I assume pretty much all of us want to enjoy and be satisfied with our lives as much of the time as we reasonably can. I know I do. And I’m not talking about the blissed-out pretend happiness exhibited by culty religious types, I’m talking about realistic, real world satisfaction with our lives in the endless variety of shapes and sizes and colors they come in. If we’re really going to do that it’s important that we attend to something many don’t consider; maximizing the operations of our own software … our belief systems.
Renowned Psychologist and Philosopher Carl Jung said “It all depends on how we look at things and not what they really are in themselves”. He’s not the first to express such a sentiment and he won’t be the last. The brilliant novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle took a longer approach to the powerful perspective that the value of a belief systems lies in what happens as a result of it. And we don’t have to choose one from a pull down menu or a list of some sort; we have the right to create our own. How we answer questions such as; “what is the purpose of life?” and “am I living well?” have a huge impact on the quality of our experience, as well as the choices we make.
As children we pick up our belief systems from what we see around us, what we’re taught and what we experience. Many accept this first iteration of philosophical perspective as who they are and identify so heavily with this initial software that it becomes their self-definition. When that’s the case the result is usually a person who is dissatisfied with their life. Some pretend and put on a happy face but I’ve never met a happy, well-adjusted person who is still rolling on their initial experience.
A large factor determining whether our software works well or not is how it causes us to see ourselves. What we’re taught we are is often inaccurate and negative and this will cause a multitude of problems if it’s not corrected. If we don’t have a reasonable way to put ourselves in a positive light, issues will be afoot! How many people do you know who think they’re ugly when they’re obviously not or stupid when they’re clearly not, etc.? How does this miss-perception affect them? An extreme example is found in the eating disorder anorexia where people think they’re fat when they’re not, usually due to a lot of body image criticism endured early on. Resultantly they starve themselves trying to be thin, sometimes to death. Mega-talented singer Karen Carpenter was a tragic example.
So what about you? Do you have beliefs about yourself that might not be true? How many perspectives about the world and/or your place in it could be false? Do your beliefs about the purpose of life comfort you or depress you? Ironically the beliefs we hold with the most passion are often the most off base.
If we’re taught something with great intensity when we’re young, the belief tends to be wrapped in powerful defensive emotions. It’s usually the fear based and full of baloney belief systems that are taught in such a manner, such as racism and homophobia. When this software is confronted a powerful emotional reaction is common … but that doesn’t make these beliefs any less baloney. When you’re examining your personal algorithms pay special attention to the ‘hot button’ issues as they often need the most work.
We humans tend to feel first and then use our rational powers to justify our emotion based opinions and beliefs. To get past this default setting all that’s needed is the knowledge that our emotions and brains can and will lie to us! Just because you feel something or think something doesn’t mean it’s so. It wasn’t that long ago that we practiced human sacrifice trying to appease Gods and alter physical circumstances. Now we know that to be ridiculous but the ‘not so ancients’ emotions and beliefs told them it made sense and was a good way to go.
When I was a kid I remember a bloom of ‘Question Authority’ bumper stickers. I wholeheartedly agree with its sentiment but think the addition of ‘… & Your Own Beliefs’ is a better sound bite.
The majority of us are born into the family religion (or other belief system) and default to that. As we mature we tend to practice an abridged form of this system, modifying it to fit our circumstances and lifestyle. There’s usually not a lot of questioning of the beliefs inherent in the ‘adopted and modified’ system. I guess this could be seen as upholding a positive tradition on one end of the spectrum and blind acceptance that could have nasty consequences on the other. If this ‘adopted and modified’ system really fits for you great! If it doesn’t you have right to choose for yourself what to believe. It’s a mammoth question because your satisfaction with life and your level of happiness depends on it. Be wary of false experts, there’s no shortage of proselytizers who will show you ‘the way’. But it won’t be your way it’ll be theirs and it’s going to cost a bunch, and it’s only likely to work for a short time.
What makes a good belief? It is a personal question but I’ve got a few guide-line questions that are helpful when it’s time to shift into self-examination mode:
- Does the belief promote happiness (for you, those around you and the world in general)? – Does the belief promote love // a positive energy?
- Does the belief promote growth, productivity and contribution?
- Does the belief promote peace and serenity?
- Is this belief truthful as far as I can reasonably tell?
It’s easy to see that I want my belief structure to honestly promote happiness, positive energy, growth, productivity, contribution and serenity. What are the qualities you’d like to bring out in your life? It’s easy to modify those questions to emphasize what’s important to you. For example, if you have kids, questioning a possible software perspective might include, “Does this belief promote the well-being, health and development of my children?” Having a belief system that supports what’s important to you will make it much more likely you’ll be more happy and satisfied with your life.
‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is a cliché I like a lot but I’ve seen it used to hold onto beliefs that were up to no good. ‘If it ain’t runnin’ as good as it could then take the time to look under the hood’ is a cliché that’s a lot better. It does take effort and some courage to develop your own software but I’m sure you’ll find the benefits far outweigh the costs.