Jennifer Michael Hecht – The Happiness Myth

May 25, 2007

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry. Her Doubt: A History (HarperCollins, 2003) demonstrates a long, strong history of religious doubt from the origins of written history to the present day, all over the world. Hecht’s The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology (Columbia University, 2003), won the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 2004 prestigious Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. Hecht’s first poetry book, The Next Ancient World won the Poetry Society of America’s 2002 Norma Farber First Book Award. Her most recent poetry book, Funny, won the University of Wisconsin’s 2005 Felix Pollak Poetry Prize, and Publisher’s Weekly called it one of the most original and entertaining books of the year. Her book reviews appear in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Her newest book, The Happiness Myth, has achieved wide critical praise.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Hecht discusses the history of the idea of happiness, and various ways that people throughout history have sought happiness. By looking at history, Hecht offers new ways to reimagine the way our society uses happiness drugs, money and shopping, news and vigils, refusal of exercise, and television culture. Surprisingly, Hecht comes out in favor of all of the above, but in the most common sense ways, valuing the actual choices real people make. Hecht also speaks about her own happy atheism.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, May 25th, 2007. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe growthy point of inquiries, the radio show, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York on the new master’s degree Science and the public. CFI also maintains branches in Manhattan. Tampa, Hollywood. Washington, D.C.. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Indianapolis, Indiana. There’s a new branch opening up in Austin, Texas, and there are many other branches around the world every week on point of inquiry. We look at some of the big questions through the lens of science and reason with some very interesting people. Before we get to this week’s guest, Jennifer Michael Hecht, the author of the best selling book Dout A History. We’re going to talk about her new book, The Happiness Myth. One of my favorite discussions so far doing point of inquiry. Anyway, before we get to this week’s guest, I want to make a personal appeal to the listeners of Point of Inquiry. If you enjoy this show that we put out week after week, please let us know by supporting the Center for Inquiry. What’s the best way you can support CFI? Become what we call a friend of the center. When I become a member of the ACLU or the Human Rights Campaign, it’s a gay and lesbian advocacy organization. Or I join Americans United for Separation, Church and State when I join any of these organizations. I’m doing it not to get the lapel pin, the coffee mug, the little tchotchkes. I’m doing it to support an organization whose values are my values. And if you care about the values that CFI promotes, please do become a friend of the center. This week, you can do so through our Web site. Center for Inquiry Dot Net. Now, before Jennifer Michael Hecht hears a word from this week’s sponsor. 

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Now it’s time for Jennifer Michael Hecht, an old friend of CFI is in Manhattan. She’s a philosopher and historian, an award winning poet. And you probably know her from the book Doubt a History. She joins me on point of inquiry today to talk about her new book, which I enjoyed immensely titled The Happiness Myth. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Jennifer Michael Hecht. 

Thank you, Jennifer. As I mentioned, I loved your book, The Topic of Happiness, especially being happy without superstition. Happiness without God is one. I think about a great deal. And for the past 10 years or so, I’ve been kind of the happiest person I know de facto. It’s like I’m constitutionally happy, maybe neurotically happy. But most people I know are happy in spots. They’re happy because of things that happen to them. Your book takes on this issue why people are happy. Do people try to get happy in ways that lead them to eventually not be happy? These are big questions. Let me ask you to start off. Did you write the book because you’re happy and you wanted to understand happiness more or because you wanted to figure out how to be happy? 

Great question. I think both. But certainly what drove me to write the book is, is figuring out some things for myself. But I also I’ve been a historian for a while now, and after writing my various books, which took me into deep study of really all over the world through our time studying skepticism and doubt in religion and in philosophy, I came back to the 21st century to sit around with my friends and found that I believed very different things than they did. That my my experience with other historical periods had made me very skeptical about things that people took for granted in the present. Things like to take one of those sort of largest examples. It’s just a fixation with longevity. I realize we all want to live long. Longevity is a fine goal, but we yammer about wanting to live a little bit longer, more than any other historical period I have ever seen. 

Is that because for the first time in history, we have the opportunity to live longer and every few years live even longer and longer? Is. Is that why we’re talking about it more? 

Well, a little bit. Sure. Except that every time we see ourselves living longer, we also notice that a lot of the people who are living longer aren’t that happy. I know a lot of 90 year olds who casually say that they pray for death and that thing again, that that that we wouldn’t want that. I am just saying that when you notice that whole culture is pushing so much in that kind of direction, it seems like, well, if you were given more time, wouldn’t you stop asking for more time? Why is it this kind of kind of endless, almost greed for it? And the truth is, I believe that it’s the opposite, that it’s us managing the abundance. It’s after millennia of of worrying that that mistake will kill us for food and worrying over whether we would get food. And every generation knew famine in a place like Europe just because areas grew separate things. And if there was a blight, that area would starve before the food could get in. Famine was really healed by the trains, not changes in agriculture, because you could get the food there. Well, we we starved every generation. There was some starvation. And now we live in a world where we have real abundance. And and it you know, in the book I say money can buy happiness. And it already has. And I mean something very real by that. That for those of us who who do live in this abundance, a lot of what we do is worry about that our food is going to kill us in almost the same terms that we worried that we weren’t gonna get enough food. It’s almost as if we just couldn’t stop worrying about this food that we manage the tension around it, since, of course, not everybody had. The the idea that every single culture throughout the world has had a vision of heaven or is a fantasy of happiness, that’s all about abundance, food, abundance. And then to see that the first generation, as you say, you know, this is the first world that we’re in that has enough and we switch to sort it all and skim milk. 

Yeah. Calorie restriction so we can live a lot longer. 

You know, we are all worrying about our health and worrying about not eating in order to get to health, which is the exact flipside of what we’ve been doing for, you know, millennia upon the minute. When you look at historical time, it’s it’s really kind of amazing that that we the first ones to have a full plate, spent so much of our intellectual energy discussing how to eat less. 

Mm hmm. So just on that last point, radical life extension is not as important as radical life enhancement. It doesn’t matter if we live 100 years longer than we do now. If people are wringing their hands, waiting for death and being bored, ennui sets in. 

Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. And, you know, when you’re at a party, if you spend all the night looking at when you’re going to have to leave, you’re not having that great a time. And. And I have to mention also that it’s not that great a party. You know, life is it seems it seems well enough to just to to to try to. 

Well, look, simple things like scientists spending time working towards bliss, bliss. We even taken our drugs as a sort of unwanted side effect, like hair loss. Where is the value of the lesia and. And fun and play, a lot of that has just been completely zapped out of the culture and we can put it back in. It’s available to us. We live in a wonderfully cosmopolitan time where a lot of things are available to us. But we do have to kind of sit down and do the work and say, what does my life have and what doesn’t it have? And I think to do that, sometimes you really need historical perspective. And that’s why I wrote the book to put together. Carol, I got to my world view, though. It took me, you know, 30 years of reading. I tried to see if I could get this this sort of experience of transformation to feel differently about about so much of the world that I live in, if I could get it into a relatively short book. And, you know, some people tell me that that they find themselves happier having read it than. And I modestly am delighted. 

So you wrote a self-help book without it being a pop psychology book. You wrote a historian’s self-help book. 

Yeah. In a way. Happiness through historical perspective. Yes. 

You say that what most people believe about how to be happy. Well, you think most of it’s nonsense. Here’s the question. Are people always at the same level of happiness? You kind of touched on this just now, or were there times in human history where people were generally happier than at other times? What I’m really asking is, given the abundance that we have now in the West, are we happier now than at any other time in human history? Are we finally beginning to get this whole happiness thing? 

Some of it the studies say that from the 50s to now, we, the United States has doubled in wealth and yet show no rise in happiness. And that’s one of the reasons for this spate of happiness books. Looking at that and trying to figure it out. And a lot of people deal with it by scolding us and saying, you know, we we we are just competing or we’re not grateful enough for you. 

Yeah. Yeah. Whereas it’s really, you know, I try to take people at their word. 

And that’s part of the book that I look at what people are actually doing. I’m really not coming out advocating for or against drugs, but I am saying that that the difference between Zoloft and opium has been overstated. The difference is just that we drive cars and deal with money and a.T.M machines and we can’t be foggy headed. And foggy headedness is the big determinant. It’s not that our happiness drugs are medicinal and everybody else through time has just been playing around. That’s that’s real temporal chauvinism. I know that it’s based on people thinking that we have access to science and people in the past haven’t. But just because you can get to Mars doesn’t mean you know how to how to live. And people throughout history have been offering suggestions. And, you know, that’s why I wrote the book. These happiness issues that have been out right now have interested me and they come up in the book. But having written doubt, I was surprised and so moved to see how many people who say they didn’t believe in God or didn’t believe in the religion of their time came up with other ways being happy given their secular worldview. 

Let’s talk a little bit more about this drugs issue. You don’t seem to be against the use of drugs to aid in one’s seeking happiness. Some of my favorite thinkers regularly smoke pot. M. Scott Peck. Not that he was a favorite thinker, but I kind of got started on him in high school, right. He smoked pot almost daily. Carl Sagan did all the time. Susan Blackmore’s written about her pot use. Now, I don’t really smoke pot because it just doesn’t work with my neurochemistry. But I want to ask you, are you okay with recreational drug use? 

Yeah, I am. I to the extent that I see myself as an adviser to others, I advise against it because I advise against anything that could get you in trouble with the law. But but I don’t see myself as an adviser. I see myself as an observer. And what I see is that our drug use is awfully similar to drug use throughout history, and that when we think of ourselves as either smarter about it or stupider about it, we are mistaken. People throughout history have taken drugs to get them over difficult spots, and there hasn’t always been described as recreational. And throughout the 18th and 19th century, well, really throughout all of history, you can see opium prescribed. The earliest apothecary that gave opium medicines is in the 12th century in Europe and the 11th century in the Muslim world, the Muslim world. They couldn’t drink alcohol and so they took opium. You know, one of those great hair splitting hairs like Nazarene’s who weren’t allowed to wear blush and so put lipstick on their cheeks. But, yeah, the the way we actually live seems to me to be really worth study and not just what the experts say we should do. So when the experts say that we should not eat chocolate cake and instead be thin. And then I see most of my colleagues and compatriots eating the cake anyway, but essentially paying for these experiments to be done, but then not. Listening to the advice, it seems to me that something else is going on than what we say, that these historical travels of ideas have. 

Have they sometimes crash into each other and make for a big bunch of nonsense? I mean, we have escalator’s and Stairmasters, a culture that invents escalator’s, and Stairmasters is a culture that needs to assess what it’s actually talking about, because after all, is it all about having clean clothes at the end of the day and then switching into sweat clothes? Why can’t we just go up the stairs and skip the StairMaster? 

As our listeners can tell, Jennifer Michael Hecht is punchy and thoughtful and I’d commend this book to you. You can get a copy of The Happiness Myth through our website point of inquiry dot org. Jennifer, on drugs again, we didn’t call you on the show to talk about drugs, but not everybody takes drugs to get over a tough spot. That’s how you characterized it. Sometimes people take drugs to be even happier. They’re happy and they just want more. You know, addiction aside and all those sorts of things. Here’s the question. If you’re saying people take drugs throughout history to get over tough spots, let’s talk about tough spots, depression. It’s plaguing Americans. A large minority of people suffer from it. And here you’ve written this book on happiness, but it doesn’t seem that you’re writing the book necessarily for the unhappy people. I mean, you haven’t written a book for the depressed people in American how they can snap out of it. So here’s the hypothetical. If there were some happy pill or some happiness machine, no side effects and popping one of these pills just made people bliss out and feel happy, even if they’re already happy, it just make them feel happier. Would you favorites wide use or do you think that people should be happy for reasons rather than just brain juice sloshing around of their noggin, the right mix, the neurochemistry? 

What I really and truly believe is that that there is no possibility of such a pill, that humanity is so made that that when given nothing to be happy about, we can only be happy about it for a little while, that even that the user of whatever bliss drug tells you that it’s not always blissful and that they feel gross about themselves. So they stop or they lose their relationship, so they stop. I’m really taking a person at their word at happiness. Know? Of course not. At the midst of a drug trip. But if you ask someone over the course of a week, you know, how are you seeing your life? I think a lot of us make these kinds of distinctions. So without a certain amount of happiness for meanings, we don’t even have access to the pleasure. So it’s true. If there were such a drug, it would raise questions. But I am so convinced that the drug is it’s a philosophically untenable option for humanity. We don’t work that way. I feel like we we don’t have to worry about that. We just. But that is I’d give Van Gogh the Prozac and and and hope for the best. 

You would give Van Gogh the Prozac and lose the art. 

I don’t think I’d lose the art. It’s my point. I don’t think I know I would lose some of the art that I that I have in this reality. But I think we can dose the artists so that they don’t feel awful and cut off their ear. And we will still get art because being human being is rough under any circumstances, under any dosage. Find somebody on Lexapro and see how happy they are. They’re happy like other people. You know, it’s it’s it’s a tough world. And I think that that’s wonderful because art will never die. But it’s also wonderful because we don’t have to worry about the old the old scope of the of the drone, you know, the not the drone that the sort of invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

Yeah. And that was really a parallel of communist bliss. That doesn’t depend on hard work. You know that films from the Cold War and and yet what they’re describing didn’t work. It didn’t work, sharing everything. It’s still people still felt all the feelings that one feels. 

And when you read about terrible things going on in different parts of the world and they can still remember back to right before it happened, when they were happy, but they were mad at their mom, you know, they were upset. It’s for me. I’m not trying really to get somebody out of depression, but I sure am trying to get people to not be so worried, so anxious over things that really don’t matter. The body is a small thing and the universe is a large one. And the internal universe of the mind and thought is a large one. And those two are hard to get your hands on, whereas the body you can really you know, you can do stuff, you can have these projects. And that’s fine to have projects with you, you know, to to lose weight or to exercise. If you like it, do it. But to actually go to a hall of mirrors in the middle of an energy crisis, to have all the healthy people in the culture go to a hall of mirrors and run on an actual metaphor for effort going nowhere and then plug that thing in. So it’s an electric treadmill that actually draws power. 

That is a culture that needs to step back and look at itself. And if you feel guilty for not doing it, I really feel I can give you some historical examples of. Similar fads, but that it seems now criminal that people worried over Fletcher rising, that you have to chew your food and, you know, start out 32 times one for each tooth. 

And eventually it was you had to chew until the food essentially swallowed itself. So at dinner parties, no one spoke. Etiquette books came out about how to deal with this at dinner parties. William James, the Harvard philosopher, was Achuar and invited Horace Fletcher up to Harvard, says, to change the world because you could be happy and healthy if you only did this crazy chewing, if you chewed your food enough. 

And people all over did this and we have testimony about it with basically forgotten about except for a joke. But I think it’s really important to notice the ways that people spoke about it as if it was scientific, the way that they contextualized what they were doing and how they then beat themselves up for not chewing enough. 

I don’t want to sound cheeky about this because I loved so many things about your book. But one thing I especially liked is how it kind of gave me a very satisfying just Katori scheme for only going to my gym two times over the last 12 months. You talked about exercise and looking fan and in shape that as a means of being a happy person, that it has not been valued throughout most of history except maybe in ancient Greece. You you’re saying don’t worry about it as much. So if that if there’s like a self-help message, well, that’s one of the many in this book. But you’re certainly not saying that being physically fit is not a good. 

No, it’s good, but it’s just not such a big deal. It just isn’t. It’s just a way that that Americans invest, whether or not you have a cookie with a great moral weight and also a great kind of desire on deliciousness. We we pump up our experience by having a magazine that sells us diets and and chocolate cake recipes so that either way, things are important and invested. But the truth is that this is you know, it’s a byproduct of capitalism in a way. It’s a byproduct of our having these vast communities. And no sort of middle level communities. So we so we distract ourselves. 

So you just mentioned capitalism. Let’s let’s talk about materialism, consumerism as another thing that might be pumped up and imbued with a lot of meaning. You criticize consumerism as a means to be happy in our society. 

Well, sure. 

But I actually come out for money in a way which I mean, you know, of course, the way I design that statement, take what’s your going to be amusing? 

But I but I’m also saying that that when all the experts tell us that money can’t buy happiness and we all parrot it. And yet if I asked people, you know, if I could give them anything on the street corner right now, I think a lot of people would take the cash. A lot of us trade a lot of other good things in our lives for cash and, you know, time. It’s worthwhile to trust people enough to say, well, why? Instead of just saying, well, this is a mistake, why are we all idiots? Because the people will run after money. They’re both people who are rich and poor. So some of the people have had experience with money and they want more. And so, again, I sort of said, OK, if I don’t think of people as divided into good and bad, when I look around and I see everybody doing this, what is it that people are getting? And again, I came to believe that the middle section of society throughout history that we’ve lived in the sort of there’s the country, there’s the middle level, which is how an extended family, religious groupings. And then there’s the domestic the pursuit of happiness. When you really read what Jefferson and Washington were saying about it, Franklin, they’re all saying the pursuit of happiness is the right to not have to join in with those middle level things. Used to be all mandatory, had to go to church. You had to go to the town parade. You had to go to these meetings. And we liberated ourselves from it. We’re still supposed to be responsible to the country and to our little domestic world. But the whole middle range of clubs and groups and associations, we just let ourselves out of it. I liberate a sort of left us in the lurch. We all now have these nice warm houses, most of us to go back to and watch our own television. And it makes for a kind of a lonely world when you then add money back and see the money stole this middle level from us because it allowed us all the the luxuries to be alone, which is a kind of human desire. But it gave us too much freedom to be alone. So now it really is necessary for us to look around and say, OK, do I use money to go to concerts, to go to the mall, to to be in a place where I can sort of groom my image and my group’s image and maybe have a chat with someone over the counter. But there are ways that our sort of things that look crass to us today, like the television we go in to watch it all by ourselves. But in such a heterodox world, when you go to work, you can’t talk about religion. You can’t talk about ethnicity. You can’t talk about a lot of things. But you can talk about reruns of Friends and Seinfeld because it’s safe. And that’s not such a bad thing. The things that most people talked about throughout history has never been up that much of an elevated level. And so I think in a lot of ways we can start to appreciate what we’re doing. Some of the more maligned things that that we do actually have a great tradition of that being a way for human beings to sort of get together, see each other. And all we have to do now is, is to think cleverly about what we choose to actually bring into our lives because we have so much option. We have so much choice. 

Jennifer, your book doesn’t mention really it doesn’t really mention God as a way to be happy. Yet for many people, seeking God is what they think will make them the happiest they can ever be. Yeah. Right. Why do you can leave that out of the picture? Obviously, you’ve written this other bestselling book, Doubts a History. Is it just because you consider it an unnecessary subject, even treat? 

Well, the truth is, I think that though faith doesn’t appeal to me, that it doesn’t appeal to my sense of truth. It really doesn’t. I. And yet, I. I don’t feel like it’s a foolish thing. Faith. I think it’s a kind of it’s an amazing human thing. And I’m interested in it and in it. 

And I have respect for it overall, as I do with art and love. When you look at art and love and faith. 

And I really would say faith slash spirituality, because there’s been so many people throughout history of not believed in any kind of a thinking universe, any kind of a God, but who have felt in touch with a kind of no kind of being just a kind of appreciation of beauty, a kind of all that that that is is a state that you can put yourself into, that you can coax through different rituals that you can appreciate and understand. And I think that kind of universal awe and love and art. 

Right. Richard Dawkins talks about having that religious experience, that sense of awe at the Grand Canyon or looking at stars, et cetera. But that’s not the same thing as people seeking after God to make them happy. 

Well, right. But I’m sort of putting it in the same category because I want to I want to refer to these very large categories of art, love and let’s say or an appreciation and those things. I think they don’t get ridiculous. If you look at a testimony of love from 2000 years ago, it can still exactly speak to you, whereas medical advice from only one hundred years ago is ridiculous. How did that happen? And so what? As a historian, you know, I write poetry. I am profoundly committed to art as the answer. Indeed. I don’t put science really as the the way I get to any of my answers. It’s just helpful. It’s poetry that I look to. It’s it’s it’s the clatter of recognition. But but, you know, it’s fine. Everybody has has different ways. But I attest the poetry works pretty well. It’s it’s got a good heart. But anyway, the idea that these things, poetry and or in what people think of a spiritual, which I do not think of a spiritual, but I think that we need a better word to to speak to that. But yeah, I think that these things are pretty consistent. And as a historian, I can see the things that aren’t. And you may like Renaissance art, but you wouldn’t want to use their toilet paper and you wouldn’t wanna raise your children that way and you wouldn’t want to use their medicine. And likewise, for only like 50 years ago, we would feel that way. And and so I really like to call up to other people’s attention the things that I can’t get out of my own attention because I’ve just spent too much time in these other centuries. And when I come to the 21st century, back to my friends and sit and drink a cup of coffee, I’ve been made aware of how much caffeine and coffee have been happiness drink throughout history, not a productivity dream. And so when I when I think of the coffee shop that used to be a place for a coffee break where a pretty woman would be watching to see when you finish your cup of week brew and she she sees when you’re done, it comes over and calls you sweetie and offers you a pie. That’s a different kind of understanding of coffee than what I see now, which is a sort of assembly line. Even if it didn’t make the coffee come faster, we line up because it helps us to feel that what we’re involved in is productivity. We sit there with our laptops. We sit there with children to mind. The only thing it assembles to do is rest. And you close your eyes. I’ll come over and tap on you. Otherwise you can stay for four hours as long as you’re working. And tea break throughout history. That was a time for rest and happiness. But in order to allow ourselves these drugs that we’ve always taken, we call caffeine a productivity drug. We we call a lot of our bliss drugs, sleeping pills or painkillers and take them just as much as ever anybody ever did. It’s worthwhile to notice what we’re actually doing. 

That was Stuart. Your comments. They were a little off the hotsy question about religion I was trying to get you on. Let me ask you directly, do you think that religion, not just kind of an all for our place in the universe or a sense of wonder for the beauty of the cosmos, but religion? Do you think religion might actually be harmful for one’s happiness? 

Yes, and I miss it, of course, because because when I wrote down, it was very much to show people who felt that doubt and religion or getting away from religion was painful. I find the world in which the natural world that we see is the world in which we make up no other. I find that world to be the best one. I’m glad there’s no afterlife. I like the world as it is. And I think that religion does add a tremendous amount of guilt and pain and trouble. On the other hand. It seems it seems wrong to me to see religion as poisoning everything. I see hospitals with religious themes. I see people who use religion in this very gentle communal way. And I’ve spoken to many, many priests who tell me that they’re not all that sure about God. And I know that they don’t tell this to their parishioners. But I’ve spoken to many ministers and rabbis and priests who told me that the God part is pretty small aspect as far as their actual belief comes in. And many of them are really not sure they believe downright not sure, downright sure sometimes that they don’t believe. And yet that the mission to have a relationship with people where you’re thinking of it as your flock. There’s a lot of beauty in there, too. And there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water or seed all those beautiful buildings to to the world of Hocus-Pocus. It seems reasonable to to see what was good there and see if we could. You know, I think a lot of people use religion nowadays in what I call the dropped by and lie for the biggest moments in their lives. They show up to a church or a temple or a mosque and they say things they don’t believe right there. And the most important moments, birth, marriage and death. They say things they don’t believe. Find me the chief mourner at any funeral. I’m telling you, he or she will say to their closest friends, it’s so often said at that moment they believe the least. They know they’re not going to see their loved one again. It’s only later that they they say, well, you know, this is this is the way to go on and move on. And I really think a lot of people were in religion aren’t quite as bamboozled as those of us who have essentially rejected it would say. And I think a lot of people who don’t believe in God do have some kind of relationship where for the sake of family and because they don’t really think it’s that big a deal, are still engaged in it. And I actually do think that that’s fine. I think it can be a wonderful addition. It’s just that so often it proves awfully harmful. I also don’t ever believe it’s good to believe myths and legends if you can possibly avoid it. So that puts me in a very weird vision of religion. But the beautiful building and coming together and reminding oneself and of community, of death, of of how we must each take the role that that is given us. Take what’s yours. No. Yourself. Remember death. You know, control your desires. These are the big messages of wisdom and religion. Got it right that you had to meditate on them for them to work. So. So secularist groups are just as good groups that get together to read certain texts can be just as good. But but yeah, I don’t throw out the whole pursuit. 

We have to finish up. But you just mentioned death a couple times. You give actually through the course of the book, you give lots of advice, contre conventional wisdom about how to be happy. And some of it focuses on death. All of it all of your advice, your whole book really seems to be emphatically secular, skeptical. I’d even say humanistic. So let’s conclude by talking about death. You say that we must remember death. 

Yeah. And remember that it’s the end. And I think once you can see that, I don’t even think that we would need to do that if we if we didn’t live in a culture that talks about about the afterlife. When we study a lot of history, you see that tremendous numbers of people. I’d venture to say more people have lived without the idea of an afterlife than I have lived with the idea of an afterlife. I mean, even in their culture and the idea of an afterlife is a very peculiar thing to be so crazed on. It’s at the heart of Christianity and of Islam, too. But but in most religions, really not so much. You die and you’re done. I think that when you can accept that and you also realize a little bit about the nature of time, a little bit about how, oh, I don’t know. Look, I know it almost sounds silly, but if you could see the world from the distance of a star, the kind of. That’s so far away that if it died already, we’d still be seeing it. You know, anybody who you’ve lost in this life, you don’t see anymore. They’re written into the world. They’re there. They they made it into the real. They happened. They’re safe in the first real of the film. And and that’s that’s that’s fine for me. I think this world is extraordinary. And I also think it’s a pain in the ass. And I’m happy to be here. And and I’m okay with not being here forever. I really think that wherever, you know, you can even do a scientific test that you’ll never die. Check. 

Am I dead? Am I my dad? My dad? You will never know that you’re not dead. So as far as you’re concerned, you will always be alive. These are some of the ways I try to show people that it just doesn’t matter. We’re always here. So far as we know, because because there isn’t an afterlife where you’re gonna be sort of behind a cloud wishing you were still down there playing Penasco. It just it’s not how it is. When you’re done, you’re done. Read. You’ll appreciate it. 

There is so much more to talk about, Jennifer. Let me invite our listeners again to pick up your book. It was such a pleasure to read. It made me happy to read it. It’s at point of inquiry. Gheorghe Jennifer Michael Hecht. Thank you for joining me on the show. 

Thank you so much. This is great conversation. 

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Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.