01/23/2014 06:19 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

From The Midwest To Davos, Richard Davidson Is Starting Conversations On Mindfulness, Happiness, And The Power Of Giving

Are we in the throes of a "zeitgeist" moment, when world leaders and CEOs embrace the role that mindfulness plays in cultivating health, compassion and happiness?

Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes we are, and traveled to Davos for the 2014 World Economic Forum to help spread his belief that health and happiness are not abstract goals, but skills that can be cultivated with just a few hours of practice. The very fact that the issues are being openly discussed by many of the world's top CEOs and leaders in the high-profile setting is a sign of progress and promise in itself, Davidson told HuffPost Live on Thursday.

"Talking about this here in Davos five years ago would have been unimaginable," he said.

Davidson's research, conducted at his Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in Madison, focuses on the myriad ways in which contemplative practices can produce measurable changes in the human brain and body.

On Thursday, he discussed one such study in which individuals were brought into a laboratory and given $100 each. One group was encouraged to spend the money on themselves. Another was told to spend the money on others. At the end of the day, when researchers assessed changes in happiness levels, they found the individuals in the giving group scored significantly happier. Another investigation found that men and women who underwent basic training in either cognitive therapy or so-called "compassion training" for just two weeks experienced measurable changes in their brain, and improvements in generosity.

Davidson said he is heartened by the enthusiasm the leaders at Davos have expressed toward the idea that cultivating happiness and compassion can improve their own health and well-being, as well as their organizations'. He has spoken on several panels at Davos this year, weighing in on how technology is rewiring the brain; what science reveals about what it takes to become a true leader; and why meditation matters so much. The panels, he said, have been standing-room only.

And Davidson practices what he preaches, spending a few minutes each morning reflecting on how he can be helpful to individuals he meets with throughout the day, which leaves him feeling "nourished and energized" -- even after long hours.

"Our brains are primed for this, and it doesn't take much to nudge us in healthier directions," he said. "With a little bit of training, I think we can make a profound difference."



01/25/2014 10:07 AM EST

Bill Gates Discusses The Hyper-Connectivity Concern

01/25/2014 10:06 AM EST

Polman's View On Work/Life Balance

"We are very fortunate to do what we like to do... so I get a lot of energy out of what I do," Polman said.

"I don't personally believe in work/life balance," Polman said, adding that he hopes to have a happy life balance that includes his work.

"We have to watch what we do, I like to run so I do that every day, and increasingly watch what you eat and maintain your health a little bit," Polman said.

01/25/2014 10:00 AM EST

'We Have A Moral Obligation'

"I think we have a moral obligation to use what is given to us for the benefit of all," Polman said.

"We have no rights to exclude people," Polman said.

01/25/2014 9:59 AM EST

Statue Of Responsibility

"I always say when they built the Statue of Liberty on the east coast of the United States, they forgot to build the Statue of Responsibility on the west coast," Polman said.

01/25/2014 9:56 AM EST

'We Really Need To Move Into Reaction Mode'

"I think people are starting to discover that we really need to move into reaction mode," Polman said.

Polman said the political process has become "incredibly difficult" and is riddled with "poor agreements."

"There is some progress but frankly, not fast enough, and the business community can not wait," Polman said.

"There is more of an urge from responsible business... to drive to action," Polman added.

01/25/2014 9:55 AM EST

'There Is An Enormous Demand On Food'

"Obviously as the population grows with the changing dietary habits, there is an enormous demand on food," Polman said.

Polman said he's worked to find sustainable solutions to food production.

01/25/2014 9:52 AM EST

'There's An Enormous Pressure On The CEO Of Today'

Arianna sat down with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, on HuffPost Live at Davos on Saturday to talk about pressure in business.

"There's a lot of pressure on the short-term," Polman said.

"There's an enormous pressure on the CEO of today," Polman added.

Polman said "the real purpose of business is to serve society," not to cater to the shareholder, but often the latter is what CEOs are focused on because of pressure.

01/25/2014 9:22 AM EST

Al Gore: 'We Need To Put A Price On Denial In Politics'

01/25/2014 8:49 AM EST

Brad Smith On Unplugging

Smith said he unplugs by getting outside and learning new things by doing things like reading.

"To me, that's a real joy," Smith said.

01/25/2014 8:45 AM EST

Relationship Between Business And Government

Smith said the relationship between business and government has a few different dimensions that usually exist at the same time.

"The government defines the laws and we comply with them," Smith said. "There may be times we think the government goes too far and we challenge them... there are times when we work together. There are times when the government is our customer."