Introspecting about The Good Life in PSYC 4350: Think Well to Live Well
**heartfelt nod to Dr. David Estes, my capstone professor for being an extremely trippy dude and without doubt changing the lives of a classroom full of students, lifelong appreciation to Dr. Jonathan Haidt for providing the material for this post and spawning these enlightening ideas**
Disclaimer: I refuse to put parenthesis around The Good Life because that gives the impression that it is “hypothetical”—unattainable, fantastical, unreal. As Haidt demonstrates, and this essay further proves, The Good Life is not a hypothetical situation for anyone. It undulates and flows to meet the lifestyles and personalities of any individual if the energy is put forth. That being said, The Good Life looks different for everyone. Haidt’s recipe calls for different amounts of each ingredient to fit the “climate” of each individual. The final product, however, looks the same on everyone: a healthy, happy, meaningful life.
Although 243 pages seems like an excessive length for a recipe for a happy life, Haidt isn’t really calling for that much in The Happiness Hypothesis. Many of the activities he details are things humans do every single day without thinking—building relationships with each other, explaining our world in a spiritual sense, facing challenges, constructing meanings for the things that happen to us according to our knowledge and experiences. Haidt simply presents us with modern psychological, philosophical, historical, scientific and religious concepts and evidence that reveal ways that humans continue to be challenged in doing these things the best way possible.
Haidt’s report of the findings of philosophers of the past, including Buddha, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius’, Epicurus, Franklin, Freud, Confucius, Shakespeare, Epictetus, Nietzsche, Muhammad, and Tzu, proves that the understanding of human nature is no more clear now than it was thousands of years ago, and allows us to appreciate the greatness of their ancient findings. The fact that modern ideas are reiterated by the intellectual greats of the past should put us at ease when it comes to credibility. (I’m controlling my universe the same way the Buddha did?!?!) The best part is that these complex and sometimes ancient ideas are converted to layman’s terms, meaning your average 8th grader could understand this. The mental systems that we employ everyday to do anything from solving a complex math equation to deciding what to eat for lunch are still largely a mystery to most researchers, but any average Joe can understand a metaphor involving an elephant and a rider. The Happiness Hypothesis provides a simple, comprehensive recipe to creating and thriving in The Good Life.
A self-help book on “being the best you” would probably present The Good Life recipe in list form: 1) healthy relationships 2) physical activity 3) meaningful work 4) spirituality or religion. You won’t find any lists in Haidt’s Hypothesis, who adds human nature into the equation where it’s often left out.
This may be a messy construction, but his recipe looks something like this:
Humans are by neurological nature divided in many different ways—mind/body, conscious/unconscious systems, concrete/abstract thought, to name just a few—but by knowing this one can take steps to create a cohesive relationship between the divisions.
By perceiving things we create them, so human thoughts are powerful beyond belief and one can be powerful in a positive way if you master your thoughts.
Contrary to uninformed popular belief, humans are not enslaved by Darwin’s law—we are hardwired for altruism, cooperation and social reciprocity as much as competition, and everyone gains more from the former.
Humans are constantly evaluating their lives with an unconscious bias toward themselves, so hypocrisy is a very, very real piece of the human condition. By being informed about the tendency to put on one’s rose-colored classes to view one’s own behavior and ideas, and be harsh to those of others, one can be released from its grip.
As much as our society tells us otherwise, attachments to external incidents like success, money, cars, clothes, mansions are fruitless. The hedonic treadmill explains the human propensity to “get used” to anything, so searching for happiness anywhere besides internally is grasping for something temporary.
“Humans are social creatures” may be a tired cliché, but it has never been truer. True happiness is built on a solid foundation of healthy relationships, both romantic and platonic.
Life challenges are inevitable and adversity, both traumatic and minor, has the ability to spawn major life changes if you use it as a tool by thinking about it the right way.
A shared concept and goal of integrity and virtue is the only way to achieve universal virtue and integrity, and surrounding yourself with a group of individuals who share your idea of virtue is the only way to foster it in yourself.
A personal doctrine of explaining the world, whether God or a recognized religion are involved are not, can allow one to add a “third dimension” of rising above the day-to-day social construction to their lives.
Most importantly, all these experiences come from within—our thoughts, decisions, emotions, and definitions on happiness must originate from inside us.
Concepts of happiness and how to attain it that come from someone else or society are like wisps of smoke and should be treated as such—beautiful and fleeting inspirations for a personal understanding of happiness, but will ultimately slip through your grasp if you try to put any weight on them. Haidt’s recipe allows us all to build personal flourishing gardens of happiness within our own minds. If you have ever spent any time in your head—which admittedly, I do too much of—you know that life and the world we live in reflects what’s going on upstairs a great deal more than anything else. The most important of Haidt’s messages is that the power to live The Good Life resides inside us all: in our thoughts.
Transform your thoughts, and you transform your life.
Haidt advocates in his last chapter, Happiness Comes from Between that it’s relationships and interactions between all these parts of human existence that create The Good Life. Psychology teaches us that there is no dualism in human life—tendencies to think positively or negatively have effects on our ability to control our behavior which has effects on the way we conduct our personal relationships which has effects on the types of things we strive for which has effects on our tendencies to think a certain way which has effects on our concepts of morality which has effects on our personal relationships. And on and on. Adjusting one piece of the recipe has profound rippling effects on the final product. Meditation, which Haidt relies on several times throughout the Hypothesis, can completely transform our lives. Ten minutes of meditation per day has the ability to alter our brain structures for the better. Everyone has ten minutes of his or her day to spare. Happiness is attainable for everyone.
I thought this book was an incredibly eye-opening read and I would recommend it, and have, to any human. I wouldn’t say my conceptions of well-being have “changed” exactly over the semester. I had a pretty good idea of a few of my own pieces that construct My Good Life because I have been fostering them for several years and taking conscious action to help other people gain the awareness to do the same and create their own version of The Good Life.
But my conceptions have most certainly solidified. Haidt provided compelling and truly enlightening both ancient and modern research that proves many of my beliefs. He’s created a metaphor that a 6th grader can understand. I plan on sharing this essay because I think it is important that things that we discussed in class, sometimes inappropriate or controversial or saddening or surprising or awkward or angering things, need to be talked about.
Universal concepts of morality need to be talked about.
Spirituality and worldly transcendence with or without god need to be talked about.
The Good Life needs to be talked about—and you don’t need to buy even a single self-help book to do it.