Naval Ravikant on Happiness Hacks and the 5 Chimps Theory (#136)

Naval Ravikant on the Tim Ferriss Show
Naval Ravikant By Kris Krüg | CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“I actually think happiness is the absence of suffering. It comes from peace. That comes from being careful about desire, judgment, and reaction.” – Naval Ravikant

When a guest is nominated for “Podcast of the Year,” that’s a good reason to bring them back for more. That’s why Naval Ravikant (@naval) is here for round two, and this time, he’s answering your most-requested questions. For those of you who missed his first episode, Naval is the CEO and a co-founder of AngelList. He has invested in more than 100 companies, including many “unicorn” mega-successes.  He is the person I call most for start-up advice.

Most important, he has developed a diverse set of skills and rules-of-thumb that can applied nearly everywhere . Even if you have no interest in startups or investing, this is well worth your time. In this episode, Naval answers your top-10 questions from Reddit, including such topics as:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Most-recommended books
  • Happiness hacks
  • Conflict resolution
  • Start-up tips
  • And much, much more…


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#136: Naval Ravikant on Happiness Hacks and The 5 Chimps Theory

Want to hear another podcast from a world-class philosopher/entrepreneur? — Listen to my conversation with Derek Sivers, who sold a company for $28 million and gave all of it to music education. In this episode, we discuss developing confidence, finding happiness, and saying “no” to damaging trappings and temptations (stream below or right-click here to download):

Naval Ravikant on Happiness Hacks and the 5 Chimps Theory (#136)

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: In terms of making or saving money, what have been your most valuable lessons learned? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • Thoughts on the AI industry [6:41]
  • The future of work [9:26]
  • An overview of how Naval would change the education system [14:51]
  • How Naval Ravikant manages conflict and anger [22:05]
  • What insight about life seems obvious to you but not to others [23:47]
  • The books on Naval Ravikant’s Kindle [29:46]
  • What do you do on a regular basis to make your life more efficient? [38:43]
  • More book recommendations [40:55]
  • Money making questions and startup success [43:08]
  • Advice for ambitious 18-year-olds who want to be successful in startups and investing [46:34]
  • Advice for a talented software engineer [48:52]
  • Advice for engineers seeking US visas [51:02]
  • How do you protect your own time while not offending people or damaging relationships [51:45]
  • The best lesson learned from investing [57:25]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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64 Replies to “Naval Ravikant on Happiness Hacks and the 5 Chimps Theory (#136)”

  1. Risk of sound masochistic here, however I disagree with happiness being the absence of suffering, or at the least the quote in isolation paints an overly one-sided view of suffering. Suffering is part of every human life, and it’s through suffering we often find meaning. Viktor Frankl writes about this to length. I think we would be in a better place as a society if it was less taboo to discuss suffering.

    1. Maybe meaning and hapiness are two different things? Maybe external “suffering” and suffering internally are two different things? ….”always look at the bright side of death”? 😉

    2. Yeah… but Naval thinks he knows everything. Like when he used to say ‘desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy’ or something. He’s since changed that statement to ‘you need to be careful about your desires’. He’s just quoting and re-hashing old eastern spiritual literature… now he’s saying happiness is the absence of suffering. FFS…!!!!

      1. But there is a lot to that “old eastern spiritual literature”, if you are open to its lessons. There are good reasons the message it contains has borne repeating for the past two-thousand years.

  2. Inspiring thoughts from Naval here. I like how he places emphasis on cultivating our internal lives – and that worldly success doesn’t bring an end to suffering.

    Thoughts are always nagging us. Yet Krishnamurti often said we need inner silence to experience true joy and beauty. Naval defines happiness as a lack of suffering – and though this seems simple – I think it’s an important insight. It’s peaceful mental silence that we all yearn for.

  3. The money question: I like to shop, not everything but pretty expensive quality stuff. That way I don’t save very much, that’s very frustrating because I know how well it could work out if I saved and invested. Maybe the answer is to do both shopping and saving…and be happy without the bad conscience

  4. I don’t like the comment about eliminating history and language, but at the same time stresses older written material – in order to balance time (kind of a self contradiction) … who makes the choice ? … language learning is a true growth opportunity, since it really exposes a person to culture, because language is not definable without some understanding of the underlying culture.

  5. The first comment on the podcasts, “At this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start to shake…,” I always thought was a comment from someone interviewed. Just watched the Bourne Identity and heard it!! Was very surprised and excited to hear the the comment and how Jason used it. Cool.

    I enjoy the podcasts very much. You have a unique interview style that allows us to know more about the persons being interviewed. Thank you. You are my companion at the gym.

  6. From the previous interview with Naval, I appreciated his simple advice about skimming books. I’ve always had the self imposed pressure to read in a linear way through to the end. Even if I found it boring! Great advice that’s already made such a difference. Very helpful and interesting, thanks for sharing!

    1. Yeah I completely agree! I am so overly interested in books that I compulsively borrow and buy them to find myself not linearly interested in them!

      [Moderator: link removed}

  7. This is one of the best podcast episodes yet – Naval was able to so lightly speak about the deepest themes. This is definitely one I’ll have to relisten to multiple times.

  8. Uncle Naval absolutely MURDERING the podcast again!!!… with thoughtfulness, understanding and compassion.

    Thank you again for sharing your beautifully, brilliant brain with us.


    PS suggestion not for a book but podcast – Joe Rogan Experience interview with Randall Carlson ep 501 & 606 about the history of the earth

  9. When I hear anything about how short life is, or about multiverses, I get angry and sad for about 5 minutes. Tim, or anyone reading, have you found anything (books, mindsets, etc.) that can prevent this thought process? This is coming from someone who has never been depressed/sad for more than 1 day (therefore never clinically depressed or even close to it), and overall a grounded and happy person.

    1. Why specifically do you think you become angry/sad?

      I think I can relate. Tim recommends stoic writers pretty often, and they have some good things to say about stuff like this. It could be helpful to read Seneca and/or Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Both authors reflect on the pointlessness of stressing/worrying about things outside your control. Focus on what you can change instead; anything else is a waste of energy and time. (Of course this is easy to say, harder to implement… but personally Seneca has helped me stop worrying about the million things in life that one could worry about, and has helped me instead redirect my energy to focus on what I can impact.)

      There are a number of topics nowadays that really touch at the foundation of reality as we know it. A lot of theoretical physics (e.g. string theory, multiverse theories, various other quantum physics topics), as well as studying the path we’re on with AI (artificial intelligence), (and others), are incredibly fascinating and frightening, as they may someday, in ways completely unknown to us (we honestly don’t know what will happen!!), change life and existence as we know it. Humans prefer certainty, and these topics are on the completely other end of the spectrum.

      Hope this helps.

    2. I used to think about eternity when I was a child, and the thought of it felt to me like falling into an unending abyss of nothing – it really frightened me (full disclosure: I’m an INFJ – so it’s how we roll, even as kids). I felt fear, rather than anger or sadness. But to answer your question, without being flip, there isn’t really a book I’ve read that alleviated the problem. I decided to believe in God, with or without evidence, about 5 or 6 years ago. I forget when it was. I decided to live/believe as if God exists, and if it turned out He didn’t exist, it would not be my fault for not trying. About 3 or 4 months after I made that decision, I had a dream/vision, in which Jesus appeared to me and showed me the day of my funeral, when he would be there, standing next to my casket and resurrected me into a new body. Whether you believe dreams are undigested pizza, or actual spiritual information being given to you, for myself I felt the dream was the most real I’ve ever had. It had structure (3 part) and thematic continuity, and even a kind of parable at the end so…. I just accept it. I no longer fear this idea of “eternal”. I felt really safe with him. If religion or Christianity in particular offends you, then I don’t really know what to tell you. I did an experiment, and it worked for me. That sort of falling into a dizzying abyss feeling just left. I feel that God is sort of in the position of the character of Nolan in “Interstellar” – existing at all moments in time at once, and trying to reach through to us at different moments in our lives to communicate with us and give us the key to achieve that breakthrough so we can live without fear. But we are linear beings trapped in linear time, so we get angry at our limited situation, and can’t understand that He exists in kairos time, but is not indifferent to us. It’s like He’s the one who is three dimensional, and we live in 2 dimensional Flatland, basically.

      1. I’ve been also trying to explain to people with the Flatland analogy… only met with confusion.

        Though I will say God is probably infinitely higher dimensional being to us, at a level we can’t comprehend. Chris Langan (highest tested IQ in the world) talks about God here: [Moderator: link to YouTube video “Chris Langan 2018 “God exists” removed.]

  10. Naval talks like a new age sage and kills it every time with his thoughtful answers.

    ‘Happiness is a choice’ is what I keep telling my close ones and feels good to know there are successful people out there who feel the same.

  11. In terms of saving money, I have started to realize how little money actually matters … after a point. If you have built your life around how much you (continue) to earn, you become wrapped in a life seeking to make more, and buy more.

    However, if you live a life where you are seeking to LIVE first, and earn second … and base your life around that, you end up with a very different life. For myself, and my family, everyday we are striving to make due with a little less on a daily basis, work to build passive income that is steady, build a thriving business, and incorporate more time with family and friends. Not trading dollars for time.

  12. Tim,

    With respect to money, I think a great guest would be Mr. Money Mustache. I’m sure there is overlap in his readership and your listeners, but I think your long-form podcast is a great venue for his ideas to be discussed. Too often people learn of him from articles that do not give proper attention to his ideas and then –as he says–the complainypants ride in. The podcast would allow people to truly understand what his philosophy of personal finance is about and share it with a ton of people.

  13. What are the best long-term investments for planning for my children’s college? I feel like investing is like gambling, and I hate to gamble because I HATE losing money…

  14. Well it couldn’t be more obvious that Naval didn’t really read/understand The Power of Habit, which teaches us that habits are never really broken – only modified. The best way to “break” a habit, Duhigg says [according to science], is to modify the routine and keep the cue and reward the same.

    I would also like to comment on Naval’s assertion that happiness is a skill one can hone, and with practice one can control one’s own happiness. As Naval said, this definitely only applies to the mentally healthy. It would be deceiving and frustrating to try to convince people who suffer from depression that they simply need to ‘try harder’ to be happy. It’s a whole different beast.

  15. Phenomenal podcast. Great insight with life-changing challenges and explained in a way to inspire balance in life with the push for that extra effort you need to succeed. Anything from Mr. Ravikant is worthy of listening. Great job Tim, as always job well done.

  16. naval, thanks for ideaing that we are not chained to reading every word – cover to cover – of a book…was a weight on me to do….since i have given myself permission to read freely what passages interest me, a yoke has been lifted…freedom is good thing…warmly, jeffrey murphy

  17. Id also love hear from your most savvy and successful friends about what they do and avoid with welath preservation in mind.

    Thanks Tim


  18. Nice piece of advice. We need to separate pleasure from happiness. Most of the time what we are running after ignoring our health, family and sometimes moral values is just pleasure which is temporary. We should stop judging other people doing so just makes people drift away from us and makes us realise what we are missing too. This can lead to suffering. We should control our desires, reactions and learn that we are not there to judge people or situation but just to spend quality time that we will remember in future and fell happy about it.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  19. Was not paying close enough attention when you told how to recommend a book to you but have you read The Orphanmaster’s Son by Adam Johnson?

  20. fantastic podcast episode, I think it has been my favorite so far! Naval and Tim, still wondering what was the breathing/movement workout with the light weights that was mentioned in Naval’s earlier episode. was hoping you would touch on it this time!

  21. Pretty myopic when talking about finding the spouse that you want to spend 24/7 with to ensure that they’re of the ‘opposite sex’.

  22. I find that keeping busy doing inexpensive things reduces the time and energy that can be spent on other, more expensive pastimes. For example, filling my calendar with fun activities such as going upstream through a cave, going thrift shopping, arranging movie nights in the home, visiting the beach, in short, living a rich, full, and busy life, is actually the best way to avoid spending money.

    Not going to lie; the 4 hour body diet and using cheat days to learn how to cook fantastic foods is actually really helpful too. It’s been a big contributor to saving on eating out at restaurants etc.

  23. The most amazing book I read about happiness and mindfulness I just finished: “Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior” – Richard O’Connor

    Found it by browsing through a book store in Cebu City (Philippines) in search of a good read, and I was the one book I really needed at the moment. Mindfulness Meditation is nice but this book explains in detail for what impulses, attitudes, excuses and self-destructive to look for when being mindful and finding out which p down emotions are responsible. I think for many people happiness is a question of not beating themselves up for not being perfect and not being happy. Beating yourself up for not being happy or for self destructive behavior makes you feel worse and you stay in the spiral. You feel demotivated and bad, so you look for a quick release which usually is a self defeating behavior like procrastination, alcohol or others. Then you beat yourself up again …

  24. There are a number of topics nowadays that really touch at the foundation of reality as we know it.Humans prefer certainty, and these topics are on the completely other end of the spectrum. I always tell myself happiness is a choice which is true but at times there is only so much you can do.The podcast would allow people to truly understand what his philosophy of personal finance is about.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  25. Along with Naval’s first episode, this too was easily one of my favorites!

    Found the comments on conflict/anger and life insights to be particularly poignant.

    Thank you Naval!

  26. Naval,

    The novel Steppenwolf describes your thoughts regarding the insignificance of our existence. When I was 16 years old, this idea permeated in my brain constantly. The concept became so overwhelming that I had a moment of crisis. Why bother with this life when it is a speck in the timeline of the universe. Nothing that you do lasts or is meaningful in the long run of billions of years (even hundred of years). So I thought why continue? In the end, I made a bargain with myself and the absurd situation I found myself to be in. I reasoned that I would be alive for 70 years and dead for billions. May as well play out these 70 years, try and have fun, not take things seriously and then be gone. Why rush the be gone. Later, in my 20s I read Steppenwolf which I believe spells out this strategy. You seem to have this same philosophy but I have a question. Even when I am trying to enjoy myself, be in the moment, the above thoughts of my insignificance pops in my head and ruins the moment depressing me. You seem to have overcome this and I don’t understand how. When one truly believes the above, and everyday and hour it enters your thoughts, everything one does and feels seems unimportant and fake. Do you not feel this way? You seem to like honesty and truth, so how do you deceive yourself?

  27. Hey Tim, it will be great if you could also share your podcasts on Soundcloud. So much easier to follow and save for later.

  28. I really like your podcasts Tim! Very informative, inspiring…usually expands my understanding and awareness. One thing I appreciated that Navel said is to give yourself time. I’m paraphrasing and sharing what “I” heard…in giving yourself time, you can explore, create — creativity can come from boredom – if you are scheduled all the time, you are just busy. LIKE THIS THOUGHT.

  29. I really liked the podcast, listened to it 3 times. I am struggling with the idea of distancing myself from the people who create conflict. I agree that they tend to sap your happiness, but I have been working under the idea that we are drawn to those people to help us to learn to rule our emotions, defend our boundaries and maybe resolve some karmic debt. So I figured, like lunges or squat presses, they suck but they make you stronger. I hate to think that they just make you miserable with no payoff.

  30. Incredible!! Best podcast I’ve maybe ever heard! Thank you Naval. I’ll be listening to this again and again. Nothing we are doing in this life is going to have an importance that is going to last too far into the future after we are gone. Make sure you live your life to the fullest today. Enjoy it. I wish Tim would normally focus more on the spiritual and fulfillment side of life with his guests. At the end of the day fulfillment is what truly matters

  31. Naval had 20-30 book recs in this podcast alone. How do you prioritize what books you read? How do you integrate that information in your life? I typically read a book and forget most of it in two weeks.

  32. Scepticism, Inc by Bo Fowler

    It was an assigned book in a Junior College Philosophy class. I have yet to re read this book. But after listening to this this podcast I am feeling compelled to do so.. But… maybe also that’s the druuuugs talkin™

  33. “I actually think happiness is the absence of suffering. It comes from peace.” – Well thank the Lord you’re hear to tell us that Naval…! I was about to start thinking that happiness comes from the increasing of suffering…! What other gems of wisdom are you offering today…?

  34. I found it fascinating to listen to this podcast so soon after Chris Sacca’s. His take on the gig economy is quite different from Naval’s, and I certainly think the more humane (and reality-based) one.

    I’m no longer surprised by Silicon Valley’s disregard for the traditional media (and uncritical view of gig life) but I think real life makes clear its virtues. Good journalism shapes history – and the journalism that does that more likely than not comes from the “media” (from the NYT + WaPo to Buzzfeed + Gawker) than from one man with a camera/Youtube/Twitter account.

  35. Tim,

    I really enjoy your show. I like best the podcasts with your buddies going way back. These dudes are the most interesting. It’s like a couple of liberal arts school grads hanging out shooting the breeze. Super smart and wide ranging.

    I hope you keep working these less well-known figures into the show, as you can feel the trust you have with your old buddies and it comes out in great, stimulating, thoughtful conversation.


  36. On the podcast ,Naval mentioned a book by an Israeli author ,i could not catch the name of the book and could not see it on the script either , anyone can help mentioning the book and its author please ?

    Thanks a lot

  37. I don’t recall if it was this podcast or a previous one where Naval solicited for people to mention the book that has most influenced their life.

    The Ancestor’s Tale, by Richard Dawkins is a beautifully crafted account of the ties that bind all life on earth, with interesting anecdotes about many modern-day lifeforms and what our common ancestors with them would have looked like. Worth a skim at least if you’re interested in evolution and what it means for us.

  38. I find Mr. Ravikant to be one of the most interesting people to listen to during interviews because of his incredibly wide knowledge, and because I really appreciate how much he emphasizes learning from reading. I also think that his philosophy about human life within the context of the span of the universe is important to keep in mind when going about one’s daily business. I have found that I can put an over-emphasis on those things that might annoy me or cause me to be caught up in negativity for a time, and yet, most of those issues that my mind becomes saddled with and my tendency to let them interfere with my general and overall happiness, are just completely meaningless in the larger framework of life.