Friday, October 27, 2017

"The Happiness Hypothesis"? Isn't that your main goal?

Jonathan Haidt has had a profound effect on me.  He was on the Bill Moyers show when first seen and he struck me as a man of deep understanding.  He showed me I am still a prejudiced man and need to understand other people better.

Happiness is for most people the main goal of life.  "The Happiness Hypothesis" is not a typical self improvement book, but rather a history of different thoughts regarding happiness with much philosophy and more psychology.  Jonathan, himself had first studied philosophy and then moved on to psychology.  Along the way and towards the end there is useful advice if you are ready for it.

He believes humans understand new things through metaphors.  His favorite is that of a rider on an elephant.  The rider represents conscious behavior and the elephant represents unconscious behavior (that has accumulated through thousands of thousands of years of evolution).  The rider has evolved to serve the elephant, to give it some direction.  In another section "with wrong metaphor we are deluded; with no metaphor we are blind."

To survive humans are selfish, but we have had to learn to get along with others.  At one time it was thought survival of the fittest involved physical and mental factors at an individual level.  However more recently we realize that individuals are part of groups and that our membership is also a factor in our survival.

One early effective social inter action skill learned was the principle of reciprocity.  He gives an example from the opening of "The Godfather" where a distraught father asks Marlon Brando to deal with a man who dishonored his daughter.  He thinks he will have to give money for it, but Don Corleone has something else in mind.  He sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of "friends" who do each other favors.  Movie goers were preparing for a violent movie, but instead it started off with  how the Godfather actually got things done.  Then of course it gets to the violence.

There is a relationship between culture and religion.  We develop trust and co-operation which in turn can effect genetic selection and direct to the benefit of the community.

Happiness is effected by your external circumstances, but another key is internal.  Jonathan feels that the truth is in between where you find true happiness.

Humans have or try to have goals, but in fact it is the effort as much as the achievement that brings happiness.  Once a goal is achieved it is in the past and we look forward to something else to do. Internally you make lots of choices and of course react to thousands of circumstances.

Harry Harlow had limited resources and found himself working with rhesus monkeys.  His experiments are considered unethical today with isolation and substituting inanimate objects for motherly attention.  What he did prove was that all infants need touching and parental caring to develop normally.  In other words love makes a difference.

Abraham Maslow, a student of Harry Harlow is famous for Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  At the top is self-actualization which could be interpreted as satisfaction or happiness.

Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi is known for the concept of flow.  One is happiest when one is engaged in an activity where they are so engaged they lose concept of time.  An example from the author was riding horses where some are so engaged that is what they think of most of the time.

The author contends that two areas that are vital for happiness are work and love.  Love seems obvious, but work takes up a lot of time and is where many find meaning.  From Marcus Aurelius--"work itself is but what you deem it."  Many jobs are treated as drudgery, but the author suggests if you apply your strengths any job can become more meaningful.

Happy people are kinder and more helpful.  Voluntary work by elders results in improved health and longer life

Jonathan states that meditation, cognitive therapy and Prozac all have the ability to make for positive changes.

You can

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Born a Crime," the beginnings of Trevor Noah, comedian

When Jon Stewart retired from the Daily Show it was a big surprise that a South African was picked as his successor.  Who is Trevor Noah?   I confess I didn't watch Comedy Central either before or after the transition.  I developed a liking for Jon Stewart from watching him on other shows, and watching the odd clip.  Trevor Noah has not crossed my radar as much, but always in a favourable way.

He is very unique.  This book explains some of it.

The circumstances of his birth were unusual in many ways.  His Xhosa mother was very independent and defied apartheid rules by living in a white area and working in a non traditional job for blacks, secretary.  She befriended a white man, a Swiss German and told him she wanted a child by him. He resisted, but later said he wanted to be involved with his son.  Of course this was made very difficult.  A mixed race chid could be classified as a colored with mixed benefits.  This meant he could not be seen with either his father or his mother or they could be jailed.

Trevor could be described as a polyglot.  His mother encouraged him.  His black relatives asked him to pray in English as non speakers felt that language was more effective  He spoke several African languages, Xhosa, Zulu, Tsonga, Sotho, bit of Afrikaans which helped him to socialize with more people and even help him get out of tight spots.

Trevor knew poverty.  As a youngster he learned to like bone marrow and at one point ate a variation of worms.  He was tied to shoplifting where he escaped because a camera could not pick up the darkness of his skin.  Stealing was fairly normal but copying CDs to resell was critical to his survival.  Everyone has a story of what they got away with:

Trevor got involved with a lot of questionable activities, that is activities the middle class establishment would question.  In reality he was born into a situation where to get ahead his activities were normal.  If he was a little sharper than his peers he might do a little better.  Inside he had a conscience and was supported by his mother.

An analogy from the author:  "Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading.    If you add up how much you read on the Internet--tweets, Facebook posts, lists--you've read the equivalent of a sh*t ton of books, but in fact you've read no books in a year.  When I look back on it, that's what hustling was..."

His mother was religious and dragged Trevor to three church services  including one for whites most Sundays.  She ended up married to a charming man (who Trevor also liked a lot), but eventually resented his wife's success and modern habits and became abusive.  Trevor left home and the abuse continued even with another child.  Near the end of the book we learn that she is shot by the now former husband and survives.

Trevor points out some oddities about apartheid.  Chinese because there weretn't very many of them were not classified separately, but for convenience called blacks.  Japanese (whose home country manufactured desirable cars and electronics) were honorary whites--as Trevor points few South African police could tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese.

His sense of humour is all through the book, but he covers some serious things.  As a comedian he takes serious issues and frames them from a humorous perspective

Outside the book it turns out that Trevor was threatened by his former step father and fled the country.  His ex step father was convicted of attempted murder.  Trevor felt the South African police did not take domestic abuse seriously enough.

This book is not about his career, but there are a few references.  Copying CDs leads to becoming a disc jockey.  At age 18 he was acting in a role with a South African soap opera.  We learn that at the time of his mother's shooting he had already established himself as a comedian and had even performed in Britain.  Trevor established himself on South African television winning awards.  Got involved with the Daily News and was able to step in after Jon Stewart decided to move on

When he makes you laugh it is probably comparing serious issues with ridiculous juxtapositions.