Sam Harris - Limits of Pleasure

Happy New Year! My New Year’s Resolution is to post in a bit more regular (and timely) manner on this blog. One of the podcasts I enjoyed over my holidays was Sam Harris’ “The Limits of Pleasure” which explored why humans do very often seek out and value what is, for all intents and purposes, failure. Or worse, suffering. He spoke with Paul Bloom, the author of The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning:

  • Why do people get pleasure from certain forms of controlled suffering? Why do we take hot baths, go to saunas, do martial arts, run marathons, go to scary movies, listen to sad songs…Some suffering is not in the service of ‘pleasure’ but in the service of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’…If it didn’t involve suffering, it wouldn’t be meaningful.”

The discussion explored the dynamic of embracing suffering appreciating that it’s not about getting an anvil dropped on your head. Instead, Bloom identified a couple of characteristics critical positive suffering:

  • Voluntary – “My argument is about ‘chosen suffering’. ‘Unchosen suffering’ is a very different thing.”
  • Moderate – “The suffering that does us the most good is of the intermediate sort.”