You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel?

Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting?

Each week, host Jason Gots surprises some of the world's brightest minds with ideas they're not at all prepared to discuss. Join us and special guests Neil Gaiman, Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Maria Popova, Mary-Louise Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many more...

Ruth Whippman—a mindful, productive, super-positive nation of nervous wrecks

With the help of positive psychology and the happiness industry, many of us seem to be running in the exact opposite direction of happiness.

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  • "It's almost like the only way we can understand leisure is as a productivity hack."
  • "If we think of happiness as an individual responsibility, that stands in the way of building a society in which the conditions are there for everybody to thrive."


In the years before the election of the impossible president rent forever the very fabric of being, the band Radiohead was busy channeling something many of us were feeling but nobody was really talking about. A kind of ambient, multivalent state of anxiety that seemed to characterize life in the mid-to-late '90s. Listening to Radiohead was therapeutic. Your own awkward, unpresentable panic somehow dissolved into their sonic ocean, where it was transformed into sexy, transcendent beauty. It felt, uh…empowering?

In a New York Times Op-Ed last week, Ruth Whippman wrote: "After a couple of decades of constant advice to 'follow our passions' and 'live our dreams,' for a certain type of relatively privileged modern freelancer, nothing less than total self-actualization at work now seems enough. But this leaves us with an angsty mismatch between personal expectation and economic reality. Almost everyone I know now has some kind of hustle, whether job, hobby, or side or vanity project. Share my blog post, buy my book, click on my link, follow me on Instagram, visit my Etsy shop, donate to my Kickstarter, crowdfund my heart surgery. It's as though we are all working in Walmart on an endless Black Friday of the soul."

Modern anxiety cuts across national borders and social classes, but in America right now its artisanal flavor is a blend of soaring, media-driven dreams and dwindling probabilities of making a living while pursuing them. And nobody's more eloquent or wickedly funny about this reality than Ruth Whippman, the author of AMERICA THE ANXIOUS. I'm genuinely, sustainably happy that she's here with me today.

Surprise conversation starter clips in this episode:

Jonathan Haidt on overparenting

Lucy Cooke on anthropomorphizing animals

How Big Think can better support you and how you can support Big Think

Here's a letter from our co-founders on the ways to help the world get smarter, faster, through engaging actionable content.

Mind & Brain

Dear readers,

We're the co-founders of Big Think. First and foremost, we want to thank you for your viewership. Over the last 12 years, you have helped us take Big Think from a vision scrawled in notes on lined paper to a reality that has reached over 1 billion people with the mission of helping the world get "smarter faster".

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Some experiences change you so completely that you're left with a choice: either spend your life running from them or spend your life turning them over in memory, trying to find new ways in, through, and out the other side. The power of the impulse to explain or somehow articulate these experiences is inversely proportionate to other people's ability to understand them. They're everything all at once. It seems to me that my guest today has made that second choice, the hard choice not to run away. Or maybe it's a choice you have to keep making over and over again. His name is Reginald Dwayne Betts. He's 39 years old—an accomplished poet and essayist and a graduate of Yale Law School. But he spent most of his teenage years and young adulthood in prison and over a year in solitary confinement, experiences neither society, nor memory, nor his fellow feeling for the more than 2 million people behind bars in the United States, the vast majority of them black men and boys, has let him forget. Dwayne's beautiful and necessary new book of poems is called FELON, and I'm honored to have him with me here today to talk about it.



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