Join David Tian on the “DTPHD Podcast” as we explore deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life.
For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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HENRY CHONG is our special guest speaker on this episode. Henry is Director of Fusang Capital, a fund management company that manages the assets of multi-family offices. He is also a Director at the Portcullis Group, Asia’s biggest independent group of trust companies, providing comprehensive wealth administration to high-net-worth individuals, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, trustee, and fund administration services to individuals, family offices, philanthropies, private banks, and investment managers. Henry is a graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy Politics & Economics and is a founder of the Oxford Economics Society. He also holds a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSC). He will be sharing with us from his deep insights in behavioral economics, finance, health, and psychology.
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DTPHD Podcast Episode 1 Show Notes:
4:21 How money and wealth are related
5:00 What is the ultimate form of wealth?
6:03 What does “happiness” even mean?
9:01 What’s the difference between achievement and fulfillment?
10:37 What could be wrong with focusing on “legacy”?
12:27 Why do we often confuse pleasure with happiness?
15:37 Why modern people feel compelled to compare themselves with people “better” than them
17:43 What is the goal that, if you were to achieve it, would make you happy or fulfilled?
19:03 Why “fake it until you make it” is a dangerous idea in life
23:27 How “faking it” early in your life (but not later) could actually help you mature
32:01 How success can actually defeat you
33:37 How pain can make you happier
39:17 How your drive for success can actually be your downfall
45:35 Does happiness require work?
David Tian & Henry Chong On How To Be Happy, Wealthy, & Wise
David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong talk about what most people are after, which is finding fulfillment and contentment.
David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong explore the reason why people confuse happiness and fulfillment for other things.
Being successful doesn’t mean you are happy, David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong explain why it doesn’t follow always.
In this podcast episode, David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong share what it takes to be really happy and successful.
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
David Tian: Welcome to the DTPHD podcast. This is the very first podcast. I’m David Tian, PhD, your host. A little bit about me in case you don’t know. I’ve been, over the past 10 years, almost 12 years now, a coach in relationships, lifestyle, masculinity. I’ve helped over 100,000 different people around the world in over 87 countries find success in life, love, happiness, and fulfillment. I’m on here with Henry Chong, a good friend. Hey, Henry!
Henry Chong: Yes, hello.
David Tian: We are, right now, on the opposite sides of the world. I’m in Toronto, he is in Hong Kong.
Henry Chong: Yes, I’m in Hong Kong.
David Tian: Hong Kong, alright, but we are making this work through the miracle of technology. Tell us about yourself, Henry.
Henry Chong: I suppose I do quite a lot of things, but my primary job is working for Fusang: The Asian Family Office. We try and help families look after their wealth holistically, ranging from setting up structures like family offices, to investment management, which is what I spend most of my time doing. On the side, I think a lot about life and how to live it. I have degrees in philosophy, politics, economics, and behavioral science actually just out of personal interest. I’ve known you, David, for a very long time and I’ve always enjoyed the chats and conversations that we have talking about life and love and the universe. I’m excited to be here.
David Tian: Awesome. Likewise, man. As you know, this is called the DTPHD podcast, but I invited Henry on because I always love talking to him. He stimulates good conversation in parts of my brain that may not be as well-used as I’d like. I have a PhD in Asian Cultures and Philosophy, a dual degree, as well as three masters’ degrees. I’ve been pretty much in the university setting for half my life. In a certain way, I’m still in education. I love the podcast format.
I have another show called Man Up: Masculinity for the Intelligent Man, and it’s primarily on YouTube. It’s a video show. One of the things about the format, is we get questions that prompt answers from me, and we record them. I found – I’ve been doing it for a year and a half or around there. What happens is I’m limited by the questions I get, and then I thought, “Why don’t I just record something based on what I want to talk about?” And then it was like, “Woah, you mean, I can talk about anything?” And then I realized the video format may not be as good as the podcasts.
And then I wanted to bring Henry on so we could get some good discussion here, so welcome.
Henry Chong: And here we are.
David Tian: Yeah. We’ve decided for the first episode to talk about a topic that is relevant to everyone, and it’s one that I get asked a lot, which is about happiness, self-fulfillment. Happiness not in the pleasure sense per se, but more of like joy, contentment, fulfillment, and wrapped in there is self-esteem and other issues like that. The big question of how to achieve this state of feeling good about yourself in the world and your place in the world, that’s how we’ll start off.
There are a lot of different ways to go at this, but I know Henry has done graduate level work and has a large degree of personal interest in studying the behavioral sciences on this subject. He’s got this really great newsletter that is in his email, if you can subscribe to his Fusang email, where a lot of it actually you’re educating investors and people in – I’m not sure how you would describe them, like high net-worth individuals. You’re helping them think about how to make decisions better. Making good decisions is a big part of becoming happier in life.
I’ve talked enough. Where would you take that?
Henry Chong: Speaking about families, primarily, we do look after families and families with substantive wealth. One thing that I always tell them is that, by definition, the people who come talk to us are already very wealthy in a very traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re not wealthy in, as you put it, the happiness sense. Because, let’s face it, ultimately, that’s what we’re all chasing or pursuing.
Money doesn’t mean anything intrinsically. Money is just paper, or more commonly these days just 1’s and 0’s in our computer. You can’t even touch it anymore, but what we’d like is ultimately the emotions that we think we will feel, if, for example, money can purchase certain goods or states. We think it might give us piece of mind, it might give us the luxury to live a life that is more in our terms, perhaps.
At the end of the day, when you get right down to it, the things that we’re always looking for are emotions. You want to feel a certain way. If you feel complete Zen all the time and calm, you feel happy all the time, these are, for many people, ultimate objectives. And certainly, I’ll tell you, there are a lot of very ‘traditionally wealthy’ people out there who are very unhappy, who do not feel a sense of calm or peace. Quite frankly, in many ways, you might look at their lives and say that maybe they don’t have it all figured out.
The truth I think is that you know, certain modern society has been so geared towards finding this sort of success in our traditional sense that we’ve forgotten, as Tony Robbins might put it, the art of fulfillment. We’ve forgotten about, “How do we actually feel happy? How do we live in good states?” I think those are very key questions.
I think maybe a good place to start out discussion is – before we talk about the actual nuts and bolts of how to achieve happiness, which I think is critically important, I think it’s worth talking a bit about what we mean by happiness. You use the word ‘happiness’ and everyone nods. Of course, it’s something we all want, but often times, people mean slightly different things.
Philosophers like John Stuart Mill separate happiness from what they call pleasure, what they sometimes call the lower pleasures that you eat good food, you have good sex. It feels good, but those can be often very momentary, fleeting pleasures versus what the philosophers will sometimes call the higher pleasures: the pleasures of virtue, spirit, and things like that; what they sometimes like eudaimonia: the feeling of happiness and well-being.
I think the actual discussion of different types of happiness and all of that is not actually always all that relevant to living the day-to-day life. A lot of philosophy, especially today, analytic philosophy, can be too caught up in definitions and technicalities and lose sight of what it actually means and how to achieve it.
David Tian: Yeah, eudaimonia is an amazing concept. I first learned about that in Nicomachean Ethics and Aristotle. We take it forward into the enlightenment period, a similar theme of ‘the pleasures of the mind’. My whole social circle for 15 years were nerdy academics, maybe nerdy is going too far, but academics who find their life fulfillment and a meaningful life in the mind. They find themselves – most of them are not aware of the fact that they’re largely unfulfilled because the bodies are not being taken care of. To treat your brain as a severed – as a command unit of your whole body your whole life is a typical way of people thinking about life.
I think one of the reasons why eudaimonia, if you were to translate it to some modern version of it, like ‘the happiness of the spiritual or mental side’, a lot of people just aren’t that smart. That’s one of those things. What really struck me about researching the word ‘success’, which I had to do for marketing reasons, figuring out what that meant when people heard that word was that it was almost exclusively in terms of money and things, or net worth or you don’t even have the money or the things yet.
It was astonishing, because this is a relatively recent use of the success terms, to think of it solely in terms of material accomplishments. And to actually then say there’s this art of fulfillment is really sad to me. There’s the art of fulfillment, the Tony Robbins will say there’s the science of achievement. Achievement is one thing, but I mean, the fact that we have not been making achievement and fulfillment about our emotions, this is pretty new. In the industrial revolution, that was sort of this breakage that started us off on thinking of ourselves as individuals that could get outside of our social class.
Now, we can be anything we want. And then success actually really meant something, because if you didn’t become the top dog, then you weren’t successful or you weren’t as successful as you could be. Whereas if you were thinking in terms of – especially India in a caste system, you wouldn’t think that you could move up in castes. It just wasn’t available to you as a mental possibility. So what success meant for you was something like you had a nice family, you enjoyed your day, you had a good harvest, and no one died. That was a good day and that was successful.
We’re just killing ourselves over this idea of success as being linked to money. It’s something that I think anybody who is plugged into the internet feels as a temptation. Even if, like myself, you think intellectually, I have these pleasures. I love the pleasure and the flow that comes from reading a great book. Yet, when we go into – what are we supposed to be doing now? We’re driven to create more wealth, or to create more stuff, or a legacy so that we will be remembered in the future in a good way.
To me, this seems like a dead end, but I don’t think most people realize that. Maybe they haven’t gone as far.
Henry Chong: Yes. I mean, certainly, one thing I can tell you is that no matter how rich you might get, there’s always someone richer. There’s always someone stronger, and faster, and better looking with more cars. Certainly, in the age of the internet and Instagram, FOMO I think is a very real and powerful thing. A lot of people talk a lot about the internet and social media and living in the 21st century in a connected world. None of this is new. Coveting thy neighbor’s goods is certainly nothing new. The only difference now is the scale of it and the accessibility of it.
You wake up in the morning, you sit on the loo, you can pull out Instagram and you can look at what you perceive to be people having ‘a better life’ and you want it. That can be poisonous, letting ego drive things can be poisonous purely because, for many people, if you take a step back and think long and hard about those things are not things that truly make you happy.
I was talking earlier about how I think it is useful to define happiness and pleasure as two separate things to begin with. But at the same time, I’m not sure that it is also that worthwhile to dig too deep into the definition of happiness per se. Because as Marcus Aurelius would say, “A lot of people, you know what the good life is, you just need to live it.” A lot of us know when we’re happy.
It’s not something you need to think about in an analytic definitional sense. You know when you feel good. You know when you feel calm and peace. You know when you feel passion about something. The problem is, most people just don’t know how to get there or they try and reach for happiness and all they end up is finding pleasures to try and fulfill them. I go on Instagram, I feel unfulfilled, so instead I will order junk food and make myself feel better.
David Tian: How much of it is hierarchy of needs, like the Maslow kind of pyramid, where when somebody is in their 20’s, and he sees people on Instagram that are living it up with lots of pleasure, he feels that he needs to attain a certain amount of money to feel good about himself and to finally celebrate. How much of that is actually something that is needed?
As far as the hierarchy of needs, you would assume that someone shouldn’t be starving to the point of death for us to talk about happiness. You feed the person, and then you give them water, and then you give them shelter. You give them some clothes so they’re not freezing, and now they have their basic needs met. At one point are the basic needs met, and then we can talk about these higher level goods? Because there’s that huge grey area in-between where most people are at, who would be listening to this.
Henry Chong: Exactly. I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is definitely true. If you’re focused on just trying to find food, shelter, or warmth, it is that much harder to focus on the higher needs. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that the pyramid can’t be jumped so to speak. It’s not that hard to think of examples where someone forgo the comfortable life of food and shelter in order to go off to war, for example, for better or worse, fulfilling what he perceived to be a higher need.
I think that, yes, the pyramid is true, and more so – quite frankly, most of us living in modern societies, anyone who has access to an iPhone or a computer to listen to this podcast, you have all of your basic needs fulfilled already. No one in most modern societies starve. The problem is that people are overweight, people are not healthy. People are not fulfilling their basic needs even though they could be.
We live in a weird society when it’s not that hard to get our basic needs fulfilled, but many people still neglect them. Health and modern society, I guess, is a whole other podcast.
David Tian: Yeah. When you see that somebody is addicted to food, clearly, the need there is an emotional need that is not being met. And so, you’re right, we can go a whole other route with that. Bring you back to Instagram and the internet, one of the big dangers now with the connectivity – somebody in Bangladesh can hop on the internet and see how people are partying it up in Vegas and start to covet that, whereas that wasn’t available to that, I don’t know, it could be a villager in Bangladesh. It wasn’t available to that person before, and so, they didn’t feel that need or that drive to be that.
And so, there’s that villager. But now, there’s people right next door, literally the neighbors of the person living it up or down the neighborhood, and they feel like they need to have that lifestyle right away or they don’t feel good about themselves. I didn’t grow up that way. I’m 40. You’re coming up in your late-20s, right?
Henry Chong: Yes, 27.
David Tian: Oh my god. I always think you’re older than you are. Alright, so you’re in that generation where you feel this thing, because I hear it in various videos or podcasts that I follow, people calling in who are 22 and saying they haven’t made it yet, and they feel really bad about themselves so they gorge on ice cream or something to comfort them.
What’s the deal with that? Why are people feeling like they need to compete with the top .01% of living it up?
Henry Chong: I think it’s two things: It’s the fact that, nowadays, it’s easier to see things than ever, so it is more in your face.
David Tian: Immediacy, yeah.
Henry Chong: With Instagram, for example, you see only the good side of things. You don’t see the hard things. It’s so easy to go and YouTube and look at sports people doing amazing things. Of course, 99.9% of their lives is spent in training. By definition, if you are a sports person, in order to push the limits, in order to be the best, you must live a life of continual failure. That’s how it works. You just try and feel better each and every day, but we don’t see that. We don’t see the process anymore; all we see is the outcome or the end result, or we see the things; we see the cars, for example, and the houses on the hill.
I think one, we can see it easier than ever, and the other thing is that we think it’ll make us happy. Again, that’s why I come back to it. I think the important question is, “How do we go about being truly happy?” We all know what it feels like. The problem is, most of us don’t know how to get there, and the ways in which we think we will be able to get there just won’t. There is nothing in the world, no thing in the world, that will ever make you happy or fulfilled.
At some level, I think most of us know that. We’ve all experienced times when you’ve reached some goal that you thought was so critical. You talk about the 22-year-old, you worked all your life to get into college, and you get that acceptance letter, and you think, “Is this it? I thought this was the mountain, and then if I just climbed, it would be over and I will be happy.” Life doesn’t work that way. There is no thing that you will ever achieve, or buy, or own that would ever make you happy. The truth is, it’s that partly the process, but it’s also the living day-to-day moment-to-moment.
By looking at Instagram, for example, and just always seeing things and wanting things, grasping for things, it always focuses us on exactly that: trying to grasp for these things or goals, when really, the truth is happiness is in the living, not even the achieving.
David Tian: I think actually as well, when they’re looking at Instagram – we keep picking on Instagram, but it could be any social media platform – that they are actually not focused on the pleasure. You take that 23-year-old who is looking at Dan Bilzerian, and that’s an easy example. It looks like he scaled back recently, but any Instagram star type of person who shows off their lifestyle. Once they have that pleasure, what’ll happen is, they might decide to start doing a personal brand of their own and find it really difficult because it generally is.
They don’t know what to do because they’re 23 years old, so they haven’t accomplished anything yet. They don’t have any expertise, really, in anything yet, but they have this need to get a following and to lead this life. They end up faking it. I see this a lot in Instagram, the fake lifestyle, they’re faking it. They might believe that they’re faking it till you make it, but it gets really dangerous. I think the reasons why they feel the need to fake it is because when you’re faking it, you don’t actually get the pleasure.
They don’t actually win. The things that they are doing aren’t going to lead to the pleasure that they’re trying to get. I don’t actually think that they’re coveting the pleasure in the end. They’re coveting the ego pleasure, if you call it pleasure at all; it’s the stroking of the ego which is really the unmet need of significance. They don’t feel important enough yet. They don’t feel like they’ve made it yet.
They’re not good enough yet, and they feel like if they get looked up to on Instagram, if they have a Lamborghini, can show it off, or they can show off their vacation on a yacht, or the big party, and people look up to them and either look up to them or covet their lifestyle, envy them, or whatever it is, or jealous of them, then somehow that makes them more worthy or enough. That goes back to shame, really: childhood shame. Why don’t you believe that you’re enough yet? Why don’t you think you’re good enough yet?
Most of the world is suffering from the shame and this leads to a theme that all through my career now, at least now, anyway, that one big message I’m trying to hammer home is, “Your psychology is everything.” Which is what we’ve been talking about. You can get all of the material achievements that you’ve been spending your whole life driven to get, and you can get them all and still not feel the good stuff that you’re hoping would be at the end of that. The good stuff is not actually the pleasure, it’s not the hedonism, the standard hedonism. It’s not the enjoyment of the yacht or the enjoyment of the party.
Actually, if it were that, it would be a pure enjoyment. That person would be like a kid, and you would probably be driven towards that. He would attract that into his life kind of naturally, and he’ll just – kids find fun everywhere they go. But it’s actually not the pleasure, it’s the ego gratification. And it’s not even that, that’s even a low level of describing it; it’s ego gratification which will also be empty. What they’re really looking for is a lasting sense of significance, like they’ve made it, they are enough, they are good enough to be loved. That’s what they’re lacking in their lives. That’s a message I don’t hear anyone talking about.
Instead, they’re exploiting it like on YouTube, you might have Tai Lopez on that, interrupting every freaking video you watch, and he’s just like, “I’m in my garage, here’s my Lamborghini, here’s my lifestyle.” Envy this lifestyle. If I can trigger enough dissatisfaction with your current state, you’re going to buy this thing that I’m selling, and that really works on quite a lot of 20-somethings in America.
Henry Chong: I think it works a lot on most people.
David Tian: Yeah, right?
Henry Chong: I don’t think it’s anything to do with age. I don’t think it ever goes away.
David Tian: I just keep wanting to pick on your age. It’s so easy.
Henry Chong: But I mean, again, I don’t think this is anything new. Generation after generation has dealt with the exact same thing, it’s just that now you have these twin prongs of age. Success feels more available than ever.
David Tian: Here’s how it differs, because I’m 40 now so I’m going to defend my age. Here’s how it differs, because I also am straddling different markets. In the dating advice world where I was for 7 – 8 years primarily, and I still dabble in that now, is you’ve got the 20-somethings coming into it and they’re just usually single guys who are struggling to get dates and get friend zoned a lot. And then you have the 40-somethings and 50-something who are coming out of a divorce.
With 50 – 60% divorce rates, you get a reverse Bell curve kind of situation, so you get a lot on the end. And the 30’s, they sort of disappear because they think they got it figured out and they don’t need you, and they come back when it all fails. The guys in their 40’s, they approach success and pleasure differently. Here’s one reason why, and I’m starting to see this more now that I’m 40: It’s harder to fake it.
What I mean by this is, if you’re 45 and you’re still faking it till you make it, you probably suck at your job. Here’s an example: I think I started this in Grade 3, I was assigned a project on Egypt. You’re supposed to write a 5-page report on Egypt. I went to the library and I got a book on Egypt, and I basically found a 10-page section on Egypt in the world book or Encyclopedia Britannica, and then I condensed it to 5-pages, and then I just copied it. I literally copied it out. I copy whole paragraphs, and it’d be in prose that you wouldn’t think any Grade 3 student could ever write.
My older sisters saw that and like, “You didn’t write this.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I did.” Or I don’t even know if I lied to her or not. I sent it in to the teacher and I got an A. As much as ridiculous, I got rewarded for plagiarism. And even earlier than that, I was in a drawing assignment. I just took a really thin piece of paper, put it over some comic books, and then I just traced over the comic. And then I brought it out and like, “Hey, I drew this.” And no adult believed I drew it, but they’re like, “Yay, okay!” And they’re just whatever, they just shoved it onto –
And I was in this public school system that didn’t really care about the students. This is a whole other thing I’m really passionate about, education of children. But you know, they had 30 kids, so he’s not going to take the trouble to find the source that I plagiarized, and they confront me as a Grade 3 kid. They’re like, “Oh, this is cute. Okay, here’s your rubber stamp” and go onto the next project.
This continued all the way through until high school. At that point, the English teacher thought I was either a brilliant writer or that I was a spotty writer. When I plagiarized, it was awesome and he loved it. I was smart enough to sell that. And then when I hastily wrote my own thing because I didn’t have time to find a source to plagiarize, he was like, “Woah, this is not you, David. I’m really disappointed by this.” I learned not to be me.
Luckily, I hit university, and then the professors really slammed that down. I had a professor who was like, “My grad student says there’s no way you wrote this.” And then I basically had to cobble together a bunch of sources and backwards engineer notes so I wouldn’t get an F. He took it, but I realized, “Woah, this is a warning signal. I can’t keep doing this.” And then there were courses where I just literally couldn’t pretend, ones that weren’t take home exams or papers; they were actually at your chair. I didn’t go that far and figure out how to scam those, but I do know people who have figured out ways.
They figured out the questions beforehand, they write them on pen inside their sleeve or something like that, but I never did any of that. It was around the first year university mark where I couldn’t fake my way anymore. I learned that, just like in music. It’s a lesson I learned in music, if you don’t have the chops, you can’t fake it. If I can’t play altissimo on the saxophone, I can’t pretend like I do. You just literally, physically can’t pretend.
Like in martial arts, you can pretend like you know how to fight, and then you get into a fight, and you can’t pretend no more. It keeps you honest. Academia, Instagram, and all these other platforms, they don’t keep you honest. And a lot of youngsters haven’t learned the lesson of plagiarism, or not plagiarizing, because they’ve been rewarded for plagiarism.
Let’s say you spend an hour doctoring a photo of yourself as a hot girl and you post it, and then you get tons of likes, tons of comments, and suddenly you get validation, and you think, “Yes.” You think your true self would not be appreciated, so you keep staying with your false self. And then 50 Instagram posts later, 500 Instagram posts later, you’re still having to keep up the facade and the charade that this is you and it’s not you, and then you don’t know how to get out it besides just deleting the damn thing because they don’t reward you for your true self, all the mistakes.
But you can’t keep doing that until you’re 40. The 40-year-old is either out of work, he’s going to be poor and out of work if he kept that going. At some point in your adult life, you have to learn that there are certain things you suck at, and sometimes to get really good at, to get forward in life, you have to keep doing the thing you suck at. It’s not glamorous and it’s not rewarded while you suck at it.
Classical Chinese was a great example. In class, when you learn Classical Chinese, just like Classical Greek, I think more people might know Greek, you have to translate. You can actually get the translations. The works that you work with are usually translated quite often already, so can you can read that, you can have on your lap. I suppose if you really want to fit, on your lap, if you’re in a large Classical Greek class, you can have the the English out on your lap while you’re looking at the Greek, and the teacher is calling on you and you spot translate, but you’re looking at it on your lap, something stupid like that. Or you have an interlinear translation and you’re faking it.
That will hurt you when you get higher up, because eventually you’ll get to these texts that have no English translation, which is really what the professors should be assigning you. And then you’re totally on your own. In Classical Chinese, you have no punctuation. You don’t even know where the sentence ends and where the next one begins. You don’t even know sometimes if you’re in a new text because it’s just running characters all the way down. You’re completely lost; if you faked your way, you’re literally just looking at a bunch of random drawings, really, like characters.
It keeps you honest. I learned that I have to – this big lesson for me which I had to learn – an advanced graduate student, because I was talking over dinner about whether he thought that I was able to put one over on my professor because I didn’t do the reading but I faked as if I did, and then I think the professor knew. This is what he said, and then I asked the advanced PhD student, “What do you think?” I was an undergrad, and he was a PhD. He’s like, “David, you’re like a little ant in his hand. You’re squirming around and hiding. You think he can’t see you. And the whole time, you’re completely in his hands. Maybe he won’t call you out because he feels sorry for you, or he sympathizes with you, or he was in your position, or he doesn’t want to embarrass you.” But don’t trick yourself into thinking he can’t see you.
When I realized that, I just dropped all pretending completely. That was my second year. So my first year of university where I got – I really couldn’t fake it anymore. And it was second year when I accepted the fact that I actually had to know this, like for real. That was a big shift. And I take that all through my life. I think a lot of people, if they have a personal best on the dead lift, but in order to get that personal best, they have to do 10 minutes of rest, or they can only do one rep.
They set up the camera angle, they do all this other stuff in the background where they’re cheating, or like the recreational steroid user in fitness. Or for the girls, it’s the photoshopping, and then they present that image out in the world. That is actually going to create defeat further on, and then they get frustrated when they can’t get past the ceiling.
This is part of happiness that you can’t be happy if you’re faking it, and the reason why you’re faking it is because – and follow my train of reasoning – you’re faking it because you think you need the pleasure of the ego gratification, which is really only felt because you have an unmet need for significance in your life, which is there. Because as a child in your formative years, you had this nagging doubt of your own worthiness, which is based on the fact that you have this fear that you’re not good enough to be loved. And if you’re not good enough to be loved, the fundamental fear is that you will die. Fear of death. Take it from faking it on Instagram all the way to death.
Henry Chong: Correct, Carol Dweck.
David Tian: Yeah, Carol Dweck.
Henry Chong: Yeah, exactly. I mean, talking about the difference between fixing the growth mindset. If you see people who are successful all the time and you begin to learn that only if, let’s say, I show these photoshopped photos, I will be viewed as successful. Then as you say, it becomes harder and harder, and you’ve got to keep on keeping up the appearance. Versus let’s say if you are a powerlifter and you know that the only way that you’re ever going to get better is if you work to failure again and again and again, day after day after day.
There’s this quote from one of the Batman movies that I’ve always liked, I think it’s Bane who says that ‘Success has defeated you.’ I always thought that was quite interesting.
David Tian: That’s beautiful.
Henry Chong: We talk about experience. I mean, experience really is just undergoing defeat and trials and getting better. I think there’s nothing like the crushing shame of having something that you don’t think you’ve worked for, or something that you just sort of lucked into. There’s so many studies about lottery winners, for example, who are incredibly depressed. They often turn to drinking, drugs, or commit suicide.
Talking about a Powerball winner, wins tens of hundreds of millions of dollars, they are some of the least happy people in the world. Why? Why is it that they have gotten so much stuff that everyone is chasing and yet they can’t find happiness? I think the simple answer is that, again, no stuff will ever give you the happiness or fulfillment that you are chasing. You look at all of these other people’s achievements, and you think if you can have the same achievement, you will be just as happy.
The truth is, those people who have undergone trials, the Olympics weightlifters or short track speed skaters worked their whole lives to get better, go through 8 – 10 hours of training a day, failing and failing. And then you see them on the rink that one time for that one glorious minute of success, and you see the happiness that they have afterwards. The happiness comes not because they’ve won a gold medal, although I’m sure that’s great. The happiness comes because they’ve undergone the pain and the suffering and the trials. And through it all, at the end of it all, when you triumph, it becomes that much sweeter. Not only have you overcome the difficulty, but you now know that you’re the kind of person who can overcome that difficulty. You’ve been tested, and after being tested, it’s revealed that unshakable core in you.
I need to fail at doing a hundred kilo dead lift again and again before I can make it. And once I can make it, it’s not so much the fact that, “Yay, I can lift a hundred kilos now.” It’s the fact that I have grown literally and physically to a state where I can now lift that hundred kilos, and that’s something that no one can ever take away from you. That’s true confidence, when you have been as you say, you’ve learned to play the sax for real; you’ve learned to martial arts for real, and you don’t need anyone to tell you that you know.
That’s the kind of confidence that you can’t buy, and that’s also what I think leads to true happiness: When you have real achievements on of forthcoming trials but also growing into becoming a better person. As a counterpart to that, I think it’s really important to also actually remember to step back and smell the roses in the moment; actually feel pleasure in the moment. A lot of people just are on this endless treadmill of wanting more and more, including people who are high achievers.
It’s you know, perhaps it’s the ego but it’s just never enough. That kind of eternal sort of grasping I think it’s just as dangerous.That right there is the challenge that everybody has always grappled with from Buddha, to the Taoists, of how do you both let go of the grasping and learn to be happy with what is right now, what you already have, while at the same time continuing to execute and achieve? There are a lot of people who do one or the other, lots of high achievers who always want more, and we can tell they’re desperately unhappy.
There are lots of people who just check out of the world, sit at the beach and meditate. Again, they don’t go anywhere. How do you do both? I mean, that’s hard, but I think they’re not fundamentally incompatible. There’s no reason why you can’t do both at the same time. There’s no reason why you can’t continue to execute day in day out while also being grateful for the process.
One example I’ve always found – we’ve talked about this in the past – Pumping Iron, this documentary on Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s one scene in there that I always thought was quite interesting, it cuts between scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno training. Lou Ferrigno is in the basement of a Brooklyn gym, and his dad was his trainer who was screaming at him and saying, “Kill Arnold! Kill Arnold!” And Lou Ferrigno is screaming back and he’s grinding out every rep. He doesn’t look happy, quite frankly. He looks like he’s suffering.
He’s grinding through it, and he’s getting the work outs done, but you can tell that he’s not happy. And then you cut to Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s in Gold’s Gym, he’s on Venice Beach.
David Tian: Yeah, and he’s running on the beach. They’re joking around. It’s bright.
Henry Chong: Exactly, he’s with his friends. He’s training hard but he’s also enjoying it. He has the thing he says where he says, “Every rep I do, I’m happy. It’s painful, right? I mean, when you’re lifting weights, when you’re training to failure, it’s painful, but I enjoy it because I know that every rep I do, as painful as it is, is getting me closer to my goals. That’s where I gain my satisfaction.”
It’s definitely possible. It’s not easy.
David Tian: Part of it is like – Tony Robbins puts in push versus pull motivation. Ferrigno actually in the movie makes his dad seem like he’s really pushing him, but he was haunted by the spectre of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I must beat this man or I’m not good enough.” Arnold is being pulled forward with this vision, because he does a lot of visualization at that time, especially while he was in Austria – I forgot the name of the movie star who was also a body builder that he looked up to. But being like that, being a body builder in the movies, and that pulled him forward. He enjoyed the process.
We keep mentioning Tony Robbins. There’s another great Robbins one, where it’s like, it’s not about what you get, it’s about who you become. A big part of what you were just articulating there is along those lines. I love that you quoted Bane, but that’s an awesome point. “Success has defeated you.” Or even the drive towards success can also defeat you. And the idea that happiness comes not from getting the thing, which so many of these –
A lot of the people I speak to, they don’t mind cheating. There’s a whole subculture which is huge. I don’t even know if you call it a subculture or just the culture of hacking. Like, hacking in a way where they don’t want to earn it honestly. You see this in business. For many years, I was bogged down in the internet marketing world of direct response copy writing and all that stuff. Because most of the people in the industry are selling pick-up artist and dating advice products were heavily in that. The only ones making money were the ones who were training in that.
And a lot of it was – basically, the business model system, in case you guys get suckered into this. And sometimes, this might happen with an old product that I sold to a friend of mine, or to somebody that I wanted to help out. They’re still selling that product, and they might put a forced continuity product on there. You see there’s a guy that I used to respect. He put out a nice e-book, so I like that guy, and he wanted me to sell his products as an affiliate.
The offer was a dollar. So, buy this whole e-book or video course for one dollar. I’m like, “Gee, how are you making any money on that? But okay.” And he says, “You sell it for a dollar, I’ll give you, as the affiliate, 50 dollars.” And I was trying to figure out how that worked. In his terms and conditions, it was buried – when they write terms and conditions in all caps, and it’s buried somewhere deep in there it says, “By agreeing to this purchase, you also agree to a monthly product that’s 89.99 and bla-bla-bla or 99.99.”
This poor customer is going to buy it for a dollar, and then see on his credit card bill a month later a 100-dollar charge. Like, what is this? And then the vendor is going to have to get a new merchant account because he’s going to get too many chargebacks. This is how the entire freaking industry works. I bought a product from a friend of mine, because I do it honestly, and that – it was a continuity product. I had no problem with it because I wanted to support him.
And then I tried to use a credit card and two years later and it was declined. I was like, “I haven’t used this in two years. Why was this card declined?” And they said, “Oh sir, two years ago, there was a charge from so-and-so.com,” which was my friend, “and it was a fraudulent charge, so we cancelled the whole card.” I’m like, “I didn’t call in to cancel it.” In other words, his merchant account got flagged. Visa said, “No, we’re not going to take this.”
And it was just like, “Damn, man. That guy, he must’ve gotten so many chargebacks on this.” It’s the cheaters mentality. A lot of the Instagram – and again, I’m just talking about that platform, it’s not just that platform, but Instagram, the people that people look up to on there, they get to post the highlights of their life. They may not be cheating because their lives may actually be an accurate reflection.
For every guy posting on there posting he’s successful as an influencer or whatever and is showing his lifestyle, there are going to be 1,000 people looking at that and saying, “I wish that was me. What can I do to be that?” And that guy might sell you an e-book or whatever it is, and you go and buy it and you try to hack your way, cheat your way into it.
I know people who actually made millions using a direct response copy writing model of business. They got away with 3 or 5 million in revenue before the market wisened up to their offer and stopped buying it because they got smart to the fact that they were being cheated. And then they’re constantly coming up with new products, new things to do.
I look at that, and I meet these guys, they have 3 million in the bank from scamming all of these people. And I think, “Wow, I know why now you use steroids in the gym as a 25 year old. I get it. It’s your whole freaking brain. And I bet you will cheat on your wife.” It is a whole way of approaching. You don’t want to earn it. You’re going to figure out a way to cheat and hack your way through it. And I bet in the gym, you take long breaks. I bet you’re getting any cheating advantage you can, and eventually that will catch up.
You might be 40-something. And an extreme example, you can have Wolf of Wall Street, you keep that up for quite a long time. But you know, eventually – maybe it’s an assumption I have, but maybe you can keep cheating all the way into your 70’s and 80’s. But I think that over the long run, and the macro, the honest truth will eventually get found out.
Henry Chong: And you only need to get caught once.
David Tian: Yeah. And then – and more importantly, like you’re saying earlier, your conscience has been seared. The amount of shame you have from not earning something and getting it, you don’t actually get to enjoy it because first of all, you didn’t earn it. And secondly, in the back of your mind, you know you cheated into that. You get it? It’s kind of like the pleasure of somebody who robs a house. Like, the pleasure of breaking into a house and going, “Yeah! I’m in this guy’s house!” But it’s not your house, so you don’t actually get to enjoy it, and kick back, and totally relax.
You’re just like, “Okay, the time is short because the owner might come back in the home.” And you’re like Goldilocks and the bears, and you’re just like eating everything you can, whatever it is, because it’s not your house. That’s how they inhabit life. I see this over and over.
Henry Chong: Yeah. I see that right now in the financial markets, for example. I mean, everyone wants things now. They want things quickly. People – I tell them you can make 20%+ a year in the financial market, and they want it. You tell them you can double your money in a year and they’ll want it. You tell people, “Hey, you can make 7% return every year across 10 years compounded. That will double your money.” No one is interested. Even if you can do that over a lifetime, again, simple math. Compounding is a very powerful force.
Right now, we’re year 9 of a bull market. It’s been an awfully long time since the last financial crash, but people forget and people begin to say, “Well, you know, I see everyone else is making it big, make it well. I want some of that. I’m not willing to wait or be patient.” And the simple truth is, within the financial markets, I think everyone wants the good life, but no one is willing to work for the good life. It is work, never mind the financial success, but happiness we’re talking about.
Happiness is work like anything else: building a good, loving family is work. Having good relationships with your friends is work. You need to put in the time, effort, and the hustle like with anything else. I think that happiness is an act is another thing. Talking about mind-body dualism, again, this is probably a topic for another podcast. But happiness is an act as much as anything else. So much of what we feel, and coming back to emotions, is physically encoded. You can do happiness. We’ve all seen studies about how you just smile more, you’ll feel more happy. But it really does start with things as simple as that.
Day in, day out, paying attention to how you live, whether you’re healthy or not. It’s very hard to be truly happy if you’re running on 3 hours sleep and eating a crappy diet. It starts with these small things. The problem is, these things are also very simple and no one wants to believe that simple things can be the answer. Everyone wants to believe it’s something complex. “If only I can figure out the magic solution, I’ll have it.” No one wants to believe that there isn’t just some quick five-step fix to get in shape. They all keep looking for it.
We’re not willing to accept the simple truth that lots of things have work. For example, if you want to lose weight, you just need discipline. I think that’s true of life, of health, of happiness, of so many things. Everyone wants the good life, and we all know deep down inside what it looks like truly. We all know when we’re truly happy. The problem is, no one is willing to put in the work or have the discipline to go after it and get it.
David Tian: Yeah, that’s a great point: The cheaters don’t have the discipline because they’re not actually enjoying the process either. So, that point you were making about Ferrigno vs. Arnie, we can end off on that. I mean, a lot of people are – the thing that they need to beat themselves like Ferrigno, and then they don’t want to do that so they cheat as if they have it, if it’s possible to cheat. It’s pretty easy nowadays. And they don’t actually get the enjoyment of either of the spoils – the reward, and they don’t get to enjoy the process. They lose out on every possible benefit.
I guess the lesson is, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing for 90% of your day at least, you got to look at how you’re spending your time.
Henry Chong: Exactly.
David Tian: That’s not a great way to live. But a lot of people do, and we can talk about it next time, how we do that for ourselves and a lot of other things. There’s so many topics I wrote down, like, “Okay, we’re going to go down that avenue, get down this road” but we’re trying to keep it more focused. So, let us know how it was. It was our first podcast, so please be gentle, but I had a lot of fun. We want to keep doing these for you. Let us know. Give us your feedback. Educate us so that we can improve in that process. How do they find you, Henry?
Henry Chong: You can find me on my personal website at HenryChong.com. You can find everything else that I do from there. I guess I’ll leave off with just one last thought: A lot of people achieve thinking that it will make them happy. The truth is, we need to be happy achieving day in and day out, moment by moment.
David Tian: Yes, and even reframe what ‘achieve’ means.
Henry Chong: Exactly.
David Tian: Yeah, awesome. You can find me at DavidTianPHD.com. Before you go, a couple last things. First, all the show notes and links to resources can be found at DavidTianPHD.com/dtphdpodcast. Or you can just go to DavidTianPHD.com and find it through the top navigation menu.
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