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.  

 

 

 

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.

A Different Direction: The Alternative to Religion.

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When this blog was started 6 years ago we had a goal of ridding the world of religion, superstition, the pseudosciences and all the harms they cause. It has been our great pleasure to see atheism and humanism grow so much in popularity worldwide. The internet has been at the forefront of the battle against dogma and superstition. The internet has opened the floodgates of information to the world and the result has been a new enlightenment. Unbeliever’s such as myself no longer feel alone in their beliefs (or lack thereof). Atheist and humanist organizations, and chat rooms have popped up in droves, and even atheist churches exist now. These are things were virtually unheard of as little as ten years ago. A cultural shift is occurring and the diminishing of religion is certainly a part of that.

Some careful reflection of this cultural shift has lead to us to make a change in the content of this blog. We are still against the evils of religion and superstitions but we have to ask ourselves ‘Now that religion is being heavily criticized and that shows no signs of changing,  what now?’ Until human nature changes and we evolve past needing what religion offers for people then we must provide alternatives. Fortunately these alternatives exist and this blog will be primarily focusing on these alternatives going forward: Science, The Arts and Social Conscience.

Science:

The physical sciences help us fight disease and aging, protect our environment, and make our lives easier in immeasurable ways: from safer cars to the stain resistant clothing you may be wearing right now. The social sciences provide us with the means to improve our mental health, culture, economics and politics. The sciences are truly the key to our survival and our happiness.

The Arts:

Music, literature, film, painting, sculpture and other forms of artistic expression and entertainment move us in profound ways and are already providing hope and meaning to millions worldwide.

Social Conscience:

There is a great deal of happiness and satisfaction in the service of others. This can be something as simple as helping someone carry something to vast undertakings of selfless giving such philanthropy and social activism. There is a great deal of research to show that this in a natural part of our evolution.

We are still secular humanists and so will still be including the atheism and humanism pages and content will include these subjects. However, as part of our efforts to rid the world of dangerous, archaic beliefs we will be focusing on alternatives to religion. These alternatives are secular, deeply powerful and focus on what’s best for family, community and humanity as whole instead of how to please a God or Gods or those that proclaim to speak for them. We can live without religion and this blog hopes to show how that is possible.

The Decline of Self-Ownership

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Imagine a world in which self-ownership is denied. You would have no freedoms, no control of your life. With no self-ownership you would face an eternal struggle to find happiness and success that only happens when someone or something allows it. Some would argue that self-ownership is the foundation of our human rights and freedoms. There is no denying the importance even though there are some valid criticisms of the extreme libertarian ideal which denies compromise and promotes selfishness.

For the sake of clarity let us look, briefly, at the libertarian definition of self ownership:

‘In the most general sense, libertarianism is a political philosophy that affirms the rights of individuals to liberty, to acquire, keep, and exchange their holdings, and considers the protection of individual rights the primary role for the state. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)’

The Libertarian ideal extends to property and for this reason becomes problematic. While one should no doubt have rights over their products, property…etc if rightfully obtained libertarians feel that no one should be allowed to have this property without their permission under any circumstances. Self-ownership under libertarianism does not allow, for example,  someone to enter their property even in an emergency. Libertarianism, in its extreme form, doesn’t allow for a society that makes exceptions or provides charity. Obviously a society that does not allow exceptions under the right circumstances and does not allow charity is not a society that would function very well. So this blog does not embrace this concept of self-ownership instead we prefer the following:

Every individual owns all aspect of themselves. Self-ownership means a person has  right to ownership of both their bodies and  their minds (emotions and intellect). Self-ownership means every person is free to set their own goals and determine their own values. Self-ownership crucially involves recognizing the same rights in others and acting accordingly.

The definition of self-ownership is very close the definition of liberty that is the foundation of democracy.

Current dangers to self-ownership:

  • Social and Cultural
    1. Social Belonging. You wear clothes and act like others. A basic human need for acceptance within a culture/sub-culture. group, or sect causes this and can only be changed at an individual level.
    2. Traditions: Unquestioning acceptance of tradition can erode self-ownership. Whether it be through accepting a name change in marriage or giving ourselves up to a religion. Many traditions dangerously undermine self-ownership.
  • Political
    1. Collectivism: Rules and regulations that restrict our freedoms. A steady examination of the balance between laws and regulations that keep us safe and keep society functioning properly and the ones that stifle and suppress our fundamental freedoms is crucial.
    2. Corruption: Uncontrolled corporate and other interests that poison our bodies and destroy our environment.
  • Religion:
    1. Mind Body Dualism. The idea that the mind and body are separate. In the Abrahamic religions our mind is locus of filthy, sinful thoughts and our bodies are merely a vessel that does not go with us when we die. Thus we must strive to gain forgiveness from a divine creator in order to achieve eternal happiness. This is profoundly damaging to our self-esteems and forces us to give up control of our lives to external forces and religious authorities.
    2. Faith: A concept that glorifies believing without questioning and to not require reasoning or evidence before accepting something. This undermines our ability to think independently and own our minds.
    3. A Personal God:  An eternal and often wrathful God that constantly monitors and judges is perhaps the most damaging concept to self-ownership of all the concepts within religion.

‘I suggest a replacement of mind-body dualism with a view of mind and body, physical and intellectual, material and spiritual as integrated. Self-ownership embraces ownership of all aspects of my self: my body, my emotions, my intellect, my values. I express my values, beliefs, and emotions in physical actions. I cannot fully own my mind unless I own my body. I cannot own my body if I give up my mind. The two are aspects of one reality and so must be considered as a whole. ‘-Max More

Self-ownership is is extremely important but it is a constant battle to balance self-ownership with sacrifice for the sake of being a functioning, contributing member of society. This blog certainly rejects the self-centered, libertarian concept of self-ownership. We do however embrace the concept that self-ownership is a constant fight for personal liberty  but also carries with it all the psychological benefits (self esteem, success..etc) that kind of liberty provides.

 

Some More Reading:

  1. Libertarianism
  2. SELF-OWNERSHIP: A Core Transhuman Virtue
  3. Self-Ownership