If you could change one thing about the way you were raised, what would it be?
Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing, and why?
These are among the 36 questions developed at UC Berkeley 50 years ago by psychologists Arthur and Elaine Aron to fast-track intimacy in a laboratory setting.
This Valentine’s Day, as more people are apt to focus on electronic gadgets than on one another, the 36 questions to accelerate human closeness are a fitting theme for The Science of Happiness podcast , co-produced by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and Public Radio International.
Hosted by UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, an expert on the science of emotions, the series applies research-tested findings to the universal quest for a joyful and meaningful life.
This week’s "happiness guinea pig” is Kelly Corrigan, bestselling author of the memoir The Middle Place, among other books. For the podcast, Corrigan and her husband, Edward Lichty, ask each other the 36 increasingly personal questions, and are blown away by how much they still don’t know about one another after more than a decade of marriage.
"One thing that struck me was that you can be married to someone for 16 or 17 years and still feel incredibly awkward around them … so we were all goofy and weird with each other for a couple of questions,” Corrigan says in the podcast.
She notes that it’s unusual for a married couple with kids to have a conversation that doesn’t involve a lot of debating and decision-making.
Another surprise is how freely Lichty shares his feelings with Corrigan when unconstrained by the daily logistics of family life, rekindling her admiration for him and a sense of romance.
"One of the most frustrating parts of my marriage is that Edward repeats himself so much … so I couldn’t believe how many of the 36 things I didn’t know, and I thought, ’Edward, you have so much material that you have not shared,’” Corrigan says.
Also poignant in the podcast is the question about whose death would worry her husband the most.
"I really worry about if my mom dies before my dad, what will that do to him? He’s going to be super lonely,” Lichty says.
"And that led us to talking about his dad, and it was really moving,” Corrigan says.
Overall, the 36 questions bring out the tenderness in their relationship:
"All people really care about is that they want to feel that they’ve been felt,” Corrigan concludes. "And so in that little moment of our 36 questions I thought, for sure, you can feel me feeling you right now, and that’s like a salve.”
New podcast lays out path to happiness with no shortcuts
Creating love in the lab: The 36 questions that spark intimacy
NBC Today show segment on couples asking each other the 36 questions
By Yasmin Anwar
View all articles by Yasmin Anwar
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