Are you a fan of spicy food? Horror movies? Super hot baths? If so, why? Is it an oxymoron to say that suffering can make us… happy? In these trite instances, it might not seem so radical, but psychologist Paul Bloom argues an even grander point. In this episode, he joins EconTalk host Russ Roberts to explore just how much- and how often- suffering might do us good.
So why do we do things that are unpleasant and/or hard? “We’re motivational pluralists,” argues Bloom. He and Roberts talk a lot about having kids, for example. Whether in the short or long-term, (i.e., hot sauce versus parenting), Bloom suggests suffering is a necessary part of living a meaningful life, as opposed to a merely pleasure-filled life. As usual, I have a lot of questions lingering after listening. I hope you’ll take a moment to consider some of them. I’d love to see your reactions in the comments, and we’d also love to hear about any offline conversations these questions or this episode sparked. You can always reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1- Bloom argues that the projects that make life worth living involve suffering; but that the ordering of suffering and joy is not just important but essential. What does he mean by this? (And how does this also help explain the typical story ark as well- Roberts notes the film Shawshank Redemption here.)
2- Roberts draws a comparison between “classical” and “popular” art, suggesting that the latter are much more likely to haver happy endings. Do you think Russ is right? Why?
3- The conversation takes up Robert Nozick‘s Experience Machine. To what extent ought we to consider this thought experiment a refutation of simple hedonism? Nozick said people would refuse the machine, but Bloom insists some people would use it, and further that we must respect that moral pluralism. How right is Bloom? How many people do you think would agree to life in the Experience Machine?
4- Bloom and Roberts turn to the phenomenon of the anti-hero, and speculate on the dangers of becoming the kind of people you hang out with. As with a common argument about video games, while we may no longer be concerned that people will copy the actions of characters, somehow it still seems “bad” to many. Why does Roberts suggest it’s somehow nice to imagine yourself like Tony Soprano or Walter White? Is it morally somehow wrong to watch The Sopranos or Succession?
5- Apropos of the title of Bloom’s book, where’s the sweet spot? Bloom suggests it’s a curse to have too much or too little anxiety. So how do/can you add “the right kind if suffering” to your life?