CLEARER THINKING

with Spencer Greenberg
the podcast about ideas that matter

Episode 193: Schemas, goals, values, and the pursuit of happiness (with Jeff Perron)

January 18, 2024

What does it mean to have conflicts between our schemas and our values? What is schema therapy? How do schema therapy's claims differ from the "common sense" view that we develop tools for interacting with the world in childhood? How do our "inner critic" and "vulnerable child" connect to our schemas? How do these things differ from the IFS (Internal Family Systems) model of psychotherapy? How do these things map onto Buddhism, Stoicism, and other religious or philosophical traditions? What are the values that lead to a life of happiness? Why are teachings about embracing impermanence and reducing craving found in ancient religious and philosophical traditions but not in modern psychology? And, conversely, why are practices for building "flow" and healthy self-esteem present in modern psychology but not in ancient religious and philosophical traditions?

Jeff Perron is a Clinical Psychologist and Author of The Psychology of Happiness, a Substack with over 15,000 subscribers. He writes detailed guides that explain evidence-based concepts associated with mental well-being and happiness. In his clinical work, he has spent years helping professionals align their lives more closely with their goals and values, supporting them in moving away from unnecessary suffering and towards meaning and fulfillment. Dr. Perron also holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University and in the past has worked in the corporate strategy world. He holds a dual research-clinical PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Ottawa and is a Clinical Associate of the Ottawa Institute of CBT.

Further reading:

JOSH: Hello, and welcome to Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg, the podcast about ideas that matter. I'm Josh Castle, the producer of the podcast, and I'm so glad you joined us today. In this episode, Spencer speaks with Jeff Perron about schemas, values, and how to be happy. Before we get into the episode, we wanted to let you know that EA New York City is hosting Spencer for a live recording of the Clearer Thinking podcast on January 30, 2024. The event is titled "The Moral Status of Insects and AI Systems, and Other Thorny Questions in Global Priorities Research, with Jeff Sebo and Spencer Greenberg". If you'd like to attend in person, you can register either by clicking the link in the show notes or by visiting effectivealtruism.nyc/events.

SPENCER: Jeff, welcome.

JEFF: Thanks for having me, Spencer.

SPENCER: Today we're going to talk about one of the most important topics when it comes to your own individual life, which is, how do you suffer less? How can you be happy? And I think you have some really interesting perspectives on this to share. Why don't we start with this idea that human suffering relates to conflicts between our schemas and our values? There's a lot to break down there. So let's start with, what is a schema?

JEFF: Right. I'm coming at this from the angle of a clinician. I'm a clinical psychologist; my day-to-day work is in working with clients who often present with depression or anxiety, in the DSM parlance. The framework that I start with is the good old CBT model — this connection between our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors — that, in and of itself, is relatively straightforward. Obviously, there's a lot of nuance in any given situation, and people get that model. But often, the question they have is, "Where do our thoughts come from? I understand that my thoughts influence my emotions and my behaviors. But where do my thoughts come from?" And the answer to that is our schemas.

SPENCER: Got it. Now, just to unpack the ABC model, just for those who haven't heard it before, the idea would be, let's suppose you're waiting in line, and you perceive that someone cut you in line, and then you have a thought like, "Oh, what a jerk," and then you start feeling angry. There's a situation, but there's a thought that comes between the situation and the emotion that mediates that emotion. Is that accurate?

JEFF: Yeah, exactly. That's perfectly fair to say. And then we'll all have our patterns of thinking assumptions and that's where our schemas come in. So if someone cuts you off and you have a reaction of, "Well, he doesn't respect me," that may be indicative of a pattern of standards or a pattern of mistrust in that person's day-to-day life. So we might say, in schema terms, that that person might have a standards schema, or they may have a mistrust schema, for example.

SPENCER: Right, because in that situation where someone cuts you in line, you might think everyone would be angry in that situation. But in fact, some people might be angry; other people might think, "Oh, they must have just not noticed. Once I point it out to them, surely they'll get back to the back of the line," so there actually are different ways to react, and it's interesting to think about: why would a person's first thought be one thing versus another thing? Why would some people immediately assume that the person did it on purpose, whereas other people assume that it was an accident? And that goes back to the schemas.

JEFF: Exactly. And so for me, the way I use the term 'schema' is that it includes, yes, the environmentally-determined schemas, and when I say environmentally, I'm talking about our environment of upbringing, especially the way we're parented. But it also includes some of these baked-in cognitive biases that are relatively universal if we're thinking of someone like Daniel Kahneman's work in this, for example, fundamental attribution error that I think your example points to; assuming that something that somebody does is more related to their personality than it is to circumstances would be one of these fundamental attribution errors. So, to me, we all come with these relatively universal cognitive biases, which often contribute to human suffering, but our environmentally-determined schemas are the ones that I'm working with in clinical practice. And boy, oh, boy, can those also contribute in a big way to suffering if they're left unchecked.

SPENCER: Okay, so we've talked about schemas. The next component is values because you're saying that a lot of human suffering is a result of a conflict between schemas and values. So I use the term 'values' in a very particular way. I talk about intrinsic values, which are the things that you value for their own sake and not as a means to an end. So they're, in a sense, the most fundamental things you value. But a lot of people use the term 'values' differently. Because my audience has heard me talk about this before, I wanna make sure we know what definition you're using. So how do you define values?

JEFF: For me, values are the things that you want your life to be about. We often start with qualitative questions — what do you want your life to be about? what do you care about? — as well as doing some visioning exercises tied to a specific domain. So we'll say, "Okay, across the family domain or the parenting domain, what do you want your life as a parent to look like and be about?"

SPENCER: Because many of my listeners have heard me talk about values — and in particular, I use the term 'intrinsic value' a lot, which means something that you value for its own sake and not as a means to another end — I just want to be sure about how you're using the term because I suspect you're using the word 'values' a little bit differently than I use it, and I don't want listeners to be confused. Do you just want to tell us, how do you think about what is a value?

JEFF: For me, values are the qualities which you want your life to be about.

SPENCER: Can you just give us a few examples? When you're working with a patient, what are some values they might list?

JEFF: The way we typically start exploring values is through various domains. Let's take, for example, the social domain. So what do you want your life to be about, or what do you want your life to look like, as a friend? And so from there, the person is going to list a number of qualities that fit with that vision of what they want their social life to be like. They might say something like closeness, availability, shared interest. They may even point to things like adventure, fun, meaning, learning or growth, as descriptors of this vision of what they want their life to be about in that given domain.

SPENCER: And let's suppose someone says something like, "Oh, well, money is a value of mine," how would you think about that? Would you be like, "Okay, cool. That's one of your values," or do you think about some values as being better, deeper, more fundamental than other values or not?

JEFF: I think that, as a starting point, values, there is no one moral (quote, unquote) 'right answer' as to what is a good or a bad value? For me, it's about saying, "Okay, what's your goal? And is the given value a goal that's going to be effective in the pursuit of that goal?" So if someone comes to me and says, "Well, my goal for myself is to be more happy," well, first, we would want to operationalize what happiness means. And then we would want to say, "Okay, well, what are the values and the behaviors that you are pursuing in order to reach that goal of happiness?" And if someone says, "Well, having a lot of money, that's the primary value that I have vis-à-vis this goal of happiness," and then from there, we say, "Okay, well, do we think that having a lot of money," — we're non-judgmental as to whether or not it's good or bad on the surface — "is it effective?" Do we have any evidence to say that that's a value worth focusing on in your pursuit?

SPENCER: That's interesting. So you put the goals at the base, and then you evaluate the values with regard to those goals; whereas I typically invert that. I think of intrinsic values as the most fundamental thing, the thing you're actually after. And then your goals are like intermediates that you think will help you get the things you value. They're like, "I have a goal of," let's say, "becoming a lawyer." Well, why? Because it's trying to get you to the things you intrinsically value. So it just sounds like we have a little bit of a different perspective there — which is totally fine — just clarifying that we're using terms a little differently.

JEFF: Right. In my work, there's an underlying assumption, especially in my seat as a clinician that, in a lot of ways, what people want is happiness so that's what they're pursuing. And the ways that we as humans go about pursuing happiness, especially because we're not optimized for happiness — we're optimized for things like reproductive success and prestige as it relates to reproductive success — the ways that we're going about our pursuit of happiness are often not effective.

SPENCER: Yeah, and of course, almost everyone does really care about being happy. But I would say people have a lot of other things they care about, too. They care about the happiness of their loved ones, independently of their own happiness, like making sure their children thrive, and people are willing to sacrifice all their happiness for the children at times. They care about more universal things, about society, about suffering all around the world, about justice, and so on. And so do you bring that in or, in your clinical work, do you focus more just on the happiness piece?

JEFF: That's an awesome question. And that's, I think, getting at exactly what I've been spending a lot of time thinking on, which is, I think that if we look at the totality of positive psychology research, clinical psychology research, and then cross-validate — which is one of my pet projects of late: cross-validating what some of that research is telling us with ancient traditions like Buddhism or stoicism — we can say, "Okay, well, here's a set of values that are supported by more or less these three traditions in positive/clinical psychology, Buddhism and stoicism. And I think that what's interesting, at least with the list that I've developed, if we start with happiness, which encompasses meaning, positive engagement, pleasure, purpose, the values or the behaviors that would be indicated as being helpful in that pursuit of happiness, happen to subsume a lot of these more altruistic or societal causes, for example. We know that having a purpose — particularly a purpose that transcends the individual — is going to be good for (quote, unquote) 'society,' and is going to be good for that individual's sense of meaning, engagement and, presumably, happiness. So I feel as though, if we start there and we say happiness is the ultimate intrinsic goal, it's not this hedonistic, individualistic happiness, it's this happiness that comes from, yes, serving the individual, but the highest form of that happiness is going to, by necessity, require that individual to be engaged in selfless pursuits, and contributing to their community, contributing positively and fairly to the relationships around them. I'd love to get your thoughts on that, Spencer. I hope that it doesn't sound too Pollyanna of a framework.

SPENCER: Yeah, I think of this as the amazing coincidence about humans, that seeking to do good in the world is often well-aligned with improving our own well-being. But it doesn't have to be the case. It seems to be something about human evolution and our psychology. You can imagine a species where this isn't true at all, where something about the way the species works is extremely individualistic, and not based on small groups and so on where the species evolved, and working to improve the greater good has nothing to do with the happiness of the individual. But with real humans, I agree, this is very often the case.

JEFF: Yeah, isn't that fascinating and exciting and motivating — again, not to be Pollyanna about it and not also to go on too much of what may sound like some kind of unnecessary social commentary — but I feel as though we have, particularly in the last (let's say) 20, 30 years, become a somewhat anomic society, we've placed value on not judging others' values. And we've almost, I think, in a lot of ways that, "Hey, if it's meaningful to you, go ahead and do it. Find yourself." And that has been divorced from perhaps some of these more communal pursuits (if we can put it that way), and what's so exciting for me when you look at, for example, this list that I'm putting together and trying to cross-validate what positive psychology is saying with what Buddhism has said, what stoicism has said, and what you've just said in terms of people's individual happiness being aligned with those communal pursuits, I feel like we can almost say what are good and what are not so good values, in a sense that's very much not anomic. It's not, 'Hey, anything goes,' it's, 'Hey, we have a pretty reasonable best guess at the type of values and foci and behaviors and the quality of relationships that are both going to serve you as the individual in pursuing meaning and happiness, but also your community and the people around you.'

SPENCER: Let's take a step back. We started this conversation about schemas, and then we went to values, and now let's bring it together. Again, you said suffering is often understood, from your point of view, as a conflict between schemas and values. So complete that loop for us. How does that happen?

JEFF: Our schemas come from our developmental environment, and our developmental environment is all about getting protection and attachment from our caregivers, especially very early on. It's not about happiness. It's not about the pursuit of values. It's how do I survive and get the attachment and support and affection of the key people around me, namely my parents, because I need their regard and their resources and their protection in order to survive. As humans, of course, we come to the earth with our genetic schema, some of those more universal cognitive biases and shortcuts in thinking. But in our environment, we learn what's going to get approval from a caregiver; we learn what's going to be looked upon favorably and not favorably. We learn these rules of how the world works and our place in the world. We may be told very positive and empowering things about the person that we are; we may be told very negative things. Or our approval from our parents might be pretty conditional, kind of like an if-then like, "Well, if you meet certain standards, then you get approved of." These are our schemas; these are how our schemas — the lenses through which we see the world and the rules for how we operate in the world — that's how they get developed. But like I say, those are wired, those are optimized for survival, especially early on. And then we carry those things with us as adults; we carry those rules, those schemas with us. But those rules and schemas are oftentimes counterproductive to happiness and a life of meaning and engagement and positive relationships. So if we're lucky, we're brought up in an environment where there is a nice coherence between the rules that we develop, especially about who we are, and about relationships that facilitate a healthy self-esteem and healthy relationships in adulthood. But if the rules that get developed, the schemas that get developed, are really counterproductive in terms of those healthy relationships and developing a healthy sense of our self in the world, that's where the suffering really takes place.

SPENCER: Is there a standard name for this theory?

JEFF: Yes, this is schema therapy, which is an extension of the earlier forms of CBT.

SPENCER: Just to recap, to make sure I understand what you're saying, imagine as a one-year-old, you need your parents to survive; you will literally die if they don't help you. And you learn that certain behaviors will get you their attention, which is linked to them helping you in your survival. So you start engaging those behaviors and, as an adult, that's still a pattern that you have, that those behaviors — let's say, certain types of attention-seeking — will get you what you need to survive, and therefore you keep doing it in adulthood. Would that be an accurate example?

JEFF: Exactly, right. And I think I'm making an assumption about who's listening in, but I would guess that a lot of us have the unrelenting standards schema. And if that's the case, your developmental environment — what it may have been — was likely one in which you learned that approval and support and recognition were contingent on meeting certain standards of behavior. You may have learned that, well, if you deny your needs and really focus on your homework, and focus — perhaps to the point of fatigue, exhaustion, and to the exclusion of social relationships — that is going to be approved of. And then, of course, the school environment, in a lot of ways, may reinforce that: "Oh, what a good student you are. What a good kid you are. You got an A plus. Wow, you really worked hard." Working hard is great, of course. But if that working hard meant a more extreme denial of that person's inherent needs for rest, relaxation, reasonable limits, then that's not a good thing and that child may develop this understanding that's going to get reinforced over time and, in a lot of ways, can actually lead to early career success, for example. But that way of relating to the world and to work and to getting others' approval of "deny my needs, deny my needs, be perfectionistic, hold very high standards," particularly in this one domain, is not necessarily a strategy for lasting meaning or happiness.

SPENCER: Could you give us a couple of other examples of common schemas that you see in your patients?

JEFF: Yeah, for sure. Other common schemas are things like the approval-seeking schema. This is a scheme that you do often see with an unrelenting standards schema. The approval-seeking schema gives the child, and then eventually the adult, the message that it's very important to get other people's approval, and it's bad — it means you're doing something wrong — if you don't have other people's approval. This can be getting rewarded for being (quote, unquote) 'polite' which, on the surface, is a good thing, but taken to extremes, means that the child is always thinking about other people's needs before their own: "Oh, what does that person want from me? What do I have to do? Never mind what I want or what I'm feeling. What do I have to do to get that person's approval? Because that's the measure of success. That's how I get accepted and approved of, and that's how I get my attachment needs met from the people that are closest to me." And so someone with an approval-seeking schema, again, they may have career success in a stereotypical sense. And in some ways, being able to take perspective on what other people want, need and expect from you, is desirable. But in the extreme, these are folks who, by definition, put undue emphasis on gaining other people's approval, and it permeates many of their decisions. So in the workplace, there's an emphasis, not on what's necessary, what's important, and what do I need, but how do I get that boss's approval? How do I deliver that speech that everybody loves? If I'm not delivering speeches or presentations that everybody loves, well, then, I'm not measuring up, I'm not a good enough person. What kind of vehicle, what style of dress are other people going to approve of? You can see, obviously, all these things run on a continuum. But you can see how it's this outward-directed focus on the person.

SPENCER: We've talked about schemas developing in childhood. Do you believe that they also develop in adulthood, like if someone has, for example, a traumatic experience or is in a difficult environment where they have to learn strategies to get by, could that become a schema?

JEFF: Yes, and traumatic events are one area where folks do develop new rules for how the world works. In a lot of ways, that is a marker of the development of PTSD, or at least having been through a traumatic event is an event that violates and perhaps changes the rules by which you see the world and yourself. So if someone in a war setting, for example, a military combat setting, who has this relatively healthy belief or schema that the world is generally fair, that good things generally happen to good people, who sees almost random destruction and loss of life, they may develop some pretty dysfunctional — I don't mean that pejoratively — schemas about the way the world works and rules about fairness. In that sense, of course, that person has developed a new schema in adulthood. I would distinguish that a little bit from the common schema therapy parlance, because schema therapy itself purports that there are formally 18 — but most recently 21 — specific, maladaptive schemas, and the schema therapy literature itself would suggest that those, generally speaking, have their roots in childhood. But to your question, certainly, someone can develop new rules, new schemas in adulthood.

SPENCER: How much evidence is there that we really do form these schemas in childhood and that they really do get bucketed in these kinds of ways into these (let's say) 21 buckets?

JEFF: There's actually quite a bit of evidence supporting schema therapy. There's been, for example, well-validated tools like the young schema questionnaire. I'm not an expert on the psychometrics per se, but from what I understand, adequate factor analyses have been conducted to support these constructs and I think they have great clinical and face validity as well.

SPENCER: Another thing this reminds me of is a more common sense notion that we learn strategies and then we apply them later, and sometimes we continue applying strategies when they stop being useful. I think a lot of people, if you reframe this in a more common sense way, when you're younger, sometimes you learn a way to interact with people that is helpful in that situation. But then you might keep trying to do it in a totally new situation in life. Maybe it was a strategy learned when you were around abusive people, but now you're not around abusive people. And so, whereas before it saved you, now it's dysfunctional. How would you contrast that common sense view with what schema therapy's saying?

JEFF: You know, Spencer, that's a great question and, actually, I think that that is almost exactly what the schema therapy view is saying.

SPENCER: Got it. So schema therapy is just taking that and building more specific claims on top of it about what are the schemas and things like that?

JEFF: Exactly. And I think that clients find a lot of utility in having these labels and that framework for understanding themselves and the way that their beliefs are and different patterns of activation in their day-to-day lives. But to your question, it's all on a continuum, and so, for sure, if someone's been in an abusive relationship or abusive parenting, I should say, that's going to mediate the magnitude of their schemas — the rigidity, the entrenchedness of their schemas — but it's all on a developmental continuum. So depending on the developmental context, we're all going to develop our schemas. But the degree to which they are effective or not, is going to depend on the magnitude of (for example) the mistreatment or the level of disconnect between the childhood environment and what's healthy in terms of survival in that environment, and then what ends up being healthier, useful and contributing to happiness, and thriving in the adult environment.

[promo]

SPENCER: In a few minutes, we'll get to how to identify your schemas. But before we get to that, let's say you have identified them, what do you do with that? How do you use that to your benefit?

JEFF: In my work, clients are coming to me often having already identified the areas in their life that are not working for them. And if they haven't, that's often our first order of business, saying: Where are you running into problems? What would you like to be different? So in my clinical work, I have the advantage of the clients often coming with that insight right at the outset.

SPENCER: And you think they're usually accurate? They usually have correctly identified their schema?

JEFF: Oh, no, not necessarily the schema. But they've said, "Okay, here's what's going on in my life. Here are the patterns of emotions." This is often how clients will first present their challenges: I'm having a lot of anxiety here. I'm having a lot of stress here. I'm feeling amotivated and low mood here. And from there, what we'll do is we'll look at that CBT model: Okay, let's look at some examples of where you're getting activated, some examples of where things aren't going in the direction that you want them to be going. Now, what are the thoughts? What are the emotions? What are the behaviors? So we have that understanding, and then we'll look at a schema questionnaire. Oftentimes, I'll use the questionnaire called the Young schema questionnaire. It's got 232 items where the person ranks various statements that align with their schemas. And it's that combining many examples of what's going on in their life and where they feel misaligned with their goals with the schema questionnaire, and a detailed background history: where did you grow up? What was your relationship like with your parents? that chronology of the person's life. And from there, we piece that data together and say, "Okay, well, it looks as though you're endorsing this schema and this schema," and then we'll have a conversation about that. And generally speaking, the data that come back from the questionnaire, the clients say, "Yeah, that resonates. That's me. I didn't realize that this pattern of behavior was relating to this unrelenting standards schema. And now that we have a label for it, this helps me identify where that's coming up in my day-to-day life, and now we can take action on it.

SPENCER: Got it. But before we get into more about how to identify them, why bother? What does it do for the client once they have the schema in hand, like, "Ah, yes, that's the schema that seems to be afflicting me."

JEFF: Well, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? And I think that's where we come back to that intrinsic value or intrinsic desire to be happy. Why identify our schemas? If I'm the client, there's patterns in my life where things just aren't contributing to happiness. I'm suffering. Why am I working 16 hours a day? Why can't I hold down a relationship? Or why, every time I start a relationship, does this happen? Or why do I keep getting in this type of pattern with my friends? Or why don't I allow myself to go and do the pleasurable activities that I do enjoy? Well, there's probably rules and assumptions that are getting in the way of you doing those things and living out the goals and the values that you want to have for yourself. And those rules and assumptions and the patterns of behavior that follow are oftentimes coming from the schemas. And that's the framework I've looked at it from, is, generally speaking — this isn't the case with all clients — but almost by definition, those barriers are coming from your schemas. So let's identify those schemas, and as appropriate, work to change them, and figure out the ways that they are getting in the way of your life.

SPENCER: My understanding, in terms of how you think about this, there are two different modes that are involved in many of our schemas: the inner critic and the vulnerable child. Do you want to explain what those are and how those relate to schemas?

JEFF: I mentioned that our schemas encompass rules and assumptions about how the world works and how relationships work and our place in the world. That dialogue that captures those rules is our inner critic. And people might be familiar with this image of the angel and the demon on either shoulder. That lines up a little bit with this idea of the inner critic. It's this inner narrator who is monitoring your performance vis-à-vis the rules by which you are (quote, unquote) 'supposed to' be living. So if you are trying to do something for work and you are making some mistakes, or it's just simply an important deliverable, you may have an inner critic in there saying, "Well, come on, what's wrong with you? You're not going to get this done. You really think you can do this? If you think that you're allowed to take a break right now, that's totally unacceptable. You're being lazy." So it's this demanding pushing voice in your head. Or it can also be guilt inducing, like, "Oh, my God, look at you! You fell short there. That's a shame. We always knew that you didn't quite measure up. And here it is, here's the proof." Or like, "Look at you. You're being selfish. You're putting your needs in front of somebody else's. How could you?" So this is the flavor of the language that goes on in a lot of our minds if we look closely at it, and some of us are going to have a more severe, more rigid or more punitive inner critic than others, but a lot of us have this inner critic that's monitoring and commenting on our performance and either suggesting punishments or suggesting guilt or being overly demanding of us. That's one side of the equation. And then we also have our internal vulnerable child. And I know that some of this may sound corny or cliché, and believe me, I reflect on my work and my training early on, I had some of those same assumptions, "This is too corny. This is too cliché, this idea that we have an inner vulnerable child, that's too soft to be workable." But what I've found is that it's a really, really important mechanism, this asking this question, 'what does my internal vulnerable child need right now?' It's just a mechanism for getting in touch with our emotional needs. So you've got this inner critic that is like the parentified voice of the rules, the assumptions, the standards, guilt and punishment that you learnt in childhood, and then you have your emotional wiring which was developed in childhood and was meant to ensure your safety and survival, and your attachment needs got met, and that still resides in you. I think a lot of us can find examples of where we've felt overwhelmed or insecure, unsafe in a way that almost brought us back to childhood. So we've got these two characters on the bus of our self, the bus of our life — the inner critic and the vulnerable child — who both respectively need to be dealt with and the way they each behave comes from our schemas, is informed by our schemas, and the way that you navigate those two characters is going to dictate the behaviors that you ended up executing in your actual real-world life. And so it's almost like the extent to which you can properly manage the inner critic, and the extent to which you can validate and appropriately soothe and support the vulnerable child, is going to dictate the extent to which you're able to live an effective and reasonably happy life.

SPENCER: When described this way, it starts to sound a bit like IFS or internal family systems, this idea that there are these characters inside of you, these different parts of you and, by dialoguing with them, you can learn about yourself and improve yourself. How would you contrast it with the internal family systems view?

JEFF: 100%. There's a lot of overlap between those two schools. I think it's just happenstance that I've been trained in the schema therapy school of thought. There's a lot of evidence supporting IFS. I can't comment in any detail on the exact differences because I simply haven't had a ton of exposure to it. I don't use it in my own practice but, from what I do gather in the exposure that I have had there, you're absolutely right; there's a lot of similarities there. I think, in both cases, the clients benefit from the labels and the imagery around, and understanding that there are various characters at play within us. And the extent that we can find workable ways of relating to and navigating those characters and their demands is going to really help us live the life that we want. But yeah, you're 100% right; there's a lot of similarity there, at least at the high level.

SPENCER: Okay, so we have this idea of these two modes or these two voices inside of us. And how do we use that idea to create change to make our behaviors more aligned with our values?

JEFF: The way that I operationalize this is around developing your values-based compassionate self. That's a little bit wordy and I usually truncate that simply to 'your values-based self,' but your compassionate values-based self is this additional character on the bus of your life. It's aspirational so don't get me wrong here; to be very clear, this is an aspirational image of a figure who has absolute clarity on your values, who is effective in countering the inner critic and putting the inner critic in its place, and who knows exactly what to say to support and soothe and put boundaries on, as necessary, the vulnerable child. So once we understand, okay, we have your schemas; your schemas manifest internally in terms of your inner critic and your vulnerable child. How do you navigate your inner critic and your vulnerable child via the development of a compassionate values-based self and those two parts: compassion — and the values are critical because compassion is an intellectual and emotional skill — but the values are behavioral. For anyone who's familiar with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you can begin to see the overlap here. The compassionate self is the guiding character within you who can, yes, debate intellectually, then pull you back from unreasonable standards and pull you back from things like catastrophizing, but who also has that emotional skill and ability to self-soothe and take care of the raw emotions and the vulnerable child and who can then say, "Okay, in what direction do we want to take our life?" What do we want our life to be about, both specifically in a given situation, and more globally in terms of our life trajectory and the values that we hold?

SPENCER: Could you walk us through an example where that would actually get put into practice with that compassion itself reacting to the behavior and making adjustments that no longer line up with the schema?

JEFF: Yeah, 100%, and maybe I'll just use one relating to myself, because here I am having this interview with Spencer, and of course — just being transparent — I've got my own inner critic on board, I've got my own vulnerable child on board. And I encourage folks to think about this. And this is an exercise I do with my clients as the bus of your life frame. So, I want to drive the bus of my life towards this podcast interview, and I want to have a good interview with Spencer. And so, there's Jeff sitting in the seat of the bus and that's not Jeff per se, but that's me, that's my body sitting there. And then in the seat behind me is the inner critic who's saying, "Why are you even doing this? You don't have what it takes to do this. Plus, it's kind of grandiose, don't you think, to go on a podcast and share these ideas? Who do you think you are? You might screw it up, too, and then that would sure be embarrassing. So why even take the risk?" That's the inner critic — the judgment, the punitiveness, the standards — that's kicking the seat behind me as Jeff contemplates driving the bus of his life towards this podcast interview. And then there's the vulnerable child who's in the seat next door and hears this criticism and says, "This is extremely anxiety provoking. I don't like this. I'm scared. I'm nervous." You can almost picture a child getting upset, maybe crying, in the worst case scenario, hyperventilating. That's the embodiment of some of the emotions. So what I envision in a scenario where the compassionate self enters the scene is this person, again, this aspirational figure who, I ask myself, "Okay, this aspirational figure, what would they say to the inner critic? They might say, 'You know what, he's a reasonable person. He's doing this interview based on subject matter that he's familiar with. And I think certainly, there's a fair point that you don't want to exaggerate — you want to be accurate — but he's really approaching this from a genuine place, and he's not doing anything wrong.' So this idea that he's somehow being inappropriate or taking inappropriate risks by doing it, that's just not the case. And by the way, this idea that, if he makes a mistake, then it's a big failure, well, no, he's doing something that's valuable to him, that's aligned with his value of sharing knowledge and making social connections and sharing ideas with people that he respects. This isn't about whether you make a mistake or not. What's important is that he tries this." And so you can envision this person countering effectively and firmly, if necessary, the inner critic. Conversely, going over to the vulnerable child, say, "I know this is hard for you. This is a little bit scary, this journey, this destination that we're heading to is a little scary. You're not sure how it's gonna go. I understand that and we're going to take breaks if necessary, and you don't have to be perfect, and that's okay." So by having this image of the vulnerable child, it elicits this tone and this way of speaking that, funnily enough — at least for me and the clients that I work with — although you're envisioning speaking to a child, these are all commands, so to speak, that resonate and that are helpful to an adult person. These are things that I said to myself internally before coming on this interview, that are all, I think, pretty reasonable things even though it starts with the image of a child: "You don't have to be perfect. I know this is hard. You just try your best. You're a good person." And so that little example hopefully captures those three players, those three characters interacting with each other. And what I really hope that that highlights is that you don't have to have a perfect compassionate self. You don't have to have that perfectly developed yet. You don't even have to have absolute certainty on your values. But if you can just imagine this aspirational figure who does, it helps you envision what that figure would say to this inner critic who's getting in the way, and what they would say to soothe the vulnerable child that represents the big unwanted emotions.

SPENCER: If we take a cognitive and behavioral perspective on schemas, you might think that the first piece would be trying to change your belief around the schema. If you have explicit beliefs or core beliefs that the schema is helping you when, in fact, it's harming you, or that it's helping you get your values when in fact, it's moving you away from them, then you might want to try to change those beliefs by looking at the evidence or arguing both sides or something like this. And on the behavioral side, you might think that the schemas could be partly ingrained by things like habits like, maybe whenever someone does this, you do this other thing because that's the way you've done it for a long time, so you might start trying to change your behavior patterns separately from your beliefs. But the way you're describing it seems a little bit different than both of those. So I'm wondering, how helpful do you think it is to try to actually explicitly change your beliefs around schemas? And how helpful do you think it is to explicitly try to change your behavior patterns through methods just like trigger action plans or implementation tensions where you're like, "Oh, the next time this thing happens, I'm going to do this other thing, instead of the thing I do normally"?

JEFF: I think all of those are important. What we're talking about is the cognitive piece, challenging the beliefs that are associated with the schema. We're talking about changing behavioral patterns. And we're also talking about changing emotional patterns. So the image of, or the intervention of, that compassionate self is a cognitive intervention in the sense that you're looking at what the inner critic or your beliefs are telling you, and you're challenging those. It's like, "Well, you're gonna fail and that would be such an embarrassment." Okay, well, that's a cognition. That's a thought. That's an assumption. And the compassionate self can challenge that. So by envisioning that compassion itself, you have that baked in cognitive restructuring that, over time and with practice, and if done explicitly with the help of someone like a psychologist, is going to get at that long-term cognitive change — change of the beliefs — and then by supporting the vulnerable child, you've got that emotional intervention, and by turning your attention towards your values, that's the behavioral intervention. So yeah, there's the work that has to happen after that to make sure that the appropriate connections are being made to the patterns. The risk is, we just see everything as these one-off modes on the bus dialogues, and we don't make the connections to, "Oh, well, that one mode on the bus exercise related to social relationships and then we had another exercise that was related to social relationships." We need to make those connections in terms of how those two things, those various events, relate to patterns in the person's life. In a perfect world, those things all happen together. And so what we're talking about is the cognitive piece of challenging beliefs. We're talking about the emotional piece and having the skill and the knowledge of navigating uncomfortable emotions. And then we're talking about the behavioral piece of trying out new behavior. I think the risk is that we see individual instances of a challenge or behavior or an activating situation in isolation, and we don't make the connections to the broader patterns of thinking and behaving. But if we're doing quality schema therapy, we're able to make those links to, how does this one situation, (let's say) Jeff's example of Jeff's inner critic and his vulnerable child getting activated vis-à-vis doing a podcast interview, a good therapist would make the links between that situation and similar situations so that Jeff could make habit change and cognitive change. So you've got the changes in the beliefs, and the changes in the behaviors, not just in each of those isolated events, but help Jeff see that as a pattern of thinking and believing and relating to the world, so that you are getting at the changes in those cognitive and behavioral patterns over time.

SPENCER: You mentioned how you mapped out these ways of improving well-being that occur in positive psychology and compared that to what Buddhism says and compared that to what stoicism says. Could you tie that in here to what you're talking about?

JEFF: This endeavor to say what are the behaviors or values that contribute to happiness is one that I think has come out of necessity. What I'm trying to say is, assuming that the goal is happiness, what are the values that lead to a life of happiness that include meaning, positive engagement, and purpose? And so we've started with the literature on positive psychology and said, okay, here's what the evidence would suggest contributes to a life of happiness, and this is actually a relatively novel area of inquiry. I'm sure a lot of your listeners may be familiar with the field of positive psychology. But I should probably give a little bit of background in terms of not only my clinical training, but I think default clinical psychology training in general, that we're very much focused, in the same way that the medical model is focused on illness and treating illness and treating symptoms, the clinical psychology training and interventions are very much similar in the sense that we're focused on pathology and diagnosing pathology and alleviating symptoms, and we're actually quite good at helping people get out of preventing abject misery; well, we can prevent that suffering, we can alleviate that suffering. But what next? What about thriving? And I think it's more of an imperative than that framework might suggest. For me, it's not, 'Oh, well, isn't it nice if we can also talk a little bit about thriving?' The two are related; if we can help people understand what contributes to thriving, it's going to help them, it's going to further facilitate them pulling away from what's causing the suffering. We know what behaviors and belief patterns and ways of relating to emotions really contribute to clinical levels of depression and anxiety, for example, but I think we've not only not spent a lot of time on the research — and thankfully, this hasn't been the case in the past 20 years or so — but I think we're hesitant to say, "And here is what can contribute to happiness." Happiness has almost been, I think, a dirty word in psychology. And one of the most popular self-help books — and it's a great book, by the way, I certainly don't think this was the intent — is called "The Happiness Trap" by a guy named Russ Harris. Again, a great book which I recommend to clients, but I think books like that reinforce this idea in clinical psychology that happiness and the pursuit of happiness is a problem. And of course, clinging and craving in the Buddhist sense — craving happiness and needing happiness and trying to manifest feelings of happiness through controlling your emotions — that is counterproductive, and that's going to contribute to suffering and pathology. But I think we've been hesitant to say... and I think a lot of it is hesitation to put a judgment or some kind of moral evaluation on what values, what behaviors contribute to happiness. But if we look objectively at the research, I think we can make this objective. It's not judgmental, it's not personal, it's not subjective. We can step back and say, "Here's the behaviors and the habits and the values (to use the term that I'm using) that contribute to happiness and meaning and pleasure and positive engagement and positive relationships. And isn't it amazing, in that, the things that are good for the individual are actually very much community-oriented and altruistic in a lot of ways?" For me, that's been the motivation and the interest and then cross-validating that with lessons from Buddhism and stoicism, to me as much as anything, it's just an interesting project in saying, "Okay, well, isn't that cool that positive psychology says this, and there's actually something similar from Buddhism and there's something similar from stoicism," because I think people really resonate with time-honored traditions, maybe because they're time-honored and I think that just helps the communication of some of the more contemporary research to be able to also present it with some backup from some of the more ancient traditions.

[promo]

SPENCER: It seems that some people have resistance to thinking about how to be happy because they have an intuition — which I think is partly right — that the way to be happy is not to focus on being happy. But that doesn't mean there aren't ways to become happier. To become happier is not to focus on being happy or to focus on how happy you are. It's to focus on the things that bring happiness, like, focus on improving your relationships, having great relationships, focusing on being grateful for the things you do have, focusing on becoming more self-compassionate, etc. Would you agree with that?

JEFF: Yeah, I think there's so much that's profound about what you just said, Spencer. I totally agree. I think, at least speaking for myself, that's where the misunderstanding or the miscommunication came from. It's a well-intentioned message to say, "Well, if you set the primary goal as being happy and manifesting happiness, and you should monitor for being happy, that's not going to be helpful." But I think we've kind of thrown the baby out with the bathwater. And again, I'm speaking from my own experience in formal clinical training, I don't think anybody intentionally ever gave this message, but the takeaway for me at times was almost like, "Oh, geez, happiness is toxic so let's not even talk about that because, as soon as you're trying to pursue happiness, you're trying to control something, and that is inherently unhealthy."

SPENCER: There's somewhat of a paradox which I've observed, which is that people who are really happy tend to not focus that much on their happiness; whereas, people who are really unhappy seem much more obsessed with it. And it makes sense. If you're unhappy, you're going to be thinking about it; whereas, if you're just happy, you're just focused on what's going on around you, not on your own internal states.

JEFF: Yeah. And that's what's so sneaky about happiness. It's a side effect of getting these other parts of your life and your behaviors right. And that's what I'm trying to identify. What are those other values and habits and behaviors that, if you get focused on those things, then there's a good chance that you're going to have this side effect of meaning and engagement, and dare I say, happiness?

SPENCER: I think it's really interesting that you compare modern positive psychology with these traditional systems, all of which are about happiness, but approached in different ways. Could you give us some of the takeaways there? Now that you've looked at those three different systems, what are some of the things that you think are most critical to becoming happier?

JEFF: Some of the first things that come to mind are things that — and again I think this is part of the barrier — that sound so cliché. But if we take a step back and look at the objective evidence, look at the ancient traditions, it's things like gratitude for what you have, appreciating the basics of life, appreciating the little things of life. And I think there's a related point there about savoring experiences, savoring things like food. And there's another offshoot there of appreciating beauty, whether it's music or the arts or literature. That kind of gratitude, appreciation and savoring really stand out to me. I would submit though, that that's probably more of a positive psychology first. Finding, so to speak, the things that cut across all three of contemporary psychology, Buddhism and stoicism are the power of mindfulness and not necessarily engaging with the chatter in your mind, who I would refer to as the inner critic. And then the beauty of the way that it's put in, in both Buddhism and stoicism, it's not harsh, I don't think, although sometimes in stoicism, it is. But it's a rule, it's a command. It's not, "Oh, you know, try not to engage too much with that." Certainly, Buddhism presents it more gently but it's a rule. If you look at the some of the fundamental truths of Buddhism, and the Noble Eightfold Path, this is an imperative that you consistently work at not overly engaging with this notion of the self and the things that your mind or your inner critic are serving you, and stoicism does a particularly good job of this as not putting unnecessary stock or virtually any stock into what other people think about you. Again, that's a mechanism for pulling back from unrelenting standards and approval seeking. And again, I love how stoicism is very firm about this; it's a rule — it's something not to be done — to focus on your values, focus on what, within reason, you can control and then do not put stock into what other people think or gaining other people's approval. Another biggie is embracing uncertainty. That's a tenet of clinical psychology, for sure, particularly as it relates to worry, but shows up big time in Buddhism and stoicism, not controlling what you can't control, this being aware of the dichotomy of control — what you do and what you don't control and knowing where that line is — along with embracing impermanence, not clinging to emotions or sensations, and hoping that things that you don't want to change, hoping that they won't change. That's another core that I feel is related to embracing and tolerating uncertainty. The list can go on and on, for sure, so I don't want to be too long-winded about it. But those are some of the greatest hits in terms of where there's some overlap between the three traditions.

SPENCER: One thing that I found really interesting about your analysis is that there are two items found in the ancient traditions, not found according to the positive psychology research, and those are embracing impermanence and reducing craving. Do you want to just talk about those two for a moment?

JEFF: Yes. I'll start with the craving because this isn't to say that contemporary psychology has neglected this. I just didn't have any clear rationale or a clear finding to validate that it was something that positive psychology has taken a firm stance on. Now, someone could argue that something like ACT does outline that we should eschew craving, that we should be very mindful of our craving and pull back from it. But the way that that's phrased in Buddhism and stoicism, I couldn't find a clear rationale for saying that there's also an equivalent to that in contemporary psychology. And then the impermanence piece, as much as I mentioned that that's something that is one of the key findings that comes top of mind, you're right, that's another one where, especially from a Western perspective, it's not emphasized in contemporary psychology. And it's interesting because the impermanence, particularly in the Buddhist sense, relates to not attaching to things. What I'm saying is almost a violation of my own rule in that sense, because what I'm saying is, well, there are things that are worth attaching to, and contemporary research in something like positive psychology shows us the way of what it is that is worth attaching to, like it's worth attaching to positive social relationships. It's worth attaching yourself to meaning and purpose as it relates to work, especially at work that transcends yourself and contributes to other people. So I'm glad that you brought that point up because that's probably the one area, if there's any, where they're almost opposed to each other because Buddhism and stoicism in their various ways, say things are impermanent and accept that things are impermanent, so do not get overly attached to things. Positive psychology is quite clear that there are things, particularly relationships, that we can and should get attached to. So it's almost an exception to some of the rules of Buddhism and stoicism if you can apply it mindfully and skillfully.

SPENCER: Looking further at your analysis at the reverse — in cases where the ancient tradition seems to have nothing to say about it, but modern positive psychology makes a claim about well-being — I noticed that flow is on there. That's something that positive psychology advocates that seems to be missing in Buddhism and stoicism. And I also noticed that healthy self-esteem — appreciating and applying strengths — is there. Do you want to comment on those two that seem to be more modern ideas?

JEFF: Yeah, absolutely. Part of the reason is that these are constructs and findings that have come about in the past (let's say) 40, 50 years, if not more recently. Something like flow, this is coming from the more recent decades of positive psychology research. This is the idea of engaging with work, particularly work that is just on the cusp of your area of comfort or your area of competency. If you think of something that you're working on, it's a little bit difficult. It's right there on that cusp of your competence, your comfort, might be even a little bit uncomfortable, but you're absorbed with it. And time seems to almost be a non-factor; you're not paying attention to time. I know I get like this when I'm writing, when I'm focused on writing something. It's not easy. There's mental work that's going into it but it's something I'm just absorbed in and engaged with. That concept of flow relates to more recent findings and flow specifically if you're thinking of someone like Seligman's work, he views flow as relating to the positive engagement that's a core component of his model of happiness. So it shouldn't be too surprising that... well, perhaps it is because for some of these things, yeah, we've got some recent findings, but we have a lot of recent findings where it's like, lo and behold, they were talking about that several 1000 years ago. So why is it that Buddhism and stoicism don't emphasize flow? I'm not sure; I think there may be folks in the Buddhist camp who would say, well, certain meditative practices or certain learning practices resemble flow, or stoicism — I think this is even more of a stretch — may say that in the course of pursuing your virtue, you can get into a state of flow if you're doing work that's aligned with those virtues. But, again, there's no basis I had anyhow — and I'd certainly be interested if anyone has comments to the contrary — but certainly no basis that I could identify for making a claim that there are counterparts to flow in either Buddhism or stoicism.

SPENCER: And to clarify the idea of flow a little, I think of it as those kinds of activities that you're so engaged in, that you lose track of the time. You're just completely engaged. I think about this, I do just very immature bouldering, just for fun. Sometimes when you're bouldering, you're on the wall, you're just fully in that moment; nothing else is on your mind except that thing you're doing. And to me, that's a state of flow. And then the other one there is this idea of healthy self-esteem, appreciating and applying your strengths. That seems to be absent from the traditional or ancient traditions as well.

JEFF: Yeah, exactly. The Buddhism tradition would almost certainly look down upon self-esteem because the idea of the self is actually something that contributes to suffering. So the idea that one would want to have self-esteem is diametrically opposed to some of the core tenets of Buddhism. In stoicism, there's probably a case to be made that, in certain ways, they talked about having pride in oneself in a manner that perhaps linked to the more modern idea of self-esteem. But I couldn't find any basis for making that claim. And the way that I think about self-esteem, especially as it relates to the positive psychology literature, is this idea of strengths like, "Hey, I've got strengths and there's things that I'm good at." And the positive psychology literature calls us to exercise those strengths and say, if you've got strengths and things that you're good at, especially if they're things that have an altruistic component, then you want to get out and exercise those things because it's going to give you, not only a sense of mastery and contributing to something and perhaps also acts of kindness, but it's also gonna help you connect with other people.

SPENCER: For the final topic before we wrap up, suppose people want to learn more about their schemas or find out what their schemas are. How might they think about that? What would help tip them off that something might be part of a schema and how would they identify it?

JEFF: I would start by reflecting on whether there are any recurring patterns that they've run into, especially in relationships, or in terms of their work. Are there friction points that are recurring in your life? If you think of work, for example, does it constantly feel like a grind? Are you constantly pushing yourself just a little bit more, never feel like you're satisfied? Does it never feel like you're good enough? That would be a friction point that would be a clue to an approval seeking or an unrelenting standards schema. And then in your interpersonal relationships, are there friction points where you are noticing patterns of retracting from relationships or isolating from relationships? Or do you have these false starts in relationships where you get really close to someone and then, for some reason, there's an event that's perceived in a certain way and either you or the other person recoil from the relationship? Or is it more broadly a difficulty initiating relationships at all? Or perhaps more specifically, is there a sense of always feeling (quote, unquote) 'awkward' in relationships? All of these would be little friction points and patterns that might tip you off to say, what is it about my belief systems in terms of who I am or how other people are or what I need to do in a relationship, what I assume I need to do in a relationship, that's contributing to these friction points. That would be the first step, and then, of course, beyond that, just looking into the available literature. There's books on schema therapy; I write about schema therapy and identifying schemas. I like to think it's reasonably approachable, though I do have some comments on that in terms of how detailed and jargony schema therapy can get. But I think it's reasonably approachable for anyone who does want to start looking into something like their schemas. Just start by Googling and don't take any one thing that you read too seriously. I know we're talking a lot about labels and labeling your schemas. I wouldn't worry too much about getting the labels of your schemas right; I would focus more on what are my values — assuming that they're good sound values — and then saying what's getting in the way of me living my values. Because if you're noticing patterns in terms of not being able to live your values, it's probably a schema that's at play, at least on some level. I'd be interested to get your thoughts, Spencer, from a guy who's done a lot of thinking about this and spoken to a lot of people about the idea of values. And even if there are differences in the way that you and I respectively operationalize the term 'values," I'm curious to know what you think about this idea of there being effective values in relationship to the pursuit of happiness.

SPENCER: It's a really interesting question because I think the way that I define values gives a pretty different angle on this. When I'm talking about values, I'm usually talking about intrinsic values, which are our deepest, most fundamental values that are things we care about for their own sake. They're not things that we care about just because they get us something else. So money can't be an intrinsic value because if you couldn't do anything with money, if you couldn't spend it, if you couldn't even burn it to stay warm, there'd be no point in money. So it can't be an intrinsic value. It can be an instrumental value because it can help us get the things we want but it's not the fundamental thing we want. And I think when you get to the level of intrinsic values, happiness is just one intrinsic value; your own happiness is one intrinsic value. But then you can have other intrinsic values, like the happiness of your loved ones, or like living a long time, or having new experiences, or justice, or truth, or whatever. And so from my point of view, the way I define these, you can't really have some values that are better at getting happiness and others that are worse at getting happiness. It's more like happiness is just one intrinsic value among a set of possible intrinsic values. However, I think if I switched terminology to use something that's more like what you're using, I would think of what you're using the word 'values' to mean — something more like something that you're striving towards — which is closer to me to the word 'goal.' Your use of 'value' is more like the way I use 'goal,' the thing you're trying to move towards. And if we think about it in terms of goals, I would say, absolutely, some goals, I think, are more aligned with happiness, and some are less aligned with happiness. I like to broaden that conversation a little bit and talk about goals that are more aligned with you creating the things you intrinsically value and goals that are less aligned with creating things you intrinsically value. I'm perfectly happy for somebody to have a goal that doesn't make them happy if it gets them other things they intrinsically value, like if it increases justice in the world, and they care about justice, or if it increases longevity, and they care about longevity, independent of happiness, and so on. I guess that's the way I look at it. It's a little bit of a different approach. I'm curious to hear your reaction to that.

JEFF: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And I think the way I'm looking at it is to say, happiness is properly defined. Again, I don't think I can overstate this, that happiness is not just the emotion of happiness; it's that engagement, meaning, purpose, positive relationships. So if we look at happiness from that lens, happiness is the ultimate intrinsic value. And it just so happens that the goals associated with achieving that happiness are ones that are altruistic in a lot of ways and that are serving the community in a lot of ways. So in terms of that nuance between goals and values, perhaps there's only one intrinsic value in my parlance, which is happiness. And then the goals follow, which are all of the habits and the behaviors and the practices that are evidenced by modern psychology and Buddhism and stoicism.

SPENCER: The way that you wrap up a bunch of things like meaning and purpose and pleasure into one, I think of that as doing a pretty good job of encapsulating what I call intrinsic values of the self. Their intrinsic value is about your own experience. But then I also think about community intrinsic values, which are ones around: I want to protect my children, and I want my children to get the things they want, and I want my community to thrive, and I want my friends to thrive, and so on. And what I call universal intrinsic values, which are ones that are not about the self, not about people you know, personally. There could be things around: I want there to be justice in the world, I want there to be truth in the world, I want there to be beauty, I want people not to suffer all around the world, even if I'm never going to meet them. And so I think of your kind of focus here as being more around intrinsic values of the self, which is totally reasonable from a therapeutic point of view. You're working with a client; the client is suffering and wants to feel happy. That makes sense to me. But from my point of view, it doesn't cover everything that people find important.

JEFF: I like that. I was thinking especially with justice, because it just feels like it's an intrinsic value. I'm not sure how you'd put that, but it's certainly something that feels like it's missing from my list. And so the way I was thinking about something like justice and other communal goals is perhaps they are, if we agree, or the psychology literature as it relates to happiness agrees, that purpose is important, and perhaps something like justice is an interest that fits under the purpose domain. But yeah, I think there's some nuance there that I haven't worked out just quite yet.

SPENCER: Yeah, just to put a final point on this, I think about this layer cake where you have intrinsic values in the bottom — the things you fundamentally care about — then you've got goals built on top of those that should be designed to help you get the intrinsic values — to creative those intrinsic values in the world. Then you've got your plans, which are how you actually are trying to achieve your goals. Let's say you have intrinsic value of happiness, your own happiness, then you might have a goal of like, "Oh, I want to get a job that I really enjoy," because you think that that's gonna facilitate that intrinsic value. And then you have a plan of how you're gonna get that goal like, "Okay, I'm going to apply to 25 jobs after reading about them online," or whatever. And then you have your decisions, which help you actually put your plans into action. You're like, "Okay, but I have to actually decide: do I apply to this job or that job? And what do I actually put in my cover letter?" etc. And then through making many decisions that are repeated, we eventually have our habits built on top of that, which are our decisions that become automated or become routine. So I think of this layer cake that makes us up as a person.

JEFF: Yeah, I like that and I like the labels because I think that that helps. And I'm thinking again from my seat as a clinician, I think something like that can help the individual operationalize it.

SPENCER: Jeff, thank you so much for coming on. This was a fascinating discussion.

JEFF: My pleasure, Spencer. Thanks for having me.

[outro]

JOSH: A listener asks: "Do you think pedophiles are able to be rehabilitated and re-enter society? And what do you think is the most appropriate form of punishment and/or rehabilitation for pedophiles?"

SPENCER: It's a good and interesting question. So I would distinguish between a few different things here, just to clarify. The first thing is there's a distinction between being attracted to people who are pre-pubescent versus post-pubescent but young. So it's quite uncommon that people are attracted to people who are pre-pubescent. It does occur, right? But it's just not that common. Then there are people who are attracted to people who are young but post-pubescent; for example, men being attracted to 15-year-olds who have already gone through puberty. This is substantially more common. I don't think it's necessarily the majority. I don't know the exact percentages, but it is substantially more common. And so I think it's worth breaking it out as a different case because it's really fundamentally different. You know, if we lived 100,000 years ago, it would be much more common that you'd be seeing 15- and 16-year-olds having children. In our society, obviously, norms are very different and for lots of reasons, lots of good reasons, we think it's generally best that people of that age are not doing things like having children. But it is worth noting that that form of attraction is much more common than attraction to pre-pubescent children. Okay, so that's the first distinction. The second distinction is between people who act on these urges and people who have these urges. Some people have urges of attraction either to pre-pubescent children or to post-pubescent children but never act on them, and some people have them and act on them. And I think that the people who have them but don't act on them — those people are often really good people because they unfortunately are stuck with this urge that it would be unethical to act on, but they do the right thing and don't actually act on them. And I think those people should be commended for doing the ethical thing despite being stuck in a situation that is challenging in that they have impulses to do unethical things but they're doing the right thing. Then there are people who have these impulses either for pre-pubescent or post-pubescent children and do act on them, and that is clearly immoral and we need to make sure that those people are punished in order to incentivize future people not to do this. And also, to some extent, if you believe in retribution, then that might be an argument for it as well as a form of retribution. I don't tend to take retribution very strongly in my value system, but some people, that's an important element of it. Okay, so then you could ask, well, what should the punishment be for someone who actually has acted on these urges? From my point of view, the question there really should be, well, what actually helps protect children the most, right? What actually works? To some extent, keeping someone off the streets, like putting them in prison, is going to work for a little while. It's going to work until they get out of prison. But what will actually work beyond that, right? And I think that, unfortunately — I think my understanding — I'm not an expert in this, but my understanding is that recidivism is pretty high. When someone has done this once with children, it's a pretty high chance they'll do it again. And therefore, it's very, very important that effective interventions are developed in order to help prevent people from acting again on these behaviors. I don't know what the most effective interventions are, but it's clearly a moral priority to figure it out to help protect children.

Staff

Music

Affiliates


Click here to return to the list of all episodes.


Subscribe

Sign up to receive one helpful idea and one brand-new podcast episode each week!

Subscribe via RSS or through one of these platforms:


Contact Us

We'd love to hear from you! To give us your feedback on the podcast, or to tell us about how the ideas from the podcast have impacted you, send us an email at:


Or connect with us on social media: