Review of The Other Side of Happiness

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Academician Brock Bastian asserts that the modern world misunderstands the nature of pain. In today’s view, he says, pain is a problematic malfunction of the body or mind. When any form of pain arises, whether it manifests itself in physical aches or emotional anguish, the modern idea is that you must eliminate it. People spend billions on painkillers and antidepressants, and they wall off the threat of pain with safe spaces, trigger warnings and positive thinking. Bastian says these actions only intensify the experience of pain. In this thoughtful, counterintuitive essay, he argues that pleasure cannot exist without pain. Bastian describes the neuroscience explaining why people find pleasure in long-distance running or eating chili peppers. He warns that if you attempt to numb pain and cushion discomfort, you’ll never develop the resources to contend with pain and will be at a loss when it arises. By dulling pain, you blunt your capacity for pleasure. Anyone struggling with pain can benefit from Bastian’s insights. 

About the Author

Associate professor in the University of Melbourne’s School of Psychological Sciences Dr. Brock Bastian is a winner of the Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.


Comfortably Numb

Bastian asserts that people in the developed world have grown increasingly intolerant of every form of pain. Although life is objectively more comfortable, affluent and less threatening than ever, that’s apparently not enough. He describes the way thought leaders in the area of well-being push the attitude that a good life consists of nothing but positive experiences. They regard unpleasant experiences as worthless or even harmful, an impediment to good mental health. Physical or emotional suffering is, in this view, a personal defect to fix with medication.

Bastian strongly argues that this attitude is demonstrably counterproductive. Despite modern comforts and positive thinking, pain and sadness persist. He notes that the effort to erase pain constantly escalates: Marketing painkillers and antidepressants is now a multibillion-dollar business, and it continues to grow. This pain-intolerant outlook is dysfunctional, Bastian says, because it springs from a flawed understanding of pain and sadness. 

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