Brain Pickings

Elizabeth Gilbert on How Schopenhauer’s Porcupine Dilemma Reveals the Secret of Happiness

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On how to connect without getting pricked.

In January of 2010, PBS aired a fascinating series titled This Emotional Life, exploring cutting-edge insights from cognitive and behavioral science to explain some of the “why” behind a wide range of mental illness and mental health, from addiction to depression to resilience. The series featured a number of prominent authors, psychologists, clinicians, and other public figures, discussing the science and everyday grit of these complex issues.

Among them was Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the modern classic Eat, Pray, Love and mastermind behind one of the all-time greatest TED talks. Gilbert relays the porcupine dilemma made famous by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer — a beautiful metaphor for how we choose to go through the world and relate to others, in a quest to master the intricate balance of the guardedness necessary for self-protection and the vulnerability necessary for the warmth of true intimacy.

For a deeper dive, see Deborah Luepnitz’s Schopenhauer’s Porcupines: Intimacy and Its Dilemmas.

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