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How to pursue happiness using ancient wisdom and modern psychology and no New Year’s resolutions Sage Lecture #6 Dec. 15, 2008 Jonathan Haidt University.

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Presentation on theme: "How to pursue happiness using ancient wisdom and modern psychology and no New Year’s resolutions Sage Lecture #6 Dec. 15, 2008 Jonathan Haidt University."— Presentation transcript:

1 How to pursue happiness using ancient wisdom and modern psychology and no New Year’s resolutions Sage Lecture #6 Dec. 15, 2008 Jonathan Haidt University of Virginia

2 6 Lectures on Morality 11/10: What is morality and how does it work? 11/17: The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion 11/24: The positive moral emotions: Elevation, awe, admiration, and gratitude 12/1: Hive psychology, group selection, and leadership 12/8: The dark side: Why moral psychology is the greatest source of evil 12/15: The light side: How to pursue happiness using ancient wisdom and modern psychology ppt files available at at bottomwww.JonathanHaidt.com

3 1) How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days? ____ 1=extremely unsatisfied, 7=extremely satisfied 2) List 2 things you’d like to change about yourself

4 The value of recurrent ideas 12 Great truths: Insights into mind and heart from ancient cultures and modern psychology 10 Great truths: Insights into mind and heart from ancient cultures and modern psychology

5 The value of recurrent ideas Expected conclusion: Ideas about human nature and well-being that arise across eras and cultures usually contain deep wisdom Unexpected conclusion: Most of the “great truths” are united by the theme of relatedness.

6 What the ancients knew Didn’t know much about biology (or chemistry, physics…) Extraordinary insights into: --consciousness and the divided self --grasping attachments and the pursuit of happiness --social relations: reciprocity, gratitude, forgiveness, generosity --moral psychology (esp. hypocrisy, moralism, and virtue) Not so useful (in our altered world) on: love, work, and finding meaning in life

7 The Divided Self (Great Truth #1) St Paul’s lament: The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, so that ye cannot do the things ye would. Medea’s lament: I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.

8 Why don’t you…

9 Because “you” are not in charge Q: Is consciousness the driver of a car? Or a rider on an elephant?

10 Two kinds of thinking Automatic (elephant) Intuition Fast, easy… indefatigable “hot” – connected to motivations, reward centers 99% of all cognition

11 Two kinds of thinking Automatic (elephant)Controlled (rider) IntuitionReasoning, language, logic Fast, easy… indefatigableSlow, effortful… tires out “hot” – connected to motivations, reward centers “cool” – not connected to motivational centers 99% of all cognition1% of all cognition

12 Automatic vs. controlled perception

13

14 Automatic vs. controlled motivation

15 Automatic vs. controlled behavior

16 Take home lesson: Self-change is elephant training 1) Change the elephant, gradually --Develop new habits, take 12 weeks to stick --Use small but immediate rewards --Try cognitive therapy, meditation, self-hypnosis 2) Change the elephant’s surroundings --Animals are “stimulus bound.” People too. Choose your environment and associates carefully. 3) Get relations right BETWEEN elephant and rider --know your elephant, and its strengths and weaknesses

17 Great Truth #2 “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” “The whole universe is change, and life itself is but what you deem it” “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” “There is no reality, only perception.”

18 Case Study: Qohelet I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself;... I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem... Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. --Ecclesiastes 2:4-10

19 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11) Case Study: Qohelet King Solomon, 19 th C. illustration

20 Happiness Hypoth #1: Happiness comes from outside (from getting what you want: e.g., wealth, sex, power)

21 YR: Who is happy? “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” 1=extremely unsatisfied, 7=extremely satisfied

22 YR: What we imagine will happen: Large permanent effects Baseline Win Lottery Paralyzed for life

23 YR: What actually happens: full adaptation for most (but not all) We adapt very quickly (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978) Win Lottery Paralyzed for lifeAdaptation!

24 Solomon: “How do you keep your spirits up?” Hawking: “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”

25 Major life events matter MUCH less than we expect! --We are terrible at “Affective forecasting” (Dan Gilbert & Tim Wilson) --“Happiness is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day.”

26 Who is happy? Demographic conundrums 1) Age? Small age trends, peak is in 60s! 2) Gender? No difference overall 3) Race? Small or no differences 4) Wealth? It’s complicated... --In very poor countries, and for poor people: YES --Above subsistence level, correlation becomes small --In the U.S., correlation is or maybe.18? --But part of that is reverse correlation --Tripling national wealth since WWII had NO effect --We’re on a “hedonic treadmill”: the more we get, the more we want. --But RELATIVE position matters a little

27 GT#2: Life itself is but what you deem it --There’s nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. --We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts --Life is a banquet, and some poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death

28 Why? Because Everyone has a biological set point --Avg happiness level is fairly stable from year to year --Avg happiness level is highly heritable: 50-75% of variance due to genes: almost none due to shared family environmnt Won the cortical lottery Lost the cortical lottery

29 What did they win? Happy people… --Have more friends --Have happier marriages and fewer divorces --Live longer --Recover from adversity faster, and grow from it --Become more successful: --clients like them, buy from them --bosses like them, promote them --throw themselves into projects more fully; live in the “realm of possibility” --Exception: lawyers. Pessimism is adaptive.

30 Happiness Hypothesis #2: Happiness comes from within Good men, at all times, surrender all attachments. The holy spend not idle words on things of desire. When pleasure or pain comes to them, the wise feel above pleasure and pain. (Buddha) 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. (Epictetus)

31 The Positive Psych Alternative: Strive Right! There IS a biological set point, but your happiness on any given day forms a distribution around that point: H = S + C + V S is your Set-point. --Raise it with Prozac/Zoloft/Lexapro… C is the few Conditions that matter --increase your relatedness, and control V is the Voluntary activities that you choose to do

32 I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions. --from Samuel Johnson’s Diary Stop making new year’s resolutions! Start doing “voluntary” activities that will change the elephant

33 Voluntary Activity #1: Diagnose Yourself --Are you on the negative half of the happiness distribution? (Find out at --What are your strengths? How can you use them to get around your weaknesses? (take the “Signature Strengths Test” at

34 Voluntary Activity #2: Improve Mental Hygiene --If you ARE low, or you ruminate, then buy Feeling Good, by David Burns. -- Or see a cognitive-behavioral therapist --Or start meditation or self-hypnosis --Every evening, write down three things that went well that day, and their causes. (Especially the role you played, the strengths you used, the friends and supporters you have.) --These practices are as effective as Prozac at raising happiness levels

35 Voluntary Activity #3: Diet less, Exercise more --Dieting makes people irritable, and rarely works --Pleasure is an important part of the good life --A slight increase in exercise improves mood throughout the day

36 Voluntary Activity #4: Improve relatedness --The unexpected theme of most chapters: Relationships are the key to happiness! --Work on existing relationships --Write a gratitude letter --And cultivate new relationships, especially in groups

37 The Positive Psych Alternative: Strive Right! There IS a biological set point, but your happiness on any given day forms a distribution around that point: H = S + C + V S is your Set-point. --Raise it with Prozac/Zoloft/Lexapro… C is the few Conditions that matter --increase your relatedness, and control V is the Voluntary activities that you choose to do

38 Demographics that matter: Conservatism General Social Survey

39 And even more so: Religion

40 Why are religious conservatives so happy? A) Beliefs: --self-efficacy vs. victimology “While people begin with different opportunities, hard work and perseverance can usually overcome those disadvantages” B) Lifestyle = Community: --Marriage (and larger families) --Churchgoing --More charity --Hive psychology?

41 The New Synthesis in Moral Psych 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship) 2) Moral thinking is for social doing 3) Morality binds and builds 4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness

42 What is the meaning of life? “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations."

43 What is the meaning of life? “42”

44 What is the meaning of life? Q1: What is the purpose for which I was put here? What is the purpose OF life? Q2: How can I life a full, rich, satisfying life? How can I find purpose and meaning WITHIN life? How can I avoid the feeling that: “all was vanity and a chasing after wind”?

45 Factors that increase MCC: --Group is fundamental source of value --Emphasize similarity, shared traditions --Authoritarian or Authoritative parenting --Moral imperative to punish --Religiosity --Emphasis on duties, not rights --Ethos of support for authority and local institutions

46 The 6 Ultrasocial Animals Hymenoptera: Bees wasps and ants Also: termites… and naked mole rats…

47 The 6 th Ultrasocial:

48 Great Truth #10: Happiness comes from between “I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great” (Willa Cather, My Antonia)

49 Happiness Hypothesis #3: Happiness comes from between So does purpose and meaning WITHIN life Get the right relationships between --Your rider and elephant --Yourself and others --Yourself and your work --Yourself and something larger than yourself

50 Thank you Mike Gazzaniga --Jayne Rosenblatt --3 rd floor of Psych East --Sara Miller McCune ppt files available at at bottomwww.JonathanHaidt.com


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