Dynamic Optimism

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I came across this in 2000 and really liked it. It was written by Max More and it covers all the basics of what it means to be an optimist. Like anything psychology related you simply can’t change your personality and embrace an ideology on a whim but the essay is on the head about optimism. This has also inspired a soon to be added mental health page.

DYNAMIC OPTIMISM is an active, empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities.

To understand Dynamic Optimism deeply and to apply it to expanding our lives, we need to become aware of its diverse aspects—the personal characteristics of a dynamic optimist and the kinds of powerful thinking patterns such a person displays. The dynamic optimist both interprets experience positively, and influences outcomes positively. Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist. For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity.

The twelve key characteristics of the dynamic optimist can be stated briefly but take practice and wisdom to implement consistently. First I will divide them into characteristics involving the positive interpretation of experience and the positive influencing of outcomes. We can then investigate in more detail what each involves.

 INTERPRETING EXPERIENCE POSITIVELY:

(1) Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.

(2) Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.

(3) Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.

(4) Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.

(5) Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking.

 INFLUENCING OUTCOMES POSITIVELY:

(6) Rational: Using reason rather than being lead by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.

(7) Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by a inspiring self-image.

(8) Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.

(9) Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.

(10) Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.

(11) Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.

(12) Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.

These twelve characteristics of effective optimists give us specific ways of turning the abstract idea of dynamic optimism into actions. Later we will see how these characteristics or attitudes can be turned into particular thinking patterns suited to living effectively. I should note here that the division into interpreting events and influencing outcomes is intended as a tool for understanding and application. The division should not be taken as a theoretically watertight one. Some characteristics could be placed in either category. The two categories go closely together: positive interpretations tend naturally to lead to positive actions by changing the focus of your energy and attention, and positive actions can easily reinforce habits of interpretation.

A more detailed examination.

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Heaven On Earth

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An evangelical friend of mine likes to say ‘See you in heaven’ and my reply is always ‘I hope so.’ I’m not trying to be funny when I sat that, I really mean it. Imagine a place of eternal joy, who wouldn’t want that? Saying that place can reached in the afterlife in exchange for good behaviour is pretty smart. Then all you have to do is define what good constitutes good behaviour and threaten eternal suffering for bad behaviour (which you also define) and you’re all set, you will control your followers.

Religious concepts of heaven and hell are based on at least three unproven ideas:

  • We have a soul.
  • Our soul leaves our body when we die.
  • Our soul has the ability to find heaven and hell and experience them.

This use of heaven and hell is an abuse of useful concepts. Heaven and hell do exist but certainly not in an unproven afterlife. Even Pope Francis once admitted that heaven and hell aren’t literal places, they’re experiences. Telling people that heaven is achievable in the afterlife diminishes the motivation to appreciate heaven here on Earth. While what constitutes heaven on Earth is different for each person there are nearly countless ways to achieve a heavenly state right here and now. There are too many people, places and things that can bring about happiness and contentment to list but the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics studied this and made a list of 33 things that make people happy:

The 33 things that definitely make us happy (% increased happiness)

Intimacy, making love 14.20%

Theatre, dance, concert 9.29%

Exhibition, museum, library 8.77%

Sports, running, exercise 8.12%

Gardening, allotment 7.83%

Singing, performing 6.95%

Talking, chatting, socialising 6.38%

Birdwatching, nature watching 6.28%

Walking, hiking 6.18%

Hunting, fishing 5.82%

And 23 more  Even though this is culturally biased, it’s a start. There is actually an entire branch of  Psychology dedicated to ‘the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive’ (source). This is what we are all about too and so have added to our list of useful links.

Heaven is absolutely here on Earth:

People

Places

Nature

Once we understand that we don’t need to wait until we die to have heaven we take away religion’s ability to control us with promises of it in the afterlife. More importantly we enjoy life more simply by taking it all in and appreciating all the great things it has to offer. Even the little things become more enjoyable and life becomes easier.

 

A Printable Humanist Declaration Of Values

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This is a repost but given the change in the direction of the blog it seems appropriate. This is taken almost entirely from Paul Kurtz’ declaration he wrote for the Council For Secular Humanism many years ago. Seems prudent after so many years to re-examine it but for now here it is: the-affirmations-of-humanism and in Word format the-affirmations-of-humanism

 

This will be our ‘Values’ page as well.  

 

 

 

The Arts: A Vital Part of Being Human

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When I was 15 years old I was quite the rocker. If you asked me my feelings on opera I would have laughed and criticized it. Somehow a friend of mine convinced me to join a school trip to see The Phantom of the Opera and it changed me forever. Not only did I really enjoy it but it opened my mind to other genres of music and performing arts. I spent the next few years volunteering at a university radio station exploring different genres of music and it made me very happy.

Stories like mine are very common, the arts move people in various ways and is difficult to explain but there is some understanding now:

Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts

The Psychology of Artists and the Arts

Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain

How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond

A small list but a good example of the intense study that has gone into how and why the arts effect us the way they do.

However, how can one put into word the importance of the arts to our humanity? Artistic expression is a powerful medium and the arts effect us all in one way or another.

Imagine society without the civilising influence of the arts and you’ll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life – and much that is educationally vital. Take the collective memory from our museums; remove the bands from our schools and choirs from our communities; lose the empathetic plays and dance from our theaters or the books from our libraries; expunge our festivals, literature and painting, and you’re left with a society bereft of a national conversation … about its identity or anything else. Sir Peter Bazalgette

Entertainment, education, the economy, our community and even our national identities are all shaped by the arts. Without the arts you have a culture nearly void of pride, pleasure and historical relevance. The effects of artistic expression to psychological well being is so well documented that it is used as a therapeutic approach by psychologists. There is no contesting that the arts are important and as culture moves away from religion the arts will be a vital part of providing an alternative to what religion provides.

 

Learn From Everyone. Follow no one.

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A perfect expression of how humanists tend to be. Learning from whatever we can (including religion) and taking what we need to formulate our beliefs and values. The independent nature of humanists summarized by an acquaintance, ‘Herding the religious is easy, they are like  sheep. But herding humanists is a bit like herding cats’, a very accurate analogy. As such a fitting meme for secular humanism.

Note: This is a bit ironic because humanists tend to go their own way so much that this generalization may be just very well be wrong in some cases.