Nature's Revenge

In the academy, the study of “happiness” has been going on at least since Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” (below). One of the conclusions is that “a sense of meaning and purpose is the single attitude most strongly associated with life satisfaction.”


 But the academy is afraid of another research finding which is that people of “spirituality” ( what Tillich and his followers defined as “a search for meaning, for unity, for connectedness, for transcendance, for the highest of human potential”) have a higher degree of “life satisfaction” then pure materialists. Materialists believe the masters of the Universe can control events–can make self-filling prophecies. They believe we are all little libertarian, self-centered, welfare seeking biologies.

Then comes a week like this week, when we realize we are not really Masters of the Universe.

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0 Responses to Nature's Revenge

  1. Armand Asante says:

    well, I usually think of these spiritualists/hippies/whatever as being illogical.
    But a finding such as the one you describe actually makes some sense of their refusal to accept logical materialistic conclusions like mine.

    In other words, being blissfully ignorant might be a “logical” choice after all, because of the side benefits – happiness.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not they really are Masters of the Universe. They’re happier than those who accept the logical truth.
    Which even to me seems to be a more important goal than being right.

    Neither of us has more control over the universe. But a sense of optimism which arises out of not realizing this, might actually help them attempt goals which I would dismiss at the outset for being impossible/impractical.

    In a way it could even turn out they DO have more control over their universe/lives.

  2. Hugo says:

    Needs aren’t heirarchical, but rather are as absolute as lightning.

  3. Morgan Warstler says:

    Wait, lets be clear – the data indicates republicans / conservatives are happier than liberals / democrats.

    So, it isn’t “hippies,” it is the religous right that is happy. I know it sucks huh?

    And what did the weather god do to bring fear into your mind Jon? If I promise that it will grow cooler, will you bow down and worship me if my prophecy proves true?

    Lately, I’ve noted some frustration on your part Jon… my advice, let it go. It is a glorious world, the best and the brightest take their place, so please have some faith, it all works out ok.

  4. thegiantsnail says:

    In my little corner of the world, this winter saw the two ugliest ice storm I’ve ever seen. The trees around here are almost literally decimated. Then a tornado ripped through on Saturday. The only thing left now is for there to be a horrible drought and a forest fire to clear all that dead wood lying around.

  5. Azmanon says:

    A path to the end of any extremity in the spectrum of life, be it highly materialistic or purely spiritual, will send most people over the edge.

    There are plenty of “old hippies” who are running the greediest corporate machines just as there are loads lost materialists who constantly attempt to buy their spiritual sanctity at any cost (yes that means war).

    It is difficult for us to accept that a dictator who commits genocide might be more satisfied with his life than a human rights activist who may constantly end up in prison. Nature does not seem fair in that way.

    As usual it comes down to the perspective from which you view the issue. Given the current political climate and there is always safety in numbers, I’m not surprised at all that conservative republicans are “happier” than others. As for the quality of that happiness and how long it will last… that is another question.

  6. Hugo says:

    I submit to those gifted in the graphic rendering of ideas that Maslow’s famous pyramid need a new—possibly holographic—shape.

    It occurs to me, in rereading this meditation of Jon’s, that I’ve known between six and ten quite agnostic scholars who spend their lives in the scientific study of religion. And although they differ in methodology (some are Social Psychologists, one a sociometrist, and a couple are anthros), I can’t think that any of them would deny the existence of the thing called the human religious impulse. Where Maslow and Tillich meet (and let’s throw in Jung for spice and Kierkegaard for depth of flavor) is in understanding that the impulse—the “need” or yearning or whatever word keeps your own metaphysics intact—either is fulfilled or satisfied or nurtured or at least expressed, or else it isn’t.

    Generally, anthropologists love the sheer variety of ways in which it is expressed, while sociologists relish the multiform ways in which it’s frustrated.

  7. Nath says:

    I find this use of the term “Materialist” interesting since it seems to mean two things in different contexts:
    1) Those who believe there is no supernatural entities of any kind
    2) Those who think that the best things in life are material goods

    This is an interesting post in that it seems to cross those two meanings. Is it that the happiest are those who deny 1 and 2, or just 1, or just 2?

  8. Mark Maglio says:

    “One of the conclusions is that ‘a sense of meaning and purpose is the single attitude most strongly associated with life satisfaction.'”

    I’d say just about every one of these comments might be confusing cause and effect. Further, there is no suggestion in the quote of any existence of a causal relationship either way.

    Also,–and if the study was linked I’d check–I’m betting that we’re talking about self-reported life satisfaction, rather than some objective measure, whatever that might be.

    Finally, I’m not sure about the suggestion that “a search for meaning, for unity, for connectedness, for transcendance, for the highest of human potential” is somehow at odds with a pure materialism. Actually, I’m pretty sure that the suggestion is incorrect.

    Sure, it’s at odds with a narrow view of materialism that utterly and completely “self-centered, welfare seeking biologies” but that’s not necessarily going to follow from materialism.

    But if Pastafarianism floats your boat, then ramen to you.

  9. Jon Taplin says:

    I suppose I threw this out there because I feel that this transition period (the Interregnum) we are going through, will require a very different ethos than the “he who dies with the most toys, wins” philosophy of the post Reagan era. A world that will need conservation, cooperation and simplicity is possible when we realize that some of our problems stem not from “too little” , but from “too much”.

    Morgan is wrong that this split runs across conservative/ liberal lines. I find my self drawn to Hugo’s way of thinking about this. It’s clear that the credit card/ home equity boom of the last 20 years has created the most wasteful society in the history of the planet, but has not made us any more fulfilled. That’s why 80% in the Washington Post ABC poll yesterday sya the country “is on the wrong track”.

  10. Mark Maglio says:

    Nath–You’re right, there does seem to be a conflating of the two different meanings of the term.

    I was reading it as ‘1’ but I’m thinking that ‘2’ is what was intended, at least some of the time.

  11. Jon Taplin says:

    Nath-I’m comfortable just denying #2. I don’t think you have to believe in a supernatural being to be considered spiritual.

  12. Dan says:

    One thing is for sure. Religious conservatives insist that they’re blissfully happy. OK. But they also insist that a guy named Noah built an ark 6000 years ago and kept a pair of every species on Earth for 40 days.

    Credibility: Zero.

  13. Dan says:

    Or to put it another way, I imagine that if you take a poll among Moonies, 100% of them will declare that they couldn’t possibly be any happier.

    Therefore conservatives should become Moonies.

  14. The Scanner says:

    The Religious Right is the happiest place on Earth!

  15. Morgan Warstler says:

    Again, I’m not a Christian, nor am I a social conservative – but I also don’t have your middling knee jerk desires to pretend there aren’t lots of studies that say these folks are happier. It shouldn’t be poo-pooed, but because you feel it is a slight to your club. It isn’t.

    I personally think “happiness” as a standard is disgusting. But there are many people, many liberals, paying a lot of money weekly to find out why with all their material goods, they aren’t yet happy.

    Freedom and work are the right answer, no matter what the question.

  16. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan- I assume your post was not addressed to me.

  17. Nath says:

    The question of happiness as a standard has a long tradition. Aristotle’s virtue ethics was based on eudaimonia (often translated as happiness) as well as the Utilitarians Bentham and Mill. As many are quick to point out, happiness does not necessarily equal life satisfaction. If there are things (not necessarily material objects) that you wouldn’t give up for something else that would make you happier, then there is something else besides happiness that is important for your life satisfaction.

  18. The Scanner says:

    What is the way to happiness?

    Freedom and work.

    What is the way to misery?

    Freedom and work.

    What is the way to idiocy?

    I think we know the right answer to that.

    What is the way to be eaten by a tiger?

    Same right answer as to all other questions.

  19. Morgan Warstler says:

    What is the way to misery?

    Government and servitude. Idiot.

  20. Dan says:

    I don’t have any “middling knee-jerk desires” (whatever that means) one way or the other. I don’t care what other people say about how happy they think they are.

    You’re the one who has brought it up at least a couple of times, throwing in words like “hippies” to add a gloating tone.

  21. Morgan Warstler says:

    Yes Dan, you have middling knee jerk desires.

    I quoted AA, the poster before me, and drew a distinction between his and Tillich’s attempts to define the the spiritualness in a way that obscured facts – polling shows those weirdo conservative Christians are happier than the intelligent intellectual members of the left – not so happy on that side.

    You felt slighted. Why I can only imagine. I don’t know about you, but I do know that while I don’t care much about happiness or conservative Christians, I do like to keep reality in place when Jon starts creating false dichotomies like: spiritualists and materialists.

    Because if we look at the facts and then apply Jon’s logic, that the right is full of Spiritualists (they are the happiest) and the left is full of Materialists (the least happy).

    Here’s why conservatives are happier:

    “Begin with a paradox: Conservatives are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic. Conservatives think the Book of Job got it right (“Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward”), as did Adam Smith (“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation”). Conservatives understand that society in its complexity resembles a giant Calder mobile — touch it here and things jiggle there, and there, and way over there. Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.

    Conservatives’ pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised — they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong, they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes — government — they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity — it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.”

  22. Dan says:

    I don’t feel slighted. If it pleases you to think so, that’s OK with me.

  23. Another Jon says:

    “Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.”


    From your mouth to god’s…err….G-Dub’s ear Morgan. For what it is worth….that sentence coming from your hands made me happy.

  24. Morgan Warstler says:

    Credibility: Zero.

  25. Dan says:

    Well, we hold the exact same opinion of each other.

  26. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan-Your latest post is truly epic in its conceptual overreach. First, no social scientist has every asserted (with data) what you just said. If people of faith (a subset of which happen to be conservative) are happier, its because they have reached some sense of meaning through their faith.

    Your own assertion about the happiness of conservatives (purely anecdotal as usual) is disproven by your own ill temper on these pages. To those of us who refuse to buy into your “rosy scenario” in Iraq, you exhibit the height of unhappiness. My suspiscion is that as the politcal tide in America turns against the ideology you have championed in the next 8 months, you will only get grumpier.

    Another Jon is totally correct. The greatest example of the Law of Unintended Consequences is the Iraq War and $125 / barrel oil. This is completely “unacknowledged” by Mr. Bush, who even admits he was surprised by the lack of WMD in Iraq.

    I am of course comforted that he has decided to give up golf in solidarity with the killed, maimed and wounded soldiers.

  27. Pingback: When the Going Gets Tough… « Jon Taplin’s Blog

  28. John Hurt says:

    May 31, 2008
    Farewell, Fair Weather


    We are now firmly ensconced in the Age of Extreme Weather.

    According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, there have been more than four times as many weather-related disasters in the last 30 years than in the previous 75 years. The United States has experienced more of those disasters than any other country.

    Just this month, a swarm of tornadoes shredded the central states. California and Florida have been scorched by wildfires, and a crippling drought in the Southeast has forced Georgia to authorize plans for new reservoirs.

    Who do we have to thank for all this? Probably ourselves.

    Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued reports concluding that “human influences” (read greenhouse-gas emissions) have “more likely than not” contributed to this increase. The United States is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse-gas emissions.

    Furthermore, a White House report about the effect of global climate change on the United States issued Thursday (years late and under court order) reaffirmed that the situation will probably get worse: In addition to temperature extremes, “precipitation is likely to be less frequent but more intense. It is also likely that future hurricanes will become more intense, with higher peak speeds and more heavy precipitation … .”

    This increase is deadly and disruptive — and could become economically unbearable.

    According to the National Hurricane Center, 10 of the 30 costliest American hurricanes have struck since 2000, even after adjusting the figures for inflation and the cost of construction.

    In 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, the estimated damage from storms in the United States was $121 billion. That is $39 billion more than the 2005 supplemental spending bill to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    About $3 billion has been allocated to assist farmers who suffer losses because of droughts, floods and tornadoes among other things.

    And, a recent report in The Denver Post said the Forest Service plans to spend 45 percent, or $1.9 billion, of its budget this year fighting forest fires.

    This surge in disasters and attendant costs is yet another reason we need to declare a coordinated war on climate change akin to the wars on drugs and terror. It’s a matter of national security.

    By the way, hurricane season begins Sunday.

    Charles Blow’s column will appear on alternate Saturdays. E-mail:

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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