Happiness, Part 1

Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on September 11, 2011


Happiness Sickness


We have a happiness sickness in this country. Part of the problem is our culture: it focuses on materialism, wealth, and status. The other problem is that we just aren’t taught anything about what it takes to be happy.


This is the first of a three-part segment on Happiness. I am quoting (with permission) from Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis.” This will set the stage for parts 2 and 3.


“The problem of evil has bedeviled many religions since their birth. If God is all good and all powerful, either he allows evil to flourish (which means he is not all good), or else he struggles against evil (which means he is not all powerful). Religions have generally chosen one of three resolutions of this paradox. One solution is straight dualism: There exists a good force and an evil force, they are equal and opposite, and they fight eternally Human begins are part of the battleground. We were created part good, part evil, and we much choose which side we will be on. This view is clearest in religions emanating from Persia and Babylonia, such as Zoroastrianism, and the view influenced Christianity as a long-lived doctrine called Manichaeism. A second resolution is straight monism: There is one God; he created the world as it needs to be, and evil is an illusion, and that enlightenment consists of breaking out of the illusion. The third approach, taken by Christianity, blends monism and dualism in a way that ultimately reconciles the goodness and power of God with the existence of Satan. This argument is so complicated that I cannot understand it. Nor, apparently, can many Christians who, judging by what I hear on gospel radio stations in Virginia, seem to hold a straight Manichaean world view, according to which God and Satan are fighting an eternal war. In fact, despite the diversity of theological arguments made in different religions, concrete representations of Satan, demons, and other evil entities are surprisingly similar across continents and eras.

“From a psychological perspective, Manichaeism makes perfect sense. “Our life is the creation of our mind,” as Buddha said, and our minds evolved to play Machiavellian tit for tat. We all commit selfish and shortsighted acts, but our inner lawyer ensures that we do not blame ourselves or our allies for them. We are thus convinced of our own virtue, but quick to see bias, greed, and duplicity in others. We are often correct about others’ motives, but as any conflict escalates we begin to exaggerate grossly, to weave a story in which pure virtue (our side) is in a battle with pure vice (theirs).”

"Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Haidt. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group."


This entry was posted in Writeindependent.org. Bookmark the permalink.