Happiness, Suffering, and The Sweet Spot | Paul Bloom on EconTalk with Russ Roberts

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Key Takeaways

  • We have very paradoxical pleasures – eating spicy food, long runs, crossword puzzles, watching scary movies
    • Pleasure is often realized and maximized as a result of suffering
    • Having children is the ultimate paradoxical pleasure:
      • “If you do [parenting] right, [your children] will eventually leave you. Actually, if you do it right, they will eventually think a lot less of you than you think of them. It’s such a perverse project, a very human one.” – Paul Bloom
  • We are temporal creatures, we thrive in a bad-to-good time arc
    • The Sweet Spot – embracing the cyclical nature of joy and suffering helps use worry and anxiety for positive reinforcement
    • “It hurts as much as it’s worth” – Paul Bloom
  • We are motivational pluralists, we don’t just want one thing – happiness is made up of reward, struggle, self-fulfillment, well-being (etc.), and not just pleasure
  • Happiness and meaning are often difficult to maintain simultaneously, anxiety is the variable function in the equation
    • Happiness occurs when you try to limit your anxiety
    • Meaning often comes in high instances of anxiety considering external pressures
  • When it comes to Walter White or Tony Soprano, people get skewed moral visions. We end up rooting for values that we don’t even hold.
    • If you become the people you hang out with, are you hanging out with the characters in your favorite TV show?

Intro

Suffering

  • We have very paradoxical pleasures – eating spicy food, long runs, crossword puzzles, watching scary movies
    • All require effort and a little bit of pain, but they have satisfying trade-offs
    • Suffering makes the pay-off more valuable
    • Having children is the ultimate paradoxical pleasure
      • Negatives: You lose sleep, increase marital stress, sacrifice time/money
      • Positives: Gives your life meaning, purpose, value, and identity (Paul says the first thing he introduces himself as is a father, not a professor)
        • “If you do [parenting] right, [your children] will eventually leave you. Actually, if you do it right, they will eventually think a lot less of you than you think of them. It’s such a perverse project, a very human one.” – Paul Bloom
  • There’s importance in ‘chosen suffering’ – life is boring if you don’t apply hardness to your activities, even the simplest of tasks

The Sweet Spot

  • ‘Worrying’ is a way of focusing on negative possibilities and forcing us to prepare for these
    • ‘Worry’ is very motivating, the system forces us to consider the most unpleasant possibilities and be prepared to have the confidence to negate the problem if it does occur
    • “It’s hard to enjoy the good times because you know they are going to end” – Russ Roberts
      • The Sweet Spot – embracing the cyclical nature of joy and suffering helps utilize worry and anxiety for positive reinforcement
      • It’s a curse to have too much anxiety but also a curse to have too little anxiety
        • “It hurts as much as it’s worth” – Paul Bloom
        • Embrace the contextual value of your suffering
  • We are temporal creatures, we thrive in a bad-to-good time arc

Experience Machine

  • Experience Machine – Putting your life in a simulated reality, pretending to achieve continuous pleasure for the sake of pleasure, not for the sake of experience. Pleasure is no longer dependent on suffering.
    • Robert Nozick refutes the hedonist principles in Experience Machine – you don’t want to think you climbed Mt. Everest, you want to actually climb Mt. Everest
    • Experiences only get value because they reflect realities
    • Drugs can be a form of the experience machine
  • There is room for moral pluralism – a moral agreement with yourself that you see value in both pleasure and suffering but there are instances where one presents more value
    • We are not always ‘utility maximizers’ – there’s a ton of nuance that goes into these decisions over how to regulate our experience (simulated and real)

Happiness

  • Many happiness strategies are not grounded in science but rather in becoming an NYT bestseller or getting a Ted Talk
    • Most of them are in a narrow-minded hedonist approaches
    • We are motivational pluralists, we don’t just want one thing – happiness is made up of reward, struggle, self-fulfillment, well-being (etc.), and not just pleasure
  • Happiness and meaning are almost impossible to maintain at 100% simultaneously
    • Happiness is most often found in people who focus on themselves
      • These people focus on removing as much anxiety from their lives as possible
    • Meaning is usually externally focused
      • People with meaningful lives have a lot of anxiety because people rely on their efforts, reducing their capacity for happiness
    • ‘Fun’ can exist in both places but is ironically found more often in difficult activities than on vacation

Morality in Entertainment

  • TV programs certainly shape our moral compass, good and bad
    • Paul cites an example where as a kid he was watching a sitcom where a child talked back to his parents and the laugh-track played accordingly. This associates the illusion of talking back to your parents as a positive moral trait.
  • Anti-Heroes have become a cultural norm
    • We recognize that people can be “roughly good” but also have bad parts in them
    • When it comes to Walter White or Tony Soprano, people get a skewed moral vision. We end up rooting for values that we don’t even hold. Whether that expands past the screen, we can only hypothesize.
      • You become the people you hang out with, are you hanging out with the characters in your favorite TV show?
Econtalk : , , , , , ,
Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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