HAPPINESS: Hedonic Happiness Versus Meaningful Happiness

I have long been interested in happiness and happiness research.  I recently stumbled across one of the most fascinating scientific articles of any kind that I have read in recent years: Some Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life.  This happiness research focused on the crucial differences between happiness attributed simply to one’s pleasurable experiences — hedonic happiness — and happiness attributable to experiencing meaning in life.

This particular happiness research peaked my interest because I have been accused of arrogance or hubris in claiming that some people with high levels of happiness may be missing out on substantial aspects or portions of happiness.  My alleged “second guessing” of peoples’ subjective state is substantially confirmed by this groundbreaking happiness research.

From the authors’ abstract:

“Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness.”

The pleasure of satisfying needs and wants (hedonic happiness) has little to do with leading a meaningful life.  Plus, worry, stress, and anxiety are linked to higher meaningfulness and lower (hedonic) happiness.  The developmental tasks of integrating meaning into and across one’s life can be stress-inducing.  Fortunately, to cut to the chase, leading a meaningful life contributes substantially to a happy life, often accounting for losses in hedonic happiness.  Though the stress of leading a very difficult but meaningful life may result in lower overall level of happiness.  From my perspective, risking or sacrificing hedonic pleasures for a life of increased meanings strikes me as, well…meaning full.

From the introduction:

“The wishes for happiness and for a meaningful life are two of the most widely held goals by which people measure and motivate themselves. A breathtakingly broad variety of other common goals and strivings — as examples, the desires to be healthy, to be loved, to succeed at work, to raise children, to serve one’s religion or country — can be subsumed under either or both of those broad wishes. The present article addresses the relationship between the two. Although undoubtedly happiness and a meaningful life have substantial overlap, our focus is on the differences. More precisely, we shall develop theory and provide data about what factors differentially predict happiness and meaningfulness.

Positive psychology took off in the 1990s as a corrective to psychology’s heavy emphasis on illness, suffering, and misfortune. It sought to enrich human life and enhance human functioning. The study of happiness has received a tremendous boost from the advent of positive psychology. Research on what makes life meaningful has increased as well, but perhaps not nearly as much. This special issue of the journal may be a useful corrective in that it undertakes to call the attention of positive psychologists (and other interested researchers) to issues of meaning and meaningfulness. The present investigation was intended partly to clarify some key differences between happiness and meaningfulness.

We shall argue that although happiness and meaning are important features of a desirable life and indeed are interrelated, they have different roots and implications (MacGregor & Little, 1998). Happiness may be rooted in having one’s needs and desires satisfied, including being largely free from unpleasant events. Meaningfulness may be considerably more complex than happiness, because it requires interpretive construction of circumstances across time according to abstract values and other culturally mediated ideas.”

I deeply appreciate an integrated middle ground between the all-too-frequent pathologizing in modern psychology and a common superficial view in both research and everyday life of happiness as in essence simply pleasant emotional states.  This research seems to get at the heart of integrating our understanding of the interplay between “positive” emotional experience and the genuinely difficult search for experiencing meaning amidst the hardness in life.  Such an understanding seems critical to a more holistic view of happiness, fuller of our best shot at living amidst ultimate realities (objective realities?) than the surreal view of happiness potentially, perhaps even ideally, disconnected from and unmediated by objective reality, i.e., happiness as a purely subjective state.

In defining happiness:

“Happiness is generally defined as subjective well-being, which is to say, an experiential state that contains a globally positive affective tone. It may be narrowly or broadly focused: A person may claim to be happy to have found a lost shoe, happy that the war is over, or happy to be having a good life. Researchers have conceptualized and measured happiness in at least two quite different ways. One is affect balance, indicating having more pleasant than unpleasant emotional states, and is thus essentially an aggregate of how one feels at different moments. The other, life satisfaction, goes beyond momentary feelings to invoke an integrative, evaluative assessment of one’s life as a whole.

Meaning can be a purely symbolic or linguistic reality, as in the meaning of a word. The question of life’s meaning thus applies symbolic ideas to a biological reality. Meaningfulness is presumably both a cognitive and an emotional assessment of whether one’s life has purpose and value. People may feel that life is meaningful if they find it consistently rewarding in some way, even if they cannot articulate just what it all means. Our focus is on meaningfulness and the meaning of life.

Operationally, we let participants in our studies define happiness and a meaningful life in whatever way they chose, rather than imposing specific definitions on them. We also assumed (and found) that the two overlap substantially…In particular, it should be possible to have a highly meaningful life that is not necessarily a happy one (e.g., as religious missionary, political activist, or terrorist).”

These researchers anchor their theory of happiness to the idea that happiness is natural and meaning is cultural.  Of course, these two constructs overlap and interrelate.  How they are related was the purpose of their research.

“We assume the simpler form of happiness (i.e., affect balance rather than life satisfaction), at least, is rooted in nature. All living creatures have biological needs, which consist of things they must obtain from their environment in order to survive and reproduce. Among creatures with brains and central nervous systems, these basic motivations impel them to pursue and enjoy those needed things, and the satisfaction of those needs generally produces positive feeling states. Conversely, negative feelings arise when those needs are thwarted. Hence affect balance depends to some degree on whether basic needs are being satisfied. Possibly life satisfaction too could be swayed by whether, in general, one is getting the things one wants and needs. Human beings are animals, and their global happiness therefore may depend on whether they generally get what they want and need.

If happiness is natural, meaningfulness may depend on culture. All known cultures use language, which enables them to use meanings and communicate them. There is a large set of concepts underlying language, and these concepts are embedded in interconnected networks of meaning. These are built up over many generations, and each new person comes to learn most of these meanings from the group. Appraising the meaningfulness of one’s life thus uses culturally transmitted symbols (via language) to evaluate one’s life in relation to purposes, values, and other meanings that also are mostly learned from the culture. Meaning is thus more linked to one’s cultural identity than is happiness.

Although this special issue is devoted to “personal meaning,” meaning itself is not personal but rather cultural. It is like a large map or web, gradually filled in by the cooperative work of countless generations. An individual’s meaningfulness may be a personally relevant section of that giant, culturally created and culturally transmitted map.

One crucial advantage of meaning is that it is not limited to the immediately present stimulus environment. Meaningful thought allows people to think about past, future, and spatially distant realities (and indeed even possibilities). Related to that, meaning can integrate events across time. Purpose, one important component of meaningfulness, entails that present events draw meaning from future ones. The examples listed above of meaningful but not happy lives (e.g., oppressed political activist) all involve working toward some future goal or outcome, such that the future outcome is highly desirable even though the present activities may be unpleasant. Meaningfulness may therefore often involve understanding one’s life beyond the here and now, integrating future and past. In contrast, happiness, as a subjective feeling state, exists essentially in the present moment. At most, happiness in the form of life satisfaction may integrate some degree of the past into the present — but even so, it evaluates the past from the point of view of the present. Most people would probably not report high life satisfaction on the basis of having had a good past but while being currently miserable.

Consistent with that view that meaning integrates across time, Vallacher and Wegner (1985, 1987) found that higher levels of meaning were consistently marked by longer time frames. As people shifted toward more concrete and less meaningful ways of thinking about their actions, they became more focused on the here and now. Thus, a wedding can be described both as “making a lifelong commitment to love” and as “saying some words in a church.” The former invokes a longer time span and is more meaningful than the latter.

Indeed, Baumeister (1991) observed that life is in constant change but strives for stability, and meaning is an important tool for imposing stability on the flux of life. For example, the feelings and behaviors that two mates have toward each other will fluctuate from day to day, sometimes even momentarily, but culturally mandated meanings such as marriage define the relationship as something constant and stable. (And marriage does in fact help to stabilize relationships, such as by making it more difficult for the partners to dissolve the relationship.) Such ongoing involvements undoubtedly contribute to the degree of meaningfulness a life has. Put another way, the pursuit of goals and fulfillments through ongoing involvements and activities that are interlinked but spread across time may be central to meaningfulness.

Again, we assume there is substantial overlap between meaningfulness and happiness. Humans are social beings, and participation in social groups is a vital means by which people satisfy their basic needs in order to survive and reproduce. Hence interpersonal involvement, among other things, is surely vital for both meaning and happiness. We do not intend to dwell on such things as interpersonal belongingness, because our focus is on the differences between meaningfulness and happiness, but we acknowledge their importance. Although both happiness and meaningfulness may involve interpersonal connection, they may differ in how one relates to others. Insofar as happiness is about having one’s needs satisfied, interpersonal involvements that benefit the self should improve happiness. In contrast, meaningfulness may come instead from making positive contributions to other people.

Although needs can be satisfied in a selfish fashion, the expression and development of selfhood tends to invoke symbolic relations and is therefore more a matter of meaning than happiness. MacGregor and Little (1998) found that the meaningfulness of individuals’ personal projects depended on how consistent they were with core aspects of self and identity. Many animals have the same basic needs as humans, but the human self is far more elaborate and complex than what other animals exhibit. Part of the reason is that the human self is created and structured on the basis of the cultural system (see Baumeister, 2011). On that basis, we predicted that selfhood would have different relationships to happiness and meaningfulness. Happiness would mainly be linked to whether the self’s needs are being satisfied. Meaningfulness would be far more broadly related to what activities express and reflect the symbolic self, some of which would involve contributing to the welfare of others (individually or in general) or other culturally valued activities.”

In more simple term, culture is what separates humans from other animals.  Much pre-existing happiness research focused too closely on the animal (natural) aspects of humans and not adequately accounting for meaning (cultural) aspects.  I can’t help but notice that modern science, with its mechanistic models, often leaves the heart and soul — meaning — of humanity unasccounted for, and therefore devalued.

To conclude and integrate these happiness researchers’ findings:

“Meaningfulness and happiness are positively correlated, so they have much in common. Many factors, such as feeling connected to others, feeling productive, and not being alone or bored contribute similarly to both. Yet the two are distinct, and the focus of this investigation has been to identify the major differences in correlates of happiness (corrected for meaning) and meaningfulness (corrected for happiness). Correcting highly correlated variables for each other can reverse effects, which may contribute to some inconsistency in the literature. Future research should distinguish happiness from meaningfulness, because many ostensible contributors to happiness are in fact mainly associated with meaning and have little or no direct contribution to happiness except by way of increasing meaning. For example, helping others may actually increase happiness because it increases meaningfulness, which in turn contributes to happiness, but when we corrected for the effect on meaningfulness, the pure effect of helping others was if anything the opposite: a reduced level of happiness.

Our findings suggest that happiness is mainly about getting what one wants and needs, including from other people or even just by using money. In contrast, meaningfulness was linked to doing things that express and reflect the self, and in particular to doing positive things for others. Meaningful involvements increase one’s stress, worries, arguments, and anxiety, which reduce happiness. (Spending money to get things went with happiness, but managing money was linked to meaningfulness.) Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker. Whereas happiness was focused on feeling good in the present, meaningfulness integrated past, present, and future, and it sometimes meant feeling bad. Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.

The Highly Meaningful But Unhappy Life

Our data enable us to construct a statistical portrait of a life that is highly meaningful but relatively low in happiness, which illuminates the differences between happiness and meaningfulness. This sort of life has received relatively little attention and even less respect. But people who sacrifice their personal pleasures in order to participate constructively in society may make substantial contributions. Cultivating and encouraging such people despite their unhappiness could be a goal worthy of positive psychology.

Our findings depict the unhappy but meaningful life as seriously involved in difficult undertakings. It was marked by ample worry, stress, argument, and anxiety. People with such lives spend much time thinking about past and future: They expect to do a lot of deep thinking, they imagine future events, and they reflect on past struggles and challenges. They perceive themselves as having had more unpleasant experiences than others, and in fact 3% of having a meaningful life was due to having had bad things happen to you.

Although these individuals may be relatively unhappy, several signs suggest they could make positive contributions to society. High meaningfulness despite low happiness was associated with being a giver rather than a taker. These people were likely to say that taking care of children reflected them, as did buying gifts for others. Such people may self-regulate well, as indicated by their reflecting on past struggles and imagining the future, and also in their tendency to reward themselves.

One can also use our findings to depict the highly happy but relatively meaningless life. People with such lives seem rather carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. If they argue, they do not feel that arguing reflects them. Interpersonally, they are takers rather than givers, and they give little thought to past and future. These patterns suggest that happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

I am so delighted, even happy, that I stumbled across this happiness research.  May the deepest harmonies of nature and human culture conspire to bring about profound happiness for us all.

POEM: Mirror Winning In a Close Shave

That mine-blowing moment finally came
Where he saw his enemy
Face to efface
That fateful mourning
Infinitely more dangerous
And dreadfully more thorny
Than blood drawn in a close shave
Like a glance to the heart
None other
Then his own
Awe creation in a singular drop
An art rendering
Sow profoundly more
Than mirror winning

This poem reflects quiet literally those moments of epiphany when we see ourselves and our enemy as one.  I am deeply intrigued by the psychological truth of projection, seeing the world as we are rather than simply as the world happens to be.  The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw J. Lec quote PEACE BUTTONThis egocentric lens distorts larger truths but can serve as a powerful tool for self-discovery.  Focusing on one’s self as an instrument of perception can offer valuable incites into how we navigate the world, often through a fun house mirror or speculative shadowy glances.  Such reflection can be mighty humbling.  I have been struck often enough by the philosophical and cosmological truth that wee are won by recognizing the sundry losses and fallings short that we each experience and bring to the world.  I have found that reflecting on the oneness of humanity and creation has led me to be a better person in my peace of the whirled.  Plus, the deep satisfaction of the experience of one has proven to me sow profoundly more than mirror winning.  May you find countless moments that help you transcend mine-blowing ours.

POEM: Shame Old Story

A little bit
Of shame
Goes along
Weigh
Too much
With blinders
Knot visible
In a sense
Lost
To over looking
As awe full as life is

This poem is about the overabundance of shame, a tail as owed as time that wags the dog.  Shame is one of the all-time popular weighs of controlling others.  Shame is a lazy substitute for inspiration.  Inspiration comes with a whole lot of work, such as patience, integrity, passion, and compassion.  Shame is a seductive shortcut that cheats us out of the beauty full results of worthy effort.  In essence, shaming others is shaming ourselves.  As they say: you can’t point your finger at someone else without pointing four fingers back at yourself.  Relying on inspiration and example is a much better weigh.  There is a tribe in Africa where anytime a member commits some offense, they surround them and pummel them with every good thing about them, a wellness practice very telling.  Social psychology has well documented that focusing on building assets is more productive than focusing on deficits.  The rhythms of the human soul seem to be much more in tune with inspiration and positive regard than shame, criticism, and punishment.  In theological terms, this might be simply stated that good is stronger than evil.  Traditional religion often betrays this belief by focusing on original sin rather than original blessing; that is, accenting our inherent falling short rather than our inherent goodness.   May you readily see the goodness in yourself and others, and faithfully live out of our better portion.

POEM: Making a Fuel of My Self

In the cold night
That darkest time
When dawns forgotten
My heart burns
With fear and pain
My home aflame
To an unaltarable offering
And fiery furnish
Of wanton change
Of hammering out or deal
For scanty respite
From that
I hate
Combusting
Up the world
With care less balms
And succors for bid
Sow overdo
And with such gall
I light
All things tinder
Overlooking the infernal warming
Of making a fuel of my self
In whatever eye wood do
Only just
In the mean time
Slamming on
The day brakes
I find myself
In the mourning
Executing catharsis
I come to
Grasping for breath
Only fearing what thou wilt due
I under stand
My shudders unbolted
Udderly apprehended
As in canned essence
Set free
Revealing my son ship
Brethren to awe
And cistern of tears
Still, don’t pine for me
For what
I have got
My ash kicked
By whatever might
Remain
As I urn my weigh
And when moan comes
My hearth is rekindled
Out shining
That which can never be
Holy defeated
Burnishing everything I knead

This poem is about both hope and the striking temptation of violence.  Violence begets violence.  Hate begets hate.  Likewise, love can overcome hate and violence.  Hope is embodied in nonviolent resistance to violence and injustice.  If we succumb to merely returning violence for violence, then we reinforce the cycle we supposedly resist.  If we don’t recognize and accept that at the deepest level of reality my enemy and I are one, then discord will be borne again…and again.  Violence is very hardy because it so predictably riles our most base instincts, the basic structure of our bodies and rudimentary psychology; that is, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Practicing the discipline of nonviolence is the way to break free from this self/other destructive chain of causal events.  Human will is transcendent, naturally rebellious, to this destructive lock-down of reactionary existence.  This inescapable rebellion against being trapped in seemingly perpetual violence is the birth of hope and the path of peace and justice for all.  An undefeatable aspect of human will always stands outside the seductive snare of merely reactionary behavior.  Choosing a higher path is possible.  As Gandhi so simply and boldly declared in word and deed, “Peace is possible.”  We can choose to dishonor this higher aspect of human existence by choosing to settle for reactionary participation in a seemingly inescapable chain of crap that nobody really wants but someone else “makes” me do, as if I am some soulless machine, voting in a rigged game.  This dishonors our true maker, mysterious and gracious.  Perpetrators, those who are most deeply embedded in the illusion that violence will give them the long end of the stick that is one humanity, erroneously believe that they possess some superior will in manipulating the machinations of the day to their advantage (at the expense of others).  Rather, their self-serving complicity with reactionary destructive violence is a denial of creative human will and hope for peace and justice for all.  To escape their own self-dehumanization they pompously attribute their apparent success in navigating the status quo of reactionary existence to a superior will, somehow free from others’ claims on them.  These so-called winners look to themselves apart, seeing themselves as self-made men — in a palpably peculiar insult to their mothers.  And as I like to say: if you are a self-made man, you have a fool for a maker.  Victims residing down the chain of injustice can mirror their perpetrators’ weighs by rattling the chain up or down, either giving the master curators of violence another specimen for their museum of humanity, or perhaps honing one’s hurt on someone even less able or willing to react commensurately.  The predictability of violence is captured in the insularity, unaccountability, and disconnect from humanity (their own and others’) that perpetrators of the powers that be experience in wanting mastery over their own lives.  The predictability of violence among victims is rooted in the reactionary reality that hurt people hurt people.  People tend to do what they know.  Can we know peace and justice, or at least cultivate its possibility?  While experiencing the hurt of violence and injustice can be a powerful impetus to respond unkind, it can also be a profound invitation to solidarity, empathizing, connecting and standing with others, each of who have experiences of hurt and injustice.  This is an aspect of God’s mysterious “preferential option for the poor” whereby reality is constructed in such a way that the poor have better access to their humanity than the rich.  As Brethren to awe/And cistern of tears we are better equipped to join together and bring peace and justice into the whirled.  May it be so.

POEM: Not The Usual Joke

A Hindu
A Muslim
A Christian
And a Jew
Walk into a bar
And the bartender says
Greetings, Mr. Gandhi
Let me guess
You don’t want “the usual”

This short poem takes the format of a common joke. However, one point of the poem is that you can expect that enlightened folks often transcend “the usual.”  When religion occupies transcendence, even the transcendence of itself, then religion no longer becomes a bad joke — simply a good joke.  God is too big for any one religion, since religion is a created human institution.  There is no end to transcendence.  God is always “more.”

Of course, this joke is based on the infamous quote of Gandhi that he was a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew.  This sort of syncretism (blending of beliefs from different religions) is frowned upon by most in religious establishments (see my poem, Syncretised Swimming).  Quite aptly, Gandhi’s friend Nehru commented that only a Hindu would say that.  Though this is funny, it isn’t quite true.  Mystics in every religious tradition recognize that transcendence is at the heart of religion and that there is no theological box that can hold exclusive claim on God.  An acceptance of God’s transcendence requires an openness to truth manifesting itself in ways that we do not, even cannot, fully understand. In Christian tradition, this might be expressed as “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8-9)  In fact, this scripture is used as an explanation of why someone must be “born again,” that is, freed from the slavery of human ideologies and man-made theologies, and re-born into a freedom that recognizes and acts in accord with the Spirit.

Even Buddhists, who are sometimes seen as discounting transcendence, sometimes as far as being reduced to some form of psychology, hold that Buddhism can be followed in conjunction with any religion.  Compassion, or love, is ever-expanding of one’s soul, ever deepening one’s experiences of fuller realities.  Theology is a framework for how we think about God.  Meditating upon God can be enlightening.  Nonetheless, thinking about God and manifesting God’s will for us in our lives are often two very different things — essentially, the difference between thoughts and experience.  I find that Gandhi’s formulation of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a better representation of effectively communicating our understanding and experience of God to others.  As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main way in influencing others.  It is the only thing.”  St. Francis might not gone quite as far, but pretty close, in saying that we should preach the gospel (good news) at all times, using words if necessary.

The need to sell a particular brand of anything, including religion, has led to much misunderstanding and violence in human history.  Compassion and love everlastingly invite us to not just tolerate others’ experience of truth, but to parlay all of the truths we can’t get our hands on to harmonize our lives according to the highest powers present in the universe.  This is less a belief than a process, in an analogous way that life is less a theology than an experience.  Keep it real, my friends!

POEM: Enlightening Reflection

I looked into his eyes
And I could see the devil
More lightly peering
It was eye
A most enlightening reflection
Seeing double

This short poem hopes to shed some light on the concept of psychological projection. Projection strikes me as one of the most profound realities addressed in psychology. Confronting the reality that we regularly see the world more as we are than as the world is itself can provide a powerful tool for increased self-awareness and a practical way of better adjusting to the world around us. Consciously reflecting on how our attitudes, perspectives, and emotional states color our perception and experience of the world can help us move toward a more congruous and harmonious relationship with both the world and our own aspirations. In short, we can become more effective human beings, dealing with reality as it more truly is, from both within and from without. This is nothing short of dealing with the interface between the subjective and the objective.

Reflecting on projection is perhaps the most direct way to sort out what we want to bring into the world as a subjective being and how this actually fits into the world in which we live. Projection is typically employed in the context of dysfunction. This poem addresses the universal human experience of projecting our dark side, evil within us, to people and situations outside of us. This is a universal human coping mechanism for dealing with our own shortcomings and avoiding the hard work required to accept full accountability for our own actions or state of being. This form of denial is perennially popular. I strongly suspect that this bias is simply part of human nature, a de-fault mechanism, if you will. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that we are helpless or powerless over this condition. The point is to adjust, re-balance, ourselves to our environment. The counter-balance to denial is awareness. Conscious awareness may very well be the defining characteristic underlying human potential.

I find the practice of “If you spot it you got it,” as an enlightening game to play to overcome the denial implicit in projecting our dark side outside of us. The game is rather simple. For instance, if you are stuck in the line at the grocery store and you are feeling impatient, instead of focusing on factors outside yourself, such as why the store may not have enough clerks, or how slow the clerks or customers may be, focus on yourself, your inner state of being. By reflecting on your attitude, perspective, and emotional state in any given situation, you may very well discover a better balance within yourself and with the world. For instance, is your impatience the only option? To what degree, and in what way, must this situation “make” you impatient? If your patience is well-deserved, did you earn it through previous choices for which you were responsible? Maybe your life does suck at any given moment, but this is a small-minded, hard-hearted, and lazy non-leap to a conclusion that life itself sucks. Living into a larger perspective can offer solace and even joy in difficult situations. Focusing on yourself is not about victim blaming; it’s about balance and proportionality (perspective). You are, in fact, helpless to change most of the world around you. Of course, focusing on things that you can’t change is the leading cause of insanity! Recognizing and accepting that you can’t change something, or someone, is the precise reason you should stop expending energy on it. What a freedom in being able to take off your to-do list everything you cannot change! Of course, the wisdom to know the difference between what you can and cannot change only comes through experience and practice. Practicing self-awareness in the face of de-fault projection is a front-line tool.

The best news in the world is that you, and every other human being, has the power to make a difference within oneself and the world around us. The is the light side of projection. The influence and difference that we make comes through both conscious and unconscious processes. We inherit a lot in life that is due to no choice of our own — some good, some bad. This is the unconscious, deterministic side of life. If not consciously acted upon, by choosing one thing over another, the inertia of our lives will continue its trajectory — some good, some bad. Of course, denying your very ability to make conscious choices is a denial of your own humanity, and by implication and effect, a denial of the humanity of others. We have a responsibility to ourselves and others to seek increasing consciousness, both self-knowledge and knowledge of the world around us. This is where the light side of projection plays its role. Our conscious choices about how we wish to steer our own lives, given the good and the bad at any given moment, is what we project new into the world. Your conscious choices are your gift, your presence if you will, to yourself and your world. These choices change the world from its inertial, deterministic path. This is where the real you shines! You project yourself into the world. Something that was not present becomes present. The dark side of projection simply accepts the de-fault version of reality, a reality without the benefit of consciousness. This is an unconscious vote for the status quo, reinforcing a reality that is nominally lived, meaning we continue to have experiences, but the higher function of conscious choice, responsibility, is avoided. Response-ability is simple the ability to respond. Not simply as moving when poked with a stick, but deciding or learning to avoid being poked with a stick, or poking others with a stick. More positively put, you can explore and live into your highest dreams and aspirations, owning up to the presence you present to yourself, to others, and the world around you.

When we are in love the whole world is in love. This does not mean that the whole world is in love at that given moment. Factually, this is false, and many will go out of their way to point this out to you, with a stick if necessary. Nonetheless, your experience of love is the rich soil from which you project love into the world, making the world a more loving place. Even if your love is unrecognized or unreturned, the simple fact that you experience love increases the love in the world. Of course, when we experience love, it is hard to control. Love has a life of its own. Perhaps love is life itself. Love projecting itself into the world — a life longing project…

POEM: Duckiness

Long the weigh
I miss
Took some clash
Charging another
Once an abject of my affection
Now a worthy suspect
In a lineup
Of numbered whoa’s
Among many
Seedy subjects
On the lam
Yet beyond a shadow
Of doubt
To the maxim
Looking like a duck
Walking like a duck
Quacking like a duck
Then duck!
Turning in
Turning out
To be a quack
Apprehending
I’ve been doctored
Now witnessing
Neither
A ghastly tale
To be chaste
Nor a menacing bill
To be payin’
Strangely just
A beginning
Only under standing
Won mourn
The oblige-ations
Of duckiness
A-mending

This poem is a tribute to the healing process after the break up of a romantic relationship.  This healing process is about moving beyond taking everything personally and gaining some detached perspective regarding how poorly we all often behave under stress and duress.  This process is probably best captured in dealing with the end of an intimate relationship, but it applies widely across life.  Perhaps the greatest blessing of intimate relationships is that it allows us to take things deeply personally, hopefully in a safe manner.  Unfortunately, when an intimate relationship breaks apart, this vulnerability brings great pain.  Since both people in an intimate relationship are vulnerable, with lives meshed and knowing each others buttons, a breakup can be an irresistible invitation to hurt those who have hurt us so deeply.  While this may not be a particularly enlightened or healthy way to cope with loss, hurt people hurting others is perhaps a universal human experience, from both the receiving and dishing it out ends.

In this poem, this predicament and attitude is transcended by a process of “duckiness.”  Ducky simply means likeable or agreeable.  Things aren’t always as they appear.  A generous attitude toward other may very well be the most appropriate default attitude.  Of course, sometimes what looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck is, in fact, a duck.  Nonetheless, even if things are as they appear, our attitude and reaction toward any given situation molds oneself, even defines oneself.  And like they say, honey will get you farther than vinegar.  Our attitudes and behaviors are, well, ours.  What other people do is theirs.  What you do and how you do it does influence other people, but we all have our own choices to make, and can only be held responsible for our own attitudes and behavior.

Of course, the trickiness of relationships is that yours, mine, and ours is easily confused.  This is probably why love, generosity and simple kindness allow relationships to continue and grow.  We all need space to be who we are, without judgment or sanction, that is, to be accepted as the imperfect beings that we are all.  In a wonderful paradox, acceptance is often the greatest medium for bringing about change!  However, if a relationship is strained or at a breaking point, then boundary issues become more urgent, perhaps even a crisis.  People may start behaving in ways one considers unacceptable, or at least greatly dis-likable.  Accepting the other person the way they are, a pretty good working definition of love, does not demand some grand control or manipulation of their defects, but rather a healthy boundary for oneself to avoid harm from another’s toxic attitude or behavior.  No doubt, moving from a deeply personal meshing of one’s lives to a more detached way of relating can be difficult and confusing, especially if one is pondering severing a relationship completely, a relationship that may have provided many good things in each of your lives.  This can be the worst form of loss in life.  While suffering the worst losses in our lives may not bring out the best in us, this is equally true for those around experiencing great loss.  Such trying situations beg for compassion — compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.  There are few situations that kindness will make worse.  Try a little duckiness.  And if kindness doesn’t work, then it’s time to duck out…

POEM: The Game of Life

One day
I realized
The game of life
And going back
In the box
Only to find
The rules had been lost
Long a go
And still
The game goes on

This short poem plays with the notion that life is a game.  Of course, there are many different types of games, each with their own set of rules.  Even if there is one monolithic set of rules that defines reality, it appears that there are countless games that can be played within that set of rules.  A wise person realizes that each of these sets of rules, for whatever game chosen (or implied in one’s actions), possesses a certain arbitrariness.  Such arbitrariness lacks a full claim in ultimate reality.  Any such partial claim, when lifted to sacred status, deserves and invites mocking.  Such playfulness and mocking delves into the wondrous paradox that irreverence can be the highest form of reverence in a given situation.  Irreverence playfully invites us to a fuller and more sacred view of reality.  And such playful invitations can harness the awesome character of pointing out high truths without the downer of overzealously demanding obedience.  Such playful invitations abide by a sacred respect for higher truths as demanding obedience in and of themselves, without contrivance or brute force.  In the games of life, there is often a negative connotation with playing in the sense of “games people play” — when we treat other players as objects in the game, not an equal or full players.  I prefer a more positive connotation, as elucidated by Zen Buddhism’s nonseriousness, apparent foolishness under-girded by wisdom:

“There is a certain quality of foolishness in a real wise man. Why? Because a real wise man contains the opposite. He is both together. He is more comprehensive. A wise man who has no foolishness in him will be dry, dead. His juice will not be flowing. He will not be green. He will not be able to laugh; he will be serious; he will be a long face. A wise man who is just wise and in whose being the fool has not been integrated will be very heavy. It will be difficult to live with such a wise man. He will be very boring. He will be boring to you and he will be boring to himself. He will not have any fun; his life will not know any joy. He will be completely unacquainted with laughter. And when laughter is missed, much is missed.

And one can never know God without laughter. One can never know God without joy. One can never know reality just by being wise.

The fool has something to contribute too — the laughter, the joy, the nonseriousness, the quality of fun, delight. The fool can dance, and the fool can dance for any reason whatsoever — any excuse will do. The fool can laugh. And the fool can laugh not only at others, he can laugh at himself.

When the wise man and the fool meet together in a consciousness, then something of tremendous value happens. There are foolish people and there are wise people. The fool is shallow; the wise man is serious. The fool does not know what truth is, and the wise man does not know what joy is. And a truth without joy is worse than a lie. And a joy without truth is not reliable. A joy without truth is momentary, cannot be of the eternal.”

Nonseriousness and humorlessness are linked to fundamentalist religious faith and militancy.  Militancy — including militarism — and violence are anathema to good humor:

The overarching difference is between the mental rigidity of religious faith and the mental flexibility of humor.

1. The first contrast is between the respect for authority in religious faith, and the questioning of authority in humor. In faith-based religions, people believe what they are told, and do they do what they are told, by a leader, typically a patriarchal leader. God himself is pictured as the ultimate patriarchal authority, the Lord, the King of the Universe.

The psychology of humor, by contrast, involves questioning authority. The humorist’s role, from the court jesters of ancient China to today’s standup comedians, has been to think critically about people’s language, about their reasoning, about their actions, and about the relations between all three. From the days of ancient Greek comedy, the creators of humor have looked for discrepancies between what political and religious leaders say and what they do. Aristophanes poked fun not only at political leaders but at intellectual leaders like Socrates, and even at the gods.

2. The second contrast is between the simple, often dualistic, conceptual schemes of religious faith and the more complex conceptual schemes of humor. Faith-based religions offer believers simple concepts with which they can classify everything they experience. Master categories include “good and evil,” and “us and them.” Osama bin Laden’s speeches and George W. Bush’s speeches are full of name-calling based on such simple dualistic categories. As Bush has admitted, he “doesn’t do nuance.”

Comic thinking, on the other hand, is more complex and messy. The world doesn’t separate neatly into a few categories. In comedy, there aren’t any all-good people, nor any all-bad people. Even the best person involved in the best kind of action is likely to be tainted by some selfishness, foolishness, and maybe even hypocrisy. When characters appear in comedy promoting simple conceptual schemes, they are often satirized as fanatics or fools.

3. The third contrast is between the militarism of religious faith and the pacifism of humor. Religions based on faith tend to feel threatened by other world views and so tend to want to eliminate the proponents of those views. And so they often justify violence against “the heathen” or “the infidel,” as General Boykin and Osama bin Laden do.

From the beginning, however, comedy has been suspicious of calls to eliminate those who think differently, and has been suspicious of violence as a way to solve problems. Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata satirized the insanity of the constant fighting between the Greek city states. In modern times, the futility of war has been the theme of dozens of comedies, which have lampooned the willingness to kill or die on command. Comic heroes are usually good at talking their way out of conflicts, and when that fails, they are not ashamed to run away. The comic attitude here is captured in the old Irish saying “You’re only a coward for a moment, but you’re dead for the rest of your life.”

4. The fourth contrast is between the single-mindedness of religious faith and the willingness to change one’s mind in humor. The person of faith treats alternative viewpoints as possible sources of doubt, and so something to be suppressed. Once they make a divinely sanctioned choice of action—as in George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, they “stay the course” no matter what happens. They do not look for mistakes they might have made, they do not try to think of how they might proceed differently, and they tend to be defensive when they are challenged. Faith-based religions tout what Conrad Hyers (1996) calls “warrior virtues”: courage, loyalty, duty, honor, indomitable will, unquestioning obedience, stubborn determination, and uncompromising dedication.

In comedy, by contrast, the person who has an idée fixe is portrayed as foolish. Comic heroes do set courses of action, but they are adaptable after that. As situations change, they can too. Their plans are not set in stone but are contingent and reversible. Often, the comic hero has not even determined in advance what will count as success or failure.

5. The fifth contrast is between the idealism of religious faith and the pragmatism of humor. The rhetoric of faith-based religions is full of abstractions like Truth, Faith, and Freedom. On the enemy side are those who love Evil.

Comedy, on the other hand, is based not on abstractions but on concrete things, people, and situations. Comic heroes are concerned not about Truth and Freedom but about their next meal, and getting the one they love to love them in return. Not longing for some utopia, they are at home in the world as it is.

6. The sixth contrast is between the convergent thinking of faith-based religions and the divergent thinking of humor. Convergent thinking aims at reaching the correct answer. In divergent thinking there is no single correct answer, but dozens, maybe hundreds of possible good answers. A standard exercise in divergent thinking is to think of thirty uses for a building brick.

With their simple conceptual schemes and their emphasis on thinking in traditional ways, faith-based religions do not encourage creativity or cleverness. A good example is George W. Bush and his wife Laura. On a TV interview program, Laura Bush was asked if she and the President had pet names for each other. She said, “Oh Yes.” “What is your pet name for him?” the interviewer asked. “Bushie,” she answered. “What is his pet name for you?” “Bushie,” she said again.

Unlike such unimaginative plodders, people with a rich sense of humor are creative. The master skill of the comedian is to look at something familiar in a new way.

7. The seventh contrast is between seriousness and playfulness. Faith-based religious visions of life are paradigms of seriousness, and humor is a paradigm of nonseriousness. It is persons, I take it, who are serious in the basic sense of the word. Issues and problems are called “serious” because they require persons to be serious about them. For us to be serious is to be solemn and given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. It is also for us to be sincere in what we say and do. We say only what we believe, and act only according to our real intentions.

Seriousness is contrasted with playfulness. When we are playful, we are not solemn and are not given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. We are not bound to sincerity in what we say and do. We may say something outlandishly false for the mental jolt it gives us and others. We may impersonate someone, or feign some emotion, just for the fun of it.”

I suspect that an accurate reading of reality would call out for more Irreverends than Reverends.  Religion, institutionalized spirituality, must perpetually wrest with its own laughableness.  For any institution branding itself with any given set of “authoritative” creeds, must be able to laugh at itself, and accept mocking in good humor, to even hope for greater authority — an authority forever lying outside any gaming.  Yet, the show must go on!

POEM: Same Old Hope

He said, “Wow, you’re the same old hopeful person.”
I said “Yes, and somewhat dyslexic.
I’m a Samo Hopien”

This short poem doubles as a bad joke.  Appropriately so, my dyslexia is in tandem with the double vision of punning.  I did not fully realize my dyslexic tendencies, until my son was diagnosed with mild dyslexia.  Looking back over my life, I realized that I had the same tendencies.  I had substantial difficulty learning to read.  I found scholastic mathematics vexing, but I could calculate numbers nimbly in my head. I still can’t look at a phone number, walk five feet to a phone and reliably dial the number.  This insight into a perceptual askewness explains a lot.  I think that I literally see things differently than most others.  I think that this jumbling of perceptions extends beyond the mere intake of data into my thought processes.  I have successfully learned to cope with this mild disability.  However, along the way, I think that I have developed a great gift: creativity in general, and punning specifically.  Creativity is most fundamentally combining a wide range of configurations of stuff and ideas.  My mind has little choice but to cope with this jumbled process of fumbling, sorting and making sense, finding meaning(s).  This has developed and honed my punning abilities over decades of practice.  Also in tandem with my punning is a terminal hopefulness.  This hope may also spring more robustly from an involuntary exposure to an abundance of possibilities catalyzed by mildly dyslexic tendencies. We are not stuck in chaos or cruelty.  As Gandhi revealed so simply and so elegantly, “Peace is possible.”  This hope, which energizes my work for justice, is the capstone of my persona as Top Pun.  Out of apparent chaos rises a deeply hopeful integrity and a semantic jujitsu rarely matched in the service of social justice. Take that you disability so miled!

POEM: Tracing Humanity

Tracing Humanity

They say that
You can tell
A lot
About a person
By what they do
This, of course, is on track
Still, there is a better weigh
The difference between animals and humans
That which earthly scales can’t fathom
Consider what someone won’t do
To trace their humanity
The difference between can’t and won’t
That sacred space
Where freedom occupies
And character reins
Cryptic secrets contain
Not in the telling
By lyings in the sand
But outlined simply in chalk
After words fly
And beings are grounded
You can judge one’s humanity
By where they stand
And where they won’t

Many folks assert that you are what you do.  This may be correct, but it is not the complete story of who we are.  All ethics and morality implies some restraint of power, refusing to do something that we have the power to do.  If we have no choice in the matter, no power to choose anything differently, then you are no more bound by ethics than a billiard ball.  Certainly there are aspects of our lives that are out of our control and these aspects define us to a certain extent.  In addition, our lives are defined by the choices we make, sculpting a positive manifestation of who we are, an example to others.  However, to fully trace our humanity beyond the motion of molecular physics and merely measuring external behaviors, we need to ascertain that which we will not do.  This will more fully complete the outline of our integrity and character, defining our humanity.  Because ethics and morality imply restraint, there is an irreducible type of rebellion at the heart of spirituality — the refusal to do something simply because one can.  In popular psychology, such limits are called boundaries, and boundaries are considered essential to our well being.  These boundaries, the outlines of our humanity, are marked not by words, but by our very selves, whatever skin we have in the game.  What we are willing to die for fleshes out what we are willing to live for.

Nevertheless, many “heady” folks get lost in the puzzling reality that we must voluntarily limit our freedom, in the face of questionable authority, in defining ourselves.  While capturing the rebellion at the heart of spirituality, many are extremely uncomfortable claiming any authority.  They get lost in a related conundrum: by what authority do we question authority?  I believe that the truth that is contained in this conundrum is that an irreducible amount of faith is present in skepticism.  Faith is unavoidable!  What we choose, and refuse to choose, manifests our faith to the world.  I believe that the uncertainty, or tentativeness, that pervades the human condition, is evidence that remaining open is a fundamental way of of being congruent with reality.  Of course, an irreducible amount of tentativeness need not result in perpetual indecisiveness, just openness.  This openness also speaks to a dynamism in life where we adapt and grow in response to changing conditions — may we not settle for less!

Every great spiritual tradition is aimed at openly moving beyond our self, nurturing that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism, and not settling for a “self” contained logic or worldview.  This process can lead to greater harmony within our own experience and within the world we live in.

When I see people caught up in recursive conundrums, cursing over and over in frustration, I find this perfectly captured by the French word “oubliette,” which is a little place of forgetting, a small, windowless room where someone is locked away, forgotten, left to go mad.  May you not forget to nurture that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism.  Denying that you have any faith is maddening, and the surest route to a room without a view.  Faith is unavoidable; enjoy the view.

Sometimes believing is seeing.  Changing our perspective allows to see more of reality.  Plus, how we view a situation helps form that situation.  Like I used to say to my kids, with the not uncommon reluctance to go to school, “You don’t have to go to school, you get to go to school.”  The same situation with a different attitude changes that situation.  May you find that glorious balance of serenely accepting that which you have no choice about, wholeheartedly jumping into that which you may, and stubbornly resisting that which you cannot take with serenity and a whole heart.

 

POEM: Escaping Hubris

Indigency is the quickest road
Out of hubris
Few of us can afford
Its high price

Hubris, or arrogance, is powerfully seductive in the human mind.  This excessive self-confidence seems to be an inescapable part of egocentricity.  Nonetheless, as humans feel more powerful and secure, hubris dangerously careens into indifference and disconnection from other humans and the rest of life.  Hubris short-circuits empathy and compassion.  Research shows that wealth and power lead to reduced compassion.  Recognizing our own vulnerability, our own areas of insecurity and powerlessness, reinforce empathy and compassion, better connecting us with others.  This vulnerability is a central aspect of intimacy, which is key to living into our full humanity.  If we are not able to risk and trust, then we will be disabled regarding forming deep social connections, having to settle for relative isolation.  In this short poem, I use indigency as a proxy and condition of vulnerability; thus, making it an insurance policy against hubris.  I chose indigency as the surest and quickest road out of hubris because it has the benefit of having the material conditions to support vulnerability built-in, not just an emotional or mental state to be maintained by sheer will or mental activity.  Also, I would like to redeem the state of indigency, which has a nearly universal negative connotation.  I see indigency as one of two basic realities in life.  We are dependent. We are dependent on other people and a myriad of other things that we have no control over.  The other basic reality is that we are free, we have control, at least some control, over ourselves.  I think our attitude over our “indigency,” our dependence on things outside of us, forms our most fundamental spiritual state, our attitude toward the world.  How will I relate to others and the world around me?  Will I act in ways affirming friendliness and beneficence, or cruelty and indifference?  My attitude does not definitively answer the question of whether the universe is friendly or not, but it does define the nature of my agency and how I choose to vote — by my actions. What will I contribute to the world?  Modern psychology affirms the fact that people function better with a positive outlook than a negative outlook.  People seem to be better suited to acting in accordance with being in a sea of grace than in a cold, indifferent world.  Hubris denies the former and is a vote for indifference — which rather conveniently, is a vote for oneself over all else (not exactly indifferent, just unaware of one’s bias)!  The last line of the poem, “Its high price,” is purposely vague, in that “it” can refer to the high price of hubris and the high price of indigency.  Life seems to exact a price no matter what choices we make.  Life demands effort.  There is a price to be paid.  Would you rather pay the high cost of indigency or the high cost of hubris?  By the way, hubris is the default!

POEM: Infectious Hope

Hope is a blood-borne pathogen
The seed of martyrs
Inflaming that allergy to injustice
Present in us all
Infected by a singular epiphany
Of friend and foe
Alike

I see hope as an irreducible reality in human nature.  Just like “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again” (William Cullen Bryant), hope is rooted in a realm that mere brute force or violence cannot destroy.  Even in the face of deep despair and generations of disappointment, hope finds its way into our hearts. Hope rises like an infectious weed, out of control of the powers that be that rely on violence to grasp onto control. Trying to describe hope reminds of the description of love in the movie Shakespeare in Love: “Like a sickness and its cure together.”  In this poem I use an analogy and metaphor of hope as an immune response by reality to injustice. Of course, viewing hope as an antidote or a poison or pathogen can be a matter of perspective.  In the face of objectively crappy situations, hope can be viewed more cynically as Pollyannish. The blood of martyrs can be seen as a tragic waste or as fuel for hope and resistance to injustice. Hopes indefatigable nature can elicit respect and well…more hope.  While I posit that hope has a mystical quality to it that cannot be banished, perhaps the closest I can get to capturing its essence is the last three lines of this poem where people are “infected” by a singular awareness that friend and foe are one, “alike.”   I see hope emerging and growing where this epiphany takes root.  For instance, I consider “Love your enemy as yourself” as Christianity’s greatest commandment.  Jesus upgraded the Old Testament’s “love your neighbor” with this greatest of spiritual challenges:

 “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)

This is the greatest spiritual genius that I have ever seen!  This strikes me as the most straightforward and simple way to encapsulate one of the most basic tensions in life: balancing self-interest with others’ interests.  By explicitly linking these two, Jesus harnesses, leverages, and even redeems, the powerfully dangerous psychological dynamics of egocentricity and selfishness.  No doubt, the trinity of hope, faith, and love is called upon to dare confront such a powerful challenge.  Of course, the genius and simplicity of this formulation doesn’t make it easy.  Though in it I find much hope, even infectious hope! 

Direction Headed

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

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This is a great Chinese proverb.  Its simplicity and inescapable logic is a powerful way to break us out of inertial thinking.  Western civilization and its fixation on rationality (which ironically brings about irrational consequences), walks right into the inescapable logic of this proverb.  One of the many dangers in life is being desensitized to the negative aspects of the status quo.  Since we tend to rationalize whatever situation or behavior we are experiencing, and, in this respect, reality has a conservative bent, meaning a tendency or a bias towards maintaining what is already in existence and resisting a different course than wherever we happen to be headed.  I’m amazed at the powerful force that cognitive dissonance plays in the human psyche.  As a former health educator and having some training in human behavior, I was surprised to learn that the seemingly obvious assertion that behavior follows knowledge is actually largely backwards.  While knowledge may very well be a necessary component of a particular behavior, it is typically far from sufficient.  More typically, we engage in a behavior and then do what is necessary to align our thinking, attitudes and feelings with that behavior.  This makes sense if you reflect on the relative difficulty of changing behavior versus thinking.  It is usually easier to rationalize than actually make a behavioral change from whatever present course we are on.  So, cognitive dissonance serves as a psychic energy-saving mechanism by aligning a less difficult process in the face of a more difficult behavior or situation.  Of course, the way we think feeds back into our behavior.  Nonetheless, there is some mystical reality to acting on faith, when and where one may sense that a particular behavior may be better than a current one, but one can’t muster the psychic resources to first change one’s larger set of thoughts, attitudes and feelings, before giving the change in behavior a try.   I have heard counselors and therapists marvel at clients who struggled with many issues related to their thinking, attitudes and feelings, and found help on this front to be unhelpful, until taking the advice of “fake it till you make it;” then, found that when they changed their behavior everything else just “magically” fell into place (and, of course, the helper often received little credit for what seemed like stupid advice at the beginning).  Back to the concept of inertia, I’m reminded of the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Both of these sayings or proverbs imply that the past present and future are connected – duh!  While this may seem oddly oversimplified, it may just remind the reader that we can change the future by changing the present, just as we can assure more of the same by not changing our present course.  If you want something different, try something different.

One last reflection on thinking and behavior change.  Trying to figure out which comes first, thinking or behavior change, is sort of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.  For example, what needs to change for someone to actually take the advice of “fake it till you make it?” — a hurdle that may reap a quantum leap of change.   Of course, this can very well involve thoughts and attitudes.  So, maybe you shouldn’t try any of this behavior change mumbo jumbo (that’s reverse psychology by the way…)