Bryan Caplan  

The Gratitude of Bryan Cranston

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Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston knows the secret of happiness: gratitude.

I think if you believe in past lives, I must have been an extremely deprived being.  I must have been mistreated, beaten, and forced into indentured servitude because this life has just been phenomenal.  I don't know and I don't know why.  I think, and I mean this sincerely, I was raised humbly.  We were a lower middle income family and a household that was scrimping by at times.  We were watching the dollar, stretching the dollar, and coupons.  It was all those things.  That was my life as a kid and because of that most kids from that real blue collar upbringing can't develop a sense of entitlement.  There is just no way because you are living from day to day.  So I take that blue collar work into my life as an adult.  All of these things come to me like these opportunities, financial securities, and artistic awards.  I'm thinking, "Wow!"  Every time it happens I'm thinking, "I won again?! Unbelievable!"  So I don't expect it.  I'm certainly appreciative of it, but I just don't have that sense of entitlement.  I don't think life owes me anything and the business doesn't owe me anything.  The only way to approach it is by working hard and loving what you do.  If you do that and have faith, maybe you will get lucky.  I mean that sincerely and specifically.  I truly believe that no professional career in the arts is capable without a healthy dose of luck.

Contrast Cranston with some miserable folks Paul Krugman knows:

I know quite a few academics who have nice houses, two cars, and enviable working conditions, yet are disappointed and bitter men--because they have never received an offer from Harvard and will probably not get a Nobel Prize. They live very well in material terms, but they judge themselves relative to their reference group, and so they feel deprived.

More on gratitude here, here, and here.

HT: David Henderson, for the Krugman quote.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Tom West writes:

Heartily agreed - gratitude for all one has is absolutely the secret to happiness, whether work or in marriage.

Sadly, I think a lot of that is built-in, but one can increase it on the margin by thinking concretely about one's blessings and all that one has to be thankful for.

Ian writes:

If you want more Cranston, check out his AMA from a few months ago:

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1glx04/i_am_bryan_cranston_ama/

My favorite is his exchange with MyEvilDucky

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bryan,
I link to the article in which Krugman made that statement here.

NZ writes:

I wonder what the results would be if you compared surveys of happiness between academics and actors generally.

I heard somewhere that they did a comparison of IQs by profession, and acting came out on or near the bottom. (I don't know if this included a lot of "wannabe" actors living 6 to an apartment in North Hollywood.) How does IQ relate to happiness? How about to gratitude?

My experience with actors is that most of them are grateful to be working as actors rather than busing tables. On set, 90% of an actor's job is sitting in a chair or sleeping on a couch and trying to stay out of the way of the guys who are setting up lights and carrying heavy gear. The actors can get up any time they want and go graze at the craft services table. Eventually a PA will come around and dote on them. It's not a stressful job most of the time.

(The next least stressful job on set is probably sound mixer. I can't remember ever meeting a sound guy who seemed unhappy or ungrateful.)

I've met actors who aren't what most people would call "successful" but still act like divas. Those actors never seem happy or grateful, but they are also very uncommon.

I don't know much about acadmics' jobs. I've heard there can be pressure to publish. Is envy really that common? I imagine if I had a soft degree I'd be pretty grateful to have a nice cushy job as an academic, but maybe there's a lot of stress to being an academic I don't know about.

drycreekboy writes:

It's not just gratitude, but humility that come across in Cranston's words, but those are connected virtues.

The difference I see between him and the bitter people Krugman describes is that the bitter people aren't seeking mere accomplishment, but some less effable status that what they did was important.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

What percent of people are more like Cranston vs. Krugman's acquaintances? At what percent would you change your policy recommendations based on these preferences?

BZ writes:

I'm afraid gratitude comes close, but proves too much. I believe the correct goalpost is "low expectations", which gratitude nicely encompasses, while allowing us to be happy at times when there is no one to be thankful to.

Jody writes:

While we're praising Cranston and ridiculing the professors, I think they're both ultimately exhibiting the same morality, which as Krugman wrote,

"they judge themselves relative to their reference group"

Specifically, neither is making a judgment based on absolute well-being, but on relative well-being compared to their reference group. Cranston explicitly says:

"I was raised humbly. We were a lower middle income family and a household that was scrimping by at times. We were watching the dollar, stretching the dollar, and coupons. It was all those things. That was my life as a kid and because of that most kids from that real blue collar upbringing can't develop a sense of entitlement. There is just no way because you are living from day to day. So I take that blue collar work into my life as an adult."

So while we may praise Cranston because we think he's exhibiting gratitude for his absolute well-being, it's only because of the relative baseness of his humble background that when he exhibits relative gratitude that it appears to be absolute gratitude...

MingoV writes:

Bryan Cranston didn't talk about gratitude. He didn't mention being grateful or thankful. He talked about appreciating what he had (as a child and as an adult). And he talked about not believing that he was entitled to his success (which he attributed to luck).

Gratitude would be: "I'm thankful for my parents who gave me a level-headed, blue collar viewpoint." or "It was that really great guy, John Doe, who gave me my first acting role."

Bryan, what is your view on the Stoic strategies for achieving happiness and maintaining tranquility? Your personal philosophy seems too similar to theirs for you not to have been directly influenced by them. Am I right?

Martin writes:

Funny quote from the Krugman article, considering that it was 1996.

"If one follows this line of thought one might well be led to some extremely radical ideas about economic policy, ideas that are completely at odds with all current orthodoxies. But I won't try to come to grips with such ideas in this column. Frankly, I don't have the time. I have to get back to my research--otherwise, somebody else might get that Nobel."

Jeff writes:

A desire for money and status is what drives people to study and work hard and be productive, create new products, etc, and over the long term raises standards of living for everyone. The fact that some people are miserable not being at or near the top of some status hierarchy is actually a net benefit to the rest of us. It's not as simple as "Cranston is wise, Krugman's friends are dumb." Competition is going to create winners and losers, and precisely because it's no fun being a loser, people work really really hard at trying to be winners.

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