Can pain and suffering sweeten our lives?

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*This episode originally aired on December 11, 2021.

When it comes to living a good life and being happy, most of us think about love, family, and perhaps a fulfilling job or raising children. But what if pain and suffering were also included in that equation? Could chosen physical or emotional challenges make for a happier life? Does suffering bring pleasure?

For centuries, pain and sacrifice have been part of religious practices — days of fasting, prohibitions, even self flagellation — in which suffering was humbling, showed devotion, and provided meaning. Historically, we have sought out the difficult and macabre — from watching gruesome executions in the Middle Ages to Grimm’s fairy tales, it’s human nature, ingrained in our DNA. 

The question as to why people chose pain and suffering is explored by witer and psychologist Paul Bloom in his latest book “The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning.” The book’s sub-title, Bloom says, is an acknowledgement to Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who describes struggle and perseverance as the central human motivational force.

Jonathan Bastian talks with Bloom, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto and Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University, about his book and discusses other lessons on finding happiness from Victor Frankl,  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Daniel Kahneman. They cover everything from parenthood, endurance sports, and eating spicy foods to money and status for a thought provoking conversation that will make you rethink your visions of a perfect life.

"The Sweet Spot" by Paul Bloom. Photo by Greg Martin.



  • Paul Bloom - Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto; Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Yale University; author - @paulbloomatyale


Andrea Brody