Arthur C. Brooks and Lori Gottlieb discuss the importance of fun, the cultural distortion of emotions as “good” or “bad,” and how envy points you in the direction of your deepest desires.
In adulthood, many of us are forced to recalibrate our relationship with joy. As responsibilities multiply exponentially, time grows limited, and challenges mount, it becomes harder to make time for fun, let alone remember what it feels like. As we explore the key components of happiness—pleasure, joy, and satisfaction—we ask the foundational question: What really brings me joy?
In this special-edition, bonus episode of How to Build a Happy Life, the psychotherapist and Atlantic contributing writer Lori Gottlieb demystifies one of the vital components of a happy life: enjoyment. Gottlieb believes that we not only find it challenging to make time for day-to-day enjoyment, but also struggle to identify what it should feel like.
This episode was produced by Rebecca Rashid and hosted by Arthur Brooks. Editing by A.C. Valdez. Fact-check by Ena Alvarado. Sound design by Michael Raphael.
Be part of How to Build a Happy Life. Write to us at email@example.com or leave us a voicemail at 925.967.2091.
Music by Trevor Kowalski (“Daydream in Silver”), Stationary Sign (“Loose in the Park”), and Spectacles Wallet and Watch (“Last Pieces”).
Arthur C. Brooks: I’ve been looking forward to working with you in some way for the longest time. I teach a class at Harvard Business School called Leadership and Happiness, and on the first day of class, I define happiness. Now, most of my students think happiness is a feeling. That’s wrong. I mean, happiness has a lot of feelings attached to it, and feelings are really important. But it’s not a feeling per se. I describe happiness as more of the way that you would take apart a meal.
There are three macronutrients to happiness. They are enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. People who are truly happy about their lives, they have all three. And they have them in abundance, and they have them in balance. And people who are out of balance [with] enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose tend to define themselves as unhappy. They know that something is wrong with their happiness.
So that’s where I want to start. And I want to start with the first of those, which is enjoyment. I do find enjoyment as pleasure plus elevation. When you learn something about the sources of your pleasures, it turns into authentic enjoyment, which is a part of a happy life. Do you agree with that?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, there are certain solitary enjoyments. You know, let’s say that you’re an artist or let’s say that you’re a musician or let’s say you’re reading a book. You know that’s enjoyable to you, depending on who you are. But I think that when you talk about the ingredients, I think connection really has to be in there. And what I see in the therapy room is that when you look at those ingredients of happiness, if you don’t have connection added to those ingredients, it’s going to be hard. And I love the way that you are talking about happiness—not as a feeling, because I think that happiness as a byproduct of living our lives in a meaningful way is what we all aspire to. But happiness as a goal in and of itself often is a recipe for disaster, because they’re not looking at the ingredients that you’re talking about.
I think that the question that people ask themselves, I think that we all ask ourselves, when it comes to happiness is: How can I love and be loved? I think that is the essential question. And that’s where the enjoyment, I think, comes from too: What does it mean to not only love someone and be loved, but how do you love yourself too? And so often we don’t know how to do that. We can make ourselves incredibly unhappy by being unloving to ourselves.
Brooks: I want to talk about the specific macronutrient of enjoyment here for a second. One of the characteristics of people who present with clinical depression is a syndrome called anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure and enjoyment. Even if you’re not clinically depressed, clearly if you’re having a hard time enjoying things, you’re going to be unhappy.
Do you see patients who because of whatever is going on in their lives—because of an over-sense of discipline or because they’re excessively stoic or for whatever reason—that they have insufficient enjoyment of their lives? And if so, what do you tell them? How can I enjoy my life more?
Gottlieb: Well, this is kind of like a chicken-or-the-egg thing. So anhedonia is when people are depressed; they literally cannot experience joy in the things that would normally bring them joy if they were not depressed. So it’s not that they don’t know how to enjoy things. It’s that because of depression, they aren’t enjoying activities that would normally be pleasurable to them.
But yes, I think that there are people who don’t know how to separate from that. There are people who don’t know how to have fun. I think that we think somehow in our culture today of ambition and moving forward—you know, all sorts of pressures—that people think that fun is frivolous. They don’t realize that it’s actually essential. So when you talk about enjoyment, people think, Well, that’s optional. You know, like if I have time. And then, of course, they don’t make the time because they think that it’s something that’s not necessary, and it absolutely is.
Brooks: So if I came to you and I said, “I just don’t know how to have fun. I work and I work and I work all the time, and I’m not very happy.” And you say, “Arthur, do these three things.” You know: What’s the kind of thing that you would tell me? What’s the assignment?
Gottlieb: Well, actually, on the Dear Therapist podcast, we do a therapy session with people. And then, as you said, we give them a homework assignment that they have a week to do, and they report back to us. We had this 16-year-old who presented this exact issue. She said, “I am just trying to get into college, I’m doing all of these things. I never have any fun.” And so we gave her an assignment where we wanted her to have more balance in her life, and we gave her a specific assignment. This is the Libby episode in season one.
And she was somebody who was very reluctant to do this, because she thought that it would somehow hold her back, that it would somehow make her less competitive for college, that it would affect her in a way. Because nobody around her was having fun, by the way. Everybody was pretending to have fun.
You know, on social media it looks like everybody’s having just a great time. But in reality, everybody was really stressed out, and nobody was making time for fun. And so she did that. And she found that when she made time for fun she not only enjoyed her life more, but she found that actually it made her more productive. It actually helped her to get ahead. And so it was interesting, because I think that we have this idea that, you know, having fun is going to hold us back somehow. And in theory, we want to have fun, but we don’t actually say, “I’m going to put that on my calendar. I’m going to make that a priority.” And I think we really need to.
I think it needs to be specific, not just “have fun.” It’s getting in touch with how you have fun. A lot of people don’t even know how they have fun anymore. As adults, they grow up. They forget what fun looks like, because they’re so busy with all of their responsibilities and then all of the things they think they need to be doing. And they don’t realize, first of all, how they’re spending their time.
So many people say, “I don’t have time for this kind of thing.” And yet if they actually do a 24-hour diary—which is what I will prescribe in therapy a lot—where they have to write down everything that they’re doing for 24 hours and sometimes 48 hours. And when they realize that, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I spent like an hour and a half mindlessly scrolling through the internet.” And that actually dampened their mood. It wasn’t a pleasurable activity for them. It was like, “Oh, I’m so behind; look at what everybody else is doing.” Or “Look at that person. They went to Hawaii, and I don’t get to go to Hawaii.” Or whatever it is.
That hour and a half could have been spent doing something that would have actually brought them joy. And I want to use the word joy here when we talk about happiness. You’re right—happiness is not an emotion. Joy is an emotion, right? And so what brings you joy? And so specifically, people don’t know. They’re like, If I had the time, what would fun even look like? I don’t even know what that looks like. And so really, being able to identify, how do you have fun? What does fun look like for you? So that when you schedule time to have fun or make time so that it becomes not a thing that you schedule after a while, but just something that’s a natural part of your existence. What does that look like? People don’t even know sometimes. If you said to them, “How do you have fun?,” they look at me like, Fun? What’s that?
Brooks: It’s interesting that people don’t know how to have fun. And maybe they used to, and maybe they’ve forgotten. So if they present to Lori Gottlieb and say, “I’m not having any fun” or “I don’t have enough enjoyment in life,” the first assignment is not to have fun. The first assignment you’re going to give them is Think about the last time that you had fun—what were you doing—so that you can remember how to have fun in the first place. Is that right?
Gottlieb: Yeah, and a good way to figure out what is fun for you is to look at your envy. People don’t like to feel envy. They feel like it’s kind of like a taboo. They don’t want to feel that. They think that they’re a bad person for feeling that. But actually, envy is very instructive, and envy tells us something about desire. And so I always say to people: Follow your envy. It tells you what you want. And so when you are envious of someone or something or some experience, that’s a clue to what might be enjoyable for you. We are so hesitant to look at our desire. We don’t want to give space for desire. We’re so much about the shoulds, as opposed to the “What do I want? What does desire look like for me?” We feel like it’s almost a selfish act.
Brooks: That’s really interesting, because one of the things that I talk about an awful lot in the study of discernment—which is a part of every philosophical and major religious tradition, from Buddhism to Judaism to Christianity and even stoicism—is that discernment is actually not about “What should I do?” Discernment is about “What do I want?” It’s finding the nature of your own desire. And so that is as old as the hills. And yet it somehow escapes us again and again and again. And when I talk to young people, a lot of my students, they think they’re trying to figure out what they want to do. And actually, they should be thinking about trying to figure out what they want. That’s what they really don’t know: what they want. And that’s what you’re trying to get at, right, Lori?
Gottlieb: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that there’s so much noise out there where sometimes people can’t hear themselves. So they conflate what society wants them to want, what their parents want them to want, what the culture tells them they should want versus what they inherently want. And if it goes against some of those things—like some of those culturally accepted things of what we should want—it’s very hard for them to even acknowledge that that’s something that they want.
Brooks: Let’s move on to the second pillar, the second macronutrient of a happy life, which is satisfaction. Satisfaction is the reward when you meet a goal. It’s the reward for a job well done. It’s a promotion. It’s the race that you get. It’s the little burst of joy that you get from meeting one of your own personal goals. And the big problem that people have is that they get a little burst of this joy, perhaps—but then it goes away, and then they’re running, running, running, running again.
But the real question then becomes, How do we deal with that? You do need satisfaction to be a happy person, but you can’t keep it. So what do you tell people who are workaholics and are addicted to success—and they’re just trying and trying and trying, as Mick Jagger sang, to get satisfaction, and they’re not getting it? The result is that they’re missing something from their lives. When somebody presents with the dissatisfaction dilemma, what do you tell them?
Gottlieb: Well, as you were talking, I was thinking about the people who present almost like a colander instead of a bowl. So it’s kind of like, you know, something goes in and it doesn’t stay there. The satisfaction gets there, and then, like, it just goes through the holes. It doesn’t stay, like in a bowl, right? And I think that the people who are happiest when we talk about people—and I would maybe use the word contentment—the people who are most content, who feel most full and fulfilled in their lives, are people who are what are called satisficers. And this is Barry Schwartz from The Paradox of Choice. And he talks about the difference between satisficers and maximizers. Satisficers are those people who, let’s say: You’re trying to buy a sweater, and you go into a store and you find a sweater that fits you. It looks good. It’s the right price. You buy it, you’re happy, you’re done. Right? It meets all of your criteria.
The maximizer will see that sweater and kind of put it under another sweater, so nobody will buy it. And just in case, go to the next store. And keep looking, because maybe they’ll find something a little bit cheaper or a little bit more attractive or, you know, whatever it is, right? Just something that’s a little bit better in some dimension. And they keep looking, and then maybe they find it. Maybe they don’t. But if they do find it, they tend not to be as happy with that purchase as if they had just bought the original sweater. And if they don’t find it, then they regret that they didn’t get the original one. And the problem is, even if they buy that first one that met all their criteria, the maximizer might be happy for about a week—and then the next week, they’re walking by a store and they see something else in the window and they think, Oh, that one would have been better. And so they’re just never satisfied with what they have.
And you see this in relationships. People do this in relationships all the time, too. It’s not just with things like sweaters. It’s with people, it’s with jobs, it’s with everything. So it’s kind of almost like a personality type, like: Are you a satisficer, or are you a maximizer? Even when you’re shopping on Amazon and you’re trying to decide Which set of cookware should I buy?, you know? And it’s like, the people who will spend like an hour going through all the different options instead of 10 minutes going, Oh, this is good. Let me just get this. And it really takes up your emotional energy in a big way, because it’s almost like it’s a perfectionism type of thing. And it really gets in the way, because it takes up all of your time. And then you’re never satisfied with what you have anyway.
Brooks: That’s really interesting. And you know, what you’re saying sounds kind of like a Western version of what His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says—which is the secret to enduring satisfaction is not to have what you want, but to want what you have. The satisficer is one who wants what she has, and the maximizer is the one who is always chasing, trying to have what he wants.
So when a patient presents with a satisfaction deficit, what assignment do you give them on your show? This is somebody who’s unsatisfied. Or if you have a patient who says, “It’s just, nothing’s good, Lori. Nothing’s good.” What do you tell them to do specifically, starting today?
Gottlieb: I think this is the difference between what a friend would say to this person and what a therapist would say to this person. Because what the friend tends to do is to say, “Look at all the wonderful things you have in your life,” which is not helpful at all because they can’t see it anyway. You know it’s very funny when you look at the difference between how we talk to our friends and how a therapist might approach this. Because I think that people would expect the therapist to say, “Well, look at all these things that you’re not seeing.” But no. In fact, what I would probably do is I would agree with them and say, “Yeah, you know, I can see that you’re really not satisfied.”
And then what happens for them is the more that you kind of go into their mindset that they start to see something new, that they start to say, “Well, actually, I have this really great partner, and I have this really great job.” But then there are a lot of buts with that. And then they start to sort of change their mindset when you’re not arguing with them about whether they should be satisfied or not. You can’t convince someone to be satisfied with what they have. They have to come to it on their own. And I think that a lot of people have very low tolerance for people like this, because they feel like, Well, you have so much, how can you complain? But I think it speaks to something in our culture—which is that we don’t really value what’s important. We don’t really value what’s going to bring us happiness. And so people tend to take for granted all of the things that they do have that would normally bring a person happiness.
Brooks: Hmm, that’s really interesting. When I ask in surveys—you know, large-scale surveys or experiments using human subjects—“What brings happiness and purpose to life?,” people always talk about the most painful parts of their lives. You know, they always talk about that divorce, that ugly breakup, when they got fired, that bankruptcy, when their kid had to go to rehab. That’s when they talk about, you know, the stuff that they were made of, and when they really understood the nature of their own souls.
But now young people on either side of us—bookended by people like you and me—their mantra seems to be, If it feels bad, make it stop. Paradoxically, if we don’t suffer—if we don’t have pain, if we don’t come to terms with having a life that’s fully alive with the good and the bad—we can’t actually get enough meaning and purpose in our life, right?
Gottlieb: Well, that’s right. And I think that’s why we assign negative and positive connotations to feelings. Even though feelings are neutral, they don’t have a positive or negative connotation. So people say, “Joy is a positive feeling, and anger or anxiety or sadness are negative feelings,” and that’s just not true. All of our feelings are positive in the sense that they tell us what we want. Our feelings are like a compass. They tell us what direction to go in.
And if you don’t access your feelings, you’re kind of walking around with a faulty GPS. You don’t know what direction to go in. And people think that if they kind of numb their feelings —like, Oh, it’s not a big deal because I have a roof over my head and food on the table—that the sadness, the anxiety, this insomnia, whatever it is, is okay. Because, you know, it seems very trivial to them. But it’s not. It’s actually a message. It’s telling you something about your life. It’s telling you about something that needs to change.
People feel like numbness is nothingness. It’s not the absence of feelings. Numbness is actually a sense of being overwhelmed by too many feelings. And then they come out in other ways, like too much food, too much wine, an inability to sleep, a short-temperedness, a lack of focus. You see how the feelings are there. They’re just presenting differently. And so I think it’s really important for people to notice their feelings and to really welcome their feelings and embrace their feelings, because the feelings give them information about if they’re sad, what is not working. If you’re anxious, what is causing the anxiety? If you’re angry, are there some boundaries that maybe you need to set? Right? Is there something you need to change in your life? What is going on? So I think that that’s really important. And when we talk about meaning and purpose, if you don’t listen to your feelings, they’re going to direct you in the direction of meaning and purpose, they’re going to tell you what is important.
Brooks: There was a famous interview of Stephen Colbert by Anderson Cooper, where Stephen Colbert talks about the most painful time in his life, when his father and one of his siblings were killed in a plane crash. And he talks about how grateful he is even for that experience, because of the sacredness of every moment of his life, including the pain. He says, “Look, if you’re going to be fully alive, if you’re going to have a life, if you’re going to enjoy life per se, you’ve got to take it all.” If you’re thankful for life, you’ve got to be thankful for all of life, because that’s the fabric of your set of experiences. And it seems to me that that is the essence of how you find your meaning and the essence of how you understand who you are as a person according to what you just told me, right?
Gottlieb: I don’t think that you need to suffer tragedy to feel gratitude. I think that sometimes it awakens us to feeling gratitude when you have some kind of tragedy in your life. But I don’t think that you need to have some kind of tragedy. But I do think that you don’t get through life without suffering in some way, so it doesn’t need to be that a relative dies in a plane crash. I think that just being human inherently means that there are going to be times that you struggle.
People always say, like, “I want to mute the the sadness” or “I want to mute the pain,” and it’s like: You can’t mute the pain and then also feel joy. If you mute one aspect of your emotional experience, you’re going to mute all of that. There’s like one mute button. So, if you mute the pain, you mute the joy. And so I think that that speaks to what you’re saying.
Brooks: And there’s one clarification you made that’s incredibly important that I want to underline for everybody listening. Remember: Lori Gottlieb just said that you don’t have to go out looking for suffering. Don’t worry. Suffering will find you, and that’s adequate, too, for us to find purpose in our lives.
Gottlieb: There’s a difference between pain and suffering, too. We all experience pain. You know: You go through a breakup, you go through a divorce, somebody gets ill, something happens with your job. Whatever it is, right? We all experience pain of some sort, but suffering is something that sometimes we do to ourselves.
So you go through a divorce, and then you’re like, looking on social media at your ex and you see them with their new partner, right? You don’t need to do that. That’s suffering. You’re creating your own suffering. So people do that all the time. And so we’re all going to experience pain in some way or another. But sometimes we are creating our own suffering. And in therapy, that’s a big topic of conversation. How are we creating our own suffering? Even though, of course, pain is inevitable.
Brooks: I want to go now to some of our listeners. I put out a call at the end of my column asking people to tell me the last time they were happy, and what we got back was just pure gold. They were so interesting and so moving. And I wanted to play just three clips of people telling me about the last time that they were happy and get your reaction to what they’re saying and, you know, what it says to you. Let’s bring up audio clip No. 1: Karl from North Carolina.
Listener Submission 1: The last time I felt truly happy was yesterday. I am a high-school English teacher, and we’re now back in person. We’re lucky enough to be in a school where we wear masks. I was able to actually see their—if not their faces—their eyes light up when they figured out something or they got the point of my lesson. And just seeing their eyes light up and getting to exercise that teaching muscle that I haven’t really got to exercise in over a year and a half. Getting to be in front of the students again makes me feel truly like myself again, something that I really haven’t felt in a long time. So, yeah, teaching makes me happy.
Brooks: Isn’t that beautiful, Lori? And it seems to me that he made your point. It’s connection—that’s the secret! Happiness is love, right?
Gottlieb: Right. Well, it’s meaning and purpose and connection all rolled into one—that was so beautiful. I think that we learned a lot during COVID about meaning and purpose and connection. Many people think it has to be this big epic thing. It can be, you know, I had this moment with my child and we had this great five minutes together. Or just like with Karl, you know, I had this experience with my students and I saw their eyes light up when they got the lesson. That right there is meaning and purpose, and it doesn’t need to be this grand thing. It’s like it’s the dailiness of it. It’s having lots of bursts of meaning and purpose throughout your day.
Brooks: And that actually speaks to what you talked about with satisfaction. Because satisfaction—if you’re looking for it in one big thing—it’s probably going to disappoint you. But if you’re looking at the little things that happen over the course of a day and over the course of life regularly, you’ve got a shot. That’s important, too.
Gottlieb: Often I will give people this assignment in therapy and even on the podcast, which is: I want you to write down the different moments of the day when you feel something positive. And often there are these moments of meaning, these moments of connection. And there are so many during the day that they didn’t even realize, even if it’s like: “I went to Starbucks, and I saw this barista who’s been there for five years and we used to talk every day, and I missed that during COVID. And it was so great to see each other again. And I realized this is meaningful to me.” You know, it’s like those little moments throughout the day that you don’t even pay attention to. And all of a sudden you say, Wait, those are really important to me.
Brooks: Let’s go to clip No. 2: Kristen in New York.
Listener Submission 2: The last time I remember being truly happy was in the summer of 2019. I had just ended my first year of grad school. I was living in Japan and Tokyo. I’d already been there for five years, so I became quite accustomed to living there and found myself in a great group of friends … And looking back from there, it kind of feels like everything has just been this slow and then sudden descent. Because I got back to Japan, and my friends began to graduate and move away. And then the pandemic came. And like many people, I spent months alone in my apartment, so it was just really lonely. And then my visa was expiring, so I had to leave my community that I had spent six years building into this period of great uncertainty. And then my mother died, suddenly and unexpectedly. And since then, I’ve been living in the after. And I feel like I will never experience that kind of happiness again—like I did that summer. Being so devastated by grief and loss, it just feels like whatever way joy manages to find its way back into my life will always be different.
Brooks: What do you say, Lori?
Gottlieb: Wow. Just so much loss and grief, and what she’s experiencing is so common. Because we think that when we’re in the throes of that, we feel like we will never experience joy again. We will never experience happiness again in the same way. And actually, in my book, in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, there’s one client that I write about. He was talking about how his son was killed in a car accident. And within a week of that, where he was devastated and he thought My life is over, I will never be the same again, he was with his daughter. And they were playing a game, and he laughed. And he said, “I couldn’t believe that. I laughed. I couldn’t believe that I actually could laugh. Like, what was that part of me that could do that, even though the rest of me felt dead?”
I think what Kristen is feeling is extremely common, and that’s what grief looks like. And, you know, she’s going to have a lot of grieving to do. And it’s unfortunate that her mother died in the middle of COVID when she was so isolated and she had lost her community, and all of these other things had happened. So she’s experiencing multiple layers of loss. And I hope that she allows herself the space to really grieve all that she has lost, so that she can then start to emerge again.
Brooks: And I think a really important part of your message, Lori—and what you just said and I think that I want people to remember from this and what [I want] Kristen to remember—is that happiness is going to come again. That this isn’t the end. It feels like the end, because that’s how it always feels when you’re in a period of grief. And there’s all kinds of reasons for that. But happiness is going to come again. It just is, right?
Gottlieb: Well, it reminds me of when people are depressed, they feel like they will never be happy. And so I always say to people who are in the middle of a clinical depression You are not the best person to talk to you about you right now. Because their thinking is so distorted in that moment because they can’t see it. They can’t imagine a time when they would experience joy again. And the same thing, I think, when people have experienced a devastating loss, they cannot imagine experiencing joy.
And yet what happens later, just like the man in the book—people go to weddings and they go grocery shopping and they go on Twitter, and their lives move on. There’s this expression like people say, “Well, why haven’t you moved on?” Moved on is not quite right. It’s, you move forward. The loss stays with you, but you move forward and you’re still grieving. You will always grieve that loss. And I think that the grief is a sign of how much love there was with the person who is no longer there, right?
And then loss of the community. She loved those people. So that’s going to be there, but it feels different. It has a different flavor over time. It has a different resonance. And there will be times when you’re standing in an elevator and some song comes on and it’s the song that meant something with that person and you just start bawling in the elevator or whatever it is. You know, that’s what grief looks like, even decades later. So I think that’s part of the human experience and what you were talking about earlier, Arthur—about this idea of meaning and struggle and how they’re somehow intertwined in some way.
Brooks: One of the things that’s so interesting when you talk to older people who are happy and well—when you talk to those people, what you find is that they suffered a lot. It’s weird, you know, for young people, people in their 20s, who want to find out how to have a happy life and want to avoid as much suffering as possible. So in their 80s, they’ll be really happy. That’s actually wrong. In the same way, something that’s a really delicious dessert actually has salt in it.
And the afternoon of your life requires that the morning have had a certain number of challenges. And so you find that the happiest people have been fully alive all throughout their lives, and they’ve grieved, and they’ve recovered. And when bad things are happening, they never thought they’d feel better. And guess what—they did. They did! And they allowed themselves to be sad. And that’s one of the secrets, right?
Gottlieb: Right. And I think that the reason that they’ve been through so much is because they engaged in life. So the people who want to protect themselves from pain or discomfort are the people who never really engage in life because they’re so busy protecting themselves to make sure that they’re not going to experience anything that feels bad, right? And so then they never put themselves out there. They never take any risks.
And when you take risks, sometimes, you know, there’s going to be pain involved. And sometimes there’s going to be great joy involved. But if you are protecting yourself the whole time you didn’t really live; you’re not fully alive. And so maybe you think you protected yourself, but you end up feeling very unsatisfied, very kind of empty and lonely.
Brooks: If you’re going to live your life like an adventure, you’re going to have to take some chances. Let’s go to the last audio clip to finish this out, Lori.
Listener Submission 3: Hi. My name is Joel Marsh, and I own Marsh Painting Inc. in Park City, Utah. [I’ve] been painting homes in Park City for over 20 years. And I’m a fourth-generation painter. What I’ve learned is that Arthur Brooks is correct in this column when he states that what matters is not so much the weight of a job—more the “who” and the “why.” One day, as we were staining a home, we took a 10-minute break and hit golf balls onto the adjoining driving range. With the homeowner’s permission, of course. Our work painting houses is hard and boring much of the time. I tell new recruits that more often than not, when you have good music going, some good Mexican food for lunch, and you get into a rhythm with the rest of the guys, our job can feel a little Zen-like.
Brooks: We’re pretty much near the end of the time, so let’s have this be kind of the last word. What’s your big takeaway? And what’s the big lesson that people should get from this incredibly encouraging message from Joel in Park City?
Gottlieb: Yeah, that was really beautiful. I was thinking about how, before COVID, people used to say co-workers are overrated. You know, people are like, “I really want to work from home,” or whatever it is. Co-workers are not overrated. I think that if we’ve learned anything, it’s those small moments like he was talking about—those spontaneous moments of like, Hey, let’s hit the golf balls, right?
The things that you don’t expect, those moments of connection that happen when you’re in the same space with other people and you have a shared experience. And I think that that’s what we need to look for in general these days. No matter whether it’s at work or in our families or in our social circles or whatever it is. How can we show up? When you show up, those moments of connection happen.
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