The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning (Hardcover)
“This book will challenge you to rethink your vision of a good life. With sharp insights and lucid prose, Paul Bloom makes a captivating case that pain and suffering are essential to happiness. It’s an exhilarating antidote to toxic positivity.” —Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife
One of Behavioral Scientist's "Notable Books of 2021"
From the author of Against Empathy, a different kind of happiness book, one that shows us how suffering is an essential source of both pleasure and meaning in our lives
Why do we so often seek out physical pain and emotional turmoil? We go to movies that make us cry, or scream, or gag. We poke at sores, eat spicy foods, immerse ourselves in hot baths, run marathons. Some of us even seek out pain and humiliation in sexual role-play. Where do these seemingly perverse appetites come from?
Drawing on groundbreaking findings from psychology and brain science, The Sweet Spot shows how the right kind of suffering sets the stage for enhanced pleasure. Pain can distract us from our anxieties and help us transcend the self. Choosing to suffer can serve social goals; it can display how tough we are or, conversely, can function as a cry for help. Feelings of fear and sadness are part of the pleasure of immersing ourselves in play and fantasy and can provide certain moral satisfactions. And effort, struggle, and difficulty can, in the right contexts, lead to the joys of mastery and flow.
But suffering plays a deeper role as well. We are not natural hedonists—a good life involves more than pleasure. People seek lives of meaning and significance; we aspire to rich relationships and satisfying pursuits, and this requires some amount of struggle, anxiety, and loss. Brilliantly argued, witty, and humane, Paul Bloom shows how a life without chosen suffering would be empty—and worse than that, boring.
About the Author
Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, and the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University. His research explores the psychology of morality, identity, and pleasure. Bloom is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including, most recently, the million-dollar Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize. He has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Against Empathy, Just Babies, How Pleasure Works, Descartes’ Baby, and, most recently, The Sweet Spot.
“Bloom writes as if speaking, which brings a welcome immediacy to his explorations. . . . The effect, simultaneously authoritative and chummy, is engaging.” — Harper's Magazine
"An intriguing scientific investigation into why suffering, from mountaineering to BDSM, so often leads to satisfaction. . . . Bloom has a cheerful writing style that’s impossible to dislike." — The Guardian
“Paul Bloom will change the way you think. Perhaps suffering isn’t a bad thing? He explains why the experience of pain enhances subsequent pleasure and that a life without it would actually be boring.” — Good Morning America.com
“[The Sweet Spot] is lucid and elegantly written throughout so that there’s little suffering involved in reading it—in this, it’s reminiscent of Michael Sandel and Martha Nussbaum. A bracing, convincing argument that toil, torment, and tribulation can be good things.” — Kirkus Reviews
“This book will challenge you to rethink your vision of a good life. With sharp insights and lucid prose, Paul Bloom makes a captivating case that pain and suffering are essential to happiness. It’s an exhilarating antidote to toxic positivity.” — Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife
“Paul Bloom can always be counted on to take your confident assumptions about humanity and turn them upside down. With The Sweet Spot, he’s done it again! But this time, his investigations into pain and suffering, pleasure and meaning ask—and answer—the perennial question of what makes life worth living. You won’t want to miss this eloquent and erudite book.”
— Susan Cain, author of Quiet
“Paul Bloom has a gift for spotting paradoxes in human nature and resolving them with deep, satisfying explanations, and this lucid and fascinating book does it again with our puzzling masochisms.” — Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of How the Mind Works and Rationality
“Provocative, fascinating, and insightful—in other words, just what you’d expect from Paul Bloom, one of the world’s best writers and deepest thinkers about human behavior. His argument about why we sometimes seek sorrow, fear, and pain is, paradoxically, a pleasure to read. So get out your highlighter and clear your calendar, because once you open this book, you won’t be able to put it down.”
— Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of New York Times bestseller Stumbling on Happiness
“A laugh-out-loud-funny and totally thought-provoking tour of the most curious parts of human pleasure! With tantalizing examples you can’t wait to tell your friends, Bloom provides a fun and theoretically insightful journey into our species’ strangest forms of enjoyment. It’s a book that will definitely hit your sweet spot!” — Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast
“Paul Bloom, one of the best writers we have about the human condition, has done it again. What a fascinating book! The Sweet Spot is a profound meditation on happiness, family, and meaning. This book provides enough challenging ideas to give you just a bit of beautiful discomfort, but it is, above all, a joy to read.” — A. J. Jacobs, author of It’s All Relative
“Paul Bloom is a phenomenal psychologist. His research is always thought-provoking, and his writing clear and eloquent. I eagerly look forward to seeing what he tackles next.” — Maria Konnikova, author of The Biggest Bluff