Sunday, April 4, 2010

Layer 275 . . . Positive Psychology, Maslow, and Individual Journeys

A few remarks on "positive psychology" - thoughts which have been fermenting and distilling  in Oxzen's spirit refinery for quite a while. It's time for a tasting.

Firstly, "positive psychology" isn't even psychology. It's bleeding common sense, as far as it goes. You don't have to be a trained psychologist in order to understand it or practice it. Millions of Buddhists, for example, have been practitioners for millenia.

Abraham Maslow, who was a psychologist by trade, is usually referred to as the "father" of positive psychology. Since Maslow wrote about a hierarchy of human needs and described what he saw as "self-actualised" or fully evolved human beings (see Layer 20), a great many of his fellow practitioners have grabbed on to what he said and made a great deal of money out of it, using the label "positive psychology". Whereas, in fact, Maslow's insights actually amount to a philosophy of human development and human behaviour, and aren't a prescription for treating psychological disturbance and disorder.

Maslow understood that once our basic needs for safety, food, shelter and human relationships have been taken care of then healthy human beings are motivated by a quest for social, emotional and spiritual development. The driving forces beyond safety, sustenance and sex are the need to have and to receive what Buddhists call lovingkindness, along with sustainable feelings of joy and pleasure which occur through giving and receiving lovingkindness. These aren't terms used by Maslow, but it's clear to me, at least, that this is a useful way of paraphrasing what he said.

Beyond the positive feelings that occur through positive human contacts there is another level of joy and wellbeing which is gained through contact with nature, and feelings of awe and wonder that enter our beings when we feel a connection with the divine, and a sense that we're in fact connected with everybody and everything that exists. In other words, when we experience an enlightened sense of understanding that we're all part of everything and we depend for our existence on our place in the universal flux - beyond our individual egos; beyond our individual striving for power or riches or status; beyond even a concern for our own self-preservation.

At this level we appreciate just how precious an individual life can be, and we feel motivated to help others to walk a path towards greater enlightenment and wellbeing. Ultimately each of us has to make that journey through our own efforts, but we can all help one another along the way. Through our connectedness in a spirit of lovingkindness we can reduce levels of loneliness, misery and sickness, and promote universal wellbeing. The answers to life's challenges are not "out there", not in a God or gods, not in material wealth, and not in individual power or status. The answers lie within each of us, and in reaching higher states of enlightened living, and in promoting those states in others. Not only do we not need power or wealth or status in order to become a fully evolved human being - those things more often than not hold people back from attaining any degree of enlightenment.

Ignorance is what holds us back, and lack of insight. Many of the richest and most famous and powerful people are unbelievably ignorant. They may also be some of the loneliest and unhappiest. The possession of comfort, popularity, safety and oppulence is no guarantee of wellbeing, let alone happiness. Time spent on pursuing wealth and status is time that's unavailable for pursuing spiritual intelligence and enlightenment. If we have no time for reflection and meditation then we are doomed to remain mired in ignorance and poor in spirit.

Education could play a massive role in overcoming ignorance and spiritual impoverishment, but unfortunately the schools and colleges in most industrialised nations have been turned into mere results factories with their managers primed to believe that their aim is to prepare pupils for the world of work.


This little spiel, this minor rant against "positive psychology", was sparked by a recent article in the New Statesman -  by Anna Minton, called "Smile now, cry later."

Britain has bought in to America’s positive thinking and is heavily pushing the “science of happiness” – but does it work?

Maslow moved to Brandeis University, Massachusetts, in 1951 and three years later published Motivation and Personality, which rejected the determinism of both the psychoanalytic and the behaviourist approaches to psychology, taking dynamic and successful figures as its model, rather than those with negative pathology.

Maslow referred to humanism as a "third force" behind these two schools of thought, and became known internationally as the founding father and leader of this emergent branch of psychology.

I'd urge readers to have a look at this article, and ignore some of its superficiality to just take note of its comments on Martin Seligman, his stupid formula, and the comments on Richard Layard. We should also take note of how Layard and others are promoting the idea of "happiness lessons" in schools, which may amount to not much more than promoting "learned optimism" and a capacity to see a glass as half full instead of (or as well as) half empty.

As I was saying . . . bleeding common sense. A century of psycho-analysis, psychological quackery, ECT, etc, has done nothing for the promotion of human wellbeing. Our only hope is to show our children what the best of humanity is capable of (Layer 20), and to provide the conditions in which they can begin their individual journeys towards self-discovery, self-actualisation, wellbeing, lovingkindess, spiritual intelligence and enlightenment.


Talking of Individual Journeys . . .

Two of the people I'm very impressed with at the moment are David Haye, the world champion boxer, and Emma Thompson, Oscar-winning actress and screenwriter.

Not since the heyday of Muhammed Ali have I heard a boxer speak with such intelligence and lucidity. Yesterday was a Haye day, with the man himself speaking on Radio 4 about his fight this evening. You rarely hear anyone speaking as well as DH does, let alone a boxer.

Emma T was this week's guest on Desert Island Discs, and was also on TV promoting her latest film, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. She's also a wonderfully intelligent and lucid speaker, and also has a superb, subtle sense of humour, just like her late father, the sublime Eric Thompson, who died tragically young following a stroke in his late 40's. The Magic Roundabout wasn't exactly his creation, but the words he spoke, in his incredibly listenable voice,  were entirely his own. Brian, Dougal, Dylan, Florence, Mr McHenry, Ermintrude, Mr Rusty, Zebidee - Eric did them all.-


This says it all:

Only drug dealers will benefit from this absurd ban on mephedrone

Prohibition will drive supply underground, endanger users and make it tougher to wean addicts off harder drugs

As its last measure the present parliament will approve its silliest. It will "ban" a recently discovered party drug called mephedrone. MPs will declare next week that, while they may have been venal, spendthrift and corrupt, at least their final act will have protected thousands of young innocents from the devil. They will have well and truly banned something. They will feel much better, and go off whistling into the night.

Another government advisor has quit in protest against the government's handling of this issue:

Eric Carlin said we need to get to the root causes of why young people use drugs. Indeed we do.And it's something to do with lack of a decent education, spiritual intelligence, and unbalanced human beings.


Carly Simon was on the radio, talking about her heritage track, which turned out to be Cat Stevens'  "How Can I Tell You?"

Interesting that she described the love she feels for her grandchildren as "an adrenaline rush" which occurs every time she sees them. I've never seen the words "love" and "adrenaline" linked in this way before, but it makes sense. If people feel a craving for "love" then it may well be because of the heightened sense of aliveness, wellbeing and joy they get from increased levels of adrenaline. After all, it's the drug of choice for people who are addicted to "falling in love".

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