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House Calls Podcast
Walking A Spiritual Path In A Lonely World
With guest Rainn Wilson,
Actor & Artist 

Description

Note: This episode was recorded in June 2023, prior to the SAG-AFTRA union declaring a strike. 

Rainn Wilson describes himself as an actor and an artist, who writes some books about spirituality on the side. As well-known as Rainn is on the screen and stage, particularly for playing Dwight on the TV series “The Office,” we invited him on House Calls to talk about spirituality – specifically how spirituality can help us change the world for the better, from addressing global challenges like climate change, to creating more connection and community in our daily lives.  

 

Rainn is looking for what he calls a “spiritual revolution”, in which we all give back to humanity with “loving kindness.” Join us as we talk about what that looks like and how we can all help make our world a more meaningfully connected place. 

 

 

We’d love to hear from you! Send us a note at housecalls@hhs.gov with your feedback & ideas. 

 

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Transcript

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Hello and welcome to House Calls. I'm Vivek Murthy and I have the honor of serving as U.S. Surgeon General. (bright jazz music) I'd like to introduce you to Rainn Wilson, an actor and an artist. Today, we'll be talking about spirituality as a path to making a sometimes lonely and challenging world a better place. (bright jazz music ends) My guest today is Rainn Wilson, an actor and storyteller who has played dozens of roles on the stage, television, and in film. As an actor, Rainn is well-known for the role of Dwight on the hit TV series "The Office", but I asked him to come on "House Calls" to talk about another subject he's been discussing lately, spirituality. Rainn's most recent book, "Soul Boom" is a cry for a spiritual revolution in the face of planet-wide issues such as climate change, racism, sexism, and the mental health crisis. Rainn also shares his personal story. As a young man, he experienced anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental health challenges. His openness about the depths of this time in his life and the spiritual exploration that followed had brought Rainn to a place where he beautifully and genuinely talks about the power of love, connection, happiness, and community. He calls on all of us to address our spiritual imbalances and to explore how spirituality can help us create solutions in an increasingly challenging world. As Rainn says, "Meaning in life is found on the journey, not at the destination.” It's found in the loving bonds that rise up when you are in a connected community. It's the love at the core of spirituality which binds us with compassion and prompts us to act in service of one another. Rainn, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining me on House Calls.

Rainn Wilson

Vivek, thanks for having me. This is exciting. I've been really thrilled to be having this conversation and gleefully preparing for weeks, yay! (Vivek chuckles)

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, I'm glad we get to talk. I've been checking out your book "Soul Boom", which is incredible, and also listen to an episode of your podcast "Metaphysical Milkshake", which, by the way, I love the name, I think it's fascinating, and I've just got a lot to ask you about.

Rainn Wilson

Sure.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

But before we dig in, I'm actually curious to ask you a question about identity, which is that I suspect many people think of you, first and foremost, as, you know, the man who played Dwight from "The Office", but how do you prefer to be known and to be remembered?

Rainn Wilson

Wow, that's great. What a great way to start the conversation. I've never been asked that question before. I think, for me, I wanna be thought of, remembered, and identified as an actor and an artist because that's what I am. And it's an interesting conundrum being a television celebrity that's known for one role because I always say like, "I played dozens of roles in the theater before I did any TV and film," and I did like 10 years in the theater, Broadway, off Broadway, regional theater, tours, bus and truck experimental plays, readings. And then I started doing television and film and I played a good couple dozen roles before I played Dwight in TV and film, and then I've played a couple dozen roles since I ended playing Dwight. But that's the one that I'm most known for, which is great. I have no problem with that. I was able to buy a house. It's fabulous. It's given me a wonderful career. But I hope that, you know, at the end of the day people are like, "Wow, Rainn Wilson is an actor who's played all these dozens and dozens of roles, and an artist that's helped, you know, tell stories, as a storyteller," 'cause that's the kind of artist that I am. And then on top of that, I write some books on spirituality on the side.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, I love that. I love that. Yeah, 'cause I'm glad you mentioned so many of those other roles that you've played because you have, anybody who just Googles you and looks at your bio online can see that you have a very prolific history in acting. And I've often wondered, you know, if being known for one particular role feels limiting in some way or feels like just a sliver, you know, of the broader contribution you've made to the field.

Rainn Wilson

Mm, mm, yeah. Yeah. And I don't wanna take away from how grateful I am to have gotten the role of Dwight and been part of "The Office" on so many levels. I mean, not only did it give me a career and benefit me and my family personally, but being a part of a show that has meant so much to people, even though it's silly comedy about the workplace during the mental health crisis that I know we're gonna be talking about and during COVID, I can't tell you the people, every day I hear from them on social media or if I meet people, how much the show has meant to them, how much solace and joy it has brought to them. And, you know, none of us got into doing "The Office" as some kind of like humanitarian altruistic act. But at the same time, the fact that folks have benefited from the kind of warmhearted entertainment that "The Office" provides is really beautiful, and I'm so grateful to be a part of that legacy.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

And I must say, even though, you know, I remember "The Office" from years ago when you had first came on, on the scene, I hear so many people discovering it now and watching old episodes for the first time and, like you said, just finding so much joy and laughter. And I think at a time when so many people are feeling worried or anxious, you know, or even cynical about the world, to be able to have an experience that brings them joy is no small thing, it's a big contribution. So I'm glad that what you did back then, in creating "The Office" with your colleagues, has continued to make such a contribution to people's lives. You've also been talking a lot and very thoughtfully, I might add, about spirituality. And I'm excited to talk to you a little bit about that today because many people that I encounter around the country say that they worry that we're experiencing a spiritual crisis that's feeding in to some of the broader challenges that we face and I've heard you say some similar things on other interviews. I wanted to start, though, by asking you, how do you define spirituality?

Rainn Wilson

Well, that's a great question. Once upon a time, I actually looked up the word, and if I can remember correctly, it's a focus on the spirit and the non-material part of life. And that's a great way of looking at it. To me, when I look at what is the non-material part of life, I have to examine what's the material part of life, right? So my body wants to eat and sleep, and have shelter and comfort. My kind of animal brain stem wants social belonging and status and social security. That's part of kind of being a human animal, as it were. And, you know, bodies want sexual pleasure and they want, you know, comfort and ease, and this is all part of the, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's part of who we are, you know. When taken to an extremity, as oftentimes these kind of, quote, unquote, "pleasures of the flesh" kind of go too far in contemporary society, they can prove a danger, right? We need to act with moderation around food and sex and comfort and accruing material things that give us comfort. But it's everything else, Vivek, that is spirituality. It's the heart, the soul, the consciousness in a sense of the consciousness that I'm having this 3D movie experience of being Rainn Wilson. I'm having this conversation with you. I'm sitting in my chair. This is the desk where I wrote my book, "Soul Boom". Oh look, I happen to have a copy right here. (Vivek chuckles) And I'm wondering when I should take a sip of my green tea, which is sitting right here. This is my 3D consciousness part of myself. And there's a spiritual element to that. I believe. And to move even further, I feel that we all have a kind of God consciousness in us. And I don't wanna sound too, like, off the boat hippie dippy, but we have elements in us of the divine, that is our divine qualities, our spiritual virtues, of compassion, love, kindness, humility, honesty, creativity, warmth, generosity. These are the qualities that we admire in the divine source, whatever that might be, in the great spiritual teachers, in the great spiritual leaders, in just plain, wise people that we get to know in our lives and that we seek to emulate, and these are qualities of the soul. So this, too, has to do with spirituality. And ultimately a connection to our creator, and to the creative force, and a search for transcendence, something beyond the mere material pleasures of the body and limitations of the body, towards some sense of belonging and greater beauty, meaning and love.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, that's beautifully said. And I wanna come back actually to the theme of love, because that's something that is very prominent in your discussions about spirituality and I think there's something there that I think is worth digging into. Before we get there, though, I wanna ask you just about what's happening in the world right now in the context of spirituality. You know, you and I look around us and we see that we're living in a mental health crisis. We are struggling with millions of people who are living in poverty. There are people who are feeling despondent and cynical about the future. There are a lot of parents who are worried about the world their kids are inheriting. The list goes on of challenges that we're facing. And what I'm curious about is, you know, I think you have said that many of the challenges that we're facing today have a spiritual foundation, at the very least, they're in need of a spiritual solution, and I was wondering if you could say a little bit more about that. Why do you believe that? And what does it look like to have spirituality as a force that helps to address some of these challenges that we're dealing with today?

Rainn Wilson

Well, that's the crux of my book, that very question. There's a number of different paths to get to an answer, but I have a chapter early on in the book called A Plethora of Pandemics and I talk about not only the COVID pandemic, but the mental health pandemic. But then I also bring up climate change as a pandemic because climate change, when you dig into it, isn't simply about the amount of CO2 that humanity is producing. It goes deeper than that. It has to do with our relationship to the planet itself, with our respect for nature, with kind of using the planet like an unlimited ATM where we're just drawing resources, sucking them out of it, and then dumping the refuse back into the oceans and back into the planet for short-term game, gain. So there is a spiritual component to our relationship to the planet and thereby our relationship to climate change, consumerism as well. Racism is a pandemic. Again, of othering people that are different than us instead of celebrating diversity, honoring it, welcoming it. The inequality between women and men is a pandemic. Income inequality is a pandemic. How can we, human beings, how can the very, very rich stand to be in a planet where people are starving and not be doing something actively daily to rectify that? And how can your average voter, you know, tolerate such incredible differences, unjust differences in wealth? And I wanna say very carefully because that is very triggering to a lot of people, and they think, "Oh, you're talking about communism." I'm not talking about communism or even necessarily socialism. I'm talking about the roots of a kind of basic human injustice where there are haves and have nots, and how do we deal with that on a spiritual level. Yes, we may need to have some legislation that helps, you know, move that along, but it ultimately is a question of compassion. So, so many of these big issues that are big ticket items, militarism, nationalism, have spiritual roots. There is a spiritual disease at the roots of some of these problems and we keep trying to fix the issues with band-aids, with short-term legislation, with passing bills, with policy changes, with elections, with partisanship, which is also a kind of disease on its own, instead of really taking a giant step back and, as a species, sharing a planet as a fragile vulnerable species, as a big-hearted, loving species coming together and examining, you know, the foundation of what can possibly unite us.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

It sounds like, in some ways Rainn what you're talking about, is our moral foundation, the foundation of values that guide how we treat each other, what we choose to prioritize, what we do with our resources, what decisions we make as a society. And strengthening that moral foundation does feel very important, especially at a time where we are facing these many crises. I love how you talk about spirituality in a very active way, as something that should shape how we lead our lives and then shape the decisions we make, how we treat each other. And I'm curious just on a personal level, like how did spirituality come into your life? I know that you were raised in a home where the Baha'i Faith was present and that was part of your introduction to faith. But talk to us a little bit about how your journey, your personal journey with spirituality evolved.

Rainn Wilson

Yes. So I addressed this briefly in the book. I was raised a member of the Baha'i Faith. And if you know anything about the Baha'i Faith at all, some people may have never heard the word before, some people know a fair amount, you know that Baha'is love and accept all of the world's major faith traditions and the major spiritual teachers behind those traditions. As all coming from one all-loving God, there's one all-loving God who wants spiritual maturation for humanity. And how does this loving, glorious, creative energy providence, grace-filled entity proceed? Well, he or she or it sends down divine teachers every few hundred or few thousand years to help humanity move forward. Lord Krishna being one of these teachers, the Buddha being one of these teachers. Abraham and Moses on the Abrahamic tradition side, Jesus, Mohammad. And now Baha'is follow the wisdom of Baha'u'llah, who we believe is the most recent of these divine, holy teachers. So growing up Baha'i, we grew up reading the Bhagavad Gita, the book that you use to be sworn in as attorney general, or attorney general? No, what is it?

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Surgeon general.

Rainn Wilson

Surgeon general, different.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

I'm so impressed that you know this, though, that I was sworn in on the Gita, that's-

Rainn Wilson

Yes.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Wow. (chuckles)

Rainn Wilson

And so I had an interest as a child and as a teen in all of the world's faith traditions and their holy teachers. And as a Baha'i, you read the Buddha, and you read the Bible, and you read the Quran. And so this was inseminated into kind of my very DNA by my parents, especially by my father, who passed away a couple years ago. And that's part one. Part two is in my 20s I really jettisoned everything having to do with religious, faith, and spirituality, and morality. I didn't want anything to do with any of that. And I started having some mental health issues of my own. I suffered really crippling anxiety attacks for years. I would get the maximum anxiety attack. You know, shaking on the floor, sweating, certain I was having a heart attack, unable to control it. And depression, addiction, loneliness, alienation, a lot of those feelings. And in great despair, because there were not any tools at the time, I didn't know anyone that was in therapy, there weren't books on mental health, I turned to the only source of solace that I knew of, which were spiritual texts. And that's when I did a really deep dive in my 20s into spirituality itself. Why are we here? Is there a God? If there is, what is our purpose? How does life change? How is life different if we believe that everything is just a random assemblage of atoms and energy and molecules, and we've got 80 or 90 years and then it's lights out, and consciousness over, party over? How does that, how do we live our life if that's true and how do you live your life if there is some kind of divine, creative providence behind things? So it was out of this kind of misery that I also started exploring a deep dive into a spiritual way of seeing things.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

So interesting how, I think for so many of us, that we may have had that initial exposure to faith, but it's often in crisis or a time of great yearning or need that pushes us to chart out our own path, you know, and to figure out how to take what we were born and brought up with and make it our own. And you talk about this difficult period in your 20s when you were struggling with anxiety and with depression and loneliness. Do you have a sense of what triggered those feelings of loneliness and isolation?

Rainn Wilson

I don't. I don't. I do know that I went through a lot of trauma as a child. My mom left me and my dad when I was about a year and a half old. And I do know that I got involved with drugs and alcohol. And, you know, drugs and alcohol work great. They're an amazing way to relieve anxiety, until they don't. (chuckles) So they work great for a couple months or a couple years, however long you can ride it out, and then they start to not work. In fact, they start to have the opposite effect. So I think my drug and alcohol use that I was using to kind of soothe my anxiety then started to exacerbate my anxiety. So I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that. It also was kind of like, what's the meaning of life? And part of it, Vivek, is I'd always wanted to be an actor and then there I was being an actor. I went to acting school, I got an agent, I was actually doing plays, working with great directors, I was a professional actor and I was miserable, and that didn't make any sense to me. And because the American dream is, you know, you figure out what you wanna do for your career, you go through, you get trained in it, you start working in that career and then, then you will be happy. And I wasn't happy even though I was doing what I had always dreamed of, and that just didn't connect, it didn't make sense to me. It was like illogical. Like, how can this be? I should be being happy, and yet I'm not even though I'm doing these great plays and I'm getting paychecks as an actor. So I do think that that has some relevance in the contemporary mental health pandemic because I think for a lot of young people, they're like, "Well, I've been promised that if I go to school and do good and get a degree and then get a job and then have some nice stuff and have social media and play some video games and use some porn and have some weed and see my friends occasionally that I'm just gonna be happy." And then a lot of them are like, not all of 'em, but a lot of them are like, "I'm actually not that happy. What the hell is going on?"

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Rainn, I think you have put your finger on something millions of people are experiencing, including myself for many years. I was at my 25th college reunion recently and I was, you know, there were a bunch of us who were just talking to our colleagues about, you know, in a session that we had called Life at Midlife, and I remember always saying to my classmates that for much of my life I lived thinking that if only I could do, fill in the blank, then I'll be happy. And that was, you know, get into the right college, get into the right medical school, get the right, you know, class ranking, get, you know, 50, you know, plus votes in a senate confirmation, or whatever it was, you know, like I thought if I achieve something, then that will bring happiness. And almost always it brought momentary happiness, but it was so short lived and then I found myself in an unhappy place afterward. If you could go back, Rainn, and talk to yourself in your 20s, talk to the Rainn Wilson who was asking the question, "Hey, I'm an actor, I'm getting a paycheck, why aren't I happy," what would you tell Rainn in his 20s about why it was, that despite getting what he thought he wanted, he wasn't happy?

Rainn Wilson

Yeah, so, and this is a message that I share with young people. It's about the journey, not the destination. So there's this if-then proposition of like, like you mentioned, if I get this kinda job, then I'll be happy. If I have this kinda relationship, then I'll be happy. If I'm able to buy a house, then I'll be happy. If I make X amount of income per year, then I'll be happy. If I'm able to spend the summers on the French Riviera, then I will be happy. And we are wired to always want more, and it just doesn't work, you know. I wanted to be an actor, then I was an actor but I wasn't making any money. Like, "Oh, then I should make some money and then I'll be happy," and, "If I can get on Broadway, then I'll be happy." "Oh, if I do some TV, then I'll be happy." "Oh, if I'm a series regular on TV, then I'll be happy." Even when I was on "The Office", and I've recently been sharing about this, I was very unhappy for many years of it because I just wanted more. I was like, "Why am I not a movie star," you know. "I'm a TV star. Why am I not a movie star? I should be the next Will Ferrell or Jack Black, why am I not that?" And then I did a couple movies that bombed and didn't do very well and that wasn't gonna be my path. I was not going to be a giant movie star, you know, which is fine. I don't need to be one. I have enough money. I have an enough amazing career, a beautiful wife and son, and interesting life, and cool work. So it's really about finding meaning and connection in one's daily life that brings the greatest soul satisfaction. So if we're always striving and we're always in the mode of hitting that next goal, then we're going to be miserable. And that's kind of how Western civilization is set up, is to be kind of meeting that next goal and not being deeply grateful for what we have and savoring the beautiful life moments along the way. You know, Zen practice gets into this, Buddhist practice gets into this, contemplative Christian practice gets into this. But this is one of the pandemics, is the pandemic that's raging in Western civilization of like, "I don't have enough. I need more, I want more," kind of a, it's not just greed for money, it's kind of it's greed for more and more and more. Now listen, this is really important, we're wired this way for a very good reason, this kept humanity alive for eons. We were never content with what we had. Like, "Oh, I have 47 deer skins and three dead elk in the back of my cave." (Vivek laughs) We don't rest on our laurels like, "Oh, that's gonna be enough." No, I want three more elk and I want 47 more deer skins to get through the winter. And I want more sharp sticks, and I want more ferns or whatever. I don't know what people ate in caves. (Vivek laughs) And so in order to survive, we needed more. And so there's a nodule, I'm sure you can speak to this, physiologically in the base of our brain that is kind of like somewhere, amygdala, I'm gonna guess, that's kinda like, "I don't have enough and I need more," and that kept us alive and it kept us kind of anxious and on the balls of our feet and not kind of content and fat and happy, but that doesn't always serve us in the modern world.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

That's right. And I think, Rainn, it brings up this really important point of what we're trying to optimize for. You know, I think in those days as hunter-gatherers, we had to optimize first and foremost for our survival, right, and that was constantly at risk and under threat. But these days, even though there are threats to our survival, we are in a much better place as than we were as hunter-gatherers. And we actually have the luxury and the opportunity to think about, how do we optimize our happiness, our fulfillment? And I think you're right that more and more and more doesn't always lead us there. There is something, though, that you've spoken to often that I think is a key ingredient to what does lead to true fulfillment and happiness and that's the broader concept of love. And there's this one quote that you had from this interview that you did, I think it was a radio interview in fact, but it was really moving to me. In fact, you know, almost I could feel myself getting choked up when I heard it. But you were asked about your faith at that time and I think the interviewer was asking you, "How can you be sure that there's a God? How can you be so confident in your spirituality?" And you said, "There's a God because I love my wife, I love my baby, and I love my father." And there was just, the way you said it, what you said was just so powerful and I was wondering if you could, can you say more about how you see the relationship between spirituality and God and love as well as the role that love plays in our overall happiness and our search for fulfillment?

Rainn Wilson

You want me to recreate that NPR moment on your podcast, don't you, Vivek?

Dr. Vivek Murthy

No, no, I don't want-

Rainn Wilson

I'm just teasing. I'm teasing. (Rainn and Vivek laugh)

Dr. Vivek Murthy

I actually wanna go a layer deeper because I felt that what you said there was, that statement was so pregnant with meaning and I found myself hungry to want to understand more about how you were thinking about the power of love and how central it was to spirituality.

Rainn Wilson

Yeah, yeah. I'm so glad you're able to take a joke. So (Vivek laughs) people ask me this a lot like, "How do you know that there's a God," or, "I need proof that there's a God." And the proof to me is that I know that I love. You can show me brain scans of how love works, you know, and neurons firing and electrochemical responses in my brain, and that's all fine. But I know that love is more than just electrochemical responses in the brain. When I held my infant son, who was minutes old, in a hospital in Van Nuys at five in the morning when he had almost died from a placental abruption in, you know, an ambulance, and blood in the middle of the night, and the emotion that I felt was so vast, it was an ocean of love and gratitude. And in that experience, I know God, I know Brahman, I know the ultimate reality. No one can kind of convince me that love is only a biochemical response to preserving the species. I know that it's something greater than that 'cause I've had that experience in my bones, and that's what a God experience can be. And when you talk, when you read "The Great Mystics" and they've had great mystical experiences around connecting with the divine, it is synonymous with those great kind of love moments that we have, whether it's getting married or even the love moment in losing someone and someone dying and the love-grief experience that's in one's chest and lungs and heart and guts. So I know the divine through knowing these things. I know the divine through knowing beauty. And this is something I wasn't able to do as a young man, and I wish that I had been more able to do it. But I meditate outside this window right here, on my meditation bench every morning. Our yard is chock a block with hummingbirds. And the flowers and the hummingbirds are so achingly beautiful, especially when the Los Angeles light is streaming through. In that beauty, I taste the divine. So for me, separating God from any kind of man figure, I call him in my book, I have a chapter on God called The Notorious G-O-D, and separating any kind of God from any kind of like beingness, or I call him sky daddy, that there's no sky daddy, but connecting through love and beauty, through truth, through music and art, that's another way that I experience the divine impulse. So then if that's true, you're talking about The Beatles' "All You need Is Love" and you're talking about the foundation of every religious faith. It's very easy, and people are quick to point out the differences in the world's great faith traditions. But there are, I have a chapter on the universal building blocks of all the different faith traditions. Love, you know, cosmic love, love overall, you know, just the biggest possible love, with a capital L, that you can imagine is at the core of every religious faith. It's what binds us together. It's what allows compassion. And it's what prompts us to action, to help the disadvantaged and to heal the earth. So part of this mental health epidemic is our disconnection from love itself. And love, you can find it alone on a bench, but you find it mostly in community and in building community and in family, and not only our personal family, but expanding our concept of family to be ever-widening.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Gosh, that's so beautifully put. Rainn, what do you think holds us back in our day-to-day lives from connecting with and leading with love?

Rainn Wilson

That's a great question. Can I bounce that back to you? I mean, I think one thing that, I think distraction is one small part of the puzzle. If you look at kind of like a pie chart of like what holds us back from real love, I think that constant distraction, phones, emails, texts, video games, screens, busy lives, workaholism, that keeps us from love certainly. That's one aspect. I think that social media has a number of very damning and unhealthy aspects to it. I'm sure you've studied the work of Dr. Jonathan Haidt and his current work and studies in that field, and I'm very excited for his upcoming books on that topic. But one of the things that I think is most dangerous about social media is that it creates fake community. It's a false community. You post something and there's hearts, you know, and little hearts are floating up and you kinda feel good like, "Oh, those hearts are so nice. I'm getting a dopamine rush from those hearts," and, "Oh, my friends liked it," and, "Oh, I have 137 Facebook friends," or Instagram pals or followers or whatever, but they're not really a community. They're not really your friends. They're not calling you and saying, "Hey, how are you," or, "How are you feeling? It's Father's Day and I know your father passed away a few years back. How are you feeling today?" Like, that's not happening on social media. So it's a fake and false community, I think that also keeps us from love. But let me throw it to you. What do you think keeps us?

Dr. Vivek Murthy

No, I think you raised a lot of really important points. And I think also contributing to this is that we don't actually talk about love very often. It's almost like, especially if you're a guy, you know, we don't use that word very often. We somehow don't see it as synonymous with strength, which I think it actually is. We see it as somehow soft, somehow maybe weak. So I think that actually prevents us from engaging, like, on the topic. I think the other thing is, when I think about role models for kids in particular like, "Who are their role models? What are they being asked to chase," if you will. It's usually people who are rich, or who are powerful, or who are famous in some way. It's not often enough people who have loved greatly and who have sacrificed a lot for love. So I think that there's a challenge there and I don't think that we're lifting up love and the role models that we hold up for our kids. And then lastly, I'll just say that, among the many other things, is I think there are a lot of people who recognize the value of love in their own lives but are maybe fearful of expressing that love because they're worried it may not be reciprocated, that people who have gone through trauma like in their own lives and may have trouble expressing that love or trouble believing that other people are loving and nurturing toward them, and that might be for good reason. They may have gone through some really difficult experiences. But I think all of these hold us back from being able to love, not only as something that we want to get from others, but something that we are capable of giving to others as well. And I think it's both in the giving and the receiving of love that we find our bliss and that we find happiness. And I've often thought those moments, Rainn, when I've gotten the thing I was chasing, and then after a few moments have felt that happiness, you know, quickly away. I've often thought in those moments, "Gosh, what am I looking for?" And of all the different things I have considered over the 45 years that I've been alive, the thing that I always come back to, that always feels good is love in the context of relationships, right? It's like when I feel love toward, you know, and I'm person of faith as well, and so when I think about the love I feel, when I think about my mother and my father and my wife and my kids, and especially my sister, my brother-in-law, when I think about the love I feel toward God and the love I feel from God, like these are the moments that I feel truly and unequivocally good. Like, it's an unqualified happiness. Whereas, so many times when I get something that I've been chasing, that happiness is qualified, it's limited, and it doesn't last very long.

Rainn Wilson

That's very well said. That's really beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Oh, thank you. There is, you know, not to quote you too much, but I must say there's one other thing that you quoted from the Baha'i teachings which really struck a chord within me 'cause I've been thinking a lot, Rainn, about, especially, I think, this is in part and form of a dad of two small kids, but I'm thinking about the world that I wanna build for, and contribute to building for my kids, for all of our kids. And part of me thinks that a lot of, whether or not that world comes to pass, a world where people are truly kind to each other, where we look out for each other, where we recognize that we can go farther if we stick together and support one another, a lot of that really depends on the sort of core values that people choose to shape their lives with and shape our public institutions and our policies and everything around. And there's this quote that you shared from the Baha'i teaching that says, "Let your heart burn with loving kindness for those who cross your path." I'm gonna read it again 'cause I found it so powerful. "Let your heart burn with loving kindness for those who cross your path." What would the world look like, Rainn, if we actually lived like that? And what's your sense of how we move in that direction? 'Cause that's the world that I want to live in, that I want my kids to live in, where we can in fact allow our hearts to burn with that loving kindness for all who cross our path, not just the people we already know and love, but for all people.

Rainn Wilson

What a beautiful question. Thanks for bringing it back to that quote. That's one of the foundational quotes of the Baha'i teachings. Let me bring your attention to the phrase "loving kindness" because that's a little bit different than love and it's a little bit different than kindness. And that phrase, that idea of loving kindness, is, in every spiritual tradition, every religious tradition, you can find a word that means the equivalent of loving kindness. I think going back to the word love, too, I talk about it in my book about how, you know, the Native Inuits have like 19 words for snow and in Sanskrit there's like 20 different words for love and in America there's one love like, "I love this sandwich," you know, "I love skateboarding." (Vivek laughs) "I love my cousin Zack." Like, it's all kind of this equivalent, and it's kind of a shame that there's this one idea of love, you know. In Greek, there was philia, which is friendship, love, and then what's the one with romantic love? Just more, I'm blanking.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

My Greek is not-

Rainn Wilson

But then there's agape, which is kind of a higher love, right, and that's similar to loving kindness. But loving kindness is both a feeling and an action, right? 'Cause it's loving kindness like, "I'm going to be kind to them." I'm not only just gonna love them in my heart, that love is going to affect my action to them. So let your heart burn with loving kindness. Don't let it, like, flirt around your heart, or flit around your heart, or let it, you know, tickle your heart. Like, let it burn with loving kindness for those who may cross your path. And again, that's not just for your family. Don't let your heart burn with loving kindness for those you're closest to or those you're most like, but those who cross your path. That's what we're striving for. That's what every spiritual and religious tradition encourages us toward. And we're in a world where, I'm gonna just digress and talk a little bit about religion because I think religion gets a bad rap, you know. In Western civilization, we've kind of jettisoned religion, at least in the kind of secular city world where I live like Los Angeles, and certainly in Western Europe, and for very good reasons, you know. The violence perpetrated in the name of these loving religions and a loving God as some of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. But, at their hearts, religions give us community, they give us transcendence, they give us an idea of altruistic service to others, and sacrificed to one's own comfort and time, and a kind of like grassroots community and inclusiveness. There's a lot of things that, by jettisoning religion itself, we have set ourselves up for the mental health crisis the way that we have it. Now, I'm not advocating that people need to run out and join, become Hindus or Baha'is or Christians right now, that's not what I'm saying. But I do think this is part of the conversation that we're not having. With the collapse of religions has been this upswing in the mental health crisis. Is there a correlation there? I think there is. Again, in that pie graph, at some percentage, I don't know if it's 2% of the puzzle or 17% of the puzzle, but at some percentage of the puzzle that we used to connect from our churches and our faith communities, and we do so less and less these days. So I know you had asked me about, you know, enacting loving kindness in our lives and you certainly don't need to belong to a faith community to do that. There are great spiritual, contemporary spiritual teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, God rest his soul, who just recently passed away, he's one of my heroes. He's the wisest of them all, I think. And Eckhart Tolle and Bishop Desmond Tutu, there's so many great, you know, going back to Martin Luther King, there's so many that lived a life of burning with loving kindness to those that may cross their path. But I will switch directions a little bit as well and say that none of this means anything unless there's action, you know. Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, says, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." Let deeds, not words, be your adorning. You've gotta do something about it if you feel that love. It's not enough to kind of sit in your yoga class and feel love for 15 minutes and then go be a jerk, you know, the rest of the day. (Rainn chuckles) (Vivek chuckles) But there are ways to find inspiration from, you know, going to the Bible, to the Dhammapada of the Buddha, or to contemporary spiritual teachers. But it's a challenge for all of us to align ourselves every morning, and that's why a meditation practice for me is so important, and a prayer practice, a prayerfulness practice that goes hand in hand with it to allow me to try and live my life with a slightly larger modicum of loving kindness as I go through my day.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

That's beautiful. And that practice that you'd mentioned earlier, that you have a daily meditation practice and that you do on your porch with the hummingbirds, is that the practice that you lean on to help center you during challenging times?

Rainn Wilson

It's a practice that I lean on on a daily basis. I wish that I had the luxury of only leaning on it during challenging times. But for me, with the extent of my anxiety disorder, the way that I can be wired easily for pessimism, for envy, for an essential feeling of like, "I'm not enoughness," I need a prayer and meditation practice as well as journaling, sometimes cold plunges exercise, keeping me in my body, I need this on a daily basis to keep me, it doesn't make me particularly spiritual or great or wise or arrived in any way, shape or form, I am a very flawed practitioner, but it keeps me grounded and centered enough. It keeps my sails filled with the right air.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Can I just tell you how I love how honest you are, seriously just about how you're feeling and what you're dealing with? Like just what you mentioned there, like having to manage your own tendency toward anxiety and toward pessimism or toward envy, like, I suspect a lot of people who feel that would never say that or never admit to that. Like, I'll just say, I am somebody who feels like I, you know, I've had those tendencies and have those tendencies to some extent, too. People look at me and think I'm optimistic all the time, but that's because I have had to try to manage this tendency toward pessimism and toward worry that I still grapple with, you know, today. The fact that you talk so openly about it, I think, is very powerful and it gives the rest of us, I think, permission and I think encouragement to be as open. So I just wanna appreciate you for that.

Rainn Wilson

Thanks for saying so. And I wanna comment on that only in that people say this a lot, they're like, "Wow, you're so brutally honest and you're so vulnerable about your struggles," and they seem genuinely surprised and I don't understand it, I think. I feel like, maybe it's just because I've been in therapy for like 20 years, so I'm just used to every week just talking about my failings and my struggles and my weaknesses, and I talk about it with friends of mine. And I'm not trying to like ring my own bell here, but I think that it's the only way we learn and grow, is by, you know, risking something and being vulnerable and talking about our issues and our challenges.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Yes, no, I couldn't agree more. And my hope is that more and more people over time will see it as you do, which is not something anomalous or strange, but just as a normal human being that are being open and vulnerable with one another. I wanna pivot for a moment, Rainn, just talking about something you've been doing more recently, which is your new travel series "Geography of Bliss", which I find fascinating. We've been talking a lot about what it takes to build a life where you're truly happy and fulfilled, and you've been traveling the world trying to understand what exactly creates happiness in people's lives. I was wondering if you could share with us a little bit about what you're learning and if there are any stories that you've had or that stick in your mind from your journey. We'd love to hear any of 'em.

Rainn Wilson

Thank you so much. Yeah, "The Geography of Bliss" is streaming now on Peacock, also home of "The Office", by the way, and it was such a pleasure to shoot this season. I mean, you talk about "The Office being a great job, but getting paid to travel the world and to talk to people about happiness, and there's a lot of celebrities traveling the world and sampling delicious pasta and that's fine, but, you know, trying to dig in to what keeps us happy and connected and gives our lives meaning, it was profound. It was profound experiences that I got to have in Iceland, in Bulgaria, in Ghana, West Africa, and in Thailand. And I guess some highlights were this beautiful Buddhist monk in Thailand that I got to meet, and bathing elephants in Thailand, picking cocoa beans at a cocoa bean farm way off in the jungles of Ghana. There were so many wonderful lessons I learned along the way, you know. Iceland is one of the happiest places on earth. It also is one of the places where they take the most antidepressants, so it's kind of hard to, that's an interesting, you know, that's an interesting conundrum to puzzle through. But one of the things about Iceland that I just love is that the Icelanders passionately love their island. They love the glaciers, and the mountains, and the beauty, and the waterfalls, and the northern lights, and the cold, and the challenges of the environment, and the fact that their ancestors came, you know, over a thousand years ago and eked out a living there. And there's such a connection to the earth that is so powerful. It's rarely experienced in the western world in that way. It's probably experienced a lot more among Indigenous cultures where the earth becomes sacred, and that's one thing that we're so disconnected from in the United States. But putting all that stuff aside, and I had incredible adventures on the show, what it all comes down to is what we've been talking about, it comes down to community. Happiness for humanity is found in relation to others. It's found in connection, and community, and the loving bonds that, yeah, rise up when you are in a connected community. And that's it. And that's one of the reasons that COVID just really was such a gut punch and so devastating was it, you know, it upended a lot of community and negated it.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Yeah, and that is such a powerful lesson to draw from all these travels. And it stacks up with a lot of the research that we have been calling through and the recent advisory that I issued from the Surgeon General's Office around the epidemic of loneliness and isolation we're experiencing and how central that is to our happiness and fulfillment. But, Rainn, when you think about that lesson of how central our relationships and community are, like I know that in my own life I've had a hard time sometimes operationalizing that and actually building a life that's really centered around people. You know, sometimes I think I'm doing it and then I realize, you know what, I'm actually kind of still prioritizing work again or I'm letting my relationship slide or not calling back those friends, you know, for weeks and weeks and months and months, who I'm really close to. How have you gone about trying to prioritize people and community in your life?

Rainn Wilson

Well, it's a challenge for me as well. You know, growing up an anxious, kinda alienated, lonely kid, sometimes I have a tendency to isolate. But when I got back from shooting "The Geography of Bliss", I really was like, "You know, Rainn, you need to lean in to your communities." And I have several communities. I have a 12-step recovery community that I rely on. I have my family community that I love and rely on and try and stay connected to even though we live in a lot of different places. I have my Baha'i Faith community here in the small town in California that I live in that's outside of Los Angeles, in the area, the county around, and staying connected to them and working in service with them. And it's as simple as even like this little rinky-dink tennis club that I joined down the street and, you know, I joined a tennis league and I compete in these USTA matches. I'm not very good, but I'll still kick your butt. And- (Vivek chuckles)

Dr. Vivek Murthy

You probably would. If you want ego boost, we should play sometime then you'll feel pretty good about yourself. (chuckles)

Rainn Wilson

But even, you know, connecting with the guys at the tennis club and the camaraderie there. It's in those connections that we thrive and that we find the most meaning and the most joy. And it's one of the things in "Soul Boom" I talk about towards the end of the book because what is the spiritual revolution that I'm talking about? I think too many people think of spirituality as either a path that they take to give them increased tranquility and solace, like a yoga class and a meditation practice and, you know, prayer beads and incense or something like that, there's nothing wrong with any of that, but to too many people that's where spirituality stops. But there's another path for spirituality and that is in giving back to humanity and serving what the world needs. And these are what the great teachers did. You know, this is what the Buddha did, this is what Jesus did, this is what Baha'u'llah did. And building community at the grassroots is something that is a spiritual practice, being of service, serving the poor, acts of charity, and altruism. And it doesn't have to be on some grand scale. It's not just writing a check. But one of the precepts that I fire up later on in my book is like we are in a culture of protest. Our culture is all about protesting. Like injustice, "Oh, here's this injustice," "Oh, that's terrible," and, "Oh, here's this horrible thing that happened here." "Oh, that's terrible." And there was a chemical spill here. "Oh, that's terrible." But we're not actively working to make the world better by and large. So we need to move past protest. Protest has its place and is important, but we need to move past protest. And we talked about living in loving kindness, where that actuates service and coalition building and community and connection. And that's other aspect of spirituality and why we need a spiritual revolution and the direction that a spiritual revolution can, should, and will, of necessity, take.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

So, Rainn, if there is one thing that you want people to remember from this conversation about how to engineer that spiritual revolution that you talk about, how to create the kind of world where we can exist in loving kindness with each other and in community with one another, like what would it be?

Rainn Wilson

Thich Nhat Hanh said, "The only way out is in." And I think that our practice, our daily practice, meditation, prayer, journaling, connection with nature, whatever that might be, is there to charge our batteries so that we can give more and serve more. And in the giving and the serving, our batteries are recharged anew. And this goes directly into the mental health epidemic and its issues, which is we heart center ourselves, we connect with the great divine, cosmic juice of life, and then we give; and in that giving we're fed, our souls are fed even more. So there's a yin and a yang dance between those two elements. And I would just encourage listeners, young people, sufferers, to engage in that kind of a spiritual practice.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Oh, I love that, Rainn. And at a time where we are, just dealing with such a profound mental health crisis in our country, particularly one that's affecting young people, I think the core pieces you're talking about here around finding simple ways to serve one another, to be in relationship and community with one another, to give and receive love, these stand as small acts that can have a really powerful effect on how we feel and how the people around us feel. So there's a lot of wisdom in what you're saying and even more in your book, "Soul Boom", which I hope a lot of folks are getting in and reading. As we wrap, Rainn, I wanna ask you maybe one fun question, which is I heard that you have some very interesting pets at home (chuckles) and I was wondering if you could tell us about them.

Rainn Wilson

Yes, well, part of my bliss, and my wife, Holiday Reinhorn, her bliss, is having lots of animals, rescue animals. We have two rescue pit bulls. We always have two pit bulls. We've had 'em ever since we've been together for 30 years. And we have rescue Guinea pigs. I love Guinea pigs. I think they're just delightful little creatures. They're so mysterious. And then down below, out this way, we have two pigs, Vietnamese potbellied pigs, the Baron von Snortington, who we call Snorty, (Vivek laughs) and Amy is the other pig, Amy. And then we have a peafowl, a pea hen, a female peacock, and she's best friends with Amy the pig and they actually take naps together. There's really not much cuter-

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Oh wow!

Rainn Wilson

than a little pot-bellied pig and a female peacock taking a nap together in the sun. But, and then outside of our little house here, my wife has a couple horses and then we have a donkey named Chili Beans and we have a zonkey named Derek, and he is a zebra-donkey hybrid.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Oh my gosh. A zonkey. I don't think I've ever heard of this before.

Rainn Wilson

So a zebra-donkey hybrid. Yes, yes.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

So what does zonkey look like?

Rainn Wilson

A zonkey looks like a donkey with zebra legs essentially.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Uh-huh.

Rainn Wilson

He's got a lot of personality. They're very feisty because they're half kind of wild animal. It's a lot of work to take care of a zonkey. I would not recommend everyone getting a backyard zonkey. (Rainn chuckles) But he's delightful and he likes his ears scratched. (Vivek chuckles)

Dr. Vivek Murthy

I mean, I don't know how you're here talking to me. It feels like a full-time job taking care of all the animals that you and your wife have, between the two of you.

Rainn Wilson

I let her handle that, the pig slop. (chuckles) (Vivek chuckles)

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, I'm so glad that we were able to have this conversation today. And I just wanna know, final question, do you feel hopeful about the future? Do you feel hopeful that we can create the kind of world that you and I are talking about?

Rainn Wilson

I do feel hopeful, Vivek. I feel hopeful that humanity can rise to the challenge. We see this in, you know, after 9/11. The way community was created during the early months of COVID when we were banging pots and pans from the windows and thanking our front line workers and building bonds of love and community. When we rise to the challenge, humanity has big hearts and a lot of moxie, and I believe in us. There may need to be a lot of suffering along the way, and that's okay, that might need to happen. It happened with me personally, and it might need to happen to us collectively and hopefully we just continue to mature.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Well, that's beautifully said. And I share your optimism that if history's any guide, that we have it within us to come together and to overcome a lot of the pain that we're feeling collectively, even though it feels like we're so often alone. So, Rainn, thank you for everything you're doing to drive forward this conversation and what the world could look like and on the spiritual revolution that you so beautifully describe in your book. I'm just grateful to have spent this time together and to know you. And can't wait to hear about all the exciting travels that you go on in terms of new places you visit around the world, but hopefully there are more and more people who will hear your beautiful and timely message about living a life of loving kindness, where we support one another and a life of service and community. So thank you so much-

Rainn Wilson

Thank you, doctor. Thank you. And I have your contact information so the next time I have any kind of like cyst or pain in my side or whatever, I'm gonna be calling you no matter what the time and just be like, "Can I put you on Facetime? Can I just show you this thing that's growing on me," and so that I can get feedback.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

For you, Rainn, anytime. Just give me a call. (laughs)

Rainn Wilson

Thank you, doctor.

Dr. Vivek Murthy
Vivek

Thanks for joining this conversation with Rainn Wilson. Join us for the next episode of "House Calls with Dr. Vivek Murthy." Wishing you all health and happiness. (lively jazz music fades)