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Positive Outlook and Happiness

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The title is fairly broad; I created it in an open-ended manner to hear a wide variety of suggestions.

I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy. What are the ideas and attitudes that they have implemented to allow this joy, that separates them from someone who accepts Objectivist ideas but doesn't have this "radiance?"

Here are some possible questions I have thought of to help answer this:

Is it that they more consistently hold a benevolent universe premise?

Do they focus on the good more than condemning the evil?

Are they more emotionally attached and passionate for their values?

Are their values more explicitly defined?

Probably all of those things play a role, although I am unsure which is most important.

Maybe you can help me answer this question with evidence from your own life or others around you.

Bryan

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I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

At the beginning of this discussion, defining and therefore distinguishing positive attitude from happiness might help. By happiness I mean a state of mind that arises from very long-term achievement of my basic values, both those that are personal-only and those that are philosophical (that is, should be shared by others). What a tide is to an individual wave, happiness/unhappiness is to individual emotions, which typically come and go fairly quickly.

I don't know what a technical, psychological definition of attitude is, but my definition would be that it is a person's characteristic approach to something. In terms of one's life in general, that "something" is problems that need to be solved. A positive attitude is one that not only recognizes the necessity of solving problems in general, but delights in doing so as an exercise in one's own efficacy and as an opportunity to add to one's knowledge of particular subjects and, more importantly, methods for solving problems.

Life, as self-sustained and self-generated action, is largely problem-solving, even if the problems sometimes are merely where to go and what to do for a relaxing evening in celebration of the problem-solving one has done during the day.

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I think it depends on the person. I like to think, and I've been told, that I'm one of the positive ones, but I haven't always been.

When I first discovered Objectivism, I had a primary orientation towards destroying disvalues. Through much thought and observation of other, more positive people, I observed that they had a primary orientation toward seeking values.

Of course, it's important to do what you can to stamp disvalue out of existence, but that shouldn't be one's primary motivation for action. Every aspect of that type of motivation is negative, and it leads to a negative sense-of-life.

Once I was able to re-evaluate all of my fundamental goals, and start thinking of them in terms of gaining value, rather than destroying disvalue, the sense-of-life came right behind it.

It was a long process, but I can't even put into words the tremendous differense it makes. Before, I was constantly at war (with evil, to be sure, but war is never pleasant); now, I'm constantly in love -- with the good. Which would you pick?

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Look to Betsy Speicher for inspiration here. For many years I watched her post to the Objectivism Study Group, and never fail: Whenever the conversation got bitter and dour, Betsy's quips and retorts would appear like a bright flashlight snapping on in a room full of gothic grumps.

It seemed like her method was to plow right over the bad with her eyes focused unerringly on the good.

You might enjoy reading her comments here:

When someone says "Ain't it awful!" my reaction is: "So what are you going to do about it?" 

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Look to Betsy Speicher for inspiration here.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

She is one of the main people I watched to learn about a proper orientation toward values.

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There are two lectures that helped me very much in this exact area. The first is given by Dr. Edwin Locke, "Setting Goals To Achieve Happiness". This is one of the first lectures that I originally bought and maybe the most profound, for me. The second is by Dr. Gary Hull titled, "Metaphysical Value Judgements". This was helpful in setting what it is that one sees as profound or important in life.

The main question that kept coming back to me was, "was I going to let the bad route or choose my happiness and actions?" By choosing not to let them route my decision, I set goals and values to go after and obtain. I have learned to do this so well that it is almost like they are not there, most of the time. This was not an easy shift but well worth the effort, as I am happier more often now.

Make the good important in your life, without compromise, and you will obtain what it is that makes you happy.

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....

I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy. What are the ideas and attitudes that they have implemented to allow this joy, that separates them from someone who accepts Objectivist ideas but doesn't have this "radiance?"

....

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This is definitely a big subject, and my experience is that it's difficult to judge these qualities in another person. Sometimes even judging one's own happiness can require a good bit of introspection.

When you say that some people have a positive and happy attitude, and "radiance" (which I'll take to mean "the appearance of being happy"), my first question is: How do you know?

Perhaps the person smiles a lot. Or is always talking about goals he is seeking. Maybe he always or usually optimistic. These are some examples of what I would consider signs of happiness. But to form a better judgment, I'd need to look further. I'd want to see more of his actions and hear more of his thoughts. Because in my life, I've seen examples in which these outward signs have been misleading. For example....

I've known people who talked a lot about various goals, but after a while, I realized these goals were so grandiose and unattainable that the person was not in fact seriously pursuing them. The purported goals might have instead been a cover-up for an empty life.

Optimism could be a reflection of a benevolent universe premise - the idea that the world is a place in which success is possible and normal. But I've also seen cases of perennial optimism that in fact turned out to be cases of denial. That is, somebody knows there are problems, and that in some cases there is reason for pessimism. He's just trying to "put on a happy face" to pretend all is well. (In any case, I've concluded that optimism in a particular case doesn't necessarily indicate a benevolent-universe-premise, nor does pessimism necessarily indicate a malevolent-universe-premise.)

Some people are happily pursuing their goals, but they might be quiet and unexpressive (or maybe very engrossed in thinking about their work and the problems they're solving), such that they don't strike other people as happy. But in fact inside they may be very excited about what they're doing.

Anyway, I'm wary of dividing Objectvists into "positive ones" and "negative ones", at least until I have a fair amount of data. :)

Another thing I try to remember is that this isn't a moral issue. It's true that I don't want to spend much time around somebody who is always grouchy, but this doesn't make him a bad person.

I am looking forward to this discussion.

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I'd like to thank those who said such warm and kind things about me ... and then I would like to get down to business. :)

I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy. What are the ideas and attitudes that they have implemented to allow this joy, that separates them from someone who accepts Objectivist ideas but doesn't have this "radiance?"

Bryan's question contains the answer. Happy people have implemented the right ideas and attitudes. They don't just philosophize. They DO. They are activists in the service of self.

Here are some possible questions I have thought of to help answer this:

Is it that they more consistently hold a benevolent universe premise?

Yes, but that is an effect rather than a cause.

Do they focus on the good more than condemning the evil?

It is not merely a mental focus one way or another. Happy people CHOOSE and PURSUE values.

Are they more emotionally attached and passionate for their values?

Are their values more explicitly defined?

Absolutely, but not in a "I've defined my values and now I have it made" kind of way. Valuing is a constant, every waking minute mental activity that requires continual identification, evaluation, and comparison.

"Should I answer Bryan's post on THE FORUM ... or ... have a snack ... or ... tend my garden ... or ... clean my desk? How shall I answer? Friendly, formal? What kind of examples can I use. What points are essential to make in response to this question? Should I say this now or close with the thought?" My mind is always goal directed and active.

This constant purposeful mental activity has two effects that directly lead to optimism.

1) It results in success in life. A mentally active, valuing person knows what he wants and gets it. Life is good and he feels justly proud of himself for what he has accomplished.

2) It fills up his life with positives -- work, good friends, recreation, a living environment filled with things he loves -- that helps him keep a benevolent context. If he should have a really bad day, the pain "only goes down to a certain point," and he doesn't grant it metaphysical significance.

In addition happy people have certain skills, knowledge, and attitudes. These usually take years, and often decades ,to learn and acquire, but they are indispensable.

Happy people have learned the art of introspection. In order to get what you want in life, you have to know what you want or be able to figure it out. You need to be sensitive to the emotional and cognitive signs that you are headed in the wrong direction so you can correct yourself and get back on track.

Happy people have learned enough about human nature, especially about the volitional choices of people UNlike themselves, to understand that acting on wrong ideas never works. The have seen, first hand, that evil people never benefit in the long-run and how they suffer tremendously in both the short-run and the long-run.

Happy people are always honest, especially with themselves. They are always loyal to reality, so they have no reason to fear reality. Instead, it is the most powerful ally a person can have because reality is always the winning side.

In short, happiness is almost entirely in a person's power to achieve, but it takes a lot of time, effort, and knowledge.

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What about the role of personality in happiness? Are some people just sour and joyless by nature while others seem to be blessed with joyfulness? Or does a man's choices actually shape his personality?

My answer is: the “personality as metaphysically given” premise is mistaken. I hold that personality is primarily developed by choice. Genetics cannot explain all the myriad and complex conditions that must go into the making of an adult psychology. The key, I think, is the point that Betsy made above, even as applied to one's childhood:

Happy people have implemented the right ideas and attitudes.  They don't just philosophize.  They DO.  They are activists in the service of self.

I am no psychologist, so I base my own view of personality mostly on personal experience and observation. This is challenging, because humans are so diverse. Also, each infant child seems to come into the world equipped with his own peculiar responses to things around him, as if some very primitive seeds of disposition might by woven into our structures, and parents will often claim that these traits persist into adulthood. Care must be taken here to avoid equating the potential with the actual, or to equate a particular aspect of personality with the quality of a complete adult psychology.

I don't think I can (or even know how to) prove this. Instead, I will describe a case that is based on an actual experience, then I will explain why I think it supports my view. Perhaps someone who knows more about psychology will weigh in.

Consider this scenario:

Two boys are born into a topsy-turvy family situation. The behavior of the adults and older siblings around them is a mixed brew of cruel malevolence tempered with only occasional acts of kindness and very random justice. Importantly, both boys appear to be equally joyful from the outset.

Then at some point around six or seven years of age, one of the boys begins to change. He begins to act mean to his brother, to his pets, and to anyone else who is smaller than him. He smiles less and he becomes less playful. In short, he begins to emulate the behavior of the adults in his life.

At about the same time, the other boy tries on the experience of being mean to others, but he immediately identifies that he feels worse afterward. Now he is faced with a choice: will he continue to do something that makes him feel worse, or will he do something else that makes him feel better (or less bad)? He decides to do what makes him feel better, and not just once but thousands of times over the years that follow.

Then one day, he breaks this pattern of positive behavior and kicks his dog in a fit of anger. He suddenly feels so horrible for what he has just done that he weeps miserably, showers love on the dog, and swears that he will never do such a thing again. He means it. He can see that it was he and he alone who kicked the dog. Blaming someone else for his actions would be pointless, because he knows that he would feel much better right now if he had simply not chosen to kick the dog. Now more than ever he sees the contrast between how he felt before and after his actions. His good decisions are paying off. As a consequence of these and many other good decisions that follow, this boy carries his joyful sense of life with him into adulthood.

How are these two boys different? Apparently not at all, in any physical or circumstantial way that I can see. The only difference appears to be choice.

It is my theory that the unhappy boy felt the same conflict in his soul when he chose to behave badly. He, too, realized that he felt worse after kicking the dog, but he blamed that bad feeling on what was being done to him, as if it were someone else's fault that the dog was kicked. He evaded the voice in his head that was telling him that his own actions caused this worse feeling and that it didn't have to be that way. Why would he do this? I can only guess. Perhaps he had decided already that happiness couldn't win, that he could only get ahead by beating others at their own game. In any case, this boy carried his malevolent sense of life into adulthood.

Now imagine these two people become Objectivists. One of them will most likely exude joy; the other will not. The latter will have a very difficult road to travel toward fulfillment, and crucially, it is a road of his own choosing.

It is beyond me to offer suggestions, but generally speaking, I suspect that he can only get to a better place by retracing his steps—and I literally mean by taking physical steps. I do not see how he could merely think his way out of a twenty-year history of bad behavior.

This is where Objectivism can help him, but knowing the right metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and politics will not be enough. His entire life orientation—literally thousands or even millions of integrations—have been focused on value-deprivation or value-hopelessness. Now he must learn to take personal responsibility for the trajectory of his life and to redirect his mind and his actions toward choosing values and achieving them—better action in concert with better thinking—which means: making thousands of new, positive integrations that support a new, positive view of life. In other words, he must DO Objectivism, not just KNOW Objectivism.

So is it fair that some people just seem to be “blessed” with joy? Here is my best answer: Imagine telling the boy who turned out to be happy that he is lucky to have such a positive disposition.

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I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy. What are the ideas and attitudes that they have implemented to allow this joy, that separates them from someone who accepts Objectivist ideas but doesn't have this "radiance?"

For a while, even though I was pretty deep into Objectivism, I wasn't very happy. Now I'm not saying I was or am the perfect Objectivist, but still I have a pretty clear understanding of the philosophy. However, I was still unhappy. The main reason for this was that I was scared that I would never have the chance to talk to another Objectivist. However when I found the Forum, that worry ended. I had known they existed, they had to, but I was scared I would never find them. Now, I am pretty happy. There is only one part of my life that causes unhappiness for me. And that is, quite frankly, my parents. They're basically Hank Reardon's family, but I'm dealing with it. Anyway, I just think that knowing there are others who beleive and value what you believe and value, can make you happier.

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For a while, even though I was pretty deep into Objectivism, I wasn't very happy. Now I'm not saying I was or am the perfect Objectivist, but still I have a pretty clear understanding of the philosophy. However, I was still unhappy. The main reason for this was that I was scared that I would never have the chance to talk to another Objectivist. However when I found the Forum, that worry ended. I had known they existed, they had to, but I was scared I would never find them. Now, I am pretty happy.

Needless to say, I am glad you find such value in THE FORUM. Since you enjoy the online interaction among Objectivists, I'd imagine you would be ecstatic being surrounded by several hundred Objectivists for nine straight days. Such are the summer Objectivist conferences sponsored now by ARI. Here is the information on OCON 2006, scheduled to start in Boston in just a few days.

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For me, happiness came before I embraced Objectivism, but Objectivism has only made that happiness blossom. I can pinpoint the day in which I started to shift my life from unhappy to happy -- it was the day I called off my wedding to my ex-fiance. We had had a troubled relationship for quite some time, but that was the day that I realized that if I was being treated in a way I didn't like, it was because I was allowing it to happen, and that I could take control of my life and make it better. So I escaped what would have been a disastrous marriage, and came to New York (the city I've always loved, and only left in order to be with my now ex-fiance) to make a new and better life for myself. And I have! My career is in great shape, I have a fulfilling side gig writing crossword puzzles, and I've been with my wonderful boyfriend for nearly three years.

I think one of the keys to happiness, which I discovered that day, is that only I can be the author of my own happiness -- and that I am a capable, intelligent person who can achieve my goals. I think before, I felt like outside forces -- my family, my ex-fiance, my boss -- were in control of my life. Once I realized that other people can control my life and upset me only to the extent that I let them do so, my happiness skyrocketed. And once I embraced Objectivism and fully realized that the world is such that I can achieve my goals, I got even happier.

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I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy. What are the ideas and attitudes that they have implemented to allow this joy, that separates them from someone who accepts Objectivist ideas but doesn't have this "radiance?"

Well, I don't really know how qualified I am to answer your question, for two reasons: I'm not "happy," and I'm not an Objectivist.

I would call myself more contented, or optimistic, than actually *happy.* "Happy" is a very powerful word. I'm not sure if 15 years can actually acquire that state, or only begin to scratch the surface. Happiness is around the corner for me, and I know what I need to do to get to it. I'm not there just yet. In the meantime, I would call myself "cheery." Maybe the word you used, "radiant," is a good one as well.

I'm not an Objectivist, either, but I cannot begin to say how much better off Objectivism has made me. I don't fully agree with all of it, but the core ideas about rationality, individuality, and the potential grandeur of human life have given me a set of tools with which I can now grapple with reality, where before I was incapable of coping.

I think the most important attribute one gains from Objectivism is clarity of thought. The first step towards any goal, especially happiness, is seeing it clearly, and seeing clearly the obstacles along the way. Since Objectivism stresses rationality, integration, and careful observance of reality, Objectivists can shine a light through the thick darkness that comes between most people and their goals.

In other words, the reason I know I can be happy is because I know fairly clearly what happiness *is* and what I have to do to get it. I know those things because of Objectivism!

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I've noticed some Objectivists have a very positive and happy attitude, especially those who have long ago integrated the philosophy. What are the ideas and attitudes that they have implemented to allow this joy, that separates them from someone who accepts Objectivist ideas but doesn't have this "radiance?"
By the time most of us encounter Objectivism and start thinking about philosophical issues (late teens/early 20s) we've already developed certain personality traits. So one factor is that we don't all start out in the same place, or come to Objectivism with a blank slate (emotionally, psychologically, or philosophically). It takes time to understand, accept, and integrate Objectivism into our lives. For that reason, I'd say that people who have spent more time trying to integrate Objectivism into their lives are, in general, better than "newbies" at actually living by Objectivism.

This also matches my personal history. When I first encountered Objectivism, I picked up on so many of the criticisms Ayn Rand had about the world, in every field from art to science to politics. As I read all of the published essays, I would check out her claims against what I knew, what I observed, and what I could find out by research. While this is very good for grasping her ideas objectively (i.e., knowing that her reporting and analysis match the facts as I could verify), I discovered years later that my focus was on disvalues. I was more focused on rooting out contradictions and pointing out flaws in the world than I was with pursuing positive values. (The big exception in college was pursuing a physics degree, where I had a much more positive view toward discovering how the world worked.)

So, I'm not surprised when I hear of someone new to Objectivism who just feels that the world is a helpless mess. Sure, it's important to know the dangers that exist, and to know how to deal with them, but not all of life is like that.

I have to add that I took up ballroom dancing last April. It's been a tremendous source of joy and really developed into a passion of mine. I am much happier now than I was a year ago as a result. Along the way, I also realized that I wasn't as happy as I wanted to be, and it wasn't going to change unless I made it change. I asked myself: in a year, do I want to be where I am? What about myself do I want to be better?What specific things do I want to be different? Now, how will I change them? If you lay it out like that, you can develop a plan for action that will get you to a much happier place.

If someone wants to be happy, then that person has to choose to pursue things that will make him happy. That sounds obvious, but it is crucial to grasp that happiness is the result of an ACTIVE, not a passive, orientation to the world. Catholicism, for instance, puts the focus much more on "avoid doing evil" than "do good." Or, fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty give girls the message: just wait for happiness; someday a prince will come to sweep you off your feet and make you life happily ever after.

Implied in the idea of "pursuit of happiness" is the idea that such pursuit is an active process, requiring deliberate choices and action. It is entirely different than waiting for welfare checks, or waiting for ARI or some future John Galt to save the world.

If you want to be happy, you can't limit your time to passive activities, and to a fair extent I'd include internet discussions, if they are a large focus of one's time. Better to spend your time building up things that will make you happy. If you don't know what those things are, then go out into the world and try new things. Try flying an airplane, or take up martial arts, or take a class at a local community college in some topic just for fun (I took a Shakespeare class). Or, try ballroom dancing. I tried them all and found things that worked for me.

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