Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Art of Happiness 21

Raphael's School of Athens, 1509-1510. Plato and Aristotle are at the centre, left to right.
In our last post we spoke about our basic resistance to change, and we highlighted fear as being one of the greatest causes of this resistance. The fourth step in fighting this resistance to change that the Dalai Lama recommended is taking action or making an effort to change,  Making a sustained effort to change our external behaviour is hard, but as we persist in it we reap the benefits. Such effort is not only helpful in overcoming bad habits, but it can also change our underlying attitudes and feelings.  I believe there is a certain overlap here with the Aristotelian principle of phronesis which may be defined as practical wisdom or knowledge learnt from our actions.  Aristotle also said that it is impossible to become good without doing good actions.  We can readily see these Aristotelian tenets in the following passage written by Dr. Cutler in our book under discussion here - The Art of Happiness.

Experiments have shown that not only do our attitudes and psychological traits determine our behaviour, an idea that is commonly accepted, but our behaviour can also change our attitudes.  Investigators found that even an artificially induced frown or smile tend to induce the corresponding emotions of anger and happiness; this suggests that just 'going through the motions' and repeatedly engaging in a positive behaviour can eventually bring about genuine internal change.  This could have important implications in the Dalai Lama's approach to building a happier life.  If we begin with the simple act of regularly helping others, for instance, even if we don't feel particularly kind or caring, we may discover an inner transformation taking place, as we very gradually develop genuine feelings of compassion. (Op.cit., p. 194)
Also sustained effort to bring about change takes time, and a lot of time.  That is why books or gurus offering quick and immediate answers to life's difficult problems are literally selling a lie.  There are no "quick fixes" or instant solutions.  Such answers are offered by fundamentalist religious sects of one kind or another.  Therefore, we must always set ourselves realistic goals and develop realistic attitudes and expectations.  Having idealistic goals are okay as a goal in the long term, but expecting  to achieve them in the short term is an extreme and unrealistic attitude.

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