Insights: From Broccoli to Zion

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shelly photoA research study done in Berkley showed that children at the age of 15 months, when showed broccoli and crackers, picked the crackers.

Then the researcher told the child how much she liked broccoli over the crackers, and asked the child to give her some (not stating which she wanted, the broccoli or the crackers).

The children would give the researcher the crackers without hesitation.

Now fast forward these same children to 18 months. The majority of them would now hand the researcher the broccoli, even though they liked the crackers. Why? Because we are naturally social and need and want to connect and ‘get’ others. It is how we get a sense of self, how we feel good about ourselves and feel we have a purpose. This comes by honoring others.

How does this work when we live in a society that truly encourages self-interest?

Not an easy question to answer even as a psychologist. When we live in a world where we see (often with justification) professional sports men beating family members, people on reality shows fighting to get attention and be seen, and people that lie to get what they want.

The result: we think that by getting what we want, we’ll be happy. This is an illusion and a story we keep getting told.

But really what makes us happy is connecting to others. With my interest of interpersonal neurobiology, I am constantly reading the research of how having the interest of others, your community and the greater good at the forefront, we are at our happiest.

Right now I am in Utah hiking one of our amazing National Parks. Yesterday I did the tough hike through the Narrows, which is a river canyon where once you are in it is difficult to get out. The walls on both sides rise as high as 2,000 feet. Most of the time you are walking through water, on rocks, and even climbing over boulders.

There were two times when I got scared. Both of those times I was reliant on my friend to help me get through these situations.

The first time was I had to jump into an area with water that was too deep to stand in and I had to swim with my backpack on. My friend went first and it was his encouragement that allowed me to have the courage to do so. You see I am scared of deep water, especially when I cannot see the bottom. I could see it in his eyes that he believed I would be okay, and that led me to just jump in.

The second time was when we had to climb over a bolder that was sheer granite, and extremely slippery. I had to rely on him to pull me up and also to get me down the other side. I was terrified, close to tears (I do not like heights either!).

The point of my story is that it made me feel good that I was being cared for, and it felt good for my friend to make sure I was okay.

It also makes me feel good when I help others out. A friend of mine has a daughter who is getting her first apartment. It was so much fun for me to send a care package for her new home. I make a commitment to daily do a random act of kindness for someone. It feels so much better than focusing on what I want.

This does not mean that I do not take care of my needs. I do, but it is a balance that changes day to day. I am always balancing out how to help, be there for others, along with paying attention of my needs.

I challenge you to start a random act of kindness and just notice how you feel. Looking at the great good truly does create an internal sense of joy, peace and a sense of purpose.

Contact Dr. Zavala at or [email protected].

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