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Reality, and Happiness

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In the last thread I started, I was reading replies when I discovered this by MarcT.

People want to see a philosophy or religious system in action, by a real person. Not an abstraction. Not a set of complex intellectual theories.

The funny thing is Christians do, (and have for hundreds of years) understood this principle and its another reason why Christianity is successful. Objectvist's don't. Which is part of the reason why Objectivism is not successful.

It's not "appeal to authority" it's simple common sense. It's saying "I'll believe it when I see it".

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Christianity has made me insanely frustrated in my life. Sometimes, I like to play lawyer and debate with a Christian. Other times, I have to suppress a lot of stress when someone starts talking to me about Jesus, prayer, and how much the Bible makes sense. If I do not change to subject or leave, I know it is just a matter of time before I think to myself, "Are you THAT f***ing stupid???"

Now, having said that, I will be honest. I am extremely skeptical that logic and reality have a tendency to bring people more happiness. I could be saying this because I subjectively experience pessimism and just project it onto other people where it does not exist, but here it is: I really question the honesty of someone who claims to be happy, knowing that they will physically deteriorate more and more and more and more, look uglier and uglier, and eventually a time will probably come when your internal organs giving out on you in burning pain (or something like that).

So, anyways, my point is that I am not sure Christians are worse off. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I was capable of believing in the pleasant aspects of Christianity. I will never know because I can't bring myself to believe such blatantly stupid bullshit, but who knows? Maybe I would feel a bit more optimistic a bit more often. That seems to be what I observe. I do not do drugs, but I have been high, and if that's what Nathaniel Branden calls "the pleasure of being unconscious" then I would love to live life that way if it could be permanent. Obviously, a beer wears off, there are side effects, and withdrawal is real, so that is not possible. I bring that up because religion and drugs are forms of "escapism."

Anyways, is there any evidence that atheists or Objectivists seem to be happier?

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An honest question, but seriously, how could it be measured? In a poll?

My default position is, rather be unhappy and be intimate with reality, than be happy and be disconnected.

At the next level, of course, it doesn't work this way; with on-going evasion of reality, one's anxiety and guilt grow

stronger. It is the indisputable nature of the "rational animal". (Spiritual suicide, AR called it.)

So don't be fooled by the stereotypical 'joyful Christian'. He has an addiction as powerful as any drug. It needs increasing doses, and it gives the same 'downers'.

I don't think happiness is any single given moment of our lives.

This is rather, joy, or, exultation - which we can all experience (and should) at our peaks.

Happiness is more an averaged-out state over a long period. It contains the normal 'lows' that are reminders

of reality - but, critically, these are the anomalies by which a rational person doesn't define himself.

Life is long, and as Aristotle put it : "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit."

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"Other times, I have to suppress a lot of stress when someone starts talking to me about Jesus, prayer, and how much the Bible makes sense. If I do not change to subject or leave, I know it is just a matter of time before I think to myself, "Are you THAT f***ing stupid???""

Much depends upon the level of Christian you are talking to. In general, I have found that Evangelicals and Pentecostals are almost impossible to talk to, as they argue in circles. Most Catholics I run across are so poorly catechized that they can't explain even basic tenets of their faith to themselves or others. However, the two most intelligent men I have had the fortune to meet were both Catholic priests: one was the physicist and author Stanley Jaki (he died a few years ago), and a philosophy professor who was a Thomist. I also had a correspondence with another Thomist, Ralph McInerny. I doubt you'd have had the same reaction (that is, Are you THAT f***ing stupid???"") if you had conversations with that level of Christian.

"So, anyways, my point is that I am not sure Christians are worse off."

No, they aren't. Psychological studies show that religious people, in general, live longer, happier lives and heal faster. When broken down, it is the result of three basic components: the promotion of healtheir lifestyles, the social support offered by the religious community, and the optimism that is part of the Christian worldview. The latter is especially important...

"My default position is, rather be unhappy and be intimate with reality, than be happy and be disconnected.

At the next level, of course, it doesn't work this way; with on-going evasion of reality, one's anxiety and guilt grow

stronger. It is the indisputable nature of the "rational animal"."

It would be "indisputable" if actual evidence supported it. But suicide rates (which would logically follow the increased guilt and anxiety that you assert) actually are lower among religious: http://ajp.psychiatr...act/161/12/2303

Depression is harmful to one's health. If being "intimate with reality" leads to unhappiness and depression, then I have to wonder if it's really very reality-based at all. It would be contrary to one's nature (survival), then, to follow that particular view of the world. Perhaps, then, your definition of the "rational animal" is flawed.

Edited by Avila
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Depression is harmful to one's health. If being "intimate with reality" leads to unhappiness and depression, then I have to wonder if it's really very reality-based at all. It would be contrary to one's nature (survival), then, to follow that particular view of the world. Perhaps, then, your definition of the "rational animal" is flawed.

This is so absurd I am sorry it even gets this response out of me. It's dishonest of you to provide "citations" in "support" of things that violate basic logic and common sense.

So, religion, which by definition is not "reality-based," is more reality-based than actual reality? Depression is not harmful to one's health if it indicates a major flaw in, say, philosophic premises -- it indicates that something is wrong and needs to be changed. If one is aware on some distant but willfully-ignored level, over and over, that one holds major contradictions in life views, how do you think that will play out on one's life outlook? Will that go away if one just "buckles down" and ignores reality even more? By ignoring reality, Christians aren't worse off by living a life of make-believe? Really? Time to provide another citation...

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Anyways, is there any evidence that atheists or Objectivists seem to be happier?

This was recently posted in another thread, but the basic answer is, "Staying true to reality doesn't make one automatically happy, but it does guarantee the possibility of happiness." Even with the right "life tools" with which to sculpt your own life, you still must do the work necessary to use them successfully. Edited by JASKN
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"So, religion, which by definition is not "reality-based,"

No, that would be your assessement, not a definition.

"....is more reality-based than actual reality?

No. That is a poor interpretation of what I said.

Nonsense. So, religion isn't something different than reality... it is reality? Why bother having a distinction at all? In case we do need that distinction, if it isn't reality, I guess it would have to be... non-reality. Even the "definitions" agree, as confirmed by Oxford: "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods."

Superhuman is reality? Gods are reality?

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My default position is, rather be unhappy and be intimate with reality, than be happy and be disconnected.

Richard Dawkins (whom I admire) agrees with you, but this is where I subjectively differ. Why on Earth would I ever prefer to be miserable? If I could be told a lie that makes hot porn stars chase me, I could care less about being told the lie. Tell me a myth.

Obviously, if I become aware of a threat and avoid it, then truth served me well. I do not know if the same advantage applies to dying and Christianity.

Much depends upon the level of Christian you are talking to. In general, I have found that Evangelicals and Pentecostals are almost impossible to talk to, as they argue in circles.

A person can not believe in an ancient superstition without embracing some type of wild illogic. A "moderate Christian" may believe in less myths, be more likable, assert fewer contradictions, have less certainty, be less dangerous, or behave in more practical ways, but it does not change the fact that he or she had to go way off the track in order to believe in such nonsense.

Most Catholics I run across are so poorly catechized that they can't explain even basic tenets of their faith to themselves or others.

One way to look at it (as you seem to) is to say more knowledge of the scriptures and historical contexts reveals a Christian who is at least informed. But I tend towards a less favorable perspective. If a person dedicates significant time to studying the Bible and still takes it seriously, that individual has willfully ignored more facts that suggest religion is false and employed more fallacies.

However, the two most intelligent men I have had the fortune to meet were both Catholic priests: one was the physicist and author Stanley Jaki (he died a few years ago), and a philosophy professor who was a Thomist.

Religious people outnumber atheists, so that could easily be the reason. Also, if you are religious, then there is reason to wonder if you tend to associate with Chrsitians more (which could also explain it). At any rate, that is hardly important.

My friend is a Christian who attended very prestigious university and earned a PhD in Chemistry. Francis Collins is brilliant. There is no question in my mind that he (and a myriad of other Chrsitians) are brilliant. However, none of this changes the fact that they abjectly fail to apply these same standards of logic to the subject of Christianity. Public intellectuals who are Muslims and Christians make mutually exclusive claims, so being brilliant in one field does mean stupidity or insanity can not be present in another.

Anyways, I hope that is not offensive. Thank you for sharing the link about the happiness study.

Depression is harmful to one's health. If being "intimate with reality" leads to unhappiness and depression, then I have to wonder if it's really very reality-based at all. It would be contrary to one's nature (survival), then, to follow that particular view of the world. Perhaps, then, your definition of the "rational animal" is flawed.

That language was a contradiction in terms, but I get your point and it may be a good one. If reality makes a person unhappy, then maybe he or she is dumb for choosing to embrace it. That makes sense to me. I get what you meant. The only problem is, I have no choice. I can not believe flying happy ponies exist just because it is pleasant.

Edited by determinist
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Anyways, is there any evidence that atheists or Objectivists seem to be happier?

Yes. There is a phenomenon (as mentioned in my other thread) called "depressive realism", whereby people who have a more "realistic" view on life are more likely to be depressed.

Psychology is only just beggining to shed some light on why this is. A recent Psychology Today article on this subject says the follows:

Because the world is unpredictable, we continually generate mental scenarios about how we think things will unfold, and we color these scenarios bright or dark, hopeful or fearful. Why not make our forecasts neutral—neither optimistic nor pessimistic but simply realistic? It turns out that optimism andpessimism are not distortions or flaws in our vision (at least, not always), but in fact are enhanced perspectives that give us something more than mere realism can provide.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201110/optimism?page=2

The point is that "realism" is not enough. We, psychologically speaking, need something more to stay mentally motivated. In the strict sense, its not entirely "rational" bit it still aids our survival. Its a type of coping mechanism, to have hope in the future.

Also, It's important to distinguish atheists (you could say normal atheists) from Objectivists. (normal) Atheists tend to be humanists or naturalistic pantheists or materialists. Objectivists are in a different category values-wise. And because of their strictly realistic viewpoint on life, are probably more likely to be depressed.

Several online topics were brought up recently on this (peculiar) issue:

http://www.reddit.com/r/philosophy/comments/etw2f/im_an_unhappy_objectivist/

http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2006/08/16/should-objectivists-become-mormons/

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"Also, It's important to distinguish atheists (you could say normal atheists) from Objectivists. (normal) Atheists tend to be humanists or naturalistic pantheists or materialists. Objectivists are in a different category values-wise. And because of their strictly realistic viewpoint on life, are probably more likely to be depressed."

That is in keeping with my own observations. Many of my acquaintances are atheists or agnostics (because I was an atheist for decades), and most of them would fall into what you call the "normal" atheist category. They honestly don't seem to live according to their own professed belief system, and some simply deny the reality of observation and thought, but certainly don't act accordingly. I have always suggested Objectivism to these people, but not many have been interested. I wonder if it is because they suspect it might make them unhappy.

Edited by Avila
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That is in keeping with my own observations. Many of my acquaintances are atheists or agnostics (because I was an atheist for decades), and most of them would fall into what you call the "normal" atheist category. They honestly don't seem to live according to their own professed belief system, and some simply deny the reality of observation and thought, but certainly don't act accordingly. I have always suggested Objectivism to these people, but not many have been interested. I wonder if it is because they suspect it might make them unhappy.

Avila, I have to defend Objectivism on this one. I am not an Objectivist but I can tell you as a naturalist that it is the most optimistic (naturalist) philosophy I know of. A sense of accomplishment, pride, and confidence really does make me happiest at the times I experience. And a philosophy that preaches that as the engine of happiness seems to have at least part of the picture right.

But, unfortunately, I reject it as overly optimistic because of its idea about causality. I believe our genetic construct and environmental history are what make the difference between a person who has relentless drive to achieve and a someone who does not. For some people, it is a small hill to overcome when motivating themselves. For really depressed people with an unfortunate brain make-up, it can feel exhausting to do absolutely anything.

Nathaniel Branden's chapter "The Psychology of Pleasure" talks about the neurotic who finds pleasure in nothing because he has not made work his central focus. This is a very clear example of why I reject Objectvism. Branden does not really do justice in making sense. He does not even mention the possibility that the person doesn't have passion in work because the person finds interest in nothing. It is too much of a "simple as that" approach.

To get back to the original point of this post, I actually think Objectivism is super-optimistic. It asserts that you can be truly happy

in life if you become independent and use your mind to its fullest.

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My default position is, rather be unhappy and be intimate with reality, than be happy and be disconnected.

Can you clarify this some more? In one sense, I agree with you: it's okay to be unhappy sometimes, nor should you try to pretend an unhappy situation is actually happy. If you can't recognize a situation for what it is, you cannot improve your condition for the future, a future that may leave you happier than you were before. That could be expanded on differently, though. Wallowing in your misery because "that's just how it is" is totally intimate with reality, but certainly not what you mean. My idea is that merely being reality focused is insufficient to achieve happiness.

Determinist, how are you defining happiness?

Edited by Eiuol
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"Avila, I have to defend Objectivism on this one. I am not an Objectivist but I can tell you as a naturalist that it is the most optimistic (naturalist) philosophy I know of."

I wonder, then, if the differences between your observations and mine could be attributed to age. By far, most of the self-identified Objectivists I have known personally (and it seems to be the case here on this forum) are young, often in high school or in college. Ordinary adolescent angst might be a factor, as well as the fact that most of them are not providing for themselves and have accomplished very little. This is not at all blameworthy (it's hard to run a railroad when you're still in high school), but perhaps many end up feeling that they don't and can't live up to the superhuman (non-human, I would say) characters in Rand's novels. In contrast, the "normal" atheists I have known (as described above in an earlier post) have been older, usually established in their careers, and are less idealistic (and thus not so disappointed with real life). At any rate, I have come across far more depressed and angry Objectivists than other atheist types.

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Now, having said that, I will be honest. I am extremely skeptical that logic and reality have a tendency to bring people more happiness. I could be saying this because I subjectively experience pessimism and just project it onto other people where it does not exist, but here it is: I really question the honesty of someone who claims to be happy, knowing that they will physically deteriorate more and more and more and more, look uglier and uglier, and eventually a time will probably come when your internal organs giving out on you in burning pain (or something like that).

... if you're just a negative person, you might want to try changing that. No belief system is going to magically make you happy. I think it really takes a conscious effort to stay positive: you have to find people that you like spending time with, things that you enjoy doing, etc. It takes a lot of work to find out what you want, and then how you're going to achieve it. You should never wake up with the thought, "Why do I even need to wake up today?" Isn't that just the worst feeling in the world? If you feel that way, you should do something about it. You're the only one who has to live it, so you might as well make it a good experience while it lasts.

As for your other point, it's just a cold hard fact that we're all going to die and we don't know when.. but that's not a reason not to live.

My default position is, rather be unhappy and be intimate with reality, than be happy and be disconnected.

That's great. It means that he would rather be knowledgeable and true to reality (experience the ups and downs of life even when the truth is not pretty), than be a happy, ignorant fool.

Edited by Michele Degges
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[...]than be a happy, ignorant fool.

Obviously, no one is going to choose to keep living if he honestly believes happiness is never possible, so I don't agree with the alternative here. But I do view a "happy" fool as a train headed off a cliff, with no knowledge of the impending doom. Real happiness can never be achieved long-term when it is based on something that doesn't jive with actual reality. ... Well, I guess in some limited context of a death before the ignorance comes around to bite him, a man might be "happy" -- then again, that's not really a complete definition of happiness!
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"Avila, I have to defend Objectivism on this one. I am not an Objectivist but I can tell you as a naturalist that it is the most optimistic (naturalist) philosophy I know of."

I wonder, then, if the differences between your observations and mine could be attributed to age. By far, most of the self-identified Objectivists I have known personally (and it seems to be the case here on this forum) are young, often in high school or in college. Ordinary adolescent angst might be a factor, as well as the fact that most of them are not providing for themselves and have accomplished very little. This is not at all blameworthy (it's hard to run a railroad when you're still in high school), but perhaps many end up feeling that they don't and can't live up to the superhuman (non-human, I would say) characters in Rand's novels. In contrast, the "normal" atheists I have known (as described above in an earlier post) have been older, usually established in their careers, and are less idealistic (and thus not so disappointed with real life). At any rate, I have come across far more depressed and angry Objectivists than other atheist types.

I was talking about Objectivism rather than self-labeled Objectivists. I consider "Objectivism" the philosophy that Ayn Rand explained and claims to have discovered in her books (along with her co-authors). To me, that philosophy seems optimistic because it asserts that individuals have massive power to alter their well-being for the better and happiness is attainable (to those who understand Objectivism, adopts its values, and behave accordingly). Whether or not it is true, I think that specific part of the philosophy has a very hopeful ring to it.

Of course, if Objectivism if it is overly optimistic (as I believe it is), then I would expect it to be possible for self-labeled Objectivists to seem unhappy (as you believe your observations suggest).

Edited by determinist
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Of course, if Objectivism if it is overly optimistic (as I believe it is), then I would expect it to be possible for self-labeled Objectivists to seem unhappy (as you believe your observations suggest).

I do want to address your points, but I'm not sure what exactly you are referring to when you say happiness. For all I know, happiness could mean the condition of never having a bad day and never feeling sad, or it could mean the effort to hide unhappy feelings, which fits into the idea that happiness is by definition a delusion.

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"I was talking about Objectivism rather than self-labeled Objectivists. I consider "Objectivism" the philosophy that Ayn Rand explained and claims to have discovered in her books (along with her co-authors). To me, that philosophy seems optimistic because it asserts that individuals have massive power to alter their well-being for the better and happiness is attainable (to those who understand Objectivism, adopts its values, and behave accordingly). Whether or not it is true, I think that specific part of the philosophy has a very hopeful ring to it."

I agree with you completely here, and had meant to add, to my earlier post, that I thought that Objectivism itself was quite positive, much more so than other atheist strains. I do think my experience with self-identified Objectivists probably stems from the age factor I mentioned earlier.

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Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I was capable of believing in the pleasant aspects of Christianity. I will never know because I can't bring myself to believe such blatantly stupid bullshit, but who knows? Maybe I would feel a bit more optimistic a bit more often.

This dilemma reminds me of The Matrix. One guy on Neo's ship knows what reality actually is, but becomes so unhappy with his life that he wants to go back into the matrix and forget everything he learned. :( He ends up dead.

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Most of what I have read on this topic in the past 10 years or so indicates that happiness and a sunny disposition are strongly influenced by genetics. Some people, myself included, are more naturally optimistic and others are born more pessimistic. So THAT component of happiness is genetic. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-imprinted-brain/201005/happiness-ultimately-its-genetic

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8494966/Happiness-gene-discovered.html

Beyond that, I have always agreed with Rand that happiness is a sort of barometer of how one is progressing towards achieving values. "Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values."

So, while some of us are more predisposed towards optimism and happiness, one can increase ones happiness and joy through achievement of values, which requires recognizing reality and creating value.

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Obviously, no one is going to choose to keep living if he honestly believes happiness is never possible, so I don't agree with the alternative here. But I do view a "happy" fool as a train headed off a cliff, with no knowledge of the impending doom. Real happiness can never be achieved long-term when it is based on something that doesn't jive with actual reality. ... Well, I guess in some limited context of a death before the ignorance comes around to bite him, a man might be "happy" -- then again, that's not really a complete definition of happiness!

So, I don't mean this as an argument one way or the other -- this is just speculation on my part (though not entirely without reason)... but...

I've always wondered about "the happy fool."

Any kind of profound ignorance or error has to be challenged by the circumstances of the world, I feel, and probably with regularity. So I wonder how deep the happiness of the happy fool really runs. I wonder how much of their smile is genuine.

When you say that "[r]eal happiness can never be achieved long-term when it is based on something that doesn't jive with actual reality," I agree. But even in a short-term sense (though I may be too lenient on myself here, as I'd happily shift these goalposts), I wonder what kind of happiness can be purchased by being out of sync with reality. Reality, being reality, entails harsh consequences for those who don't pay proper attention. And I expect that there has to be a psychological toll according to what's required to deny/evade/ignore, or whatever a person has to do, to keep himself unaware of the truth of things. How that toll manifests might not always be straightforward, and thus hard to account for in every instance, yet I do believe that there's a price to be paid somewheres.

On the topic of whether being an Objectivist necessarily means being happy -- or whether a sad Objectivist is an argument against Objectivism...

Having a canvas, paints, brushes, and whatever-other-tools that a master painter would have, will not guarantee that you can paint a masterpiece. However, it would be extraordinarily difficult to paint a masterpiece without them.

I look at philosophy as a tool, and I regard Objectivism as the best tool for the "job" of being happy, which is kind of like a life-long, personal masterpiece. But having the best tool for the job is not synonymous with having finished the job. And anyways, unlike an artist's masterpiece "happiness" is not a state that can be achieved and then a person goes on to other things... nor does "being a happy person" mean living completely free from pain or sadness. Happiness, I think, is an emotional appraisal of our general status in the world -- and the world being what it is, our status can change. If you find me the day after the world wide zombie plague carries off my loved ones, I'm apt to be sad about it, whether I'm fresh from a reading of Atlas Shrugged or not.

But even then, I would find my greatest strength in my ability to deal with that challenge or any other challenge that life throws at me. And I believe that my "ability to deal" rests in my capabilities to reason, to commit myself to the best actions on that basis, and etc. So even in those moments when I am at my lowest, I would be "happy" in the sense that I am prepared to fight against those circumstances which otherwise would keep me down, and I reckon that I have a fair shot at success.

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Can you clarify this some more? In one sense, I agree with you: it's okay to be unhappy sometimes, nor should you try to pretend an unhappy situation is actually happy. If you can't recognize a situation for what it is, you cannot improve your condition for the future, a future that may leave you happier than you were before. That could be expanded on differently, though. Wallowing in your misery because "that's just how it is" is totally intimate with reality, but certainly not what you mean. My idea is that merely being reality focused is insufficient to achieve happiness.

Ha! You have replied very well to your own query.

I can see my statement could be mistaken for Stoicism. It's not my intention, nor conviction.

Life and reality can be incomprehensible and confusing at times - in the short term.

One's emotional responses sometimes lag behind one's thoughts and actions, too, I think.

At those times, critically, instead of doing the 'most natural thing', which is to back off from

consciousness ("Oh, what's the use?"), I've found quick re-application of focus to be the antidote.

That implies, acknowledgement of one's pain and confusion, acceptance that it's temporary, and re-assessment of one's principles in respect of the new facts at hand. Then acting accordingly.

Mostly, not to be too hard on oneself during this "episode".

Inherently, understanding reality - not only 'magically' dissolves those destroyers of happiness: fear, guilt and anxiety - it gives one the confidence to deal with it better the next time (and the next) - and confirms that this is not one's natural state.

Edited by whYNOT
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