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Meaning and happiness: Looking at the big picture Richard Eckersley National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU nceph.anu.edu.au Australia.

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Presentation on theme: "Meaning and happiness: Looking at the big picture Richard Eckersley National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU nceph.anu.edu.au Australia."— Presentation transcript:

1 Meaning and happiness: Looking at the big picture Richard Eckersley National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU nceph.anu.edu.au Australia 21 fellow and director

2 ‘Our wellbeing is shaped by our genes, our personal circumstances and choices, the social conditions we live in, and the complex ways in which all these things interact.’ Source: Eckersley, 2007

3 Being human and human wellbeing Dimensions of human health and wellbeing  Material : food, water, shelter, sleep, activity.  Social : friends, family, community.  Cultural : reasons to live.  Spiritual : psychic connectedness to the world.

4 Contributors to wellbeing What you have/do:  Marriage  Friends  Work  Money  Diet  Activity  Sleep  Leisure  Religion Who you are:  Personality  Optimism  Trust  Self-respect  Autonomy  Gratitude / Kindness  Goals  Worldview  Spirituality

5 ‘All in all, wellbeing comes from being connected and engaged, from being suspended in a web of relationships and interests – personal, social, spiritual. These give meaning to our lives. The intimacy, belonging and support provided by close personal relationships seem to matter most; isolation exacts the highest price.’ Source: Eckersley, 2005

6 Finding happiness: personal & social perspectives Happiness Personal -‘Western’ - ‘Eastern’ Social - Political - Cultural

7 Personal approaches  Western: Follow your dream; be who you want to be; realise your destiny. Bending universe to your will.  Eastern: Living in the moment; going with the flow; acceptance, surrender. At one, in harmony, with universe.

8 ‘Many people make life unnecessarily difficult for themselves by dissipating power and energy through fuming and fretting….We do not realise how accelerated the rate of our lives has become, or the speed at which we are driving ourselves. Many people are destroying their physical bodies …[and] they are tearing their minds and souls to shreds as well.’

9 Social approach  Political: Social change through policy and programs. How problems are addressed depends on how they are represented (Bacchi).  Cultural: Worldviews, beliefs, values, stories. Determines what can be known and done.

10 The power of stories ‘…young people need to be able to create stories or narratives that allow them to make sense of the world and their place in it. This is important to their wellbeing and to Australia’s future. The opportunity to talk about the world and themselves is an essential ingredient of this process.’ Eckersley et al, 2007

11 What religion is ‘Whatever else religion does, it relates a view of the ultimate nature of reality to a set of ideas of how man is well- advised…to live.’ Clifford Geertz

12 What religion is ‘Religion is not merely a belief in an ultimate reality or in an ultimate ideal…. Religion is a momentous possibility…that what is highest in spirit is also deepest in nature... a conserver and increaser of values... that the things that matter most are not at the mercy of the things that matter least.’ Gates of Prayer

13 What religion does ‘Religious belief and practice enhance health and wellbeing…. The benefits to wellbeing flow from the social support, existential meaning, sense of purpose, coherent belief system and moral code that religion provides. ‘All these things can be found in other ways, although perhaps less easily; religions ‘package’ many of the ingredients of health and wellbeing.’ Source: Eckersley, 2007

14 Religion: US stands out Source: Pew 2002

15 Male youth suicide trends by country, Source: Eckersley 2002

16 Youth suicide and freedom An international comparison Source: Eckersley and Dear, 2002 (%)

17 Against religion  Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation.  Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto.  Tamas Pataki, Against Religion.  Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great.  Richard Dawkin, Root of All Evil.

18 Science & religion The road to peace between science and religion requires that:  Science accept other ways of interpreting the world.  Religion abandon notions of God as a supernatural being who controls the universe, even our lives.

19 An indigenous worldview ‘Spiritual life was much more significant than material life for the Australian Aboriginal people….It is in the mind and the creativity of the spirit – in the intangible rather than the tangible artefacts – that Aboriginal society stands out….[This] created a psychology that was completely disinterested in acquiring and possessing material things. ’ Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe Treading Lightly, 2006

20 Suspicions of the Apocalypse  We are responding in three ways to global developments: Nihilism – abandonment of belief; decadence rules; spiritually desiccated. Fundamentalism – retreat to certain belief; dogma rules; spiritually corrupted. Activism – transformation of belief; hope rules; spiritually renewed. Source: Eckersley, 2005

21 Five Cosmologies In the past:  enchanted : world alive with powers, ‘gods’  sacred : universe of Christianity  mechanical : Newton’s ‘clockwork’ universe  organic : universe as ‘cosmic dance of energy’ Now:  creative : universe as self-organising and creative process Source: Kenny, 2001

22 Taking control of our future ‘We are all now faced with a radical moral choice. We can step confidently into a new realm of creative freedom and take full, democratic responsibility for that future, or, alternatively, retreat into a blind and irresponsible dependence on moral authorities who…will confidently claim that they have a mandate from God, nature, history or the market to define that future for us.’ Denis Kenny, moral philosopher

23 A shift in our worldview?  At least 25% of Americans and Europeans are ‘cultural creatives’: up from less than 5% in 1960s. disenchanted with consumerism, status displays, glaring social inequalities, hedonism and cynicism. care about the environment, relationships, peace, social justice, spirituality and self-expression. a coalescence of social movements that are changing how people understand the world. Source: Ray and Anderson, 2000

24 ‘What is new is that the largest movement in human history has built itself without being masterminded from above. This is why I use the metaphor of this movement being humanity's immune response to political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation. The movement is not merely a network; it is a complex and self-organizing system.’ Paul Hawken Blessed Unrest, 2007

25 .‘We do not see education as the primary means of resolving …social problems….It cannot automatically make (young people) wise, but it can point them in the direction of wisdom. ‘…the most appropriate long term approach for promoting young people’s education in meaning, identity and spirituality is not to create curriculum space…it is to educate teachers in relation to their own grasp of issues in these three areas.’ Marisa Crawford & Graham Rossiter Reasons for Living (ACER 2006)


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