that I mentioned,
volunteering, community service as part of the volunteering,
gathering together to discuss issues for
the communities of what are challenges, having
a vision for the future, and a spiritual or mindfulness
or awarefulness practice, if I can call it that. But these movements are
happening right now, because people are
fed up of waiting for the government, of
waiting for even institutions to take action. And when we discuss well-being
in most places outside of Schools of Public Health,
it’s about insurance. It’s not about well-being. Health reform is not
about health reform. It’s about health insurance. CAROL HILLS: But
health insurance is– DEEPAK CHOPRA: –is very
critical, of course. CAROL HILLS: It’s critical. And I would argue– DEEPAK CHOPRA: And
we are one country where it is unavailable. CAROL HILLS: Right. And particularly in a
country like the US, it is actually a source of deep
stress if you don’t have it. DEEPAK CHOPRA: I mean,
I spent my childhood in a developing country, and
we never had to think about it. We never had to think
about education or health or well-being,
because it was taken care of by the public sector. CAROL HILLS: Yes. For some Indians,
but probably there’s millions of other Indians
who didn’t have it. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Yeah, but
India has a huge volunteer force as well and more NGOs
than the United States. CAROL HILLS: I want
to talk about stress. It’s a big topic in
your book, and it’s a real concern for people in
the field of global health and a concern of Dean Williams
and the School of Public Health here. You talk about ways
to reduce stress– getting out of overdrive,
connecting with nature, making time for yourself,
confiding in a friend. And you talk, as you did
in your opening remarks, about how lifelong stress can– or managing lifelong
stress can really reduce the incidence
of chronic disease. But how do we– are there examples either
in the United States or overseas of
other places where it’s, again, outside of
the realm of the individual who’s learning and
taking responsibility? Are there health
care systems that are addressing stress
and reducing stress as a primary concern that
maybe the US could look to? DEEPAK CHOPRA: There are no
health care systems officially in the world that are looking at
stress, which is the number one epidemic of our civilization,
which is directly or indirectly connected to
almost every chronic illness, even risk for acute illness. So there are no programs. But there are many
volunteer organizations. I’ll mention one
because I’m close to it. The Urban Yogis in
Queens, in New York, they’ve done a
remarkable job not only of improving their
well-being in a very impoverished
African-American community, but they’ve become
leaders in their field. They’re now teaching
this to other people, and the crime rate
is coming down. There’s a direct correlation
between social violence and individual stress as well. CAROL HILLS: But crime
rates are coming down for a lot of other reasons too. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Say that again. CAROL HILLS: Crime
rates are coming down for a lot of other reasons too. DEEPAK CHOPRA: In this
particular demographic we’re looking at,
we’re attributing it to the self-organization
of the community itself in this particular community. CAROL HILLS: One
thing I wanted to ask is it seems like in
the ’60s and ’70s in its various parts of,
certainly, American history, there were group
political movements, and it was the group that was
moving toward political ends and political ideals. And for the past 20
or 30 years, it’s really been about kind
of self-realization, taking charge of one’s self–
whether it’s working out, whether it’s fitness,
whether it’s mindfulness. And is there a role for
politics and sort of group behavior in trying to achieve
these things since they are so critical for the
health of individuals for their entire life? DEEPAK CHOPRA: So I
started my career in Boston in the early ’70s. And there was busing. There were racial
riots in Boston. You probably remember them too. There were a lot of issues
right then that were emerging. Feminism– Gloria
Steinem was marching the streets of Cambridge. There was the peace movement. There was the green movement. And in my naive day– I was 24 years old– I thought we were going to
change the world in the next 10 years. And look where we’ve
gone now, we’ve regressed by 60
years I would say. So we are, right now,
not in a position where we can say that this
is the ideal situation for a society or a community
or a nation or the world. And we need to revive
that kind of zeitgeist where politics
ultimately will be influenced by social
opinion or public opinion, as it is always. You see right now
is what is happening in the political world. It’s being influenced
by social opinion. And I think in
order for well-being to be part of the
political arena, it’s young people who
should now be both voting and getting involved in the
issues we’re talking about. CAROL HILLS: I’m going to
introduce another question from someone who sent it in
in advance, Archana Basu. She asks, how can current
systems of health in the US move to a more
preventative model of care? DEEPAK CHOPRA: I think
current systems in the US have to listen to
what is happening in schools or public health. Schools of public
health need to get better funding, which is
not happening at the moment, by the way. Even though everyone’s
aware that public health is the number one issue both for
prevention and for prediction of what happens in a society,
the funding is not happening. So we need a political
movement in that direction that can only come from the public. And I think we have an
advantage in the fact that we can use
social media as well to bring these ideas to
everybody’s attention. The internet, if
you look at it, it’s the global brain right now. And it’s a very
active global brain. You can send somebody a
tweet in South Africa, and you can give
them a dopamine hit. Or you can be abusive
on the internet and raise their blood pressure. So we are all connected. We are inseparably woven into
the fabric of being and living. We are monitoring
each other’s brains. We are being monitored
by each other. And we are regulating
each other and being regulated by each other. There’s no such thing
as a separate self. So even self-realization
and all these movements that started with it’s all
about me ultimately leads to we. CAROL HILLS: The me
leads to we, but it also leads to a lot of stress. I mean, the digital age is– online life is also
a big distraction. And so how do we
kind of counter that? People are really never
away from work now. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Two
things– one is technology is not going to go away. So if you don’t like
what’s happening in the world of technology
and social media and you don’t adapt,
then Darwinian principles say that you will
become irrelevant. [LAUGHTER] So you cannot stop that
technology movement. How do we use it? Right now, it’s being
used by trolls– [LAUGHTER] –AND by gangsters posing as
political leaders globally. We need to get involved
in using social media, SO we can actually bring
awareness about these issues– violence, social justice,
economic justice, peace, conflict resolution,
climate change. This is the best
use of social media. And I use social media,
rarely prolifically, but I have times when I use it. So I have media time, exercise
time, meditation time, and work time. And I do one thing at a
time, because multitasking, your brain can’t do it. It’s a myth. Your cortical brain
cannot multitask. Only your reptilian
brain, which is taking care of your
autonomic nervous system, it’s already multitasking
anyway without your help. But your conscious choices
have to be made mindfully. And if you’re multitasking, if
you’re looking at your phone and speaking to me at the same
time, you’re doing neither. So it’s a myth. And it’s the one
thing that actually ruins your neural
networks, because they get confused if you try
to do too many things all at the same time. That’s the bane of media
and being seduced by it. Technology is neutral. Are you going to use it
for destructive purposes? Or can you help
create a better world? CAROL HILLS: I think you and I
and many people in this room, we have the luxury,
if we’re willing, to compartmentalize and create
separate spaces for our life. But again, putting it into
a public health context, are there other
examples or models where these kinds of things are
really being taken seriously, even at a very micro-level? DEEPAK CHOPRA: In
the United States, everything becomes political. So if you want to introduce
something to a school system, it becomes political. So it’s a huge problem. But the best use of
knowledge is education. And education is easily
accomplished in schools, and education for
well-being should be the most important
aspect of education. The word education, the word
comes from [? “educor” ?] which means to bring out what’s
already at the core of a child or a human being, which
is infinite creativity. And we’re not doing it. We’re giving them information
overload, which right now, who needs that
with the internet? We can look up anything. So it has to be– public
health and education have to go together. In many parts of the
world, education is free. CAROL HILLS: And
are there any parts of the world where that
kind of thinking is going on DEEPAK CHOPRA: To some extent. In India, it is
happening to some extent. It’s happening in
urban societies in New York and other
cities, but not enough. CAROL HILLS: We have another
question we received in advance from Marie Andre Lopez-Gomez. She asked, what is the
role of work in well-being, and how is the work culture in
the US affecting well-being? And she adds, are
there any examples of work cultures around the
world that offer examples? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Well, here’s the
unfortunately depressing data. Only 20% of people
in the United States are fully engaged
in their work, which means they enjoy
going to work, they enjoy working with
the people at work, they are complementing
and being complemented in their strengths,
they have shared vision, and they are
emotionally connected– only 20%. 80% of people in the
American workforce are either disengaged
or actively disengaged. So disengaged means you
just go because it’s a job you have to do. Actively disengaged means
that you are unhappy, and you go to work to
make other people unhappy. [LAUGHTER] This costs the United States
about $300 billion a year, job disengagement. Unfortunately, this is true
all over the world, by the way. There are some countries
where they’re ahead of the United States. If you look at overall
well-being in the buckets I mentioned– work well-being,
social well-being, community well-being, the United States
is about 14th in the world. CAROL HILLS: What are
the countries that are– seem to be doing a bit better? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Denmark,
Canada, even Panama. CAROL HILLS: Panama? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Panama. CAROL HILLS: What
are they doing there? DEEPAK CHOPRA:
Well, I think it’s a burgeoning economy
right now, and so they’re doing very well right now. But there are other
countries Costa Rica, other Scandinavian countries. Of course, if you bring
up the Scandinavian model and these countries– CAROL HILLS: They’re always
doing everything right. DEEPAK CHOPRA: –it becomes
a political issue again. [CHUCKLING] CAROL HILLS: Your
book, The Healing Self, which I read– and I’m
actually taking some steps and trying to reduce the
clutter in my own mind. But your book, this
one and others, they put a lot of
responsibility on individuals to take charge of
their health care, to be an informed,
inquisitive patient. You have checklists,
things people can do. In the public health
sector, should we be thinking about
it differently? Is the individual
approach and the burden of the individual to make
things happen and take charge, is that the right
approach in a public health setting? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Not completely. But of course, there can
not be social well-being in the absence of
personal well-being. That’s a given. But when you have social
engagement around anything, whether it’s losing weight,
or providing a service, or exercise, or
mindfulness practices, then the more socially
engaged you can get and the more you can do
participation in a group, the more likely you
are to be successful. Now having said, that I’ve
created something which I call the internet
of well-being, where I bring together
experts in all these areas we mentioned, including
conflict resolution, personal relationship
management. It’s free, and you get
people to participate, create their own
groups, and, ultimately, create a blockchain movement–
which we haven’t done, but we’re in the process– so that there’s a system
where people are rewarded even for little nudges,
standing up every hour or making sure that you get
10,000 steps a day or getting sleep. If we can participate as a group
and create a reward system, it works. CAROL HILLS: You’ve had a
long and storied career, and you’ve become your
own brand, really. You’re this huge figure
in the wellness movement. And there’s other people,
Andrew Weil and Dr. Oz, there’s lots of
people out there. And do you ever
feel like there’s something paradoxical
about that, of being sort of a brand name
in this field of wellness and mindfulness? You know what I mean. DEEPAK CHOPRA:
Well, fortunately, I have a wife and kids who
don’t take me seriously. [LAUGHTER] That helps a lot. [LAUGHTER] Secondly, I’ve
learned over the years not to believe in
my public persona. Because for everything that’s
said about you that’s good, somebody’s saying
something about you that’s the extreme opposite. So as you grow older, you learn
to handle it in a better way. And it wasn’t planned. I was planning to be
an internist and– CAROL HILLS: Right
here in Boston. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Right
here in Boston. And that’s what I did. But then, I couldn’t help notice
that I had two patients who had the same illness,
received the same treatment, saw the same doctor, and had
completely different outcomes. This person died. This person
recovered completely. So I knew there was
something missing in our mechanistic
approach to our well-being or even looking at our
biological organism. We were looking at our
biological organisms as a physical
machine, and it’s not. You can interfere with
mechanisms of disease, but if you don’t address
the origins of disease, no amount of mechanistic
interference is going to help. So it was my journey, which
was accidental– neuroscience, endocrinology, neuropeptides,
mind-body medicine, integrative well-being, and
now trying to figure out, what is it all about? CAROL HILLS: We’re going
to turn to Q&A in about a minute from online questions. But my last question to you
is, what is the research that either you’re involved in
or other people are involved in that you’re most excited
about in the field of wellness? DEEPAK CHOPRA: The
most exciting research is what I mentioned,
epigenetics, where you can see how
your genes are activated through every
experience, whether it’s a perceptual experience
or a mental experience– so epigenetics. The microbiome, looking at the
two million genes that you. You have only
25,000 human genes, but you have two
million bacterial genes that respond to every experience
but particularly to nutrition. So for me, that’s very exciting. And the third is how we
can change and amplify the coordination between the
reptilian, emotional, and intellectual brain, which
is my work with Rudy Tanzi here at Harvard. Now that he and I have worked
so many years together, actually we are so aware of
what’s happening in our brain, even in a conversation
like this, I know which part of my brain
I’m looking at right now. CAROL HILLS: We’re going
to move to questions that have come in online. And the first one
is from Emmanuel. And she asks, what is the
single most threatening problem facing a child’s health
and security today and in the near future? And how can we as
parents and a society equip our children to
avoid this problem? What can we do today to change
the course of their future. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Well,
unfortunately again, childhood trauma and
childhood abuse– whether it’s sexual
abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse– all leads to problems
in adulthood. It sets also something
called the brain set point for happiness or unhappiness. If a child is given what I
call the Four As– attention, deep listening; affection, deep
caring and love; appreciation, noticing the child’s
strengths; and acceptance, not trying to conform their
behavior to how you think they should be, acceptance, and
looking at their strengths– that child will grow up
to be a healthy adult. And if a child is in some
way abused or ignored– ignored is even worse than,
by the way, being criticized. Because ignored means
you don’t exist. And then, that child will g– become a dysfunctional
adult emotionally. May end up winning a
political election, though. [LAUGHTER] CAROL HILLS: Here’s a
question from Wi Amin– that’s the name that’s given. How do you believe societal
taboos or norms contribute to health improvement? And how do they hinder
health improvement? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Well, when
societal taboos and norms become purveyors of
self-righteous morality, then they interfere
with creativity and authentic behavior. Imposed morality never works. So that’s where
societal mores and norms and religious institutions can
cause problem and even abuse. But many religious institutions
and societal institutions actually do a lot for the world. Some of the biggest humanitarian
movements in the world are actually
religious movements, so we should give them credit
for the good that they do and the service they provide. They are the people
who are working in these impoverished areas. CAROL HILLS: And also,
your own background and the Ayurvedic
traditions, in many ways, come from particularly Indian
cultures and traditions. DEEPAK CHOPRA: Yeah. It’s very strong influenced
by the wisdom traditions of India, yes. CAROL HILLS: Here’s a
question from Raphael. He asks, what are your thoughts
about cultural appropriation in reference to Western
medicine starting to adopt ideas of
mindfulness, meditation, and alternative medicine? DEEPAK CHOPRA: I think
it’s a great thing if it helps the world. I look at the
future when I’m not around where nationalism
or extreme nationalism will be considered a tribal
disease, that as we move into the future, especially
with the next generation and the next generation,
we’ll be global citizens. And we will adapt
to other cultures. I have a grandson
right now who is a little bit Chinese, a little
bit Indian, and, of course, he lives in America. He speaks Spanish, Hindi,
English, and Mandarin at the same time. That’s the future
citizen of the world. CAROL HILLS: He’s a
fully-realized self. [LAUGHTER] DEEPAK CHOPRA: That is
the future of the world. And so I think we need to go
beyond our tribal behavior. And I think extreme
nationalism is just tribalism. Cultural
appropriation– cultures get richer when they
mix with each other. So I’m not one for
total cultural identity. Culture can be a baggage. It can also be access to
good food and to good music. [CHUCKLING] But other than that, I think
we need a multicultural society and a multicultural world. And America is the
best example of that so far, unless we
go the other way now with our immigration policies. CAROL HILLS: Here’s a
question from Fatima. In your role as a physician
and spiritual guru, could you please elaborate
on the interaction between mental state
and physical health? DEEPAK CHOPRA: You can’t
separate mental state and physical health. Wherever the mind goes,
the molecules follow. In fact, they’re inseparable. So this distinction
between mind– mental state and physical
state is artificial. I can give you bad news,
and your blood pressure will go up in a moment if it
affects you, that bad news. On the other hand, if
you’re feeling appreciated, wanted, and loved, you’ll
have a different biochemistry. Your state of mind
even influences the way your food is metabolized. So because the
different chemistries in the body when you’re
stressed or when you’re relaxed or when you’re celebrating– completely different. So there’s no distinction
between mind and body. We should use one
word, body-mind, just the way we use
wave-particle, mass-energy, space-time– body-mind. CAROL HILLS: Here’s a
question from Deborah J. As a public health professional,
what actionable steps can we take to encourage
better holistic and self-care for our patients? DEEPAK CHOPRA: I think
every physician in the field should be an educator as well. So when I was in
practice in Boston, I used to give my
patients a choice. I would tell them, I’m happy
to give you a tranquilizer, a sleeping pill– in those days, an antacid. We didn’t have these
sophisticated H2 receptor blockers or proton
pump inhibitors. But I realized very quickly
that 90% of all prescriptions were for five things– pain,
anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and constipation. If you want to remember
the acronym, it’s PANIC. [LAUGHTER] P-A-N-I-C. I used to watch
my nurses waking up patients to give them sleeping pills. Mr. Smith, will
you please wake up? I have to give you
your sleeping pill. [LAUGHTER] So all these things are
very easily manageable. So I would tell
my patients, I’ll give you a prescription
if you want. But on Friday, I’m going to
give a lecture on well-being. Show up. And so then I noticed
that more people were showing up for the lecture
than for the prescription. And to physicians out
there in public health, you can even charge for it. Charge a little bit
for your lectures. They’ll be valued. But make sure they’re less
than a prescription in price. CAROL HILLS: Here’s a
question from Adele. What research topics
would Dr. Chopra recommend for young
scholars to analyze on the interface between
well-being and spirituality? DEEPAK CHOPRA:
And spirituality– look up a paper called
“Nonduality and Well-Being”– “Nonduality and Well-Being.” It’s about the relationship of
spirituality and well-being. And basically, it
means that the more– you know, what is spirituality? It’s just the
question I asked you. Are you aware? The more self-aware you
are, that’s spirituality. Don’t mix it up with religion. The more aware you are of your
inner self, and the more aware you are of your mental activity
and your perceptual activity, and the more aware you
are of your choices, that improves your well-being. So spirituality is being
self-aware, period. CAROL HILLS: Here’s a
question– it’s a long question, but you have to
give a short answer. Because we’re
running out of time. Here it is. DEEPAK CHOPRA:
Time doesn’t exist. [LAUGHTER] It’s a human construct. No other animal knows
what time it is now. [LAUGHTER] CAROL HILLS: This is from Ida. And it’s kind of a
serious question. Given the ever-increasing
language of hate, exclusion, and violence, and its impact
on the many who find themselves at the receiving end, how
can we limit the assaults and/or help improve wellness
caused by this kind of stress? DEEPAK CHOPRA: Yeah, by
the way, it’s only obvious when you look at the internet,
because the dominant activity is that of trolls. But by and large, people
are actually out there to help each other, to
engage with each other. And understand that
relationship is who we are. There’s no such thing
as a separate self. CAROL HILLS: And that’s a very
positive note to end this on. Our event, unfortunately,
has come to an end. It’s been a
fascinating discussion. I want to thank our audience
both here and online for joining us. And I thank you, Deepak Chopra
and Dean Michelle Williams. You can continue the
conversation at forumhsph.org and look for the
on-demand video there and on Facebook and YouTube. And join The Forum next
time on September 26 at noon eastern time for a live
webcast about “US Drug Prices, Why Are They So High?” Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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