Archive for November, 2010

Happiness: A Theory – Attitude

November 26, 2010


In their book, How God Changes Your Brain, University of Pennsylvania’s Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman examine the effects of a strongly-held, positive belief system on our well being, concluding that, religious or not, an optimistic, well-rooted view of the world makes us healthier and happier. 

If they are correct, the proliferation and diversity of beliefs about life and its meaning may be more easily understood, since the belief itself, rather than its veracity, enhances those who hold it.  As a corollary, disabusing others of what we conceive of as incorrect beliefs may be less beneficial than we imagine. 

Adopting a framework for perceiving our universe seems a constant tug within us.  Whether we view life as replete with significance or meaningless, we are often tied to our particular vantage point.  Whether we view our neighbors as essentially rotten or essentially good, again, our perspective is often something we hold dear.

The good effects of believing in our beliefs may nonetheless lead us to an unintended consequence:  whatever mysteries the universe might reveal, they are scarcely more discernible if viewed through only one kind of lens.  When we approach our understanding of what is with an attitude, how likely are we to see things as they are? 

The question arises:  Is there any relationship between our well being and a less-distorted perception of the world?  Herein lies one of the conundra of a diligent search for understanding:  The more we peruse the testable evidence of our neuronal function, the more we reveal our brain’s indifference to the universe as it is.  In order to hold a belief with any tenacity, we tend to need to actually believe it, which becomes harder to do under these circumstances.  If we can’t hold a belief, it would appear, we can’t enjoy the kind of happiness described by Newberg and Waldman.

There may be a solution, however. 

If we adopt the belief that whatever we believe is suspect, that any particular view should be held for the time being, but readily discarded when the testable evidence reveals its flaws, we may console ourselves that we have removed one prominent obstacle to knowing.  Our attitude provides a glimpse of the impetus behind the human quest to know.  When we drop the attitude, however, we may find we have found something truly worthy of belief.