Paul Bloom | To Live a Fulfilling Life Answer These Easy Questions

Paul Bloom | To Live a Fulfilling Life Answer These Easy Questions

In today’s episode, we cover the pursuit of meaning with Paul Bloom. Paul is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University, is the author of six books including his newest book, The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning.

The pursuit of meaning is often overshadowed by the pursuit of happiness, but which one is more important to living a fulfilling life, how are suffering, meaning, and happiness related, and what steps can you take to pursue meaning in your life?

What to Listen For

  • Introduction – 0:00
  • How does science define suffering and why is some good while some is bad?
  • Why do we seek out sorrow, suffering, and pain in experiences like spicy food, roller coasters, scary movies, etc?
  • Pursuit of Happiness vs Pursuit of Meaning – 11:40
  • How does pain lead to an increased sense of meaning in life?
  • How does money influence our suffering and happiness?
  • Why are people in rich countries generally happy while people in poor countries have more meaning in life?
  • What can you do to help your children understand the difference between happiness and meaning in life?
  • A fulfilling existence is not just about positive feelings – 31:56 
  • Why is it important to embrace painful experiences on a regular basis?
  • How can you find meaning in life without thinking about it or intentionally seeking it out?
  • Is there a link between chasing prestige, status, and meaning?
  • What is the difference between pursuing pleasure and pursuing meaning?
  • How can anxiety prevent you from finding meaning in life and what can you do to overcome it?

It is unfortunate that we put so much effort into avoiding pain, discomfort, and suffering. It is understandable from a short term perspective because it is natural for anything that feels pain to avoid things that cause pain. But it is the pain, discomfort, and suffering in our lives that leads to us learning and becoming stronger, wiser, more competent humans. This is not to say you should go outside and break your arm, but that pain is inevitable, and if we can learn to embrace it and work through it, those efforts will pay off much more in the long run than simply trying to be comfortable and safe as much as possible.

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Resources from this Episode

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Speaker 2: Hey, Jay today's interview with Paul bloom is so much fun and I'm excited for our audience. They hear it. You know, we're also huge podcast fans as well. And Paul has been a guest on many of the shows that we listened to. So have him in studio with us was super fun. We talk about struggle, meaning sacrifice. It is a killer episode.

Speaker 1: That's right today we have Paul bloom with us. He's a professor of psychology at the university of Toronto. He's won numerous awards for his research. And teaching is the author of six books, including how pleasure works, the new science of why we like what we like and his most recent book, the sweet spot, the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning is out. And we're excited today to chat about that. Welcome to the show, Paul, thanks for having me on now, your latest book, the sweet spot, the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning is out. And we'd be remiss without starting with what is the sweet spot?

Speaker 3: The sweet spot is the right balance between different human goals, like, uh, the right balance between pleasure and happiness and meaning and morality. And it's what we all have to struggle to find out ourselves. And what a book is about is the role of pain and suffering and difficulty and struggling and struggle in getting there.

Speaker 1: I think many of us don't view pain and suffering as a way to meaning or happiness. And we're going to unpack some of the science behind what goes on there. I think it's really important for us to at least start defining some terms for our audience as Thanksgiving is approaching. Many of us might consider time with the family as suffering, but what is science consider suffering?

Speaker 3: Um, suffering has different, has different meanings. The meaning I used throughout my book is the sort of experiences you'd normally want to avoid. It could be physical pain. It could be emotional pain could be anxiety and stress and struggle. And it's kind of here because I think some suffering is genuinely bad and I'll call it. Unchosen suffering to take it to extremes, having your child die, getting sexually or physically assaulted, getting a terrible illness. That's suffering. That's just sucks. And you want to avoid it. I'm not telling anything you don't know, but my book is about chosen suffering. And I started, I got interested in this because I noticed that a lot of pleasure, um, involves some degree of suffering, and scary movies, training for a marathon, that sort of thing. And then I sort of started to think about the role of chosen suffering as part of a good life more generally.

Speaker 1: Yeah. You introduced a term that I'd never heard before. Benign masochism and this idea of horror movies, mountain climbing, war rollercoasters. Why is it that we so often seek out sorrow fear and pain?

Speaker 3: It's a great question. And it doesn't have just one answer. So one reason and benign masochism was thought up by my friend, Paul rosin. And he, he really noticed that, well, we know humans are the only animals that like Tabasco sauce. We like spicy foods. Some of us like rollercoaster rides and scary movies, and what's going on here. And a lot of things, one thing is contrast. We like to play with contrast a bit. One reason why it's fun to eat really hot foods is because you drink some beer afterwards. And that makes it feel so nice. A hot bath, hot sauna feels great because of the coolness that that follows. And that's part of it. Part of it is control the feeling of control and mastery over struggles and pain. Part of it is that pain can kind of get you out of your own head. This is, I think what goes on with some forms of extreme exercise or where, you know, there's something very distracting about pain that could kind of take you, take your mind away from its crumbles, and then there's suffering in the, in the service of a larger goal. You know, take raising kids is a good example where, um, where it's difficult, it involves sleepless nights. You lose a lot of pleasure, but it's valuable. And part of the reason why things become valuable is you got to work to get them.

Speaker 1: It also begs the question of how much of our narrative and story-building around these events and experiences, color, the meaning that we have and how much do we control? How much control do we have over that framing in our own lives?

Speaker 3: It's a good question. So my, my interest is in suffering and pain that we choose, but then there's the suffering and pain to just come to us. That's just, you know, part of life and you're right. We're good storytellers. We often try to tell stories where there's an ultimate purpose for it. You know, sometimes these stories are religious. You know, God is testing me. I'll be rewarded in heaven. I'm a, you know, I it's of some sort of divine plan, but sometimes the stories we tell as we would say, everything happens for, for a reason or, um, this is making me stronger and more resilient. Sometimes the stories are true. Sometimes they're not so true, but yeah, we tend to, um, we, I think suffering has real benefits, but even when it doesn't, we tend to think it is. Yeah,

Speaker 1: I know in my own experience when I was training for the half marathon with Johnny and we were going through the pain of running long distances, and now even thinking about potentially running a full marathon, part of that suffering had meaning for me in, I was doing it with others. I was sharing that experience with others. And I know in the book, there are some examples that you can certainly do solitary marathons. You can do mountain climbing on your own, but it was interesting to me, how much of this experience involved others and being connected to others in that shared, chosen suffering.

Speaker 3: There's a lot of evidence, both from the lab and from the real world where, um, joined suffering does bring people together and, um, and it connects people. And you know, this is true. Even for unchosen suffering. There is a wonderful book called a paradise built in hell that looks at, uh, hurricane Katrina and nine 11 and other, you know, major crises around the world. And these often bring people together. They often, often people don't prey on each other and descend the Savage. We actually become much kinder and much closer to one another. So suffering does have that power, but even solitary suffering. Let me just push back a little bit. My bed is training for, well, I remember I trained for a marathon a long time ago and it was really tough. And when we decide to do these things, you don't say, oh, I'm looking forward to the blisters and the body aches and, you know, and maybe failing and exhaustion. But if you didn't have that, he wouldn't have the glow in your eyes when you're talking about it. If it wasn't tough, it wouldn't be valuable.

Speaker 2: I remember thinking during all that training and AAJ, I kept pointing to, to him about the idea of how that beer after half marathon is, is going to taste. And I put a lot of, of energy to thinking about that beer now, however, all done and gone. It wasn't really the beer that I thought about and how good it was for me. It was that summer of training all summer for it and feeling more engaged every day. Then I was like, I felt that I lived more in the moment that summer due to that training, then I have so much. So then I continue to run regularly after that. And at that time, the half marathon was the longest that I run since then, I had run past that multiple times because I just felt so good. There was the amount of chemicals that were released to the brain, how I felt about myself, how I felt about the world around me, the way I would be able to think more clearly as I would translate out during those runs and, and would wander through my mind. Those were the things that even to this day, when I think about training again, or getting back involved in it, that that I'm looking for, not the,

Speaker 3: Not the beer, the beer does taste better afterwards. And, you know, um, and, and you're touching upon a lot of the virtues of suffering in this context. One is it, it makes the beer taste better. It makes it really, it really adds to the pleasures later on. Um, and another is, it makes the whole thing worthwhile looking at you guys while you talk about it, you know, you can tell that this is a worthwhile experience and, but, and yet another while you're doing it and Steve still you right now, there's a feeling of mastery of like, you know, you, you, you have control over your body. You have control over your pain. Yes. It hurts. Yes. It's going to be tiring. Yes. Your heart is going to pound. You're gonna breathe really hard, but you've got it. And maybe, maybe, and that takes time. It takes time to develop the control, the ability to cope with the, you know, the pain training and running hard does to you. And there's a deep satisfaction in doing it. You, none of these things would be possible if it wasn't.

Speaker 1: Well, what I've noticed in obviously humans have been on this planet a while. There really aren't many feats that only one person can accomplish. So whether it's climbing Mount Everest, you join a club of people who've reached the summit, completing a half marathon. I've found, even if I didn't run the half marathon with someone just hearing that I ran, they got excited because they had that shared experience. And I feel a lot of these choices in suffering. And you talk about in the book, those members who join ISIS for instance, are looking for some form of connection, even if they're suffering through the pain to get to that connected place. So

Speaker 3: Offering as a great source of community and, you know, it's, it's something which can happen in a glorious and wonderful way. It could happen in a kind of an awful way, you know, Hitler commented on how suffering brings people together and the value of suffering and struggle. And, you know, you don't want to be like Hitler, but one of the things people say about going to war is that they have, they are never closer to anybody than the people they serve with. And, um, and I think that, you know, without going to war without a military context, endeavors like training for a marathon are climbing, Mount Everest have the same sort of feature.

Speaker 1: And many of our guests have come on to talk about happiness and our pursuit of happiness and finding happiness, chasing happiness. It seems like it's the hot topic. [inaudible] unfortunately what you just talked about. Doesn't really equate to happiness war, marathon training. You know, there, there are certainly moments in there where I found happiness, but it was very fleeting. So how is that balance of our pursuit of happiness and suffering, allowing us to find that sweet spot? Like how do we find that balance in life? And my followup is, do you think there's too much positivity, too much focus on happiness in this pursuit of meaning?

Speaker 3: I like the word balance. And I'll answer both your questions at once, which is, yeah, I think I, I'm not anti happiness or, you know, a lot of my book isn't, it's not necessarily telling you this is how to live the good life. It's, it's exploring what people want, how people get the most out of life, and I'd be lying to you. If I denied that happiness, would everyone wants to be happy. Everybody wants pleasure. And yeah, I think it's, I think living a life without pleasure would be, is a poor choice. Pleasures fun pleasures is great, but I think many people, including many psychologists have been single-mindedly focused on happiness on a maximisation of pleasure. And they think that this is what people only think people want. They think everything reduces to pleasure and they think that the best advice they could give anybody is to seek pleasure.

Speaker 3: I pretty sure all of these things are wrong. We want pleasure and happiness, but we also want to do good things for others we want. And we also want purpose and meaning. If I offered you two guys, a pill that would, uh, give you a certain form of Alzheimer's disease, total dementia, where you lose all your, you become just kind of in a vegetative state, but became deliriously happy. I can't imagine either one of you would take it. If I offered you a pill that would make you into a psychopath, which took away all guilt and shame and regret, and you just really get more pleasure to life now. Cause you could prey on people. I won't bother you. I bet you wouldn't take that one either. You want many people want many things.

Speaker 1: Yeah. It's interesting in that we had a guest on a couple of years ago, David Goggins. I'm not sure if you're familiar with him and his story, but much of his adult life is choosing. Suffering is choosing to be a pull-up champion is choosing to be an ultra marathon runner competing on broken feet. And in that episode, it's one of our more popular episodes to date. It seems like a lot of people aspire to and look up to a pain tolerance and ability to overcome suffering in their own lives. Even if they wouldn't choose it every

Speaker 3: Day. I think that that's right. Yeah.

Speaker 1: You mentioned that there's a, a piece to suffering that leads to more happiness. That that pain actually allows us to find happiness. And that that counterpoint of suffering creates space for us to realize happiness in our lives. Am I on the right track? There?

Speaker 3: You D you definitely are. Um, and, and in two ways, one thing, and this is what I originally got started on. I was originally interested in it is that pain can lead to pleasure. There's a lot of ways in which having a bit of pain, you know, to spicy food example that could lead to pleasure. But then there's the deeper thing we're talking about now, which is ego struggling and suffering is part and parcel of meaningful experiences. And we find those satisfying. We look back on those and we say, that's part of a good life. I'm satisfied. I did that. You know, so many of the things we do are kind of investments in a way, you know, where we're, we're doing this ridiculously long hike. And at every moment we're saying, man, I wish I was back home in a hot bath, you know, or lying on a sofa, watching Netflix. That's what I want to be. I don't want to be God, I have 10 miles to go, are you kidding me? But then when we get back, well, a, the beer tastes a lot better, but B for the rest of our lives, we look back and say, I'm the kind of person who did that. And there's a satisfaction to it.

Speaker 2: You made a case of being able to escape from yourself in some of the earlier parts in the books, certainly when it was dealing with and, uh, and SSI. And the other thing about that for those momentary moments where you're, you're separated, you're, you're not there you're, you're somebody else or you're transferred into another place. But through that, uh, AGA brings up David Goggins. And a lot of his suffering is, is for the person that he becomes due to that suffering the transformation that is there. And I don't know if you, in your research had seen that for, I guess I'm what I'm looking at as the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And that self-actualization is the top, the top of that. So for those people who are comfortable and content with other areas in our life, here's the next part to the strive for as I, if I don't need to find food every day to put on the table, I'm free to be my best self or to become my best self, to transform into my best self. And that transformation comes from the pressures that I'm going to put on myself to bring out the best qualities on myself.

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Speaker 3: That's a nice way of putting it. I have a friend, a philosopher, Lori Paul, who talks about transformative experiences, and these are experiences or choices that not only, um, change your life situation, like going to war or, um, or becoming a religious convert or having children, but change the kind of person you are. And sometimes we sort of throw our hat over the fence. We, we present ourselves with a Cottonwood city forces, suffering pain, with an idea, becoming a different person on the other side. Typically, if we choose to do it, we want to become a better person. And you know, you're ready to first part of my book. I talk about suffering as an escape from themself. And I give an example of actually, when I had the first time I ever rolled in, in BJJ against somebody much younger and much stronger than me as was everyone else there for like two minutes.

Speaker 3: I'm, you know, struggling not to have my, my head pulled from my body, but I realized during that time, I thought of nothing else. But, but, but the activity I didn't think about, oh, I have to do this. And I did this embarrassing thing in the past. There's total focus in struggle, but, and that's an escape from self, but then there's the added part that you're focusing on, which is a desire to transform yourself. And so many of the big choices we make that involve suffering even I think a half marathon does some extent have that sort of transformative appeal.

Speaker 1: And is there a physiological response in our body that leads to that pleasure after suffering? You know, I think of a hard workout. I think of a long run. I think of these stresses that we put on our body and you hear the runners high, right? Where you just feel escaped from your body and the pain that you just put yourself through.

Speaker 3: There has to be some sort of, sort of neurophysiological story here involving endorphins and various neuro-transmitters and so on. I think we know a lot more about what happens that for something like the runners high and very short term, I don't think we know anything about that. When we talk about things like training for a half marathon, not just, you're not just, you know, a one hour run, but training for it, little lone, having kids or starting a business or going to war, obviously to bring less changes as we're all talking about brain activity in some way, we know very little about what goes on.

Speaker 1: And I think in the conversation that you had with Sam Harris, what I found really interesting is when we introduce money into the equation. So there are a lot of misnomers around money and happiness, and also some of the more meaningful jobs in society don't actually compensate you very much. There isn't financial payoff. So when we talk about balance, how do you view money and its influence on one, our suffering and lack of financial means? And then also in our happiness,

Speaker 3: A good question. Look, one of the big findings in happiness research is money makes you happier as a skin up in that. If you, if you, you want to make more money, well, you kind of smart because money makes you happier. People making 70,000 are happy to making 40,000 better, make a hundred thousand and it's not surprising. Money buys you all sorts of stuff. And particularly if you're poor, you're vulnerable to predation, you're vulnerable to sickness. You have no security, all stuff can make you miserable. Money. Money does make people happy. But, and in fact, there's some evidence suggesting this is true. Even at the high end, people will make $10 million, have $10 million, or it could have a little bit happy to be one at $1 million. But your question is it raises an important point, which is there's other things to maximize than happiness. So you there's in the study of 2 million people where they said, what do you do?

Speaker 3: What's your job? And the people whose jobs had the most meaning included, included members of the clergy, soldiers, medical professionals, education educate educators, and some of these jobs don't pay well. And somebody whose jobs are actually have fairly low status, but they provide a lot of meaning. And so, you know that I wouldn't blame anybody for trying to maximize the amount of money they make because it's connected to happiness. But on the other hand, if you forget that there's other things and happiness, you could end up in a job and there aren't jobs like this, which really provide a lot of money and that that has its benefits, but they're numbing boring ways of spending your life at David Graber, according to term jobs, which are jobs that don't do anything you just shuffle around stuff. And the world is unaffected. And I think these numb the soul,

Speaker 2: There's an argument there that the west is full of people who are doing jobs. And now are trying to figure out how to bring in meaning, or if they're not going to bring meaning into that job, they're going to carry on because if it does have a half the pay, then they're happy about that, but there's still going to need to bring in meaning somehow into their life. For instance, for myself, I was just talking to a friend over the weekend and I am 48 years old and I still play music and bands. And I'm working on a record right now. And I love that pursuit. There's, there's a lot that, that goes about it. And, and of course the art of charm, which AIG and I had created some 15 years ago. I mean, th that both of those have so much meaning in my life and, and both, I, I feel supply each other with a meaning and purpose back and forth from the science that I learned here.

Speaker 2: A lot of that exploratory research ends up in fueling inspiration for the music that I'm writing and, and back and forth the music that I'm writing begs me to ask questions that then I have the opportunity in the art of charm to research an answer. And I enjoy that about having both of those, but for those people who may be doing a job, they either will have to find that in, in, in some manner. Because as I was telling my friend at the end of our conversation, it was the music thing makes everything else tolerable in my life.

Speaker 3: It sounds like you're doing things right. If you want to look at the happiest countries in the world, you just find the richest countries for the most part. And those are people when people say they're happiest. But if you want to look at the countries where people say they have the most meaning in life, you look for the poorest countries where people actually said, anyway, some more meaning, because if you're struggling each day, your work has a sort of meaning. It doesn't have, if you're fairly prosperous and protected. And, um, and so part of the question is what does one do if one's in a job and the glib answer is find a better job, but you know, maybe you can't find a better job, maybe, maybe, or maybe you don't want to take the hit. I mean, you don't wanna lose your health insurance or whatever. So if you can't do that find meaning in other aspects of your life. And, you know, and I have, I have a lot of friends who I live in have very rewarding jobs, but I also have friends who don't have rewarding jobs and they go, they do their stuff, and then they do something else.

Speaker 1: Well, I think we're seeing this with the great resignation, you know, we have more jobs available, but more unemployed than ever. And it's confounding a lot of economists around, well, wait a second. We thought if there were jobs, people would naturally take the jobs. And we're now realizing that compensation and even happiness are not as important as meaningful work. And for many meaning was lost once we had to work from home and we didn't have that connectedness, we were just on screens all day. I wonder as a parent, as you think through navigating raising children and this idea of happiness versus meaning, you know, how do you strike that balance and support your children as they navigate this? I think it's easier for us as we are older to realize meaning in our life, but for many of our younger listeners, that search for meaning in the very beginning of their career is, is very difficult.

Speaker 3: It's tough. And it's particularly tough now. Um, there are so many things trying to pull you away from meaning and purpose and sustained practice everything from, you know, Facebook to Twitter, to TV streaming services and everything. We don't have to struggle boredom anymore. And as modern world, I have my, I have my iPhone next to me. I could always check my email and go online and so on. And so it's actually very difficult to get off your and put down these distractions and focus on something, sustaining and complicated and causing some degree of difficulty and anxiety and many, many young people. I think find it very difficult to do that life. There's just too many other, other distractions. And that's, that's, that's hard. You know, the book that's probably influenced me the most in my life is my Holly chick sent me his book flow talks about sort of sustained experience when you're really into something you lose track of time. You don't, you forget to eat just zoomed in focused on hard intellectual work, but he does these surveys. And a lot of people don't ever have flow in their lives. They're always just, you know, just going around and never fully engaged. So it's, it's difficult. I just appreciate the difficulty, some things get you out of it. Music, musical performance, as a way of, of, of getting a sustained attention, focus on sports, certainly writing, reading sometimes,

Speaker 2: Um, early in the book, you were, you were laying out the argument of being able to explore and especially exploring these emotions in your mind, and for myself, uh, I'm not into horror movies or anything like that. However, the music that I listened to is certainly on can be very dour and it can be very dark and nothing makes me feel the way that that music does. And for the average listener or somebody who just came upon it by chance, I think it might horrify them where for myself, I find it harrowing and lifting and just so dramatic. And, and of course, I think back to Wagner or some of the other more controversial artists whose music was so dark comparatively to the other artists of the times. And we're the first time I, there was a seeing us show live, where I started to weep because of the emotions that I was feeling in, in that performance and how much I chase those moments.

Speaker 3: That's such a good counter argument against those who would say, well, you would just want to have happiness. We just want to kind of boost up on a pleasurable emotions, you know, joy, sexual satisfaction, satiation, you know, exhilaration, all those positive things. It doesn't describe people. We often enjoy sampling negative emotions. We often enjoy sampling here and regret and sadness in, in the right doses, in controlled circumstances. But there's something, um, Michael Norton calls emo diversity, which is the idea that, that we, we want to get a range of different emotions. Sometimes a full life involves getting this and that trying out different things. So, you know, we, you would imagine all of the sort of hedonistic theories of human nature would say we avoid being frightened because being frightened is bad. And yet there we are going to haunted houses and saying the most disgusting and terrifying or movies or listening, listening to songs that, that, you know, that freak us out or make us cry. So this is a wonderful case.

Speaker 1: You touched on religion earlier and you think about all of the great religions, involve characters who suffer good, amazing people who suffer and through suffering. We come to worship them. We don't go to movies to just see people experiencing happy for two and a half hours. We don't go and seek out this entertainment that just is hedonistic and pleasure filled almost all stories that we share as humans across centuries, generations, cultures even have suffering baked into the storyline. They have a hero's journey that we're drawn to. Do you feel that this is something that crosses all cultures and we all as humans are drawn to because you mentioned earlier, you know, some of the more happy culture, some, uh, some of these differences we're seeing in meaning even our cultural,

Speaker 3: Some things are cultural. There's cross cross-cultural differences in the sort of suffering people enjoy in a sort of pleasures. People like, uh, there's also individual differences. Sometimes people don't like horror movies, other people like spicy foods, some people don't, but there are also universals. And I think you're touching on an important universal, which is just like the lives we want to live, require suffering and struggle. The stories we want to watch and listen to and read about. Also involve the same thing, you know, that you ask, what is a story? What does a story have to have to be a story? And one answer, I think a good answer is it has to involve somebody facing an obstacle. It could be funny. It could be the obstacle could be a good ad, a fun romcom with color, threading it together. It could be the most horrible Holocaust narrative of people trying to survive, but you need an obstacle. And this sets up the possibility of a hero's journey is, but also sets up the possibility for somebody who's struggling. And as soon as you get to struggle, you get to difficulty and you're on your way to the suffering. The obstacle doesn't even have to be surmounted. You know, Rocky finished the fight, but he didn't win. I don't want to run to spoil a lot of movies, but some of my favorite sports movie, they don't end up winning it end, but they, they fight or not. And it's interesting that that just catches us my

Speaker 2: Favorite movie that ends that way as the bad news bears, but the struggle that those children go through and what they learned about themselves and the connection that they had with their fellow teammates that they wouldn't have had without the struggle and the suffering of playing on this horrible baseball team. And the only way that they were going to get to a place of feeling good about themselves is to figure out how to connect and win as a team rather than the, uh, individually. And I mean, that, that movie seeing it I'm 48. So I saw it at a very tender age, which also set up probably a lot of wanting to connect with other kids as well. And also feeling a bit of a, of an outcast as that whole team was basically made up about CAS and being able to see something that you could relate to and know, I, we can overcome together. Like we can, we can become something that perhaps we maybe don't feel or are individually class.

Speaker 3: That's a story. Yeah. Ted lasso is the most recent example of that. Um, but you know, the dirty dozen and, you know, get a ragtag bunch of losers together and then watch them struggle. And then, you know, in the middle of fail and it looks like it's all hope is lost and they spring back. Here's the worst idea for a movie ever bring together people who are tremendously successful, have a clear advantage. They get together and they easily win. It's like, wow, it's wow, that's a terrible movie. You want you, you want to see. Um, and, and the reason why we like the bad news bears is cause, cause their struggle because the struggle brings people together. Cause, cause, um, and because it has this, this arc you need, you need this sort of arc. One guy is this data scientist went on Wikipedia and he says, scrubbed it and took out like over a hundred thousand different stories that plays and books and movies. And he analyzed them to see what their structure was. And the most common structure overall is things, you know, get worse and worse and worse and worse, worse. Then they get better at the very end there's victory and that's boom non-necessary, you know, but, but, but that, that's a good thing.

Speaker 1: This search for meaning is universal. I mean, philosophers have thought about it. Many books have been written about it in the book. You make the argument that we can achieve a meaningful life without trying to achieve it or think about it. It's a bit counterintuitive to think we could find meaning without even looking for it. How in your view is that possible?

Speaker 3: Yeah. I'm pushing back on own little philosophers and say an unexamined life isn't worth living. And you gotta be thinking if you're not thinking about meaning it's not meaningful and so on. And you know, I had some of my best friends are philosophers, but, but that's, you know, that's like a barber saying the meaning of life has to have well trimmed here. Uh, these guys are focusing on what they, and what they focus on for me, a good analogy is getting in physical shape, which is one, one way to get in physical shape is to, is to read up on it a lot and plan and I've exercised plan. But you can imagine somebody who is in great shape, who never thinks of being in great shape. They just live a life conducive to being in great shape. Similarly, I don't know, mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama ever spend a lot of time thinking like they would spend a lot thinking, gee, is this meaningful? Am I meeting? Am I living a meaningful life? They just are well, on the flip side, a lot of people, you know, sit, sit under a butts on a couch and they scroll through different TV channels. And I spent hours wondering, what is meaning? Is this, what is the best life? How do I maximize? They're not living meaningful, nicer than thinking about it. So yeah, you could do, you could do it without trying.

Speaker 1: Well, those two examples are extreme acts in service of others. Yes, that's right, right. I mean, we're talking about two of the most charitable people in history. So what role does that service of others play in, in our finding meaning in our own lives, much of what we see in social media and is driven in the narrative today of your own personal highlight reel. Everyone wants to put out what they're doing and what they're up to. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about service to others.

Speaker 3: It's an interesting question. And I'm going to sort of say send it, which maybe is, it will be a bit surprising when you look at what people think of as a meaningful activity, it does involve having an effect on others, having some sort of oomph, some sort of impact on the world. And it's very natural to think of this in terms of helping others. But honestly you can get that in terrible ways, Adolf, Eichmann, whatever you will say about him as he had a plan, the third Reich and the murder of millions of people was, was, was lived a meaningful life. He had, he had big goals that he wanted to achieve. He focused, he had flow and so on. So I think, I think the ingredient for meaning as big impact, we like to think of that in terms of goodness, but it can also be in terms of evil goals. I don't know if I, this is sounding kind of, kind of flippant after talking about Holocaust, but, but fantas in, in, in, in the Marvel series

Speaker 1: Definitely was a guy who had meaning in his life cannot collect infinity stones and kill half, half a descension beings in the universe. That's a goal, not a good goal, but it's a goal. When you think about impact, prestige is often what follows, right? We don't pay close attention or canonize. Those who've had minimal impact on noticeable impact. So is there a link between chasing prestige and, and chasing status and meaning

Speaker 3: It's a good, critical response to me because I want to argue we're after meaning we're after real meaning and you could come and say, well, you know, isn't that strange that these real meaningful things tend to get you a lot of a claim and status and love. Maybe that's really what we're after. And I think there are ways to pull these apart. I think for example, a lot of the meaningful things we do and raising kids is my go to example here, don't get you status and a claim and fame, you know, you're, you're a good dad to some kids. It's no one's going to give you an award or whatever. Um, but still is a value, but in the real world, yeah. I would like to say somebody who climbs Mount Everest is seeking a sort of meaningful pursuit. But if you wanted to push back and say, oh, maybe they just like the fame that comes with having climb Mount Everest, it's hard to argue against it. They're very difficult to pull apart.

Speaker 1: Yeah. There's very few pictures on social media. On the top of Mount Everest, you, you enter a very select company.

Speaker 2: Well, you're also on that journey. You're passing a lot of notable folks whose graves are on that mountain and that have to see

Speaker 3: There's a good question. What distinguishes those people who do it from those people who don't. Yeah.

Speaker 2: The other thing that immediately came to my mind there, as well as how much does procreation or that love come into play, subconsciously we know for evolutionary purposes, how much is driving our everyday thoughts that we're not even conscious of. And if we're not going to be the, the healthy physical specimen will, then we're going to have to figure out other ways to get that attention approval and acceptance that we so crave for ourselves that allow us to know that we're okay. And, and a lot of these pursuits give us build character. They make us individuals, they make us unique to everybody else. So here's my opportunity to separate myself and to get that attention. Yeah,

Speaker 3: You could distinguish two motives here. One is the sort of for myself, mark myself off as distinct satisfy my own desire to be special. You could also say a lot of this is what evolutionary theorists call signaling, which is each and every one of us from a baby to an adult man, woman wants to show off their best self. This is how you get the best mates, the best friends, the best, uh, the best support in the world. And so, and this is in one way in which pain comes in, pain and suffering comes in, which we haven't talked about yet, which is one reason why people choose this offer is because it shows the world how tough they are or, or, you know, you just say, oh yeah, you know, I just have been training for an iron man triathlon, oh, don't pay attention to me.

Speaker 3: It's just something I do. You know, it, it's a way of sort of showing off just as religious suffering people. There's people who get crucified during Easter. And, and to, to, in, in reminiscence of, of Christ's crucifixion, there are people who I talk about this in my book, who goes through protests, religious rituals. And sometimes it's showing how pious they are, you know? And so, so that plays a role too. You guys were both talking about the sort of social nature of suffering. And one thing that's the social nature is I see, as it brings you together to a group, but another way is, you know, you ever see a group of kids together at a table, teenage boys, and they're seeing whomever could eat the most wasabi. This is what we do to,

Speaker 1: Well, you, you bring up kids and you also in the book talk about how the happiest moments are actually when the kids leave the house pain and suffering is in childbearing and the stress that goes along with raising children. So how is it that kids provide that opportunity for meaning yet when we're actually experiencing raising them? It's not tied to the classical markers of happiness or meaning necessarily. It's a lot of stress.

Speaker 3: It's a wonderful illustration of how you could pull apart happiness from other things you take. Um, you know, I was talking to this Ida other day, uh, and he has, uh, two kids and I think they were one and three and the guy looked at me like he hadn't done it over to more. Presumably he hadn't slept in a week and he's like, ah, he's like a zombie and everything. And, and he's going on about how, how exhausted he is now freaked out. He is and overworked and insane. And plainly I, you know, my kids are way are adults now Lam my life, I think was some more pleasure, but, but there's something hugely rewarding and what he was doing. And part of this is, is what we, haven't. Another thing we haven't talked about before, which is love, which is, you know, one of the signs of a life well lived is loving relationships. And the relationship you have with your kids, I don't know, is, is, is intense and special and unusual, sometimes terrible and often wonderful. And, and it doesn't reduce to simple boy, I'm having more hedonistic joy than I had before

Speaker 1: That example of kids, or we look at Gandhi and mother Teresa, much of this is a legacy that, that lasts beyond our time here on earth as well. You know, we hope and pray that our children will outlast us. So is there meaning tied to that legacy that we leave in? The work that we do?

Speaker 3: I think there is, I think one difference between pleasure and meaning is pleasure is kind of fleeting. Pleasure. You have pleasure, you have fun, and then it goes away. And in fact, you would try to recapture. It just gets boring after awhile. Well, meaningful pursuits are long-term and the real meaningful pursuits we imagine are long-term that extend beyond our lives. And, you know, raising kids is a wonderful example is not the only example. I think musicians and artists and writers often aspire to have a ripple effect to have an effect on things after you're gone and as well as people who do good works in general, you know, I helped somebody and I think, well, you know, maybe their life has improved in ways that, that I won't be there to witness.

Speaker 1: Yeah. You think about science and research and, and understanding something that is a mystery you think about creation and art. So obviously we've, we've used the example of raising children quite a bit, but there are plenty of other ways for those in the audience who aren't necessarily considering kids.

Speaker 3: And I should say, I think, I think, uh, I think kids are, are, um, a great source of meaning, but I know a lot of people who aren't parents whose lives are incredibly rich and meaningful. And I think that, I think the balance is such that having kids is kind of a tough call. There are so many other ways in which you could have a rich and meaningful life. Um, and you know, you have kids that it precludes certain options

Speaker 1: And we're not making the argument that kids guarantee meaning in your life.

Speaker 3: No, don't, don't, don't Sue me if you have kids. And then

Speaker 1: Where's my meeting, Paul, and I'm not finding it.

Speaker 3: Sure. My life is, is empty. Meaning you faster.

Speaker 1: No, I'm going to have a lot of kids sent your way,

Speaker 3: Paul, and I'm not going to take care of your kids if you find a day where this steak

Speaker 2: Well, for a lot of parents, I mean, th th the way that they look at their children and the way they raise them for a lot of them, you always hear, well, I want my children to have a better life than I did. And, and you usually hear that across the board, even people who had great lives, aspire to give their children even better lives than, than they have. So obviously there's a lot of meaning that, that goes into that practice that allows them again, to feel good about what they do.

Speaker 3: Yeah, I think so. I think, um, and, and, and there's another component, which is, if you ever meet a cynic who tells you, we just want to be happy and get short-term pleasure, point out to them that most people want their kids to be happy, or their friends or their, their, their, their family people. They love to be happy and flourish even after they're gone. You even when there's nobody there to be happy to, to witness them. And, you know, I know people who make sacrifices for when they're gone so that others will, will live a good life. And it's very hard to reconcile that with sort of simple minded, hedonistic approach.

Speaker 1: And there are many in our audience who are living their lives right now, simply to make others happy and sacrifice their own happiness. Along the way. Another point I wanted to touch on is anxiety. We talk a lot about anxiety on the show and anxiety is really the anticipation of future suffering or pain. And it'll often block us from taking actions that lead to suffering. How do you view anxiety in this balance and sweet spot search for meaning? Yeah.

Speaker 3: I think like a lot of things, anxiety as a kind of sweet spot. I don't want to overuse the term, but we talk all the time about people who have too much anxiety. And because those are people that they such people are unhappy. They, they, they, they end up in psychiatrists, offices, and they end up taking medication. But the evolutionary psychologist Nassi says, what about people too little anxieties, as you know, where you find them, you find them in morgues and prisons, because they're not anxious enough. They don't anticipate bad events enough. And so to get into all sorts of trouble, it's too much anxiety. If I'm afraid to go on a balcony of my, uh, 10th floor, it's too little. If I'm playing tight rope by bouncing up and down on, on, on the ledge, you know, so you want an optimal amount of anxiety and the situation will dictate what the optimal amount is sitting in my nice house in Toronto.

Speaker 3: I need less anxiety than if I was in a maximum security prison, but, um, but we need, we, you want to, you want to have the right amount of anxiety. It's, it's hard to, it's easy to miss this because anxiety is bad. It doesn't feel good, but it's good for us. And that way it's kind of like physical pain, you know, you might think, well, pain sucks and pain does suck. I wish I could have an off switch to shut off the pain, but we know there are people who have neurological disorders where they feel no pain, and they often don't live past adolescence because they don't develop that the natural tendency to protect their bodies from damaged.

Speaker 1: Yeah. It's a guardrail for dangerous behaviors. Exactly,

Speaker 3: Exactly. And negative emotions in general, we might imagine, we want to rid ourselves of them of, um, of anger, jealousy of shame of guilt. But if you have too little of them, it will bite you and in different ways.

Speaker 1: I feel in many respects, we have this need for story. This need to create meaning when we find no meaning and it's meaningless, we, we panic. And oftentimes we'll, we'll write stories that aren't grounded in reality, based on the facts on the ground to help us mitigate or deal with that pain and fear, then you have this other camp that's, you know, positivity for the sake of positivity and rewrite every narrative to be positive to you. So how do you balance the, those who, who rewrite every narrative to be the victim versus those who rewrite every narrative to be the Victor?

Speaker 3: So there's two questions here. One question is what's the sort of psychological benefits of this. There's no neutral stance. So when bad things happen, do I envision myself as to hero rising above them or do I envision myself as crushed by them? And, um, and it's probably beneficial. Dan Gilbert talks about a psychological immune system, which is a tendency to tell stories in which it's okay. I did well to benefit from it. You know, I actually think that as a grownup person, we should try not to tell false stories. We should try to be true to what happens, not just because it's good to know true things, because I think that too, but also because it helps us in the future. And I think that's actually the danger of telling these it's all happens for a reason. And there's a plan and everything, which is, you know, we want to recognize the existence of randomness and treat the world accordingly. Just to take an extreme example. There are people who think that if they have some good fortune, some bad fortune is coming their way and vice versa, they believe in sort of balanced. Siri was not true. Do the universe, the universe doesn't care.

Speaker 1: The universe does not care.

Speaker 3: It's an unfeeling universe that doesn't, it doesn't love you. It doesn't hate you either. So that's nice.

Speaker 1: And I really appreciate the, the focus on balance because I feel that in order to get through the ups and downs of life, the pursuit of balance means there's going to be times when it tilts to either side. And it's completely out of our control. And much of what we know about biology is around this return to homeostasis this return to the middle. And as we now are living through and experiencing in this podcast, suffering, there's a balance happiness, there's a balance. And in that balance, we can find meaning in our lives as

Speaker 3: Beautifully put it's. Uh, it's also Aristotle. I'm told that Aristotelian idea of, of a life of a good life is a well-balanced life among different priorities. And that's to answer to sort of question we began with that's when we're talking about the sweet spot.

Speaker 2: Well, it's interesting Andy talking about balancing, of course, we have a lot of clients who, who, uh, ask, how do I get more balance in my life between everything? And, and I, and I think that question in itself has many answers to it, where for a lot of folks, the new thing is about seasons, about shifting from one to the other and create balance that way, rather than living your day, very balanced, which I can understand what drive people a bit batty as well. I've I I've done this much work. I have to do this. You know, that that has its own thing as well, but looking at your life on a timeline and looking at the seasons and the efforts that you're putting into certain things to derive that enhancement of life or enjoyment out of life, and whether that is pleasurable or the suffering that you're transforming or getting something out of on the other end.

Speaker 3: It's an interesting thought. I never thought of that way of balancing. And I always thought of as sort of a day-to-day thing, it's kind of freaky to think somebody said, well, summer, I'm going to focus on pleasure, but winter's coming up and that's gonna be truth. Then, you know, next year I'll start myself off, live some meaning and then move to beauty. And then, you know, so it's, it's an interesting way.

Speaker 1: Well, I could tell you living in New York city, I definitely pursued pleasure during the summer and stayed indoors during the winter.

Speaker 3: I chose my things wisely. She was pleasure. I'm in Canada, man. Don't, don't go for pleasure in a winter. Winter should be truth, work on truth then. Sorry. I was just going to say that there's these studies that look at how people naturally balance things in their lives. What do you have to suppose later today? There's some good things you're looking forward to, you know, a call with a friend or something and some bad things. I cleaned the kitty litter or something. People balanced them. People naturally to put a balance. Once you do a very good thing, peoples tend to do a bad thing. And so on. There's a natural sense of balance. I liked it. I love the seasons ideas, the coolest thing I've ever heard of. I don't really think it's very tenable

Speaker 2: When it was relayed to us is so that this month or this quarter, I'm going to be focusing on work. And then once I have this situated and got this up to a certain level of where I'm, I'm happy with it. Now, I'm going to this next season because I've invested in work. This season goes, the family make up for the time that I spent focused on

Speaker 3: Well, more power to let me know how that works out.

Speaker 1: We love asking every guest one last question, what your X factor is, what it is that you think makes you extraordinary. Paul.

Speaker 3: So there was a supposition in there. Do any of your guests modestly say, no, I nothing. I'm just not extraordinary. Some

Speaker 1: Do. Definitely.

Speaker 3: I'm going to tone down and under extraordinary, but say a skill that I have, and I'll be out. I'll match this with, um, with a skill I don't have, which is, and this isn't a sort of scholarly research, dummy. I know people who were like laser beams, focusing on somebody with tremendous analytic depth, going deeper and deeper and deep. And I really admire that. That's not my strength. I see my X-Factor as that, I, I tend to be able to integrate things from a lot of different areas and put them together in, in maybe new ways and, you know, I let other people be the judge of whether I succeeded at that, but that that's, that's one of the things I try to do in my book.

Speaker 1: We can definitely appreciate that your latest book, the sweet spot, the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning is out. We highly recommend our audience. Check it out. Thank you for joining us. Paul fun conversation.

Speaker 3: Thank you for having me. This was tons of

Speaker 4: [inaudible]

Speaker 1: Johnny. The perspective that Paul offered our audience is so important. We often have how to guests on the show, breaking down the science, but it's important to realize that life is about balance when it comes to suffering, when it comes to pleasure and that happiness, that we're all looking for.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I really dug that. Paul had a curiosity. So he wrote this book as an opportunity to research this subject. It has been on his mind and for me, that's why I love discovery and exploration to answer the questions that Moll around in my brain.

Speaker 1: Well, we know there are a lot of questions up there. There's

Speaker 2: Certainly

Speaker 1: This week, shout out, goes to Joshua who wrote us in our Facebook community group to tell us how grateful he is for the skills he learned at his art of charm program. Joshua manages a trader Joe's and told us how much is art. A term skills have helped manage his team and keep everyone in the proper head space. During the pandemic. He is those skills to train the staff on body language and eye contact to help ease customer tensions and keep his staff feeling good. Doing their jobs in a difficult environment,

Speaker 2: Comes to communication. Most people think of the conversations that we have, but we know that communication is something that happens verbally and non-verbally we help our clients finally supercharge their verbal communication, but also make sure that their non-verbals match exactly what it is that they want to be saying about themselves. Remember, your actions speak louder than words.

Speaker 1: If you want to be like Josh had joined us in our Facebook community, head over to the art of to join today. Also,

Speaker 2: You do us and the entire art of charm team, a huge favor, head on over to iTunes and rate and review this podcast. It would really mean the world to us, help others find the show and helps us get great guests like Paul bloom.

Speaker 1: The art of charm podcast is produced by Michael Harold and Eric Montgomery until next week. Have a great one.

Speaker 4: [inaudible].

Check in with AJ and Johnny!

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