His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Doug Abrams Create the Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

When we speak of trade, we’re usually discussing economics. But there’s a more primal meaning – trading words, as in dialogue. This is where philosophy began, and even in our world suffused by science, it turns out that dialogue is a powerful tool to examine what it means to be human. Doug Abrams, once an editor at HarperCollins, had come to the decision that the one thing he wanted out of life was to work with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. At an event with the Archbishop (charmingly, he likes to be called “Arch”), Abrams found himself speaking with a representative of the Dalai Lama. It took years to bring about, but that meeting did happen. Nobody should be surprised that the book is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.

abrams_lama_tutu-the_book_of_joyScience and spiritualism have been on a collision course for more than a century, and Abrams architects this book to examine the crossroads without the crash. But before I even got to the joy, I did have to ask Abrams how he set this all up, and that story in itself is both amazing – and joyful. But that’s outside of the book. Inside, what you find are series of Socratic dialogues concerning joy by two men who Abrams describes as “…the two most joyful people on the planet. In addition to their question for one another, and those posed by Abrams, the two asked for questions from the public. Out of the 1,000 or so questions they received, the most common, Abrams told me was not, “How can I get more joy for me?” but instead, “How can joy co-exist in this world so full of suffering?” The question itself implies exactly the sort of compassion required to make life not just worth living, but joyfully so.

I spoke with Abrams about the power of the very situation itself, and also about his very wise decision, embraced by his co-authors, to include the latest cutting-edge neuroscience that underpins and support much of their philosophical discussion. The two men wanted a common ground upon which the book would function –and they found in our latest understanding of how our brains work on a physical level. That said, they also give readers and listeners lots of great advice for creating joy in your life by transforming your perspective.

As it happens, Perspective is one of the Eight Pillars Of Joy discussed in-depth in the book. I took Abrams through each of them – Perspective, Humility, Humor, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion and Generosity to get a deeper understanding of how each is understood. We also discussed the Joy Practices that are given to the reader begin a personal transformation.

From science to spiritualism, from philosophy to physics, the means by which we understand ourselves are growing deeper and more powerful every day. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World offers readers (and listeners to the podcast!) an array of powerful tools for changing the way we both see and feel the world.

You can hear a report I did for KAZU by following this link. Please leave a comment!

Here’s the long form interview; you can follow this link or listen here below. Please send email here to request more interviews like this!

John Langan Catches The Fisherman: Rising Tides

We find infinity, in all it’s terrifying endlessness, where it is least expected – our own hearts. We have a bottomless capacity to dive into sorrow, alas, much more frequently than joy. Grief is gravity and it can take us to unimagined and unimaginable depths. The stories of what happens to bring about grief may be prosaic and everyday, but the experience of the emotion is not so easily endured or conveyed. You may find you step a bit outside of this world.

langan-the_fisherman-smallJohn Langan’s The Fisherman takes us inside grief to the place that sorrow creates beyond this universe. We meet Abe, a desk jockey in a calm corporation, after the death of his wife by cancer. Langan’s journey into Abe’s world is powerful, compelling reading. Abe’s a nice guy, with a serious fishing hobby to help him compensate for the loss of his wife. Nothing can accomplish this of course, but fishing helps. When a co-worker named Dan endures an even greater loss, the two begin a tenuous, not-quite-friendship based around fishing. Their journey takes them to Dutchman’s Creek – which may or may not exist. And beyond, which, informed by their terror of life and the grief it involves, definitely and unfortunately does exist.

Langan has a low-key, hunched-over-the-table prose voice. It’s like listening to a fascinating friend. As Abe tells his tale, he swings between the reality of his shared grief and hints of what is to come. The upshot is that readers find themselves enveloped in the emotions and terrified by not just grief, but its emblems beyond this world. It’s a page-turning, powerful experience, made even richer by Langan’s canny and unique plotting. At the center of this tale is another, almost novella-length story, reflecting Abe’s story in a shattered mirror. As one leads to the other and as Abe and Dan find out just how deep Dutchman’s Creek is and where it might lead, Langan crafts a triumphant vision of cosmic horror and personal grief, deeply intertwined, inextricable.

The Fisherman is a very interesting work no matter what school of reading you hail from. Langan’s understanding of character and his finely-tuned prose might make you think you’re reading a literary novel even as the weird creeps in. The same powers of observation and composition are applied to scenes of escalating phantasmagoria. And even in the most otherworldly passages, Langan keeps us at one with the humanity of his characters. Langan’s visions of the fantastic are also reminders that prose can accomplish what no special effect could ever hope to achieve.

john_langan-2016Langan’s understanding of his own work is as deep as the work itself, as is his knowledge of his literary predecessors. He’s best known for his short story collections, and we talked at length about how he came to create The Fisherman, which was itself a lengthy process. The Fisherman is easily one of the best novels of this year, a bracing feat of understanding the infinity of our inner world and the potential for cosmic horror to be found not in alternate dimensions, but here, now – in our own dark hearts.

Take a step sideways to listen to John Langan speak from a heart that is still beating.

Tim Wu Suggests Spend Our Attention on The Attention Merchants: “How can my product be a deliverance for you?”

The more limited a resource is, the greater its worth. We’re quick to apply this to externalities – air, food, water, energy, and money, for example. But we all own a hidden resource, exploited for immense profit on a daily basis. Each week of his or her life, every human being has 168 hours of attention, mental acuity that we can devote to anything we wish. Sure, much of it goes to sleep and the basics of getting around. Those spare moments when we are able to choose how we spend our attention are sought after with mathematical ruthlessness by those who hope to resell our experience. We are the ultimate product.

wu-the_attention_merchantsIt has not always been this way. Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads might be described as brief and action-packed history of advertising. But Wu is well aware of the cultural, moral and epistemological implications of his investigation. The mastery to be found in The Attention Merchants is Wu’s ability to let the story he is telling braid into the bigger picture about what’s going into our heads. Suffice it to say that after reading this book, you will be much more precise when you decide whether to want to spend – or pay – your attention to anything.

Wu quickly takes us back to the beginnings of advertising as we know it, with the New York newspaper industry in the early 19th century, when Benjamin Day decided he could make money from a paper that lost money in per-issue sales by charging merchants to advertise. It took almost a year, but after that our world was profoundly changed. The audience became the product, and as Wu says, nothing has been the same since,

Wu is a brilliant storyteller, and he keeps the pages turning relentlessly as he takes us through two hundred-ish years of advertising history. What has happened is that we were invaded. Our private lives, once devoted to family and home, slowly but surely featured less family and more merchandising. The home was once considered a private space, and the idea of hearing advertising on the radio was as foreign and weird as it would (will?) be for us to see billboards in Church, or a sermon “Brought to you by …” But between the television, the computer, the radio and our smart phones, every moment of our waking lives is up for grabs.

Expect to meet a lot of memorable characters here. From Claude Hopkins, the first great copywriter, to the Rattlesnake King (the origin of the term snake oil) to the “Celebrity Industrial Complex,” Wu takes us on a wild ride that is funny, fun to read and yet ultimately thought-provoking. Wu lets his stories reveal his themes, and the page-turning result reveals this book to be perhaps the inception point of a wave of tim_wu-2016literature devoted to the nutrition of our minds. If we are physically what we eat, then we are mentally what we pay attention to. Our attention defines who we are – and Wu expertly, engagingly manages to ask us to pay attention to how we spend our attention. It turns out the two are not synonymous.

Wu and I had a great time talking about the book. We explored a lot of ideas that were on the periphery of the book, and Wu went into some great details you’ll not find in the book. I’d suggest you start with the lighting round interview below, for a fly-over perspective.

Or just dive in to the deep dive for nearly an hour down the rabbit hole.