Monday, 10 January 2022

"Is it an oxymoron to say that suffering can make us… happy?"

"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 ... [that] suffering might do us good.
    "So why do we do things that are unpleasant and/or hard? 'We’re motivational pluralists,' argues Bloom".... 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....
    "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."

~ Amy Willis, summarising Russ Roberts' podcast interview with author Paul Bloom exploring just how much - and how often - 'suffering' might do us good


  1. I've come to agree with this, particularly after reading the biography of David Goggins. Not that all suffering is good necessarily, but that some suffering is necessary for good to be maximised. I think that for this to apply, short term suffering needs to produce a longer term benefit.

    In many cases there's a benefit just after you've suffered, and then additionally something much later and more cumulative. When you do a hard workout for instance, there's a flooding of endorphins into your system that leaves you feeling good the rest of the day, and in the longer term it accumulates towards making you stronger, fitter and looking better.

    I see no redemptive features in horror movies and super hot baths though. Gritty war movies perhaps with horrible things happening - because they make you appreciate how trivial your worries are in comparison, making you feel better/less stressed; and cold showers/plunging yourself into cold water - which aside from the endorphins they bring on, apparently has longer term health benefits.

    1. I think there's an equivocation with the word 'suffering.' A little like the non-Objectivist use of the word 'sacrifice,' when used to talk about, say, the 'sacrifices' a sportsman might make in pursuit of excellence in his game -- which when integrated into the fuller context is not a sacrifice at all (i.e., so far is it from being a sacrifice of higher values for lower values that it is in fact precisely the opposite!)
      So in other words, I'd argue that the *idea* connoted by both words *as used here* ('sacrifice' and 'suffering' are fine), but when integrated into the fuller context, and the longer term, it would be better to use a more accurate word.

    2. I agree about the equivocation. Except when talking about 'sacrifice' it's often quite easy to distinguish the lower from the higher value - as in the example you gave. However when it comes to suffering, the higher/longer term value is often not so obvious. An example is that when my boy turned 13, as a bit of an initiation event to signal him becoming a young man, I took him for a hard overnight hike into the mountains, that involved some danger. I'm sure he suffered a bit, and there was no concrete end result in mind for either of us; but he looks back on that day with nostalgia, and I think will add somewhat to his happiness for the rest of his life.

    3. Not always so obvious, no. Although the long-term value -- becoming an admirable young man -- should be obvious enough. :-)


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