Two Ways to Improve the Quality of Life

“There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience conditions to make them fit our goals better.”

— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Gratitude Detox

The Taylor Study Method has just posted an article I wrote on using gratitude to detox your brain. I pointed out that when you pay attention to negativity, you actually create toxins in your brain. This includes simply thinking negative thoughts. However, by cultivating an attitude of gratitude, you can starve all thinking that is negative, disordered or toxic. Just as fire can’t survive in an environment of water, so toxic thinking can’t survive in a neurological environment characterized by constant gratitude.

Use Gratitude to Detox Your Brain

Philosophical Realism and Literature

From my Colson Center article ‘The Abstraction of God and the Culture Wars (Nominalism 7)‘:

Overemphasizing the noetic effects of sin and underestimating the reality of common grace has enormous ramifications in how we approach pagan literature. When we come to a text like Homer’s Iliad, or the plays of Sophocles, is our knee-jerk instinct to assume these texts have nothing valuable to teach us regarding human nature and God’s world? If so, we will conceive our task primarily to unearth worldview deficiencies in these writers: to attack, criticize and condemn.

But if, on the other hand, we recognize that the ordering of reality has left the imprint of a divine grammar that even pagans cannot help but recognize, then we will come at these texts expecting to find additional confirmation of the inherent logic of creation – a logic which not even human sin can fully eradicate. Once again, there is a structural order to creation that is larger than, and prior to, God’s pedestrian commands

Memory is the Mother of Creativity

From ‘Best Kept Secrets About Brain Fitness: a Conversation with Graham Taylor and Robin Phillips (Part 3)‘:

In Greek mythology, the Muses were the offspring of Zeus’s union with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.

“People argue that the computer has diminished the need for humans to exercise their memories as much…. but I think it is an oversimplification. …if we don’t learn and remember things—perhaps because we think we can always look up the information online—then our brains will never have the opportunity to form schemas out of what we’ve learned. Our brains will be little better than a computer which is able to retrieve lots of information but isn’t able to sort the information out into schemas that are meaningful and wisdom-imparting. Also, it shouldn’t be overlooked that memory is closely linked to creativity. As our personal and collective memories are being outsourced to machines, we forget (no irony intended) that humans have always understood there to be a reciprocal link between memory and creativity. The Muses in ancient Greek mythology were the goddesses of inspiration for literature, science and the arts, yet significantly they were the offspring of Zeus’s union with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. I don’t think that was a coincidence: the Greeks understood that memory is at the heart of both creativity and wisdom. As the Greek playwright Aeschylus put it in Prometheus Bound, “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.” That’s why teaching the techniques for memory and learning ought to be at the heart of education. But because we aren’t teaching these techniques, what happens is that there is a vacuum in which numerous false ideas about memory arise.”

The Politics of Imagination

From my earlier post “Killing the Imagination (Common Core, Part 3)“:

In cultivating the imagination, great literature helps to keep us free….the capacity to imagine has been the enemy of all great totalitarian regimes in history, for it is through the imagination that we are able to make connections, to form associations, to conceptualize long-term consequences and to see the infrastructures of meaning that lie beneath the surface of things. The poetry of life, and the sense of wonder that keeps the imagination vivid, fresh and restless, remains the constant enemy in the prosaic utopias that aim to convince citizens that there is nothing beyond this life to live for. Accordingly, for collectivist and totalitarian regimes to truly work, the first books to go must be those that have no obvious functional value in a work-based economy but which feed the imagination, and enable us to see the world in a fresh and wonder-filled light.

Beauty and the Sacramental Vision

From my article ‘More than Schooling: The Perils of Pragmatism in Christian Attitudes Toward the Liberal Arts‘:

“Being able to just be in the presence of beauty is central to coming to know God and to participate in the sacramental life. As students come to appreciate beauty for its own sake—independent of utilitarian goals—their souls are prepared to receive God at a deep, pre-cognitive level.”

Self-Acceptance and Repentance

As a conservative Christian, I used to shy away from the message of self-acceptance, seeing it as mere psychobabble. I was also concerned that too much self-acceptance might stifle personal growth and improvement. Worse, it might even block us from being humble. So I took this concern to a number of pastors, priests, monks, scholars and Christian psychologists throughout the world.

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Comfort and Emotional Numbing

From my article ‘What Gratitude is Not‘:

“When our pursuit of comfort causes us to numb ourselves to the pain and hurt happening around us, and even happening to us, what we’re doing is we’re also inadvertently numbing away the capacity to empathize, to feel love, joy and gratitude. When we harden ourselves as a defense against fear, grief, disappointment, shame, rejection or vulnerability, the result is that we’re reducing our capacity to feel the emotions that are important for our wellbeing, including gratitude.”