Psychology professor's digestible but deep insight into how our minds work, around the topic of happiness. Great metaphor of a rider on the back of an elephant. Rider is reasoning, elephant is emotions. Rider has limited control of what the elephant does. Surprising insights into ethics and morality. See my notes for great quotes, but read the whole well-written book.
We might already have encountered the Greatest Idea, the insight that would have transformed us had we savored it, taken it to heart, and worked it into our lives.
The foundational idea of this book: The mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict. Like a rider on the back of an elephant, the conscious, reasoning part of the mind has only limited control of what the elephant does.
I'm a rider on the back of an elephant. I'm holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn't have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I'm no match for him.
Buddha said, "Our life is the creation of our mind."
The Golden Rule: Reciprocity is the most important tool for getting along with people.
Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know.
Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.
Confabulation: when we fabricate reasons to explain our own behavior.
The rider is good at inventing convincing explanations for your behavior, even when it has no knowledge of the causes of your behavior.
When the rest of us look out at the world, our emotional brains have instantly and automatically appraised the possibilities. One possibility usually jumps out at us as the obvious best one. We need only use reason to weigh the pros and cons when two or three possibilities seem equally good. Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality. It is only because our emotional brains works so well that our reasoning can work at all.
Exposure to words related to the elderly makes people walk more slowly; words related to professors make people smarter at the game of Trivial Pursuit; and words related to soccer hooligans make people dumber.
Automatic processes have been through thousands of product cycles and are nearly perfect. This difference in maturity between automatic and controlled processes helps explain why we have inexpensive computers that can solve logic, math, and chess problems better than any human beings can (most of us struggle with these tasks), but none of our robots, no matter how costly, can walk through the woods as well as the average six - year - old child (our perceptual and motor systems are superb).
(Marshmallow Experiment:) The successful children were those who looked away from the temptation or were able to think about other enjoyable activities. These thinking skills are an aspect of emotional intelligence - an ability to understand and regulate one's own feelings and desires. An emotionally intelligent person has a skilled rider who knows how to distract and coax the elephant without having to engage in a direct contest of wills. It's hard for the controlled system to beat the automatic system by willpower alone.
Once you understand the power of stimulus control, you can use it to your advantage by changing the stimuli in your environment and avoiding undesirable ones.
By choosing to stare at something that revolts the automatic system, the rider can begin to change what the elephant will want in the future.
Whenever I am on a cliff, a rooftop, or a high balcony, the imp of the perverse whispers in my ear, "Jump." It's not a command, it's just a word that pops into my consciousness. When I'm at a dinner party sitting next to someone I respect, the imp works hard to suggest the most inappropriate things I could possibly say. Who or what is the imp? Dan Wegner, one of the most perverse and creative social psychologists, has dragged the imp into the lab and made it confess to being an aspect of automatic processing.
Moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment. When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate.
Moral arguments are much the same: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other. When you refute a person's argument, does she generally change her mind and agree with you? Of course not, because the argument you defeated was not the cause of her position; it was made up after the judgment was already made.
In moral arguments, the rider goes beyond being just an advisor to the elephant; he becomes a lawyer, fighting in the court of public opinion to persuade others of the elephant's point of view.
What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of our mind.
To take something "philosophically" means to accept a great misfortune without weeping or even suffering. We use this term in part because of the calmness, self-control, and courage that three ancient philosophers - Socrates, Seneca, and Boethius - showed while they awaited their executions.
Adverse fortune is more beneficial than good fortune; the latter only makes men greedy for more, but adversity makes them strong.
"No man can ever be secure until he has been forsaken by Fortune."
Nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.
Epiphanies can be life-altering, but most fade in days or weeks. The rider can't just decide to change and then order the elephant to go along with the program. Lasting change can come only by retraining the elephant, and that's hard to do.
Whenever you see or hear a word that resembles your name, a little flash of pleasure biases you toward thinking the thing is good. People named Dennis or Denise are slightly more likely than people with other names to become dentists. Men named Lawrence and women named Laurie are more likely to become lawyers. Louis and Louise are more likely to move to Louisiana or St. Louis, and George and Georgina are more likely to move to Georgia. The own-name preference even shows up in marriage records: People are slightly more likely to marry people whose names sound like their own, even if the similarity is just sharing a first initial.
Bad is stronger than good. Responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures. This principle, called negativity bias, shows up all over psychology.
The elephant reacts before the rider even sees the snake on the path. Although you can tell yourself that you are not afraid of snakes, if your elephant fears them and rears up, you'll still be thrown.
Thoughts can cause emotions (as when you reflect on a foolish thing you said), but emotions can also cause thoughts, primarily by raising mental filters that bias subsequent information processing. A flash of fear makes you extra vigilant for additional threats; you look at the world through a filter that interprets ambiguous events as possible dangers. A flash of anger toward someone raises a filter through which you see everything the offending person says or does as a further insult or transgression. Feelings of sadness blind you to all pleasures and opportunities.
Genes make at least some contribution to nearly every trait. Whether the trait is intelligence, extroversion, fearfulness, religiosity, political leaning, liking for jazz, or dislike of spicy foods, identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins, and they are usually almost as similar if they were separated at birth. Genes are not blueprints specifying the structure of a person; they are better thought of as recipes for producing a person over many years.
Cortical "lefties" are less subject to depression and recover more quickly from negative experiences. The difference between cortical righties and lefties can be seen even in infants: Ten-month-old babies showing more activity on the right side are more likely to cry when separated briefly from their mothers. And this difference in infancy appears to reflect an aspect of personality that is stable, for most people, all the way through adulthood. Babies who show a lot more activity on the right side of the forehead become toddlers who are more anxious about novel situations; as teenagers, they are more likely to be fearful about dating and social activities; and, finally, as adults, they are more likely to need psychotherapy to loosen up. Having lost out in the cortical lottery, they will struggle all their lives to weaken the grip of an overactive withdrawal system.
John Milton's paraphrase of Aurelius: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
You can change your affective style too - but again, you can't do it by sheer force of will. You have to do something that will change your repertoire of available thoughts. Here are three of the best methods for doing so: meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac. All three are effective because they work on the elephant.
There are many kinds of meditation, but they all have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a nonanalytical way.
He mapped out the distorted thought processes characteristic of depressed people and trained his patients to catch and challenge these thoughts.
Depressed people are caught in a feedback loop in which distorted thoughts cause negative feelings, which then distort thinking further. Beck's discovery is that you can break the cycle by changing the thoughts. A big part of cognitive therapy is training clients to catch their thoughts, write them down, name the distortions, and then find alternative and more accurate ways of thinking.
"cognitive behavioral therapy"
Proust wrote that the only true voyage is "not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes."
Horror fascinates me, particularly when there is no victim. I study moral reactions to harmless taboo violations such as consensual incest and private flag desecration. These things just feel wrong to most people, even when they can't explain why.
Prozac: It's easy for those who did well in the cortical lottery to preach about the importance of hard work and the unnaturalness of chemical shortcuts. But for those who, through no fault of their own, ended up on the negative half of the affective style spectrum, Prozac is a way to compensate for the unfairness of the cortical lottery.
Tit-for-tat strategy is to be nice on the first round of interaction, but after that, do to your partner whatever your partner did to you on the previous round.
Gratitude and vengefulness are big steps on the road that led to human ultrasociality, and it's important to realize that they are two sides of one coin. It would be hard to evolve one without the other. An individual who had gratitude without vengefulness would be an easy mark for exploitation, and a vengeful and ungrateful individual would quickly alienate all potential cooperative partners.
Human beings ought to live in groups of around 150 people, judging from the logarithm of our brain size; and sure enough, studies of hunter-gatherer groups, military units, and city dwellers' address hooks suggest that 100 to 150 is the "natural" group size within which people can know just about everyone directly, by name and face, and know how each person is related to everybody else.
When you pass on a piece of juicy gossip, what happens? Your friend's reciprocity reflex kicks in and she feels a slight pressure to return the favor. If she knows something about the person or event in question, she is likely to speak up: "Oh really? Well, I heard that he ..."
Gossip is overwhelmingly critical, and it is primarily about the moral and social violations of others.
When people pass along high-quality (juicy) gossip, they feel more powerful, they have a better shared sense of what is right and what's wrong, and they feel more closely connected to their gossip partners.
Gossip is a policeman and a teacher. Without it, there would be chaos and ignorance.
Gossip paired with reciprocity allow karma to work here on earth, not in the next life.
Scandal is great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return. With contempt you don't need to right the wrong (as with anger) or flee the scene (as with fear or disgust). And best of all, contempt is made to share. Stories about the moral failings of others are among the most common kinds of gossip.
The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.
"So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do." - Benjamin Franklin
People who hold pervasive positive illusions about themselves, their abilities, and their future prospects are mentally healthier, happier, and better liked than people who lack such illusions.
People really are open to information that will predict the behavior of others, but they refuse to adjust their self-assessments.
Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is.
We believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us.
If they don't agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.
People acknowledge that their own backgrounds have shaped their views, but such experiences are invariably seen as deepening one's insights; for example, being a doctor gives a person special insight into the problems of the health - care industry.
But the background of other people is used to explain their biases and covert motivations; for example, doctors think that lawyers disagree with them about tort reform not because they work with the victims of malpractice (and therefore have their own special insights) but because their self-interest biases their thinking.
It just seems plain as day, to the naive realist, that everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Except for me. I see things as they are.
If I could nominate one candidate for "biggest obstacle to world peace and social harmony," it would be naive realism because it is so easily ratcheted up from the individual to the group level: My group is right because we see things as they are. Those who disagree are obviously biased by their religion, their ideology, or their self-interest.
Naive realism gives us a world full of good and evil, and this brings us to the most disturbing implication of the sages' advice about hypocrisy: Good and evil do not exist outside of our beliefs about them.
People want to believe they are on a mission from God, or that they are fighting for some more secular good (animals, fetuses, women's rights), and you can't have much of a mission without good allies and a good enemy.
If God is all good and all powerful, either he allows evil to flourish (which means he is not all good), or else he struggles against evil (which means he is not all powerful).
A three-thousand-year-old question had been given a complete and compelling psychological explanation the previous year by Roy Baumeister, one of today's most creative social psychologists. In "Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Agression".
The myth of pure evil is the ultimate self-serving bias.
When someone's high esteem is unrealistic or narcissistic, it is easily threatened by reality. In reaction to those threats, people often lash out violently. Baumeister questions the usefulness of programs that try raise children's self-esteem directly instead of by teaching them skills they can be proud of. Such direct enhancement can potentially foster unstable narcissism.
To really get a mass atrocity going you need idealism - the belief that your violence is a means to a moral end. The major atrocities of the 20th century were carried out largely either by men who thought they were creating a utopia or else by men who believed they were defending their homeland or tribe from attack. Idealism easily becomes dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. If you are fighting for good or for God, what matters is the outcome, not the path.
The world we live in is not really one made of rocks, trees, and physical objects; it is a world of insults, opportunities, status symbols, betrayals, saints, and sinners.
All this moralism, righteousness, and hypocrisy. It's beyond silly - it is tragic, for it suggests that human beings will never achieve a state of lasting peace and harmony.
So what can you do about it?
The first step is to see it as a game and stop taking it so seriously.
Write down your thoughts, learn to recognize the distortions in your thoughts, and then think of a more appropriate thought.
You will see the fault in yourself only if you set out on a deliberate and effortful quest to look for it. Try this now: Think of a recent interpersonal conflict with someone you care about and then find one way in which your behavior was not exemplary.
Finding fault with yourself is also the key to overcoming the hypocrisy and judgmentalism that damages so many valuable relationships.
"Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well."
When it comes to goal pursuit, it really is the journey that counts, not the destination. Set for yourself any goal you want. Most of the pleasure will be had along the way, with every step that takes you closer. The final moment of success is often no more thrilling than the relief of taking off a heavy backpack at the end of a long hike. If you went on the hike only to feel that pleasure, you are a fool.
People's judgments about their present state are based on whether it is better or worse than the state to which they have become accustomed. Adaptation is, in part, just a property of neurons: Nerve cells respond vigorously to new stimuli, but gradually they "habituate," firing less to stimuli that they have become used to.
Voluntary activities, on the other hand, are the things that you choose to do, such as meditation, exercise, learning a new skill, or taking a vacation. Because such activities must be chosen, and because most of them take effort and attention, they can't just disappear from your awareness the way conditions can. Voluntary activities, therefore, offer much greater promise for increasing happiness while avoiding adaptation effects.
Noise, especially noise that is variable or intermittent, interferes with concentration and increases stress. It's worth striving to remove sources of noise in your life.
Conflicts in relationships - having an annoying office mate or roommate, or having chronic conflict with your spouse is one of the surest ways to reduce your happiness. You never adapt to interpersonal conflict. It damages every day, even days when you don't see the other person but ruminate about the conflict nonetheless.
People who report the greatest interest in attaining money, fame, or beauty are consistently found to be less happy, and even less healthy, than those who pursue less materialistic goals.
There is a state many people value even more than chocolate after sex. It is the state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one's abilities. It is what people sometimes call "being in the zone."
The keys to flow:
- There's a clear challenge that fully engages your attention
- You have the skills to meet the challenge
- You get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step
Pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, such as may be derived from food, sex, back-rubs, and cool breezes.
Gratifications are activities that engage you fully, draw on your strengths, and allow you to lose self-consciousness.
Arrange your day and your environment to increase both pleasures and gratifications.
Pleasures must be spaced to maintain their potency.
Because the elephant has a tendency to overindulge, the rider needs to encourage it to get up and move on to another activity.
The key to finding your own gratifications is to know your own strengths.
What would have happened if the young Siddartha had actually descended from his gilded chariot and talked to the people he assumed were so miserable? What if he had interviewed the poor, the elderly, the crippled, and the sick? One of the most adventurous young psychologists, Robert Biswas-Diener (son of the happiness pioneer Ed Diener), has done just that.
Buddha's emphasis on detachment may have been the turbulent times he lived in: then, it was foolish to seek happiness by controlling one's external world. But now it is not. People living in wealthy democracies can set long - term goals and expect to meet them. We are immunized against disease, sheltered from storms, etc. Although all of us will get unwanted surprises along the way, we'll adapt and cope with nearly all of them, and many of us will believe we are better off for having suffered. So to cut off all attachments, to shun the pleasures of sensuality and triumph in an effort to escape the pains of loss and defeat - this now strikes me as an inappropriate response to the inevitable presence of some suffering in every life.
Calm nonstriving advocated by Buddha is designed to avoid passion, and a life without passion is not a human life. Yes, attachments bring pain, but they also bring our greatest joys,
Giving monkeys raisins as a reward for each correct step in solving a puzzle (such as opening a mechanical latch with several moving parts) actually interferes with the solving, because it distracts the monkeys.
They enjoy the task for its own sake.
If you want your children to grow up to be healthy and independent, you should hold them, hug them, cuddle them, and love them. Give them a secure base and they will explore and then conquer the world on their own.
If the model says that mom is always there for you, you'll be bolder in your play and explorations.
If the metaphor for passionate love is fire, the metaphor for companionate love is vines growing, intertwining, and gradually binding two people together.
People are not allowed to sign contracts when they are drunk, and I sometimes wish we could prevent people from proposing marriage when they are high on passionate love.
If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry.
If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology.
If you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy.
People in all cultures have a pervasive fear of death. Human beings all know that they are going to die, and so human cultures go to great lengths to construct systems of meaning that dignify life and convince people that their lives have more meaning than those of the animals that die all around them. The extensive regulation of sex in many cultures, the attempt to link love to God and then to cut away the sex, is part of an elaborate defense against the gnawing fear of mortality.
Adversity may be necessary for growth because it forces you to stop speeding along the road of life, allowing you to notice the paths that were branching off all along, and to think about where you really want to end up.
At an intuitive level, we all believe in karma, the Hindu notion that people reap what they sow. The psychologist Mel Lerner has demonstrated that we are so motivated to believe that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get that we often blame the victim of a tragedy.
Letting off steam makes people angrier, not calmer.
When people older than thirty are asked to remember the most important or vivid events of their lives, they are disproportionately likely to recall events that occurred between the ages of 15 and 25. This is the age when a person's life blooms - first love, college and intellectual growth, living and perhaps traveling independently - and it is the time when young people (at least in Western countries) make many of the choices that will define their lives. If there is a special period for identity formation, a time when life events are going to have the biggest influence on the rest of the life-story, this is it.
Marcel Proust said: We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.
First, wise people are able to balance their own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of people or things beyond the immediate interaction (e.g., institutions, the environment, or people who may be adversely affected later on).
Ignorant people see everything in black and white - they rely heavily on the myth of pure evil and they arc strongly influenced by their own self-interest.
The wise are able to see things from others' points of view, appreciate shades of gray, and then choose or advise a course of action that works out best for everyone in the long run.
Second, wise people are able to balance three responses to situations:
adaptation (changing the self to fit the environment)
shaping (changing the environment)
selection (choosing to move to a new environment).
This second balance corresponds roughly to the famous "serenity prayer": "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
"Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself" - (Benjamin Franklin)
One of the oldest works of direct moral instruction is the Teaching of Amenernope, an Egyptian text thought to have been written around 1300 BCE.
Moral education must also impart tacit knowledge - skills of social perception and social emotion so finely tuned that one automatically feels the right thing in each situation, knows the right thing to do, and then wants to do it. Morality, for the ancients, was a kind of practical wisdom.
Many moral education efforts since the 1970s take the rider off of the elephant and train him to solve problems on his own. After being exposed to hours of case studies, classroom discussions about moral dilemmas, and videos about people who faced dilemmas and made the right choices, the child learns how (not what) to think. Then class ends, the rider gets hack on the elephant, and nothing changes at recess. Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail. It gets causality backwards.
A wonderful book - Practical Ethics - by the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer.
I have been morally opposed to all forms of factory farming. Morally opposed, but not behaviorally opposed. I love the taste of meat, and the only thing that changed in the first six months after reading Singer is that I thought about my hypocrisy each time I ordered a hamburger. But then, during my second year of graduate school, I began to study the emotion of disgust. I watched in horror as cows, moving down a dripping disassembly line, were bludgeoned, hooked, and sliced up. The sight of red meat made me queasy. My visceral feelings now matched the beliefs Singer had given me. The elephant now agreed with the rider, and I became a vegetarian.
I saw the right way and approved it, but followed the wrong, until an emotion came along to provide some force.
The modern requirement that ethics ignore particularity is what gave us our weaker morality - applicable everywhere, but encompassing nowhere.
Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year's resolutions have been about fixing a flaw? And how many of those resolutions have you made several years in a row?
Cognitive behavioral therapy really does work!
Religion and science each begin with an easy and unsatisfying answer, but then move on to more subtle and interesting explanations.
Psychologist Alice Isen went around Philadelphia leaving dimes in pay phones. The people who used those phones and found the dimes were then more likely to help a person who dropped a stack of papers.
Happy people are kinder and more helpful than those in the control group.
"Anomie" (normlessness). Anomie is the condition of a society in which there are no clear rules, norms, or standards of value. In an anomie society, people can do as they please. But without any clear standards or respected social institutions to enforce those standards, it is harder for people to find things they want to do.
Asking children to grow virtues, looking only within themselves for guidance, is like asking each one to invent a personal language - a pointless and isolating task if there is no community with whom to speak.
Would you prefer that there be a wide variety of opinions and no dominant one? Or would you prefer that everyone agree with you and the laws of the land reflect that agreement?
If you prefer diversity on an issue, the issue is not a moral issue for you; it is a matter of personal taste.
Remember that the American motto of "e pluribus, unum" (from many, one) has two parts. The celebration of pluribus should be balanced by policies that strengthen the unum.
The metaphor that has most helped me to understand morality, religion, and the human quest for meaning is Flatland, a charming little hook written in 1884 by the English novelist and mathematician Edwin Abbot.
The ethic of autonomy, the ethic of community, and the ethic of divinity:
When people think and act using the ethic of autonomy, their goal is to protect individuals from harm and grant them the maximum degree of autonomy, which they can use to pursue their own goals.
When people use the ethic of community, their goal is to protect the integrity of groups, families, companies, or nations, and they value virtues such as obedience, loyalty, and wise leadership.
When people use the ethic of divinity, their goal is to protect from degradation the divinity that exists in each person, and they value living in a pure and holy way, free from moral pollutants such as lust, greed, and hatred.
Cultures vary in their relative reliance on these three ethics,
Man is possessed of two natures - a lower, in common with animals, and a higher, peculiar to himself. The whole meaning of sin is the humiliating bondage of the higher to the lower.
The modern West is the first culture in human history that has managed to strip time and space of all sacredness and to produce a fully practical, efficient, and profane world. This is the world that religious fundamentalists find unbearable.
The great historian of religion Mircea Eliade wrote "The Sacred and the Profane"
Even a person committed to a profane existence has privileged places, qualitatively different from all others - a man's birthplace, or the scenes of his first love, or certain places in the first foreign city he visited in his youth. Even for the most frankly nonreligious man, all these places still retain an exceptional, a unique quality; they are the "holy places" of his private universe, as if it were in such spots that he had received the revelation of a reality other than that in which he participates through his ordinary daily life.
Even atheists have intimations of sacredness, particularly when in love or in nature. We just don't infer that God caused those feelings.
Awe is the emotion of self-transcendence.
The self is the main obstacle to spiritual advancement, in three ways.
1. The constant stream of trivial concerns and egocentric thoughts keeps people locked in the material and profane world, unable to perceive sacredness and divinity. This is why Eastern religions rely heavily on meditation, an effective means of quieting the chatter of the self.
2. Spiritual transformation is essentially the transformation of the self, weakening it, pruning it hack - in some sense, killing it - and often the self objects. Give up my possessions and the prestige they bring? No way! Love my enemies, after what they did to me? Forget about it.
3. Following a spiritual path is invariably hard work, requiring years of meditation, prayer, self-control, and sometimes self-denial. The self does not like to be denied, and it is adept at finding reasons to bend the rules or cheat. Many religions teach that egoistic attachments to pleasure and reputation are constant temptations to leave the path of virtue. In a sense, the self is Satan, or, at least, Satan's portal.
Only by seeing the self in this way, can one understand and even respect the moral motivations of those who want to make their society conform more closely to the particular religion they follow.
Love and work, for people, are obvious analogues to water and sunshine for plants.
When Freud was asked what a normal person should be able to do well, he is reputed to have said, "Love and work."
We get more pleasure from making progress toward our goals than we do from achieving them.
Most people approach their work in one of three ways: as a job, a career, or a calling.
- If you see your work as a job, you do it only for the money, you look at the clock frequently while dreaming about the weekend ahead, and you probably pursue hobbies, which satisfy your effectance needs more thoroughly than does your work.
- If you see your work as a career, you have larger goals of advancement, promotion, and prestige.
- If you see your work as a calling, however, you find your work intrinsically fulfilling you are not doing it to achieve something else. You see your work as contributing to the greater good or as playing a role in some larger enterprise the worth of which seems obvious to you. You have frequent experiences of flow during the work day, and you neither look forward to "quitting time" nor feel the desire to shout, "Thank God it's Friday!" You would continue to work, perhaps even without pay, if you suddenly became very wealthy.
You might think that blue-collar workers have jobs, managers have careers, and the more respected professionals (doctors, scientists, clergy) have callings. But all three orientations represented in almost every occupation examined. Those janitors who worked this way saw their work as a calling and enjoyed it far more than those who saw it as a job.
Work at its best, then, is about connection, engagement, and commitment.
"Work is love made visible." - Khalil Gibran
Love and work are crucial for human happiness because, when done well, they draw us out of ourselves and into connection with people and projects beyond ourselves. Happiness comes from getting these connections right.
When doing good (doing high-quality work that produces something of use to others) matches up with doing well (achieving wealth and professional advancement), a field is healthy. Genetics, for example, is a healthy field because all parties involved respect and reward the very best science. Journalism into just another profit center where the only thing that mattered was will it sell, and will it outsell our competitors? Good journalism was sometimes bad for business. Journalists who worked for these empires confessed to having a sense of being forced to sell out and violate their own moral standards. Their world was unaligned, and they could not become vitally engaged in the larger but ignoble mission of gaining market share at any cost.
A coherent profession, such as genetics, can get on with the business of genetics, while an incoherent profession, like journalism, spends a lot of time on self-analysis and self-criticism.
If your lower-level traits match up with your coping mechanisms, which in turn are consistent with your life story, your personality is well integrated and you can get on with the business of living.
When these levels do not cohere, you are likely to be torn by internal contradictions and neurotic conflicts.
You might need adversity to knock yourself into alignment.
And if you do achieve coherence, the moment when things come together may be one of the most profound of your life.
If evolution is all about survival of the fittest, then why do people help each other so much? Why do they give to charity, risk their lives to save strangers, and volunteer to fight in wars? Darwin thought the answer was easy: Altruism evolves for the good of the group: There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes, and this would be natural selection.
The word religion literally means, in Latin, to link or hind together.
It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.
Liberals are experts in thinking about issues of victimization, equality, autonomy, and the rights of individuals, particularly those of minorities and nonconformists.
Conservatives are experts in thinking about loyalty to the group, respect for authority and tradition, and sacredness.
When one side overwhelms the other, the results are likely to be ugly.
A society without liberals would be harsh and oppressive to many individuals.
A society without conservatives would lose many of the social structures and constraints.
A good place to look for wisdom is where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents.
You already know the ideas common on your own side.
If you can take off the blinders of the myth of pure evil, you might see some good ideas for the first time.