Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how to have a meaningful life that leads to happiness. Of course, this is a subject that has been approached by many great thinkers in the past, what the author did was go over the teachings of different cultures, and back it up with the results obtained using modern science.

I find that the text was well written, and useful for everyone, it's not a self-help book, but it could be used as one.

I was moved by his argument in favor of religion, even though the author himself is not religious, it explains that the appreciation of divinity is part of human nature, he recommends for everyone to understand both sides of the spectrum. It's true that I spent a lot of time in the conservative school of thought, but I am better informed with by the liberal point of view, in other words, I've read a lot about the individual rights, liberals are expert thinkers in the issues of victimization, equality, autonomy particularly when it comes to minorities and the oppressed. Conservatives, in the other hand, are experts thinkers about loyalty to a group, respect for authority and tradition and sacredness. The sweet spot lies in between.
Any society that lies too much in either direction will develop different problems.
So I've decided to jump in and study the tenets of conservative thinking, I want to understand what the smart guys in over in the right have to say, particularly when it comes to economic policy, so that means, that no, I will not be reading Palin's book.
Well, maybe I will. I can see that this is going to take a lot of work.

My favorite chapter was the one about Virtue. A good life is one where we seek a purpose, whether it's spiritual or secular in nature, I've always believed that's the way to go. By continuously seeking to be better we achieve the conditions necessary to live happily.

So happiness comes from both the inside and the outside, seeking personal excellence, having good relationships and being involved in something bigger than oneself does the trick.

Check it out for yourself, and no, I am not getting any money from the book author, I just really liked the book. :)

Link to book's site

That is all.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

On Politics

For some reason, I always find myself discussing politics with co-worker friends at the lunch table, with family members, and with people online. It's often wise to avoid such things if one doesn't know the person(s) well enough to engage in a meaningful debate. Some people cannot accept disagreement, or criticism, or they can get offended and resentful over political opinions. The root of the problem comes down to our psychology, we have certain convictions that are not based on rationality, instead, convictions are deeply emotional and are central to people's identity. Nobody says "I agree with Conservative thinking" they say, "I AM a Conservative" if you criticize a conservative idea to a person, she might think you are attacking her personally, not the idea.

Need proof? Consider the following story: (Warning, this is a disgusting story, read at your own risk)

Julie and Mark are sister and brother. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie is already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but decide not to do it again. They keep that night a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other.

Do you think it's acceptable for two consenting adults who happen to be related to do this? If you are like most people, the answer is no. (Myself included, btw)

But, how do you justify it? Most people would point out that incest breeding produces child defects, but they are using birth control, does it make it OK? Most people still say no, maybe it will harm their relationship, but in this case it makes them feel closer, so people have a hard time justifying it, but they just do.

The point of all this is that moral judgement is like beauty judgement, just like when you look at a good painting and you know you like it, the same thing goes for this sort of things.

Which brings me back to politics. At the root of the conservative vs liberal thought, it comes down which right do you value more, freedom or justice? There should be a balance but at the end of the day, these two goals conflict with each other.

At this point, I'd like to clarify my stands and how it came to be.

When we fist moved to the United States, my family identified themselves with the Evangelical Christian movement in Latin America, they were big fans of Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. The year I moved here Bill Clinton was elected and all I heard was outrage at the liberals this, and the liberals that, they want to destroy America, their loose morals are enraging God, California is a cesspool of perdition, etc, etc. One thing that stood out, was that there was a group of people that felt that the Election of a liberal into office would speed up the Apocalipse, the end of times! and I always wondered, isn't that a good thing? aren't we waiting for Jesus to come back? All Christians should then vote Democrat to speed up HIS return? But anyway, I truly felt that liberals were Evil, and that Republicans were the good guys because they were righteous in the eyes of the Lord. Not only that, but they stood for self-reliance and hard work, something I still admire, they don't expect the government to hand them out anything. The protestant industrious work ethic really struck a chord with me, it still does. Man should strive to carve his own path, if you work hard, you too can get the American dream. That was my idea.

I voted for George W. Bush. I wasn't a US Citizen the first time around, I was in the Marine Corps, and it was a given, true marines are conservatives, because the republican party is the only one that cares about the military. Liberals want to shut down bases, and republicans want to raise pay and buy the best toys.

Then 9/11 happened, less than two years later I found myself in the middle of a real war, when I came back from Iraq It was tough for me to justify our involvement over there, I was disillusioned at the fact that the pretense that was used to get us there turned out to be fabricated, and I held the administration responsible for that mistake. As a result, I wanted a change in the administration, I felt that the way they responded to criticism was inappropriate, it felt like their message to the world was that if you disagree with the administration, you are not a true patriot. Suddenly I found the party I identified myself with disagreeing with my conscience.

Then came Obama, I found his story inspiring, in contrast, McCain, a man I admired, picked Palin, which was an insult to our intelligence, I was turned off by the way Republicans went to the extreme right. So I voted for Obama.

It's much easier to see the faults in others than to see my own faults. I retrospect, I know my decision was based on emotional reaction first, then I rationalized it.

From now on instead of making political preference part of my identity, I choose instead to make an effort to understand the whole spectrum of ideas, I choose to acknowledge my bias and my emotion when I evaluate the policies that our lawmakers create. It's easy to just pick a side and then agree with everything that party puts out, easy to then dismiss what the other side has to say just because they do not think the same way you do. It's much tougher to understand the big picture, without emotion. It's easier to read what you already agree with. Much tougher to read what don't. I'm going to be making an effort.

From now on, I want to declare myself free of labels, I am not a liberal, I am not a conservative, I am a person, I read a study the ideas both sides bring, and I am evaluating. I will not choose sides, I will do my best to set my bias aside when exercising my civil duty to vote.

That is all.


I finished! Now What?

A month ago I finished the Master's degree after 3 years of hard work, that's finally done, that was good, lot of work, but worth it for sure.

The question is, now that I have finished, what to do now?

The answer is easy: Live my Life.

Don't get me wrong, I have a bunch of goals and projects I want to complete, too many, actually. But the focus is going to be living well. By living well I don't mean focus on wealth, instead focus on happiness. I want to make sure I get this parenting thing right. I want to work on all the things I had neglected, and continue to do the things I enjoy doing.

That is all.