Johann Hari breaks down junk values and how you can get rid of them in your own life.
No one wants to watch your shitty video about Elton John, there’s a hundred thousands of videos about Elton John that are much better than yours, right? Why are you doing that? You’re never going to watch, either. You’re doing it to say to other people, envy me.
There’s two ways, everyone listening to your show has two kinds of motivation in their life, we’re all a mixture of both. So imagine if you play the piano in the morning because you love playing the piano, it gives you joy, that would be what’s called an intrinsic reason to play the piano, you’re not doing it to get anything out of it, that’s just the thing you love.
It’s just like jujitsu was for you, writing is like that for me, everyone has something in their life that just gives them joy as they do it. Can you now imagine you played the piano, not, I don’t know, not because you love it, but because your parents are massively pressuring you, it’s their dream for you. Or in a dive bar that you can’t stand to pay the rent, or to impress a woman, right? That would be what’s called an extrinsic reason to play the piano. You’re not doing it because that thing gives you joy, you’re doing it to get something further down the line. Now, obviously, we’re all a mixture of both, but Professor Kasser showed a couple of really interesting things.
Firstly, the more you are driven by extrinsic values, the more your intrinsic values are starved, the more likely you are to become depressed and anxious by quite a significant amount. He also showed as a culture, as a society, we have become much more driven by these junk values, right? We’ve become much more driven by, think about how Instagram makes you feel, right? We’ve become much more driven by this hollow external sense, think about something as simple as, a while ago, I was at Elton John’s last night in Caesar’s Palace, amazing thing to be at, and about half the f**king room is filming it, isn’t even looking at Elton John, they’re just watching it through their phone.
Now that’s a small example, but you can see what they’re doing, in order to display their life to invite envy from other people, they are not living their life. No one wants to watch your shitty video about Elton John, there’s a hundred thousands of videos about Elton John that are much better than yours, right?
Why are you doing that? You’re never going to watch, either, you’re doing it to say to other people, envy me. Doesn’t make you feel good in that room, actually makes you feel worse, you’re not enjoying the experience, and it makes them feel like shit because you’re trying to invite envy in your friends. That’s a small example of a much wider thing of the kind of junk values they’ve taken on us. Professor Kasser has shown there’s two sets of solutions to these junk values taken over our minds. One is, get the messaging out of your head.
More 18 month old children know what the McDonald’s, “M” means, than know their own last name, right? Professor Kasser put it to me, from the moment we’re born, we’re immersed in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life. None of your listeners will lie on their death beds and think about all the shit they bought and all the likes they got on instagram, they’ll think about moments of meaning and connection, that’s like a banal, obvious thing, but we’re constantly pushed to not think in those terms, to think about, show it off, buy, spend, these junk values have taken over our minds. So part of the solution is, just f**king get rid of most of this advertising, get rid of most of this, get the contaminants out of the atmosphere sort of thing, which he says is actually a weaker one than the second set of solutions.
So how do we stop people being pumped full of bullshit junk values, right? Educate them on what it’s happening to them and make it less appealing. Well, this is the second part, and I think was the most important part of the research professor Kasser did. He was working with a guy called Nathan Dungan, and Nathan is a financial advisor in Minneapolis, and his job was to work with adults who were having trouble budgeting and explain budgeting to them and help them do it. And he gets a call from a school, it was kind of middle class school, wasn’t super rich, wasn’t poor, it was a middle class where they’re having a problem. The kids at the school were becoming obsessed with getting like the latest Nike sneakers or the latest iPhone or whatever it was, and if their parents couldn’t afford it, the kids were really freaking out.
So they say to Nathan, “would you come in and just explain budgeting to these kids”. So Nathan goes in, he tries to
explain budgeting and quickly realizes these kids don’t give a shit about budgeting, there’s something else going on here. They are so obsessed with getting these things.
So with Professor Kasser, he designs this program that led to a really interesting breakthrough and they say people can try it at home, you don’t have to do it in this context. So the first meeting they had, they just said, “write a list of everything you have got to have”. They didn’t define that, and people, of course, say like a home, a car, whatever, but quite quickly, people would say Nike sneakers, the parents would name expensive things and they go, “okay, tell me how you would feel if you got these Nike sneakers?” And very rarely any of them were like basketball players, like I need the jump or whatever, if that’s the right phrase.
It was very often, “I’d be accepted by the group, people would envy me, right?” Yeah, these insights are just beneath the surface, who put that idea in your head, where did you get that idea? And of course, everyone thinks they’re smarter than the ad, but giving people the ability just to see how hollow those junk values were, that was the first part. The second part was much more interesting and took longer. They were having future sessions, and they’d say,
“well, ok, given that has not actually made you feel better, what are moments in your life when you have felt satisfied, happy in a flow state, what are things that are meaningful to you?” You know, a whole range of things playing sports, play music, reading whatever it was, right?
“Okay, how could we build more of that into your life and less of these junk values?” “How could you do more of this every week?” We don’t have these conversations in our culture very often, just meeting once every couple of weeks and checking in, actually, I managed to play guitar for an hour every day, I managed on Saturday to take my kid to the beach and we went, or whatever it is. That’s kind of stifled materialism?
What it led to, this was monitored by Professor Kasser, it led to a significant shifts in people’s values, they had a significant decrease in junk values and a significant increase in more meaningful intrinsic values, and we know that that correlates with lower depression and anxiety over time.