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DUCKWORTH: Oh my God, you’re such a nerd.

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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: How does anger affect your physical health?

DUCKWORTH: If you ask people, “Would you like to feel anger, or would you like to not feel anger?” we would expect the vast majority of people would say, “I would like to not feel anger. Thank you very much.”

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DUBNER: Angie, I read something recently on Quora, which I like to read. What is Quora?

DUCKWORTH: I mean, I have been on Quora. But, like, what is it?

DUBNER: Quora was, honestly, the original inspiration for this show, because Quora is a question-asking and answering website with a community of people who ask a lot of questions — many of them good, many of them crazy — and then, people who answer them. And they range from experts, to amateurs, to goofballs. But, you know, I love questions — which is one reason I love doing this show. Sometimes just reading the questions without the answers is illuminating. You’re exposed to a lot of ideas that you just wouldn’t have otherwise. And here’s one. This actually isn’t a question. I guess it was the preamble to a question. And it seemed totally nuts. But the more I thought about it, I thought maybe there’s at least a kernel of truth and maybe a lot of truth. It’s about anger. So, somebody had written, “One minute of anger weakens the immune system for four to five hours. One minute of laughter boosts the immune system for 24 hours.” And like I said, I read it, and I thought there’s no way that’s true. But boy, I would love that to be true — especially, if one can curtail anger and boost laughter. So, what I’m bringing to you is really a simple question. Is anger really bad for you physiologically?

DUCKWORTH: I think in the long term it can be bad. But this question was about what happens when you get really mad in the immediate term — the four or five hours after you lose your mind with anger. So, there are “approach” emotions and “avoidance” emotions. And approach emotions are ones that get you to do things. And avoidance emotions are emotions that get you to withdraw and refrain from acting — so anxiety, worry to some extent, sadness. But anger — I would have the exact opposite intuition from this Quora contributor, which is that anger might heighten the immune response in the short term.

DUBNER: Because it’s driving you toward some kind of action or “approach,” as you put it?

DUCKWORTH: Well, in a sense, right? It’s good to ask why we have emotions.

DUBNER: Why do we have emotions, Angela? Since it’s good to ask.

DUCKWORTH: Well, one could argue that we have everything we have — you know, four-chambered heart, two eyes, et cetera — because of survival, because of the forces of evolution that have favored adaptations. So, you could argue that about all emotions. And the negative emotions, including anger, the evolutionary story is kind of straightforward. If you didn’t defend yourself when somebody was taking advantage of you, you would not survive very long. If you didn’t worry when bad things were on the horizon, you wouldn’t do things that worried people do, that eventually make their survival more likely. And there’s even an evolutionary explanation for positive emotions like laughter.

DUBNER: Is laughter an emotion?

DUCKWORTH: Laughter is actually a behavior. But, like, being in a state of elation — I don’t even know what the emotion is called when you laugh.

DUBNER: I think it’s called chuckledom.

DUCKWORTH: Chuckledom! Wait, but really, is there, like, a word? What is the emotion I’m feeling when I laugh?

DUBNER: I think it’s “gruntlement.” You know how people always say someone’s disgruntled?

DUCKWORTH: But these positive emotions also have an evolutionary purpose, or we think they do. It’s all theory.

DUBNER: Which are what?

DUCKWORTH: Well, the prevailing theory here is called “broaden and build.” And it comes from a friend and a great psychologist named Barbara Fredrickson. She has posited that the evolutionary adaptive value of positive emotions is kind of the complement to why we have negative emotions in times of threat and stress and attack. What emotions do we need to promote our long-term survival when things are good? And these positive emotions broaden our repertoire. They encourage us to try new things, and they build resources. They build cognitive resources like knowledge, but also, they build social resources like friendships. So, basically, you can think of “fight or flight” and “broaden and build” as two sides of the emotional coin. One for bad times. One for good times. But all of these emotions promote our survival. So, getting back to this Quora question, the reason why I’m thinking in a different way than anger suppressing our immune system is that when we have negative emotions that are all about us being asked to do something right away in order to survive — I think the word here is “allostasis,” that the body has an adaptive response to change: you know, heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline, cortisol, attention, and so forth. And anger is the emotion that we experience when we feel like our rights are being violated and we’re under attack. And I would imagine that the immune response there, the allostatic response, would be, like, rev up and increase immune function. Just a guess.  

DUBNER: So, I can follow that daisy chain. But I could also imagine, really, that same daisy chain may have some negative physiological effects. I know there’s been research on the connection between anger and heart attacks. There’s been academic research on anger and lung function. Now, when I see these findings, I think, well, how do we know that’s causal? In other words, how do we know that the kind of person who’s in a position to be having a really severe, let’s say, heart attack, has not had a lot of other things going on. Maybe the arrow is even going in the other direction. Maybe their limited function physically is leading them to be angry. So, do you know anything about whether these negative emotions are actually connected with — whether by correlation alone or cause — with physiological, negative outcomes?

DUCKWORTH Well, absolutely important to say that this Quora question was about immune response. And heart attacks are very different. But let’s take the classic, like: when you blow your temper, are you more likely to have a heart attack? I mean, there’s data — it’s not experimental data for obvious reasons — that in the few hours that follow a very angry outburst, you are more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. And that’s just, I assume, people come into the E.R., you’re interviewing the family, and you’re like, “What happened?” So, that is not data that would convince you, I think, Stephen, that it’s causal because, who knows? Maybe there’s a third variable that both accounts for the angry outburst and for the cardiovascular event. But it seems that when you are feeling anger, there’s a pretty easy causal story to tell, which is that: when you are angry, your blood pressure goes up, you become very activated, your heart rate goes up. These are things that would precipitate a cardiovascular event, if you have other underlying vulnerabilities. So, I don’t have any random-assignment experimental evidence that I can even imagine anybody has amassed, but because anger does all those things, one could imagine that, yes, it has some causal effect — not on immune function, but on cardiovascular function.

DUBNER: So, let’s keep broadening it out beyond the immune response that this Quora person wrote about and just the general effects — upsides and downsides. I was watching, not long ago, one of my favorite golfers, a young, Spanish golfer named Jon Rahm who’s very, very, very good, talking about his anger on the course. He’s still pretty young — probably in the 25 to 28 range — but when he was a little bit younger, he was, I would say, notorious for getting really angry on the course when he would hit a bad shot. He really exhibited his anger. So, he would hit a bad shot, and he might slam a club or curse. It wasn’t directed at others, which is probably a point worth making. It was directed at himself.

DUCKWORTH: He’s like the John McEnroe of golf or something?

DUBNER: There you go. Yeah. I would say so. He was pretty vocal. “Fiery” was the word they used — I think because that’s a cliched description that goes along with being Spanish. Anyway, he’s phenomenally successful. He also seems to be a good, decent, sensible person. People seem to like him a great deal. But the narrative was that his anger was getting in the way of his being a great, great golfer and that he needed to address that. And so, the other day, I heard him talking about this. I thought his description of his reckoning of his anger was so humane and sophisticated. Because he said, “Listen, I still get angry. I’m always going to get angry if I hit a bad shot. All I changed was my response to my anger. And all I really wanted to do was feel the anger, express the anger, acknowledge the anger, and then put the anger behind me immediately. Because, guess what? Now, I have to go hit another shot. And if I’m hitting that next shot in a state of anger, the odds are that the outcome will not be so good.” Then he was asked, “Well, wouldn’t you rather just not get angry?” And he said, “No, are you kidding me?” He said, “This is a natural human emotion, and you can’t control your emotions.” And what he said next was my favorite part. He said, “If we could control our emotions, wouldn’t all of us be happy all the time?” Now, who’s to say whether he should try to experience a little bit less anger, but I thought his way of processing it and dealing with it was wonderful, honestly. So, do you agree? Or would it be better to try to limit the amount of anger you’re actually experiencing in the first place?  

DUCKWORTH: So much to say. A lot of admiration, like you have, for this very, like, metacognitively-sophisticated response. Like, “I’m experiencing the emotions. I see different roots for how to deal with it.” So, kudos. I think that is, actually, what scientists who study emotions would call emotion regulation. When you say to yourself, “I’m going to experience the anger, and then I’m going to notice that I’ve experienced the anger, but I’m also going to try to shorten the amount of time I experience that.” That is almost the definition of emotion regulation. So, I don’t want to call that, like, “nobody can control their emotions.” I think what he means is that you can’t not experience the anger in the first place. You cannot avoid the generation of the emotion, but you can change your reaction to the emotion. And that, I think, is exactly right. But there’s one little thing I want to say to Jon, which is that I do think that under certain circumstances you can actually change the base rate for the generation of the emotions in the first place.  

DUBNER: You’re saying if he were a slightly better golfer, he would get angry less, and that he should try to become a slightly better golfer. Is that what you’re saying?

DUCKWORTH: Okay. Well, here’s the thing. There are things you could do — sometimes called “situation selection” or “situation modification” — like, if he really didn’t want to have the kind of anger that necessarily follows from missing a shot, he could just not play golf.

DUBNER: Yeah, but, I mean, the guy’s a professional golfer who’s been heading in this direction for his entire life.

DUCKWORTH: Right, exactly. But I’m just saying, it’s not impossible to change the base rate of your emotions. It is possible. It’s just that, very often, that’s not what you would choose to do.

DUBNER: So, when one has a negative emotion, you could imagine there are a number of ways you could regulate that emotion. And many of them might be healthy, but I could imagine that some are unhealthy. 

DUCKWORTH: So, you want a little emotion regulation 101?

DUBNER: Maybe 102.

DUCKWORTH: Here’s what I think is really important to know about emotions. The next time we feel something, we might do well just to remind ourselves, like, “Well, there are my emotions again — my inherited evolutionary machinery — and they have this kind of signaling feature.” And I think then the question is: what are they signaling? And anger, in particular, I think, signals “my rights are being violated.” And then, I think, when you notice that you’re feeling angry, pause to say, “Oh, I must somehow perceive that my rights are being violated.” And then, you could ask, “In what way?” Understanding all that equips us with a broader range of responses than what we might otherwise have. And before you do what is instinctive, or immediate, or reactive, is to have this pause. I think it might be attributed to Viktor Frankl or Abraham Maslow, one of these humanist psychologists, that between stimulus and response lies free will — lies our humanity. So, you know, somebody cuts in front of you in traffic or says something that you think is incredibly insensitive and triggers you, and between that stimulus and your response is your freedom and your humanity. I do think that’s what maturity is, is recognizing that space.

DUBNER: It’s also interesting to me to consider what are the direct proximate causes of people’s anger. So, I’m looking here at a survey done by I.B.M. and N.P.R.


DUBNER: Specifically by Watson Health. Watson Health is the I.B.M. directive that’s trying to use predictive analytics to look at health outcomes. And N.P.R. cares about health, I guess, and stuff like that. They did a survey. This was a couple years ago. They found that 84 percent of respondents said they felt Americans are angrier than they were a generation ago. But that’s not why I wanted to bring this up. What I wanted to bring up is one of the primary sources of people’s anger today. Before I tell you, would you like to guess what one of the most dominant sources of anger is.

DUCKWORTH: Is it politics?

DUBNER: Indirectly. Reading the news and reading social media. Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they get angry often, and 42 percent said they get angry sometimes, when they check the news. Thirty-one percent of respondents said they get angry sometimes, 12 percent said they get angry often, when they check social media. So, it does make me wonder about all the opt-ins that we engage in that make us angry. And I’ve wondered about this for years, which is: why do people read, and watch, and follow things that they know will make them angry.  

DUCKWORTH: You know, I don’t know. Because you would say to yourself, “That’s a negative emotion.” And if you ask people in a multiple choice, “Would you like to feel anger, or would you like to not feel anger?” we would expect the vast majority of people would say, “I would like to not feel anger, thank you very much.” But then, we must have observed that, like, the other side of the political spectrum really makes you mad. Why don’t you just ignore it? Well, interestingly, ignoring things that make us upset is an emotion-regulation strategy. It’s called “attention deployment.” So, in the arsenal of emotion-regulation tactics that we hopefully develop over the course of life, attention deployment — not thinking about stuff that makes us feel angry — is one of those tactics. But the obvious downside of that is denial. If you just ignore this thing that’s being done to you, you’re going to, in the long run, suffer. In the short run, you might feel better, because you’re not thinking about this thing that’s making you mad. But in the long run, it’s bad. So, that may be an explanation about why people go to social media or other media sites. Because if you don’t do that, it’s even worse.

DUBNER: Angie, when we started this show — and even before we started the show when we were just becoming friends and chatting about family, and work, and so on — I would say a common feature of many of our conversations was your expressing how angry you’d gotten at something, often within your family.

DUCKWORTH: Me and Amanda. Me and Jason.

DUBNER: But, you know, I have to say, now that we’re talking about anger today, I can’t think of the last time that you’ve brought up something like that. So, either you got sick of talking about it, you thought I got sick of hearing about it, or you’re feeling it a little bit less. Also, I should say both your kids are away at college. That may be the solution. What makes you angry these days? And do you feel that you are less angry now than you were in previous eras of Duckworth time?

DUCKWORTH: I can tell you that I still am fully capable of the emotion of anger. But I do think I am more emotionally regulated than I was five years ago. And then, 10 years ago, even more emotionally regulated than that. And the reason I say that is not because of my own introspection as much as the data that are done on longitudinal studies of human beings. And emotional stability gets better. We’re at our probably least emotionally stable during adolescence. And then, after that, we become much more even-keel, but progressively so, over almost all of adulthood. And then, when you get to very old age, other things start happening to emotion regulation. So, I would just say that if I am like most people, then I am more even-keel and less hot-tempered. In addition to those general trends, I will say that I spend maybe more time collaborating with James Gross at Stanford University than with almost anyone else. And James Gross is the leading expert in adult emotion regulation. And so, I quite literally think that writing all these papers, they’ve taught me tactics that I’ve put into practice. So, for example, when we talked about Jon and golfing, immediately, I thought of James Gross’s research. And I thought, well, some of these tactics, he really practically speaking can’t do. So, situation selection/situation modification — like, removing yourself from, or changing the dynamics, of golf — can’t do that, because he wants to play golf. Attention deployment. Can he not pay attention to the fact that he missed that last shot? My guess is that is exactly what he does. He focuses on the ball in front of him and what he needs to do. And then, finally, if you ask for a complete description of all the things that are in the armory of somebody who’s emotion regulating, there’s reappraisal. There’s ways of thinking about your emotion in a different way. And so, for example, what Jon seems to be doing is saying, “You know what? Emotions are part of life. They are natural. They’re normal.” That’s a kind of reappraisal strategy. And then, finally, there’s response inhibition, which is: basically, just try to suppress it directly. And that tends to be the least effective. But let me just say, Stephen — I don’t know if this accounts for my not mentioning angry outbursts over the last year or so — but I have learned a lot from James Gross. Just knowing that there are these categories — situation selection, situation modification, attention deployment, reappraisal, response inhibition — and understanding their pros and cons, I think, has made me more emotionally regulated.

DUBNER: So, we know that at least two people in the universe, Angela Duckworth and Jon Rahm, are having more success in managing their anger. Although everyone else is just getting angrier and angrier while reading social media.

 Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss how laughter affects our physical and mental health.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, oh, stop what you’re doing, read this cartoon.

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Before we return to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about anger, let’s hear some of your thoughts on the subject. We asked listeners to tell us whether they think anger is a healthy or an unhealthy emotion — and what tools they use to cool down when they’re feeling a little hot under the collar. Here’s what you said:

Brooke DECAROLIS: Hi. This is Brooke from Florida. And although I don’t think you can label any emotion, good or bad, I do think anger is sort of a wasted one. Anger usually just ends up hurting me more than the person that I’m angry at. So, why would I want to do that to myself? 

Tyler THORSTROM: One technique that I have found really useful for myself is exercise. In particular, I like to do push-ups when I am upset. It allows me to release some of that aggressive energy in a constructive way. Exercise also releases positive endorphins that balance out my brain chemistry. I like push-ups in particular because I can do them just about anywhere. Although I have gotten some confused looks at work when I drop to the floor for 20 reps next to my workspace.

Jennifer CHATMON: I find, as an educator, techniques that I implore with children who attend school in my building, and with my 10-year-old son, we got to pause. I call it “peanut butter.” Pause and breathe, baby. Pause and breathe so we can ride those emotions. Like a wave in the ocean.

That was, respectively: Brooke DeCarolis, Tyler Thorstrom, and Jennifer Chatmon. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the connection between emotions and health.

DUBNER What about laughter? Because let’s not forget, the Quora statement was about how anger will deplete, or hurt, your immune system, but the second part was one minute of laughter boosts the immune system for 24 hours. So, that sounds to me lovely and perhaps made-up. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s really kind of click bait.

DUBNER: But what I notice is that, in your description of these emotion-regulation steps, you didn’t talk about laughing or smiling. I know you’ve brought up this study in the past where subjects are asked to put a pencil in their mouth and bite down on it, which replicates the muscular reality of a smile, and that’s supposed to have some kind of beneficial effect. Can you tell us anything about smiling and laughter driving the immune system, mood, physical health, anything?

DUCKWORTH: So, we did mention “broaden and build.” And laughter and positive emotions like joy — this all fits into that category of broaden and build. I want to start with a story. I remember being at some dinner. And this is so many years ago. There are these two researchers at my university, University of Pennsylvania. They are “The Gurs.” So, the last name is Gur. And I can’t tell you what their first names are, but it’s a husband and wife couple. And they study schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. I remember at this dinner, that somebody said — and I believe it was one or both of the Gurs — that when somebody who is really suffering from a profound mental illness laughs — when there is the natural and appropriate expression of humor and laughter — that’s when you know the patient is getting better. I do think there have been correlational studies that correlate sense of humor to positive health outcomes. And if I could have my career to live over again —. 

DUBNER: Ski jumper.

DUCKWORTH: No, definitely not ski jumper, Stephen. I’m a little fearful of heights. But I was thinking, if there’s something else I would study other than, like, psychology of effort and excellence, which are my specialties, I really think that studying the causal effect of happiness — that’s kind of what positive psychology is. I have this longitudinal data that I’m analyzing right now where we have measures of happiness — a variety of self-report questionnaires about positive emotion — and I have measures of grit, and what I find is that there’s a stronger effect of happiness predicting grit than there is of grit predicting happiness. It just collectively argues for the idea that laughter, and smiling, and feeling happy, that they have a causal effect on what happens to us next. And I’ll just say that it is still a mystery why we have laughter. The world’s leading researcher on this — or one of — was Jaak Panksepp. And he has all these videos of him tickling rats, because he studied the laughter response in non-humans. And just the fact that you can tickle a rat and that it’ll laugh was kind of interesting, because we think of it as a higher-order emotion, but turns out you can make a rat laugh. But then the question was, like: how and why is it that these less-sophisticated organisms have this emotion of laughter? Even Jaak Panksepp would admit it’s still a mystery, but the speculation is that maybe one reason is that laughter is often a shared experience. There’s a social component. Often people are laughing at the same joke. Also, it’s a signal of fitness. So, I think one could argue that when you see somebody who is self-deprecating, who knows how to laugh at themselves, can laugh at other things, it is a sign of emotional health. It’s often considered to be a sign of self-awareness and maturity.

DUBNER: Do you ever laugh out loud when you’re alone?

DUCKWORTH: I’m sure I laugh out loud less when I’m on my own, but not not at all. I do think laughter is a kind of conversational or a social emotion. There is something almost fundamentally social, right, about laughter.

DUBNER: You’re telling someone you appreciate them. And, you know, there are a variety of ways to do that, but laughter seems very genuine, in part, maybe because it is nonverbal. Because words can be distorted. People can say, “Oh, you look great today.” But if someone says something witty and you laugh, it sounds organic, usually.

DUCKWORTH: Look, I find 90 percent of the New Yorker cartoons actually legit funny. I don’t know if I laugh out loud, but I’m always at least amused. And I so often have this kind of, like, “Oh, Jason, stop what you’re doing. Read this cartoon.”

DUBNER: I have noticed that when I spend time with people who don’t laugh — or who aren’t funny, or charming, or witty in any way — I get angry.

DUCKWORTH: So, put Stephen in the room with a grim person, and you get an angry Stephen?

DUBNER: My rights to enjoy myself are being violated. You know, I was talking to my daughter about anger as I was preparing to ask you this question. And she raised a kind of chicken/egg or forest/tree argument, which is: if no one can sense your anger, would you still get angry in the same way? I guess she’s thinking that anger is a way to communicate to someone, often, that something was done wrong or that you’re not okay with something. So, is there a big difference, typically, in how we experience anger in public and privately?

DUCKWORTH: I do think anger is an approach emotion. It gets us to do stuff. And so, when there are other people around, I do think that anger gets us to interact with them — either the person who’s the object of your anger or other people, and you’re recruiting them. What happens when you feel anger when you’re alone? I do think that many of us, when we feel angry, go and find somebody — either the target of our anger or just somebody else that we can complain to. It’s a negative emotion, but it gets you to do something. It can be better than alternative emotions like depression or withdrawal. If I had the choice, for example, when I get rejected — and I know you’re thinking socially, but I’m an academic.

DUBNER: No. I was thinking a journal.

DUCKWORTH: You were! Oh my God, you’re such a nerd. I love that. Okay. Well, when I get rejected from a journal — like, I send a paper into a journal and it gets rejected — I’ve noticed that some of my colleagues, by the way, very often men, like, their first response is to be pissed. Like, “What a bleeping idiot!” And then, my first reaction is often not anger, but just wounded and feeling bad. It’s like, “Oh, you know, it wasn’t good enough.” So, that’s a withdrawing.

DUBNER: Do you ever find yourself wishing that your more natural response was anger.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, absolutely! I was like, “Oh. Anger. That’s the way to go.” Given the choice between two negative emotions: one being more approach-oriented, the other one being more avoidance, one being more, like, “do something,” the other one being withdrawal, one being outward, the other one being inward — that maybe if we had to choose under many circumstances, the outward one is better.

DUBNER: Okay. Under many circumstances, but one can imagine other circumstances where we certainly wouldn’t want people to make manifest the approach emotion, right? So, when you get rejected by a journal, maybe I, as your friend, am saying, “Yeah, I’d much rather you feel a little bit of anger and do something about it than to just feel wounded.” But let’s say we put you in a different circumstance. Let’s say you’re driving down a street in Philadelphia with a gun in your glove compartment, and someone cuts you off, I would probably rather you not chase them down and shoot them. I don’t want you to act in your anger in that way. So, obviously, there’s a spectrum here.

DUCKWORTH: Not just a spectrum, but there are many, many ways to respond. Remember I said, “between stimulus and response lies our humanity, lies our free will.” Just recently in Philadelphia, there was a shooting on South Street, which is this very popular street that people go to. It’s like restaurants and shops. And the context of it was there was some kind of disagreement. They get into this altercation. Bullets are flying everywhere, because people are taking out their guns. And several bystanders — at least two, I think, were shot and killed. And then, many others were just shot. So, that would definitely be an example where an inward emotion would’ve been much better for everyone. You know, we’re going to experience anger, and we’re going to get into fights with people. And anger gets us to protect ourselves and to do really stupid things sometimes. And well, I wish we didn’t have guns available as one of the ways to express ourselves. That’s Angela’s op-ed. 

DUBNER: Let me ask you one last question. Can you think of anything that used to typically make you angry that no longer does?

DUCKWORTH: Okay. Well, going back to my marriage to Jason, I think it used to make me angry if I felt like he was neglecting me and, let me just be really specific. Like, if he would come home late for dinner, I would just seethe. He would come in, like, 30 minutes late. I’d be like, “Now it’s cold. And by the way, I also have a job. Thank you very much.” And I think now my slightly more evolved, mature response would be like, “Well, first of all, if it’s bothering me, I should say that it’s bothering me.” So, I should just call him at the moment that I begin to get bothered and say, like, “It is bothering me that you’re not here. Why are you not here?” As opposed to letting the pot just boil, as it were, emotionally. And second of all, I think I now have the perspective to just say, like, “Hey, nobody doesn’t come home on time on purpose. And probably there are other reasons.” And as my therapist reminds me, you have to take care of yourself. So, what could I do in these 30 minutes that would make me feel better? Instead of just sitting and thinking about how my husband’s not home, I could, like, get 30 minutes of work done. And then, if he comes in, I’ll be like, “Oh, you’re home.”

DUBNER: I’m very proud of your progress, Angela. You sound like you’re rapidly maturing. And by the time we’re all 100, we’re going to be perfect, can I just say.

DUCKWORTH: Yes. Well, let’s not get too angry in the interim. It’ll probably shorten our lifespan.

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation.

In the first half of the show, Stephen and Angela wonder if there is a specific emotion associated with laughter. While laughter is linked to many emotions — joy, embarrassment, happiness, relief — the word that is probably closest to what they were looking for is “mirth.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mirth is defined as: “gaiety or lightness of mood or mind, especially as manifested in laughter.”

Later, Angela compares the behavior of Spanish golfer Jon Rahm to that of former professional tennis player John McEnroe. While both athletes are famous for their tempers, Rahm is known for directing his anger at himself, while McEnroe raged not only at himself, but also at the umpire, spectators, and the universe in general.

Also, Angela tries to remember the origin of a quote about how our humanity lies between stimulus and response. The phrase is often attributed to psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, but the passage wasn’t actually written by Frankl. The words were popularized by motivational author Stephen R. Covey, who wrote in his 1994 book First Things First, “Years ago, I was wandering between the stacks of books at a university library. I chanced to open a book in which I encountered one of the most powerful, significant ideas I’ve ever come across. The essence of it was this: ‘Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’” Covey couldn’t remember who wrote the passage, and he didn’t attribute it to Frankl, but he did use it in discussing Frankl’s life and work. The fact-checking website Quote Investigator believes that Covey was referencing a piece by existential psychologist Rollo May — who, in a 1963 article, wrote, “Freedom is the individual’s capacity to know that he is the determined one, to pause between stimulus and response and thus to throw his weight.”

Finally, Angela cannot remember the full names of the University of Pennsylvania professors known as “the Gurs.” Raquel Gur and Ruben Gur are professors of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. In addition to their award-winning research on schizophrenia and other brain disorders, Raquel Gur is famous for testifying as an expert witness in the trial of James Holmes, the man responsible for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012.

That’s it for the fact-check.

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Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: What’s the purpose of embarrassment?

DUCKWORTH: I have my little plastic tray, and it’s a huge cafeteria. I just dropped it —  clattering silverware, water everywhere. The whole cafeteria then applauded. Not in a nice way.

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions. For that episode, we want to hear about your most embarrassing moments. Tell us the story of what happened and what about it made it feel so particularly humiliating. To share your experiences, send a voice memo to with the subject line “Embarrassment.” Make sure to record in a quiet, indoor space with your mouth close to the phone, and please keep your thoughts to under a minute.

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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had help this week from Alina Kulman and Lyric Bowditch. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Julie Kanfer, Ryan Kelley, Jasmin Klinger, Emma Tyrrell, and Jacob Clemente. We had additional research assistance from Anya Dubner. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

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DUCKWORTH: I have a friend who has one of those cackling laughs.

DUBNER: Let’s hear your imitation of their laugh.

DUCKWORTH: “Heheheheheheh!”

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  • Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor.
  • Barbara Fredrickson, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and president of the International Positive Psychology Association.
  • James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University.
  • Raquel Gur, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Ruben Gur, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Abraham Maslow, psychologist and creator of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  • Jaak Panksepp, professor emeritus of psychobiology at Bowling Green State University.
  • Jon Rahm, professional golfer.



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