The Strange Truth About Happiness
Reflections on one of our most treasured, confusing, and elusive emotions.
Dr. Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), and former holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption (2008-2018). He has held Visiting Associate Professorships at Cornell University, Dartmouth College, and the University of California–Irvine.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, Dr. Saad, welcome to Beyond Belief. It's so great to have you here. How's everything today in the great city of Montreal?
Gad Saad: Well, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be with you. It's actually raining today. We've had a lot of gorgeous weather, so in that sense, it's not great, but maybe it's a bit of a break from the oppressive heat that we've had in Montreal. Otherwise, life is good.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, great. Gorgeous city. And you have a forthcoming book on the topic of happiness, which I'm going to recommend to everybody. It's called The Saad Truth About Happiness. I have actually had a little bit of a peek at it before it's actually officially come out and have enjoyed it tremendously. And I'm going to ahead go ahead and compliment you on your Twitter feed and which I really, really enjoy.
And I admire the way you interact with people, and it's easy to tell that you are a happy person and therefore, it seems to me that you have really a lot to say on this topic. But this, here's what I really wanted to start off by asking you, somebody who's pretty famous blocked you apparently on Twitter recently, and you wrote the following thing, you said, “Oh my, not very kind, compassionate nor positive. What happened to Love is the only cure. This feels very exclusionary and unloving now, and this is the part that I really like despite the block. I love this guy, and I'm in love with the idea of being in love with him.”
That's fantastic. And honestly, my observation is if people could just be that way, we would have a perfect world. But my question for you is, what do you mean by that exactly? And how do you do it?
Gad Saad: So I mean, just to refer to that particular episode, the gentleman in question is someone whom I actually didn't know until last summer, and someone suggested, Hey, you know, should get on his podcast. You guys might have interesting things to discuss. And so that's when the quote discovered him. And then somehow he would show up on my feed with this kind of juvenile, the way to cure all ills of society is love and kindness and sweetness and compassion.
But it, it's literally as if it were written by a prepubescent little girl who goes to Taylor Swift concerts and being the not, yes, you are right. I am someone who's very happy, very playful, very jovial. But I also come equipped with a honey-badger attitude where for better or worse, I'm really, I'm triggered to use the woke term by inauthenticity. And so the idea that if only we had more kindness and love, then everything would be great.
I mean, yes, in a profoundly banal way, that's true. If only we could teach ISIS to be a bit sweeter, then everything would be solved. If only the Nazis could have been taught about compassion, they wouldn't have been the Holocaust. If only some of the really nasty people who wanted to decapitate us in Lebanon had heard of this guy's compassionate love-making mantra, then would've all been great.
So I just kind of responded to him in my usual satirical way. It wasn't to attack him, but rather it's to point to the fact that bad ideas have consequences. And if millions of people are being led astray by this notion of let's just hug our enemies and let's love one another, it doesn't really lead to actionable solutions. And just one quick other thing.
Yesterday I was walking back home with my wife, and we passed by an elementary school where all the kids were sort of forced, almost in a hostage video, to hold up signs peace in the world. Love is the answer. That's frustrating because that's not the way you're going to solve problems. There have to be actionable concrete ways by which we solve problems. Stating love is love is not the way.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, so then when you say I'm in love with the idea of being in love with him, are you kidding? Or do you really mean that?
Gad Saad: Sorry to disabuse you of the notion of my being Buddha. No, I was being satirical. Okay. I was just getting caught up in an orgiastic looping of love. Not only do I love him, but I also love the idea of loving him. And I'm also in love with the idea of loving that I love him.
Adam Jacobs: Gotcha. Okay. Well, still, let's talk about self-help. And there is a quote from your book where you say, “But there's a sort of science to self-help, and it's possible to distinguish between valuable veridical advice and specious empty promises,” which is not dissimilar to what you were just talking about. Lemme ask you this. Is there something oxymoronic about getting self-help by reading somebody else's book?
Are you actually self-helping, or are you just taking the advice of somebody else who went through a process? And is that process necessarily applicable to everybody? And the reason that's interesting to me is because there are teachings that might suggest that there is no path that's universal, that every single person has got to find their own way to their own happiness and their own fulfillment. Do you think that you can guide people ultimately along this path? Or what do you think?
Gad Saad: Great question. So maybe before I answer that question, I'll give you kind of the background, which I discussed in the first chapter of my forthcoming book, of why I decided to write this book. It really came in a serendipitous manner. I never had thought about writing a book that would be prescriptive in nature, meaning prescribing ways to achieve happiness or contentment. This wasn't really my forte. I was much more in the world of descriptive size, describing why people do the things that they do rather than offering prescriptions.
And in part, that came from the fact that I felt that I had the epistemic humility to say, but who am I to offer people advice? I mean, unless I'm absolutely unsure grounds, I'm not going to just pontificate endlessly about things that I know very little about. But then what ended up happening through all of my public engagements is that people would write to me saying it very much like how you kindly said at the start, oh, I love your Twitter feed and the stuff that you put out there.
People would write to me and say, despite the fact that you've had a rough upbringing in the war, despite the fact that you've faced some adversity, you always seem to be playful. You always seem to be happy. What's your secret, professor? And then, when I would offer people advice, that to me struck me as rather obvious advice. People would write to me and say that profoundly moved them.
So I said, well, wait a minute. So if I've got this huge platform, people seem to trust me. I do have hopefully some interesting things to say about how one can increase the likelihood of leading a happy life. Maybe I should take a shot at it. But to your point, I'm very, very epistemologically humble about what I am promising in the book. I'm not saying, please follow these eight steps, and I guarantee you happiness; rather, life is stochastic.
Life is about navigating through statistical probabilities. So if you adopt these mindsets, if you make these choices, then you're increasing your likelihood of being happy. And so unlike the self-help books that I was arguing in that quote that you mentioned, that offer you empty promissory prescriptions for things that you really can't control. For example, how to make love 20,000 times and have an orgasm every time. Well, those are obviously easy to sell because they cater to our most fundamental, visceral, instinctual Darwinian insecurities.
But they're rooted in nonsense. And so I hope that I've done a good job in not sending people down empty goose chases, but rather saying, look, there are some patterns that we've learned from including from the ancient wisdom of the ancient Greeks, including the temporary science from today and including my personal life. When you put it all into one melange, you hopefully have a prescription for a greater likelihood to live a happy life.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, that makes perfect sense. And some of the most of the things that you have written about seem self-evidently true. I hope that people look at it that way. I'm going to ask you a couple of questions about it. But even, let's take a step even bigger, possibly than happiness. If you asked your average person, I would say like 99 out of 100 people, if you asked them what they most want out of life, they would say to be happy in some fashion, what do you think if given the choice between meaning or happiness, what do you think people would choose and why?
Gad Saad: Well, great question. I think finding meaning is one sure way to achieve happiness. At the end of the book, I have a quote by Viktor Frankl; in his case, the quote is about don't pursue willfully success, let it be sort of the outcome of things that you do. I think it's the same way for happiness, and that's why I use that quote by Viktor Frankl, right? So you don't set out in a domain-general manner to say, I'd like to optimize happiness, but rather, and hence to my earlier point, if you adopt these mindsets, if you make these decisions in a judicious manner, you're certainly increasing the likelihood of you summiting mount happiness.
So example, to your point about meaning, one of the things that makes me happy every morning when I wake up, and sort of rub my hands in anticipation and glee is the fact that my profession, broadly speaking, including coming on your show and later meeting a student and fielding media requests and writing an academic paper, thinking about my next book, promoting this book, all of these things give me great meaning.
Why? Because I'm hopefully contributing something that people wish to consume. In this case, it's knowledge. And there is nothing that provides me more sense of inner pride than when someone sends me a selfie of them being at a beach in Croatia with a copy of my latest book and saying, oh, I'm reading currently your book, and I'm having such a good time. That's actually a very humbling experience because that person could have chosen 1 million other things to do on that Croatian beach. Yet the fact that you caught their attention and were able to enter their world, if only for an hour or 30 minutes or two hours, that gives me great meaning, and hence it makes me existentially happy. So I don't think you can fit these two things against one another. I think if you find meaning, that's a sure way to be happy.
Adam Jacobs: Do you think that Viktor Frankl was happy?
Gad Saad: I mean, I don't want to pretend to be in his mind or to do a psychoanalysis of him. I think, in general, when people go through many of the hardships that he went through that I went through in the Lebanese Civil War, to me, it actually affords you it. It's the anti-fragility argument that doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. It allows me to have a magisterial appreciation of life as I think it would for Viktor Frankl to know how close you came to your life ending.
And yet, here you are. I'm sitting here chatting with you today. If one little thing during my horrifying childhood in Lebanon had gone a different way, had the gentleman that we had hired to drive us to the Beirut International Airport not maintained their promise to protect us as we went through all of these dangerous neighborhoods and had decided let's just take them to a ditch and put a bullet in their head. They’re Jews, we’re doing a good thing by getting rid of them. I'm no longer here. So I think in that sense, both Viktor Frankl and myself are existentially happy at seeing the vagaries of life and, therefore, how we should be pleased that we even exist for a moment.
Adam Jacobs: I like that answer, and I want to reverse it for a second. Let's look at Viktor Frankl's antithesis in Adolf Hitler. I often, not often, I don't often, but sometimes I look at pictures of the Nuremberg Rally and see the sea of Nazis arrayed before him and the incredible evil majesty of that event. And I wonder, and I think he must have been rapturously pleased during that experience. So my question is, is there a correlation in your mind between morality and happiness? Does the event that pleases you or the series of events have to be connected to something good, or can purely bad people, however we define that, be happy as well?
Gad Saad: Well, a psychopath is void of a moral conscience. And yet he might argue, and I say he, because certainly say serial killers are overwhelmingly male, he might argue that the hunting grounds that he goes on every couple of weeks makes him happy. So I don't think necessarily being moral is the singular path to happiness, but I could tell you, I can speak for myself.
So again, let me be epistemologically humble. One of the things that people ask me is, why do you take on all of these fights? Right? I mean, you're a professor, you live a very hectic life already, and yet you weigh with your voice on all sorts of matters. Why do you do it? And I mean, I could look no further than my wife, who oftentimes sees me being upset at some position that someone's taken. And I can't help but get engaged in the battle.
And so this is going to come to your question about morality and maybe a personal code of conduct that's very exacting. And what I tell people is that I need to feel fully whole in my authenticity so that when I go to bed at night, and I put my head on the pillow to sleep, the only way I can avert the looming insomnia is if I know that I never modulated my speech, for example, for careerist reasons. I never said, let me not say this because maybe someone who might advance my career might think badly of me. Therefore, my only concern is this sense is the highest virtue is to defend truth and liberty. And I need to feel that I was always doing the right thing when it came to that. So from my perspective, being moral is defending truth. And I would not be happy if I were not doing that all the time because I would feel fraudulent, I would feel authentic.
But what I just said does not apply to other people who don't necessarily have my exacting code of personal conduct. Let me give you examples. 99% of other academics don't have my personal code of conduct. I don't mean to imply here, I'm not trying to be haughty and say they're lesser than me, but in their case, they're very pragmatic about their career risk orientations. They are staying in your lane professors. They think that, Hey, I'm going to contribute to knowledge by being the specialist in organic chemistry that I am. And I will never deviate from that.
I will never utter a single syllable that deviates from that lane. To me, that's a shame because, as an academic, you're trained to think critically, and therefore I can take my cognitive weaponry and not only apply it to consumer psychology and evolutionary psychology but I could also weigh in on a whole broad range of other topics that I think my voice might contribute something to. And so, for me, being moral and authentic is certainly a path to happiness. But I don't think that statement applies to every individual.
Adam Jacobs: Right, right. Okay. So it is possible it, it's possible to be happy and do the wrong thing; unfortunately, it seems. Okay. I also wanted to ask you about transience. In thinking about, for instance, the Buddhist approach to life where they see the transient nature of the world as a cause for suffering. There's a belief a good time can never last, and therefore to try to hold onto anything too tightly is going to compromise our sense of happiness, and therefore we should let it go because we can't really keep it anyway.
So given the choice between those two approaches, one is to savor and live in the moment the happiness and the things that you have, knowing full well that they're going to go away or sidestepping all that and saying, you know what? You can have a temporary happiness because of that, but since it's destined to disappear. That is going to compromise my happiness, and therefore I don't want it. Which of those approaches might cause greater happiness?
Gad Saad: Well, what an amazing question. I mean, like often when I have such a deep question, try to offer a personal story that speaks to the question that you're asking because we are a storytelling animal. And so we learn best. We are most gripped when we link a profound philosophical idea to a concrete tangible story. So regarding your question about transience, I've actually experienced this, in my view, in the most profound of ways. And it doesn't speak to my being very Buddhist in my orientation because I was wracked with all sorts of dread. And I'll explain it in a second.
So one of the things that I've always said that protects me from the ugliness of the world is the innocence of my children, children. And so I always say that they're like this bottle, which I open up, and then I see their innocence, and suddenly all of the ugly fights that I've had in the outside world kind of disappear when I see their purity.
So to your point of transience, I feel as though that bottle of pure innocence doesn't remain pure as you get older.
I mean, you suddenly get soiled by the realities of life. And so about a year ago, maybe about 14 months ago, I think it was in March of last year, I went through about a two-week period where I was, I mean, don't, not clinically depressed, but I was feeling terribly sad because I realized that my daughter had surpassed the age, age of playing with her dolls so that the period of her interacting with her dolls was over. And that hit me like a death. And it was really a profoundly beautiful moment in that my daughter asked me, what's wrong, Daddy? And when I told her in her innocence, she then told me, well, let's go to the basement and play with them, and you could tell she was trying to placate my feelings because she was trying to play with the doll to tell me, look, I'm still your little girl and play.
But as she did that, I literally was feeling tears in my eyes because I realized that that moment had gone. Now, had I been maybe more pragmatic in not living in my purity bubble, I would've understood that all things change and there's beauty in every age, but I couldn't help but feel sad. Now, eventually, I kind of got out of it, but it speaks exactly to your point. Whereas in this case, I simply wasn't willing to accept that she had gone through a different cognitive stage. I wanted her permanently stuck playing with her little doll.
Adam Jacobs: I have two daughters, and know exactly what you mean and just wait until they travel by themselves to foreign countries.
Gad Saad: Put a bullet in my head, when that happens, please end it for me because I don't think I'll be got your ability to go through that.
Adam Jacobs: I don't have it either, but it's been thrust on me, and I'm trying to learn about happiness so I can maximize my experience as it's going on. But yes, I totally understand. And let's ask a related question to transient, I think. And that is, you talk a lot in the book about love, and from what you just said, and from what I gather in the book, you seem blessed to have that as an important part of your life. Not everybody does.
I guess it's another funny question on the balance, considering what we just said. Does love make people more happy or less happy? And I'll give you an example. We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, for instance. That was love, but love that led to two suicides and two families split apart. We have the notion of someone carrying a torch once they've had love, and they can't continue in it. They refuse to love again, and they live in permanently in a state of depression because of the lost love.
It seems to me that we're the only species that I know of that has these painful episodes. Even when we get the thing that we most desire in this world, which is a real loving relationship, it's just horrible. Even in the best scenario, eventually, you say goodbye on some level or another. And it's just so, again, it's not dissimilar to the transience question cause love seems to be transient, seems to be, I'll say, from my spiritual perspective, but is love really good for happiness or maybe not so much?
Gad Saad: Well, so I'm going to use here an expression in Arabic, which I'll first say in Arabic, and then I'll translate. It is best to raise dogs than it is to raise children, which speaks to our earlier question because the child grows up and then goes on the backpacking tour to Europe and then comes home one day, God forbid, a million times with a boyfriend. And so a truly impossible reality for me to even contemplate. And now, the reason why that expression is so powerful is because the dog is ultimately arguably the highest manifestation of a loving relationship that you could have because, and I speak very briefly about it in the Happiness book, because what is the dog saying? I will sniff cancer on you. I will sniff drugs, I will sniff bombs. I will protect you from avalanches and find you. I will do everything.
All I ask in return is that you love me and feed me and play with me. And how does that sound as a deal? And you're like, my God, that sounds like a pretty, it's a pretty good deal, right? Yes. And so yes, you're right that when you open yourself to love, you also open yourself to great hurt. But that's why I mention in the book that while there is no sure guarantee that you're going to choose the right spouse, there are certainly clear edicts that we can use that increase the chances of us not having a broken heart, let's say in the context of a romantic union, a marriage. So, for example, I talk about the endless amount of scientific research that shows that of the following two maxims when it comes to romance, only one of them guarantees you a greater likelihood of having a happy union.
So there's the birds of a feather flock together, maxim, and then there is the opposites attract maxim. While it turns out for the likelihood of a long-term union being successful, it's overwhelmingly birds of a feather flock together that works. And now you might ask, well, but birds of a feather on which attributes is it that they should have the same color eyes? Is it that should have the same color? Of course, here, what we're talking about is shared values, shared belief systems, and shared life mindsets.
So yes, for a short-term sexual dalliance, opposites might attract, I might be sexually introverted, and the short-term partner might be sexually adventurous, and that combination might be titillating. So, that's why in evolutionary psychology, we distinguish between the psychology of short-term mating versus long-term mating. Now, when we're talking about long-term unions, long-term coupling marriage, then by far, the research shows that it's birds of a feather flock together.
So, for example, if you are dating someone, now, again, this speaks to my earlier point, which is, I'm not telling you here is the guaranteed prescription, right? A, B, C, D, that will assure you that you're going to find the right wife because things happen. The person meets the sexy gardener, the sexy gardener, and she cheats with him. We could never have predicted that, but I can certainly tell you that if you marry someone with whom you share your values, it greatly increases your chances of staying in that union.
Adam Jacobs: Yes. And you mentioned in the book, and I like the fact that you talk about this very openly, the importance of a spouse. And when I think about it, actually, you say that the two most important secrets to being happy are a spouse, a good spouse, and a good job. And I'm going to ask you something about both of them. I've read that there's a phenomenon, for instance, in Japan where less and less and less people are getting married. It's an incredibly low, like a low number, it seems to me, of people who are able to find happiness in that arrangement, which is such an ancient or arrangement. It's wild to me that it's changed so drastically in such a short period of time. So one question is, yeah, it sounds good. Find the right spouse, find the right job.
Are there enough of those to go around? Do we have enough health, healthy and stable people that it's possible to find the right spouse? Of course, it's possible, but it seems so hard sometimes, and so many people are in jobs that they just regard as dead ends and a source of misery, which of course, underscores your point of will get out of it that you know, do something that you love because you're spending all this time doing it. So even though it's true, what do you think the likelihood is that somebody could achieve these things in today's environment?
Gad Saad: So again, and forgive me for hammering this point, because I think it's really important to, again, explain the statistical realities of life, the vagaries of life. Look, on any given day, I make a bunch of decisions that will result in one of three outcomes. If I weigh myself at the end of that day, my weight could have gone up, my weight could have stayed the same, or my weight could have gone down. Right? Now, make that decision enough days in a row where every day your weight goes down, and then you end up someone like who lost a tremendous amount of time weight during covid. Why am I drawing this analogy? Because the decisions of how to choose the right wife or husband, or how to choose the right, it's not a guarantee of anything, but it basically says to keep these particular criteria in mind as you make this decision.
And I can guarantee you that you're increasing the probability of you being happy. So let's do the job. One, there isn't a singular path towards being happy in your job, but what I focus on in the book is what I call the creative impulse. So if you pursue a profession that allows you to instantiate your creative impulse, all other things considered, that is a surer path towards being, to finding purpose and meaning in your job. Now, here's the interesting part. There is an endless number of ways by which one can instantiate their creative impulse. So there is a supra goal, instantiate your creative impulse, but that then recognizes the idiosyncratic differences across people. So I instantiate my creative impulse by creating content. I create content online. I create content by writing books. I create content by accepting to come on shows like yours.
People are going to consume our chat. I create content by writing peer-reviewed papers and scientific journals. So I am constantly involved in the creative process, but I could have been also a chef, and I can create a gorgeous experiment that lasts for 30 minutes, whereby prior to me coming and infusing my creativity into that plate, that plate was empty. And then I fed you. And I've hopefully, for a small moment, increased your pleasure and your happiness.
I can create by being an architect, I could also be a conduit of creativity. If you are not necessarily talented enough to be an author and hence create your own content, maybe you can be an acquisitions editor who is the person who serves as the gatekeeper of the pitches of creativity, right? You're receiving a thousand possible submissions for books that you can contract, and you are going to help decide whose voice is going to be amplified.
So there is something magical and divine about the creative process and all other things equal. Surely most people would agree that someone who is immersed in creativity is going to have a more meaningful life than an insurance adjuster. Now, that doesn't mean that we don't need insurance adjusters, and it doesn't mean that I'm denigrating the honor and dignity of holding that job, but you're certainly not waking up in the morning and saying, my life is so magical because I get to do more insurance adjusting today of a flood that happened in someone's basement. But if I am creating a song, if I am creating a poem, if I am creating a book, then I'm certainly on my way to being a person who's found meaning. So that's what I mean when I say I'm not offering you a guaranteed recipe. I'm offering you mindsets and choices that hopefully increase the likelihood of you being happy.
Adam Jacobs: Are you familiar with a book from the nineties called Flow
Gad Saad: By the guy whose name I can't pronounce?
Adam Jacobs: Csikszentmihalyi or something like that.
Gad Saad: Of course.
Adam Jacobs: Okay. So, that was a book that struck me. He seems to suggest that the job you have is irrelevant, and it's your mindset in approaching the job that you do that matters. And he goes through a whole bunch of, from race car drivers to the guys who lift those burning hot steel girders. And he finds that it wasn't necessarily having a high prestige paying job that made the difference for people. It was like how good they considered themselves at it and how did they have room to improve.
So I don't know if it's true. I know this is research that he did. But it's interesting to note, and I don't know if this is even a question, but it's interesting to note that some people, maybe the insurance adjuster, feels that if he can provide more value to his customer every single day, he's doing something great.
Gad Saad: So certainly, of course, being prideful about your competence is a great thing. And if I'm a bus driver, I could sit insular in my little driving bubble, not speak to any of the people that I pick up, do my route for eight hours, and go home and do it professionally. Or maybe I could use the opportunity to actually engage in a few serendipitous interactions with strangers that might make me feel good. So you, you're absolutely right.
And I agree with him that there are ways to take any job and then make us move on the curve of happiness, contentment, and pride in our job. That's true. But surely, on average, the person who is involved in creation has to be, all other things equal, more content, finding more purpose and meaning than the insurance adjuster or the guy who does your taxes. Again, this is not a denigration of those jobs. We need them, but I just can't imagine the person who says wow, it's tax season, I am so thankful to be alive so that I can find yet one other loophole. I mean, yes, they're helping people, but it's not an existential sense of accomplishment.
Adam Jacobs: I'm highly inclined to agree with you. I'm just giving, I don't know. I'm trying to extend it to other possibilities that people, maybe people with certain personalities, wouldn't imagine that you could be as happy as you can be at certain things.
Gad Saad: Let's say you are at a job that is not affording you a conduit for your creative impulse. How about you pick up some hobbies. So then what I have, so the more general question, is we are endowed with this huge, powerful brain. The most complex machine that we know of in the universe is our divine brain, and we'd like to nourish it with all sorts of wonderful experiments. Now, if I can get that through the pursuit of my job, Hey, I'm really winning. Why don't I, instead of watching five hours of television use, take one of those hours away and instantiate, I always, I'm speaking now, hypothetically, I always wanted to be an artist. I actually love ceramics, but I ended up becoming a pediatrician because that's what my father was and what my grandfather also was, and it's expected of me.
I needed to be a good Jewish pediatrician because that's expected of me. But the reality is I wanted to be an artist, and I love ceramics. Well, guess what? There is a Jewish center down the street if that's what you want to hang out with the tribe that offers ceramics classes. And you can go through ceramics one and two, and three, and you could instantiate that creative impulse through that. So I think that's the more general question. It's very, very difficult to appreciate the magisterial nature of life without ever immersing yourself in the creative process.
Adam Jacobs: I agree 200%. Yeah, that seems very true. And I have time for two more questions about, we'll see how, okay, you talk about, and I've never heard this phrase before, you talk about something called costly signals, and you referenced that against a movie called The Last Kiss, which I actually never saw, but it can you explain to the audience what that means and why that's important for happiness?
Gad Saad: One of the things that I love about doing these conversations is, which actually speaks to another chapter in the book, I talk about life as a playground. Life is play. You and I are now engaging in a form of intellectual play. I didn't know that that question of all of the pages and words in the book that you decided to go to the last kiss and costly signaling, that surprise element is part of the process of play. And so thank you for that question. So let me step back and explain what costly signaling is in the more general sense, and then I'll apply it to that. Costly signaling in evolutionary biology refers to a type of signal that one animal emits to another; for that signal to be an honest signal, it has to be self-handicapping. Now, I said a lot of words there, so let me explain what that means.
So the classic example of that that people can understand the concept is the peacock tail. The peacock tale could not have evolved by evolved, I mean via evolution, via the process of natural selection, because it actually reduces the survivability of the peacock in having a large, burdensome tale. It increases the chances of the predators seeing you. It decreases the chances of you taking flight and evading the predator if it focuses on you.
Therefore, it must have evolved to solve another evolutionary goal. And that's where we get to sexual selection. So some traits evolve because they confer a survival advantage. Other traits evolve because they confer a mating advantage. So in the peacock’s tail, that burdensome tale is very costly, for the reasons that I said. Therefore, because it is costly, it is an honest signal to the Phan, the female, because it is saying, look, despite the fact that I have this very burdensome tale that reduces my survivability, doesn't that demonstrate to you how good genetic stock I must have to be able to be standing here before you?
Therefore, the handicapping element of that tale is precisely what ma renders it an honest signal. And by the way, since we are on a Jewish platform, it might interest to know that costly signaling is also referred to in a particular context as avian signaling after an ornithologist, an Israeli ornithologist who actually used costly signaling to explain the behavior of a bird called the Arabian Babbler. Interesting, who engages in these very costly displays of altruism precisely for the reasons that we're talking about.
Okay? So that's what costly signaling is in the evolutionary biological sense. Now, I mean, how do I use it in the last kiss? So in the movie The Last Kiss, there are two, there's a couple that are about to get married. She's pregnant, and he has a dalliance with another attractive woman. He succumbs to his impulses, and therefore he's now trying to apologize and do whatever he can to get back in the good graces to save his marriage.
Well, they're about to get married, and the father of the woman that was cheated on as he's interacting with him tells him, well, basically, you'll have to do whatever it takes for however long it takes a base yourself in every possible way, incur every possible cost until hopefully, she comes around. Now, you could see now how that's related to costly signaling. If all I do to you, when I apologize to you and say, okay, I am sorry I did this. Okay, you're happy.
You see how I'm speaking with disdain? That doesn't strike me like a costly apology. If, on the other hand, I prostrate myself at your feet, I mean literally, if not metaphorically, and I'm willing to do anything possible because I did commit a grave sin, I did violate our trust. Then what I'm arguing there is that for an apology, to be truly honest, it has to be costly.
And that's why I then talk about the idea of love is humble. Yes. Right? Because it forces us to say, I stand before you. I know that you could crush me because I am opening myself up to you. But that's what I'm willing to do because love is humble. And by the way, without getting into details, I have had estrangements from very, very important members of my nuclear family because they violated this fundamental edicts edict whereby rather than coming to me and saying, I screwed up, it was really bad what I did. I am infinitely sorry.
I would do anything to get back in your good graces. Can you forgive me? I would have forgiven them in a second. But something that I also talk about in the book tried to stop them from doing that; they would rather die and lose a relationship with me than ever denigrate themselves in their view by apologizing. And in Arabic, there's kind of a thing you do. I will never apologize. Well, when you do that, you're exhibiting the ultimate cardinal sin of pride. And love is humble. Sometimes you have to debase yourself and apologize.
Adam Jacobs: Well, I'm sorry that that happened to you. That's sad. But your point is not. And certainly, we could learn a lot from that and love, true love. Being humble is such a critical notion, especially it seems to me in today's polarized environment, online and off. And maybe that leads well into the last thing I wanted to ask you about today, although I could keep this play going for several more hours, but you also introduced me to an idea called idea pathogens, which, if I understand it correctly, it's a bad idea. It's a bad idea that gets around and does damage and therefore compromises the possibility of happiness. How do you understand what it is, and what dangers do you see for it compromising happiness for all of us?
Gad Saad: So I will first explain the concept of idea pathogen generally, and then how I applied it in the current happiness book. So the idea of an idea pathogen actually comes from, I'm pointing right here to my last book, yes, the Parasitic Mind, how Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense, what I did there. So let me take two minutes, two, three minutes to explain what that is.
So I use what's called a neurological model to explain how human minds can be used. So let me step back. So as an evolutionist, one of the things that we do is study things in the human context by comparing them, comparing them homologous to our animal cousins. So there are many traits, physical traits that we have that are identical to those of our near animal cousins of, or for example, when we're thinking about human cognition, there are many things that we do that are very, very linked, to say our ape cousins.
And so what I wanted to do is say, okay, is there something in the animal kingdom that I can use as a framework to explain why human minds can engage in such departures from reason, right? I mean, men, too, can menstruate, men can bear babies. As we're currently seeing with trans activism, what could explain such departures from the most fundamental understanding of reality. And so, as I searched through the animal literature, the field of parasitology crystallized, now parasitology is simply the study of how parasites co-evolved with their hosts.
So a tapeworm can ize your intestinal tract, right? But a neuro parasite is one that looks to find its way to the brain of its host, altering the circuitry of the host to suit the parasites, typically reproductive interests. Okay? So, for example, a cricket that is parasitized by a particular brain war. Brain parasites will usually be totally afraid of water, but they will jump happily into water, killing themselves because the parasite needs to be in water to complete its reproductive cycle.
And so that was my epiphany. I said, aha, I now have an animal model that I can then analogize to the human context. And so then I argued that in the same way that all sorts of animals, including humans, can be parasitized by actual physical parasites, humans have the capacity to be parasitized by idea pathogens or what I call parasitic ideas. So these are ideas that are fundamentally dangerous for one to hold, but for all sorts of reasons, they parasitize our brains. So postmodernism is an example of such a parasite postmodernism basically purports that there are no objective truths other than the one objective truth, that there are no objective truths right now. The reason why that's a parasitic idea is because it is, I mean, in science, we know that truths are provisional. What we thought was true 300 years ago may no longer be true today.
But we do wake up every day thinking that there is a real-world to be discovered out there. And if you argue that there are no objective truths because everything is shackled by subjectivity and relativism, then that's a very nihilistic framework that doesn't get us anywhere. And so, in that book, I argue that there's a set of idea pathogens that are really wreaking havoc on the edifices of reason. So that was my last book.
Now, the way that I apply it in the Happiness book is to argue that some of these parasitic ideas, once we internalize them, then they become an obstacle and a barrier to our happiness. And one of the examples that I use is the idea pathogen of militant feminism because militant feminism says, Hey, ladies, burn your bras. You are no different than men. Anything that men do, you should also be willing to do.
And as a matter of fact, you two are indistinguishable from each other. Your path to happiness is indistinguishable from the path of happiness of men. Now, that is a profoundly idiotic idea because while men and women should be treated equally under the law, hence equity feminism makes sense, militant feminism is an idea pathogen because it says that in the service of pursuing equality under the law, let's now promulgate a parasitic idea that says that men and women are indistinguishable from one another.
Now, whether I am coming from a religious background or a scientific background, I know that to be false, men and women are equal under the law and should be equal under the law. But men and women do have many similarities and many differences from an evolutionary perspective. I know that, for example, when it comes to mating behavior, some of the optimal mating realities for men are not the optimal realities for women.
So many women took up the cry of second-wave feminism of, Hey girls, go to a bar every night, have indiscriminate sex because you're no different than men. You will, you'll find happiness. But regrettably, the longitudinal tracking of women's happiness over the past 40 years has shown us one thing, and that is that women's happiness has precipitously gone down. And I argue because many Western women have adopted many of the false ideals of militant feminism. And so, in this case, what I'm arguing is that the internalizing of a particular idea, pathogen militant feminism, has led to a lot of misery for half the population called women.
Adam Jacobs: Very thorough and very fascinating answer. And I would like to encourage our audience to, if you're not familiar with his work, please look behind him and see all of the offerings that now exist. And another one coming out within the next few weeks, which is called The Sad Truth about Happiness.
And it's been an absolute pleasure to speak to you today. I really thank you for your time and your insight, and I really look forward to speaking to you again in the meantime. So thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you. Please visit, take one moment, and go to BeyondBelief.Blog and sign up for all that we have to offer, including videos like this and lots of other exciting offerings. So thank you all for being here, and it's been a pleasure. Have a great day.