Happiness and hedonism

As I’m about to go out to enjoy the sun-drenched Mission Bay beach that beckons from my bedroom window, I thought “hedonism” would be good to address. Along these lines, I also had an extraordinary conversation the other night with a woman who had not yet encountered the explicitly Objectivist perspective on happiness. (Btw, if any dear readers haven’t read Ayn Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, then by all means get thee to a bookstore! Minor caveat: I would recommend reading Nathaniel Branden’s Honoring The Self concurrently, for proper psychological perspective on the characterization and style elements of Rand’s novel). The extraordinary nature of our conversation stemmed from the fact that it occurred in a bar that was filled with very loud dance music and lots of alcohol-assisted merriment, and that her curiosity and engagement in such a discussion stood in stark contrast to what typically passes for conversation in most late-night establishments.

Anyway, the topic of hedonism arose on account of my statement that she ought to pursue her own selfish interests, and that by doing so, happiness can be achieved. At first glance, this sounds awfully similar to hedonism, which is defined as the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. By the way, are not the people in dance clubs pursuing outright pleasurable activities? Indeed, it seems that many good times can be had in such places, because they oftentimes combine an intoxicating mixture (pun intended) of art and esthetics, amidst a relentlessly celebratory atmosphere. Yet I think there are two components to this experience, one stemming from the true-self and the other stemming from the false-self.

The true-self component is the authentic aspect of enjoyment, of shared experiences, of funny stories, dance moves, and all the esthetic elements of music and dress/fashion that keep so many people coming back for more. All are ostensibly looking to have a good time (however that is constituted) with people they already know or new people who are appealing. This seems all in line with pursuing one’s selfish interests, does it not?

In our conversation I of course had to qualify the nature of “selfish interests” to mean that which is rational, neither sacrificing self to others nor sacrificing others to self. Turns out, self-honesty (and by extension honesty with others) plays a major role in pursuing one’s rational self-interest. There comes a point when one asks, “Is this what happiness is really about?” Most participants in the bar scene seem to take the present context as the given, so they hardly ever get to that question (“We’re here because the clubs are where the late-night fun is!”). This is where hedonism diverges from happiness. Hedonism takes one’s feelings and the places that cater to them as the primary methods to pursue one’s bliss. Happiness takes one’s feelings as valuable indicators, to be sure, but the method concerns one’s context on Earth as a rational, conceptual being that is focused on flourishing. Reflecting on hedonism, Ayn Rand eloquently put it this way:

I am profoundly opposed to the philosophy of hedonism. Hedonism is the doctrine which holds that the good is whatever gives you pleasure and, therefore, pleasure is the standard of morality. Objectivism holds that the good must be defined by a rational standard of value, that pleasure is not a first cause, but only a consequence, that only the pleasure which proceeds from a rational value judgment can be regarded as moral, that pleasure, as such, is not a guide to action nor a standard of morality. To say that pleasure should be the standard of morality simply means that whichever values you happen to have chosen, consciously or subconsciously, rationally or irrationally, are right and moral. This means that you are to be guided by chance feelings, emotions and whims, not by your mind. My philosophy is the opposite of hedonism. I hold that one cannot achieve happiness by random, arbitrary or subjective means. One can achieve happiness only on the basis of rational values. By rational values, I do not mean anything that a man may arbitrarily or blindly declare to be rational. It is the province of morality, of the science of ethics, to define for men what is a rational standard and what are the rational values to pursue.

Playboy’s Interview with Ayn Rand,” March 1964.

So, there is an objective standard for happiness. What makes it objective is the fact of human existence on this particular planet (or wherever else we mayventure). Humans’ essential nature stems from their reasoning ability (in contrast to our rather inarticulate primate cousins). In his essay titled “A Philosophy for Living on Earth,” Peter Saint-Andre explored this topic further by quoting another passage by Rand (from a character in Atlas Shrugged):

Just as your body has two fundamental sensations, pleasure and pain, as signs of its welfare or injury, as a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death, so your consciousness has two fundamental emotions, joy and suffering, in answer to the same alternative. Your emotions are estimates of that which furthers your life or threatens it, lightning calculators of your profit or loss. You have no choice about your capacity to feel that something is good for you or evil, but what you will consider good or evil, what will give you joy or pain, what you will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on your standard of value. Emotions are inherent in your nature, but their content is dictated by your mind. (Rand 1957, 1021)

Any hedonistic behavior can be the direct result of abandoning the cognitive element (rationality) in experiencing pleasure. One drops the objective context of how happiness can be attained and maintained. This is where false-self feelings and behaviors can come to the forefront. When one doesn’t develop a healthy sense of self and objective outlook, one can try in vain to satisfy the quest for pleasurable feelings: focusing on looking good (or better than others) as the primary means of social acceptance and status; constant recreating without setting any long-term goals of achievement; engaging in superficial conversations without ever addressing the deeper philosophical concepts involved; surrounding oneself with material possessions and luxuries without having cultivated self-esteem (which requires introspection and some serious mental and behavioral work); doing or saying basically mindless or irrational things because it’s the cool thing to do (socially acceptable, or even socially encouraged and rewarded); and so on. Above all, a definite level of emotional evasion must be employed in order to continue such false-self pretenses.

Being distanced from deeper feelings is an essential element of pseudo-self-esteem. Those deeper feelings are assessments being made by one’s sage-self, that wise part of us that is connected to reason and reality. All of us have a sage-self that knows all the things we think we don’t know and can do all the things we think we can’t do (within reason and reality, of course). It’s also important to note that a fundamental aspect of the sage-self entails reconnecting with your child-self, that is, with the most curious, most adventurous, most playful, most optimistic, and most honest part of who you are.

Here is Peter’s take on the topic of hedonism, and the better approach to happiness:

In general, then, I hold that enjoying is just as much a characteristic activity and cardinal value for humans as conceptualization, self-direction, and achievement. The key to avoiding the trap of hedonism that Rand, Branden, and Mack all warn against is to avoid making joy the standard of value in ethics, while recognizing that the four cardinal goals of conceptualization, achievement, self-direction, and enjoyment must be pursued and realized in an integrated fashion. And this integration is at root metaphysical: the integration of the fundamental aspects of the individual (thought, choice, and action), and the experience of this integration as causally efficacious and valuable through states of joy, and especially the state that Rand called “metaphysical joy” or “love for existence”.[11]

So, let’s shoot for that love of existence, particularly your own love of your own existence. If others do the same, then there will be no contradiction between what is pleasurable and what is good for you and for your relationships with others.

I find the concept of metaphysical joy quite endearing. Rand wrote brilliantly on the subject of “sense of life” in her book The Romantic Manifesto. Whatever her judgments were on various works of art, many of which have been criticized for constricting the range of esthetic pleasures, it’s crucial that we align our happiness with live-giving values. That way we can avoid the hedonism trap and live extraordinary lives. Here’s to a future in which the presently extraordinary becomes the ordinary, while retaining the best within us.

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Happiness in hard economic times

This year may prove to be difficult for many, as the seeds of statism sown over the years grow into seriously poisonous foliage. Since government has a monopoly on the medium of exchange in our economy (via fiat currency and legal tender laws), it’ll be hard for anyone to escape the consequences. With that, how are we to maintain our happiness? I came across an interesting article and thought some of the ideas in it were worth addressing:

Briefing: Holding on to happiness in hard times – THE WEEK

How does money affect happiness?

There is no universal answer: A hedge fund manager and a Tibetan monk provide two very different models of satisfaction. But most experts agree that the correlation is direct—up to a point. Poor people become happier as they escape poverty, studies have shown, but once people are free from privation, the tie between money and happiness begins to fray. Wealth in America grew dramatically in the second half of the 20th century, but surveys found that Americans on average were no happier. One study found that the “happiness benefits” of money peaked at the modest income of $20,000. Middle-class and affluent people who seek more wealth are often stuck on what psychologists call a “hedonic treadmill”—a perpetual pursuit of material goods, which reduces the available time for personal relationships and yields minimal emotional rewards. The kick of owning a big house or a giant flat-screen television tends to be short-lived, as these possessions become the next, unexciting norm.

Is this indeed the case? Last week I attended a talk in La Jolla about a popular book on getting one’s financial house in order, Your Money or Your Life. I thought it offered some sound concepts regarding becoming acutely aware of, and then cutting, expenses and living a more minimal lifestyle. Here’s a thorough summary. The 9 steps to financial integrity can be downloaded and explored too. The “hedonic treadmill” mentioned above relates to feelings of fulfillment and then apathy or dissatisfaction, following from a cycle of wanting something, buying it, and then moving on to the next want.

As Your Money or Your Life keenly noted, money buys necessities, ensuring your survival. Money provides you the means to be more comfortable and to experience fulfilling things, such as vacations, nice dinners, or better work environments and better living spaces. Money can also buy you luxuries, which may become hard to distinguish from comforts after you attain a certain level of income; this of course can lead to unfulfillment and wanting more, no matter how much you’ve acquired and experienced beyond basic comforts.

The key is to realize that happiness depends on whether you feel in control of your emotional perspective, or whether you believe it’s the result of various circumstances beyond your control, which buying more things can supposedly alter. Here are a few sentence stems to ponder (btw, a 3-day stems program explains how to do them, so fee free to join the email list in the upper right sidebar) :

“Money buys happiness” to me means…

If happiness is actually my birthright…

If, once my basic needs are met, I could be happy without worrying about my future…

If I can find satisfaction in the process of being creative and achieving things…

As I reflect on the psychological traps I fall into regarding money…

One way to change my perspective on money issues might be…

I am becoming aware…

Here’s another excerpt from the article:

Then why do we pursue wealth?

In order to have a “positional” advantage over a rival, whether that be a brother-in-law, the loudmouth who lives across the street, or some imaginary “other.” Surveys have shown that most people would be happy making less money, but on one condition: that everyone else made even less. In fact, most people prefer that scenario to one in which their income rises but everyone else’s income rises more. In other words, it’s not how much we have that counts. It’s how much we have compared to how much the Joneses have. That could explain why people in more egalitarian societies generally report higher levels of satisfaction with their lives. Scandinavian countries with large social safety nets consistently score highest on the happiness scale.

Obviously, the wish for happiness egalitarianism reveals deficient self-esteem (lack of self-confidence and self-respect), something cultures throughout the world are very ‘good’ at fostering. Your own happiness has little or nothing to do with other people’s level of wealth or satisfaction. Looking to others to check your happiness level is misguided and neurotic at best and pathologically anti-social at worst–that is, when coercion (via governmental uses of force) is used to make people feel better about their lot in life by hindering others’ achievements and living at their expense.

The take-away here is to remain grounded in yourself to experience happiness on your own terms. What can you do to make your own life more fulfilling? Here’s an interesting summary paragraph from the article again:

Where does that leave us?

Even within a robust, sometimes shaky system of capitalism, psychologists believe that increased happiness is attainable. Distilled to its most basic level, positive psychology encourages people to strive for “mindfulness”—living in the moment, recognizing the beauty of nature, and appreciating the positive aspects of our lives. Research has also shown that happiness is enhanced by optimism; religious faith; acts of generosity and altruism such as community service; and work or hobbies that produce a frequent experience of “flow’’—a state of total engagement.

Being mindful, living in the moment, recognizing the beauty of nature, and appreciating the positives are indeed extremely important to being happy. Yet, the researchers then dive off the psychological cliff by offering faith (rather than reason) and community service-oriented altruism (oftentimes self-sacrificial and duty- rather than self-interest-oriented) as antidotes to being unhappy. This is equivalent to saying, “Cheer up by closing your eyes to reality, believing in things that don’t (and can’t) exist, and work on helping others (who are also unhappy) instead of yourself!” Granted, lending assistance to those less fortunate can be extremely fulfilling, but as I noted in my section on ethics in my first book, the plight of those in dire conditions is commonly perpetuated by corrupt codes of morality coupled with coercive, anti-social systems known as governments. We’d likely all be able to experience lots more flow–and wealth and opportunities–in our chosen activities if people in society respected individual rights and thus believed in mutual respect.

This brings us full circle to our present economic conditions. We all need to realize that things could be so much better if no one relied on coercion to get their way in society. Relying on coercion, be it a “stimulus package” or regulations for “helping” people, is merely a race to the moral and economic bottom. That “sometimes shaky system of capitalism” is only shaky because misguided intellectuals have built it on an unethical foundation. Grounding your happiness in your own achievements and taking responsibility for your own emotions (and accepting and working through them), rather than looking to others and deferring to the hockshops of authority, will keep you on the enlightened path.

Your happiness will then be as good as gold (the type of money we’d be using in a happy society, btw).

W

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Happiness Lost In Translation

Awhile ago, I bookmarked the following interesting article by Max Borders at Tech Central Station Daily:

TCS Daily – Happily Burying Bentham

Now, I’m all for burying Bentham, along with all the other spokesman for contradictory moral philosophies, but a few statements by Borders deserve scrutiny.

While, in identifying these correlations Crick and Koch missed the point and failed to cross the explanatory gap between the mind and the brain, at least their work can contribute something meaningful in our efforts to unravel the mysteries of consciousness.

I read Koch’s The Quest for Consciousness a few years ago, while contemplating pursuing a PhD program in either computational neurobiology or cognitive neuroscience (I decided against it, mostly due to major influences of tax money, aka stolen loot, and governmental meddling in the sciences in general and brain science in particular). Crick and Koch didn’t miss the point, for the whole point of brain research of mental events is to identify the fundamental NCC’s (neural correlates of consciousness), in order to understand how complex interactions of neurons give rise to one’s mental experiences. In short, the mind is what the brain does. Unfortunately, dualism still lingers in such notions as the “explanatory gap.”

Thus many of the best and brightest political scientists, sociologists, economists and legal scholars are channeling Bentham when they work. After all, it was Bentham who wrote that “[t]he greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.” Even beloved economists who challenge happiness researchers sometimes assume basic utilitarian premises in the process.

[snip]

Before discussing why, I should admit that it’s darn near impossible not to get pulled into the “greatest happiness” conversation from time to time — usually without realizing it. Because that’s what folks expect when they talk about policy, particularly when politics is supposed to be about the “public good.”

Those who ponder such things as the “public good” or “greatest happiness for the greatest number,”—i.e., those who attempt to take on the role of central planners by using or advocating the use of the coercive means of government to get things done—are engaging in enormous moral contradictions. Politics actually isn’t a useful or helpful enterprise for human beings; it’s purely destructive and harmful, because its means are anti-reason and anti-life. No one has the right to impose a product or service at the barrel of a gun, but this is precisely what those in government and their abettors and accessories do. Naturally, those who believe that they or others need aspects of their lives to be governed by other individuals (who call themselves “government”) will find it “darn near impossible not to get pulled into” the politics of happiness.

Here are the main points that Borders focused on in his criticisms of happiness research, much of which I can sympathize with. Yet, some essentials are missing here.

1. Happiness is radically subjective.

Is this an objective statement? After all, one has to use one’s consciousness in order to determine objective truths. Many corrupt philosophies throughout the ages have relied on people not noticing this fallacy. While the contents and processes of your consciousness are oftentimes not readily observable by others, you yourself are aware of them. In addition to pertaining to self-experience not accessible to others, subjectivity also means not taking into account all the available evidence, facts, or ideas, so that one’s context is limited, biased, or distorted. An objective assessment of happiness doesn’t necessary depend on its observations by others (who are purportedly using their own “subjective” consciousness, btw).

2. Happiness resists definition.

A concept’s definition depends on uniting the distinguishing characteristics of the mental units being integrated, while setting aside the various measurements entailed in the concept. If happiness were an undefinable concept, it would then be invalid, i.e., not able to be integrated in accordance with any particular referents in reality. Just because some people struggle with the definition of a concept doesn’t mean that the concept itself can’t be adequately defined. In a scholarly nutshell, happiness is the experience of the achievement of one’s values and virtues in accordance with an objective ethical system that’s consciously or subconsciously held (an ethics that holds your individual life and well-being as primary). Guiltless joy is another way of describing it. Living in accordance with your sage-self, or authentic self, is another. Obviously, there are many other definitions pertaining to this concept, but it’s important to focus on the essentials.

3. Happiness eludes temporality.

This much is true. Happiness is also related to context, so you can be relatively happy in a given context but happier in another context.

4. Happiness is relative and contextualized.

This is also true, and I totally agree that context must be self-determined. Happiness is self-determined, based on the thinking we have done or failed to do. Being “overloaded at work” or being “driven crazy by one’s kids,” however, demonstrates what happens when one’s perspective shifts from self-assertiveness and appreciation of others to self-doubt and irritability.

5. Happiness is not really measurable.

This really depends on what variables one is measuring. People can definitely report what’s going on in their conscious minds and even subconscious minds (with a little practice). I agree, however, that what one measures and one’s degree of success in this endeavor has nothing to offer “public policy.”

6. Happiness is immune to categories.

Aristotle’s focus on eudaemonia is an essential aspect of happiness. But to say that happiness can’t be categorized is about as incorrect as saying that it can’t be defined.

7. Happiness is irreducible.

I sense that this is another attempt for the author to promote dualism and the inaccessibility of mind from scientific scrutiny. Again, the mind is what the brain does, and the facets of our happiness can indeed be investigated and understood. Of course, this is not to say that understanding the brain in any way detracts from our experiences. Brain knowledge will never negate self-knowledge.

8. Happiness is bound by the physical body.

Certainly, a “sustained high” isn’t possible, but happiness isn’t about sustained highs, at least in the thrill-seeking sense. Clearing away contradictory beliefs and focusing on being mindful of your precious and amazing mortal life in the cosmos, regardless your circumstances, will enable a heightened level of happiness. Since your feelings are the result of subconscious assumptions and premises, such things can always be assessed and reassessed in order to best serve your life and well-being. Taking emotional “ups and downs” as the given, as inescapable and normal, runs the risk of becoming a prescription for a less self-aware and less self-actualized life, a more ordinary and less happy life.

9. Happiness is not always goodness

I generally agree with the assessment here. Most happiness researchers seem to be cultural relativists. They evidently believe that any socio-economic context may be conducive to happiness, depending on the results and interpretations of their surveys. They almost consistently avoid the vital element of striving to better one’s existence—self-actualization. Free markets and free minds are one in the same. That the world is enslaved at present reveals that we’ve got some self-actualizing to do as a species. Self-actualization entails fully individuating and fully recognizing the virtue of independence, which of course hinges on the principle of self-ownership and all it entails.

10. Happiness is resistant to aggregation.

Happiness researchers basically haven’t rid their belief systems of contradictions, so their approach will never yield essential conclusions. Instead, they’ll continue to churn out bromides about being grateful and maintaining social connections as main ways to achieving their ill-defined notions happiness. “Public policy,” no matter which direction it takes, will continue to be a disaster for human flourishing.

Happiness is a path each person pursues on his own. Our best hope is for institutions that offer opportunities to prosper, the broadest range of lifestyle choices, and toleration for individual acts of value exchange, self-creation, and personal discovery.

Now that I can wholeheartedly agree with, assuming said institutions aren’t coercive, which in this day and age isn’t the case.

Eudaemonia to you,

W

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How can I find happiness in life?

“How Can I Find Happiness In Life?” That’s one of the questions on a pamphlet I found on my door the other day. As you might suspect from the types of pamphlets left on your own doors (minus the ones for auto mechanic discounts, pizzas, and carpet cleaning), this one was offering an afterlife in which to bask in the happiness sun. Of course, living in San Diego makes the journey a bit easier on the heart and soul, if you will. By simply stepping out the door, one is immersed in a paradise-like environment; T-shirt weather, as they say. This is one of the things that makes me happy. =)

Ok, back to the piece of folded paper on my door…This particular pamphlet was sponsored by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, though that revelation was hard to find (only one inconspicuous mention on the back for happiness-seekers to solicit more info), and at first I thought the writers were the “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.” Turns out that “The Society” is part of the Witnesses too, specifically the group in charge of all their copyrighted propaganda.

Now I know that “propaganda” might have political connotations of Fascist Italy or Communist Russia, or Fox News Network (or CNN or MSNBC or, hell, any statist rag or broadcast out there). But if there’s one thing that religions are adept at, it’s selling a particular brand of everlasting snake oil, an elixir for one’s emotional discomforts. By all intents and purposes, “The Society” is churning out some very cultish stuff.

My benchmark for determining cultish stuff is the extent to which the group’s ideas contradict the laws of reality and logical reasoning, and whether they ask you to join the group in exchange for abandoning your curious, reasoning mind. Independent and objective thinking is not something that cults—whether they be workers in government or “The Society”—are friendly to. Collectivism and mystical thinking are their strong suits. Needless to say, this doesn’t lead to happiness, because without a critically thinking mind, only a shell is left, a false-self. Fortunately, the human capacity for critical thinking is expressed by every child who is allowed to ask a question and express an idea or feeling. Kids are question-askers par excellence, at least until disfunctional adults start to wrap their minds in flags and bible covers.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering what “The Society” had to say about the above question on finding happiness. Verbatim:

WHY THE QUESTION ARISES: Many people believe that money, fame, or beauty will make them happy. Hence, they pursue such things—only to find that happiness eludes them.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: Jesus identified the key to happiness when he said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matthew 5:3) True happiness can be found only if we take steps to fill our greatest need—our hunger for spiritual truth about God and his purpose for us. That truth is found in the Bible. Knowing that truth can help us to discern what is really important and what is not. Allowing Bible truth to guide our decisions and actions leads to a more meaningful life.—Luke 11:28

See also Proverbs 3:5, 6, 13-18 and 1 Timothy 6:9, 10.

So, “money, fame, or beauty” are not the keys to happiness. Well, money is a concretized form of human intelligence, like any other commodity that can be traded to further human life and well-being. As the saying goes, money isn’t everything, but try to buy something without it. It’s important to understand the root of money and especially the values and virtues of those who use it as a medium of exchange. Rather than attacking what allows human flourishing (incidentally the wealthiest economies tend to be the freest), we should question the values and virtues of people who see money as the end-all-be-all, and who lack the self-esteem to deal with others respectfully in commerce. However, fame is pure social metaphysics, in which other people’s assessments become one’s reality, rather than objective reality; this is living outside oneself, as the destructive lifestyles of various rock stars and movie stars can attest. And conventional (collective) notions of beauty need to be understood and questioned as well. Beauty is an esthetic judgment that relies both on a standard and a context. Traditional religions’ views on such things are based mainly on materialism, in which conceptual thought is abandoned. This leads us to the next set of contradictions…

“Our hunger for spiritual truth about God and his purpose for us” begs the question. What’s spiritual truth and who/what/when/where/how is God? Methinks the Bible is a bit too biased a source for finding objective answers to such profound questions. Those “scholarly” scribes (sheepherders?) had their fair share of metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical axes to grind. While the truth shall set us free, “Bible truth” leads us to more bondage and basically an anti-conceptual mentality. Real truth is based on the facts of reality and logical identification of (empirically based) concepts. Btw, if it’s an in-depth analysis of all things religious that you seek, The Bible Geek is one man who’s definitely done his homework on the subject.

So, what does all this have to do with happiness? Again, each of us needs to use our minds in an independent, logical fashion, unencumbered by unquestioned dogma or commandments from “authorities,” if we are to develop self-confidence and self-respect—i.e., self-esteem, which is tied to happiness. The nature of religion pretty much precludes this process, because it’s opposed to the process of non-contradictory identification. Moreover, a meaningful life entails understanding logically and factually the nature of one’s mortality. After we’ve done this philosophical heavy lifting—which, btw, is accomplished naturally by children whose sincere question-asking hasn’t been thwarted by adults—we can much more easily recognize what’s in service to our lives and well-being, versus what leads us down the road of sacrifice and unhappiness. And, for sure, Jesus’ was all about the sacrifice, an ethical concept that’s fraught with difficulties, like ethics itself.

Let us get to that spiritual (mental) gym and start doing some lifting. After all, the weights at 24 Hour Fitness can only take us so far to full health.

W

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‘Happy for No Reason’

This week I thought we’d ponder some of the thoughts of a popular happiness promoter, Marci Shimoff. She had a role in the film The Secret, btw, which regardless of its dubious metaphysical perspectives can never be accused of being pessimistic. Here’s a list of incredibly optimistic teachings gleaned from The Secret’s gurus. They are really focused on self-actualization and maximizing one’s potential to live the best life possible.

Nonetheless, in the realm of understanding the nature of reality (metaphysics), I also think some of The Secret’s statements can lead a person astray in his or her proper assessments of things (especially in the realm of preventing and curing disease). As I noted in last week’s post, the more we logically comprehend and distinguish the actual causal properties of things—what’s happening within ourselves versus in the world around us, and the complex relationships between the two—the better we will be at taking actions necessary to further our lives and well-being—as well as anticipating possible setbacks.

Accepting the metaphysically given, however, shouldn’t detract from trying to change one’s particular psychological (and existential) plight. As Nathaniel Branden has noted, self-concept is destiny. And as Marci notes in the following story from her book, one’s level of happiness (like self-concept) is something one takes with oneself, regardless of context or circumstances.

Excerpt: ‘Happy for No Reason’ – Family and health – MSNBC.com.

Btw, if you happen to watch the accompanying video, you’ll see dear Marci engage in some pseudoscientific testing known as applied kinesiology. My own aunt, who was a chiropractor and is now a nurse, sometimes performed this on me, and I always had at least one eyebrow raised—for good reason, because as this source and this source each notes, AK has next to nothing to do with ascertaining scientific causation. Nice party trick, though. :)

Hear’s an email I received from Marci (I’m on her list; it wasn’t personal;), explaining the sorry state of modern psychology, with its focus on mental ailments and near prohibition on prevention and positives.

Dear wes,

Thanks to the many of you who emailed me about the Happy for No Reason PBS show. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Go to http://www.HappyForNoReason.com 
for information.

I haven’t watched this show, but it probably reflects much of what mainstream positive psychologists, such as Martin Seligman, have been explaining on the subject.

Imagine what a great time I had interviewing the top scientists and psychologists who appear in the show. I heard many amazing things, but one statistic that shocked me came from Dr. George Vaillant, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School.

He told me that The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, widely regarded as the most authoritative text in psychiatry and clinical psychology, is 4,500 pages long with 500,000 lines of text. Now, you might expect — as I did — that this “bible” of mental health would devote at least a chapter or two to the science of happiness, right? Wrong.

This book has thousands of lines on anxiety and depression and hundreds of lines on terror, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. But there are only five lines on hope, one line on joy, and not a single line on compassion, forgiveness, or love.

Wow! If mental health professionals are taught to focus primarily on what’s not working in the lives of their clients, is it any wonder that most of us do the same in our lives?

Yes, it’s important to do more than try to alleviate the negatives. We must also consciously focus on accentuating the positives, maximizing our own happiness, according to an objective value system that’s in service of one’s life and well-being.

Imagine your own life as a living book comprised of a half a million lines. How many of those lines would be statements of gratitude, confirmations of your personal strengths and victories, or expressions of love and joy? And how many, in contrast, would be declarations of your shortcomings, your regrets, or your mistakes?

Most of us were conditioned from early on to focus on what’s missing, what’s flawed, and what’s not quite right… especially about ourselves. Maybe we believe that if only we could identify our inadequacies we could banish them from our lives.

Of course, the reverse is actually true. The Law of Attraction reminds us that what we focus on expands. The story we tell about ourselves — the script we speak aloud as well as our internal dialog — sets the stage for our lives.

Hmmm, and I wonder how on Earth individuals could get such bad scripts in their heads… I first heard about “scripts” from a book on transactional analysis that I read in my early twenties; can’t recall the name, but here’s TA’s take on scripts.

Since humans are really the only organism that must cultivate and maintain some semblance of self-esteem—i.e., the conviction that one is capable of thinking and judging the facts of reality correctly as well as coping with life’s challenges, and the feeling that one is worthy of happiness—it necessarily follows that humans can make false assessments about their self-esteem. We all have a need to think of ourselves as capable and dignified, so to the extent that we conclude otherwise, we suffer emotionally and existentially (and others in our wake do to).

We certainly have a long way to go in the realm of self-esteem-encouraging parenting practices, as Haim Ginott made clear in these very instructive video clips from a few decades ago. Bad parenting techniques of course are the result of intergenerational transfer; like mother and father, like daughter and son; family psychological history tends to repeat itself. In order to make it easier for little people to grow up being happy and having high self-esteem, it’s crucial to be an aware parent. Then, we can avoid passing on the low self-esteem madness that manifests itself in people’s unhappiness (negative self-talk and behavior) later in life. It also helps enormously, as an adult, to take children seriously.

Aside from our early experiences that tend to set the stage for later psychological difficulties, it’s vital to remember that you are in charge of how you are feeling about your life and your relationships in the present. And you have the capacity to reinvent yourself, to alter your patterns of thinking and acting—courtesy of your rational, volitional faculty and your ability to explore and modify your subconscious world psychotherapeutically. Here’s a method that Marci recommends:

So here’s what I invite you to do in the next few weeks, starting right now:

  1. Imagine you’re the narrator of your own life story. Examine the book and assess how much of it is focused on what you have, what progress you’ve made, what you’re good at, and what you’re grateful for.
  2. Take a few moments each morning to create — in your mind or on paper — your ideal storyline for the coming day. Phrase your story in the past tense and include all the events that went well, the things you accomplished with ease, and the fun and laughter you enjoyed along the way.

Lately, Sergio and I have been doing this second step together each morning, and I have to tell you, it’s a wonderful way to start the day.

Happy script writing…

Marci Shimoff

Indeed, happy script writing (and righting),

W

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