Sunday, October 08, 2006

"Christianity & Brain" -> Thou Shall Not Covet

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Thank you Dr Firebaugh for your report. I just wish that you could have pointed out that a lot of people could be happier if they just followed the dictate that "thou shall not covet." Dr. Firebaugh relates a common fact that the happiness psychologists have been calling the hedonistic treadmill. Once we start getting stuff, we can't keep ourselves from getting stuff.

There is no satisfaction to our appetite. The Bible talks a bit about this, and when I first read the following, it cut me to the quick:

Isaiah 5:8 (New International Version)

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.

We as individuals want to buy every house in the land. We want to own every piece of land, until we alone own everything. Only this will make us happy.

But back to Firebaugh, this is old news, and this fact has been around forever. We, as human beings, feel better when others have it worse. The chart here shows that the income rises, people feel happier. So, yes, wealth does make you feel better.

However, wealth tends to be intracountry for individual wealth. So USA citizens only feel good in comparisons to other USA citizens. If a poor USA citizen is richer than a middle income Mexican, it doesn't help them feel better at all.

Now, some of this is a bit different on a country level. Countries that have a great amount of forward progress have higher levels of happiness than countries that don't have forward progress. So if you live in China, India, or Brazil--with the economy taking off--overall the levels of happiness should be higher. Some countries like Russia, which have had a mix bag with the capitalistic system--have less aggressive levels of happiness. You can see this in the chart below. Once again, this shows the hedonistic treadmill, only on a country level.

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Now here's sage advice from CNN's story.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, is attempting to pin down just what it is that the especially happy do differently. She has found that they don't waste time dwelling on unpleasant things. They tend to interpret ambiguous events in positive ways. And perhaps most tellingly, they aren't bothered by the successes of others. Lyubomirsky says that when she asked less happy people whom they compared themselves with, "they went on and on." She adds, "The happy people didn't know what we were talking about." They dare not to compare, thus short-circuiting invidious social comparisons.

Now Ms. Lyubomirsky graduated with a Summa Cum Laude, Harvard University, for her undergrad. Then went to Stanford for her Ph.D. Interesting, she rediscovers what scripture tells us. Even more interesting, she ran a very interesting experiment where she determined the following:

Indeed, the fact that activity changes require considerable effort to enact is more consistent with the Puritan version of the American dream, rather than the ‘‘easy living’’ or the ‘‘quick fix’’ ideals that have partially supplanted this foundational vision. In other words, our data suggest that effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness. In contrast, simply altering one’s superficial circumstances (assuming they are already reasonably good) may have little lasting effect on personal well-being.

What was the core of the above? If you decide to change something in your life--your weight, your muscles, your skills--you happiness relates to if you had to go and work for it. Having something handed to you doesn't matter.

Thus we are left with the core of happiness:

1. Ignore those around you
2. Work hard at what you do

Colossians 3:17 (New King James Version)

17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Research supports the Bible once again.

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