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deusdiabolus
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What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« on: 2007-02-04 05:19:10 »
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The question in the subject has become somewhat important for me, and I figure of all the places on the Internet, this is the one where I will be least likely to receive the inevitable and infuriating "Well, have you TRIED asking Christ Jesus for comfort?"

I'm just dealing with a lot of stuff and trying to stave off the idea of suicide.  So I would like to know how others who don't necessarily place faith in deities cope with sadness.
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #1 on: 2007-02-04 08:28:36 »
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[Blunderov] "You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it"(U2)

I find it useful to remind myself, or whomever, that whatever the crisis is that is happening, it will likely look comparitively trivial in 6 or 8 months time if it is even recalled at all.

True, not all crises are this fleeting and I think it was Camus who said that the main question that faces philosophers is why not to commit suicide. My answer to this would be the same as Russel gave when asked whether he would be prepared to die for a cause; "Of course not. I might be wrong."

Best regards.


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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #2 on: 2007-02-04 10:06:13 »
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Having been a deist until age 40 (I'm 53 now), I've found the longer I'm around CoV and practice its tenets, or, if that doesn't appeal to you, just being rational above all else, your life will improve, and sadness, while still there sometimes, is greatly mitigated.

Hang in there.


Walter
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #3 on: 2007-02-04 13:31:34 »
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Remind yourself of all the reasons that life is really valuable and that awareness is ultimately what is valuable about life. Listen to music. Get drunk. Get laid. Watch the stars. Listen to the surf - or the laugh or cry of a child. Smell an apple. Eat a magnificent meal. Throw a party. Sorrow is a solitary vice, quickly dispelled by pleasant company.

If your troubles are like those shared by most of us, then they are temporary. Like life itself. I'm sure that in your life you have previously experienced troubles - and overcome them, no matter how insurmountable they seemed until they were past. Remind yourself that, in your own experience, troubles have a tendency to look smaller in the rear window of time than stared at head on. It's just that next time we don't remember it until it too is passed.

If all other inspiration fails you, I suggest you engage in displacement activity, and enjoy what life you have for as long as you can. We each have only one life, and according to many long dead men of genius, their lives were much too short to accomplish what they had hoped no matter how much they accomplished -  even without artificially trimming it to some arbitrary size simply because they didn't  see a simple solution to whatever troubles seem to beset them until they were past.

If all else fails, comfort yourself with the thought that life is temporary and our bodies fragile. Nobody bears too heavy a burden for too long. That way leads to death. So if you are not dying from your troubles, they are not too heavy.

Please don't waste yours.

Hermit

PS I'm not a medical professional, and the foregoing is not advice. If you are not in the US, see a medical professional and get appropriate medication and treatment if you can. Modern medication and treatment means that it is no longer obligatory to commit suicide simply due to depression. In the US seeing a medical professional for what are usually diagnosed as psychiatric problems can lead to denial of coverage and other horrid things. So the suggestions here might vary depending on location. Caveat emptor and DO NOT DRINK THE KOOLAIDE. This has been a public service announce-mint, the best mints available.
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #4 on: 2007-02-04 18:16:16 »
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I consider myself to be a strong atheist and I've had my share of contemplations on 'what's it all about' when you take away the certainty that comes from a religious following. One book that I read, which I highly recommend, is called "The Power of Now". It has a little bit of religious bullshit but generally you can see that the observed phenomenon is true, it's just the interpretation is a little misguided at times. The observation is this:

At any moment in your life your mind will generally obsess or lament over events in the past - what if I did this differently, what if that never happened, I wish I was back there again... The other thing the mind tends to do is put all it's faith of redemption in the future - when I achieve this, then I will be happy etc. But the truth, is that this is an over-active mind that has turned on itself without the constant stimuli of a savage environment, giving it enough time to be overly reflective. If you examine this second, right now, there is no actual problem. Your problems are always in the past or the future, they rarely exists in the present moment.

You can be conscious of existence without your mind constantly engaging with the past or the future. And in this place, where most expect a void - you actually find peace, no matter what your situation.

So, if nothing else, remember that whatever problems you have, whether they are about the loss of a loved one, or questions of your own purpose or mortality, they only exist in your mind, and they will only exist if you LET your mind dwell on them, on the past or the future.

Try this Zen technique - whenever you are overwhelmed, try to be so focused, so ever-present that there is no space to contemplate anything else. Try to notice what sound is missing in what you can currently hear, pay attention to every sensed stimuli that you are presented with this second. Try and concentrate on the 'feeling' of your body. If you focus inward you can sense an energy throughout your body (this is probably nothing more than biology), but focussing on that very real sensation can really ground you. And where possible do this amerced in Nature where there are no symbols to remind you of a world built on past and future.
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #5 on: 2007-02-14 02:12:50 »
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Thank you all for the helpful advice.  I'm taking things a step at a time and trying not to let the whole picture drag me down.
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #6 on: 2007-02-18 07:10:11 »
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Quote from: deus|diabolus on 2007-02-14 02:12:50   

...I'm taking things a step at a time...

"...And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the days and works of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And time for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea..."

TS Eliot
The Lovesong of  J Alfred Prufrock
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #7 on: 2007-03-08 21:21:52 »
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Remember that you were once an sperm and google how many other sperms you won to be alive right now... that usually works for me
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #8 on: 2007-03-13 02:07:50 »
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[Blunderov] Some resources.

The Happiness Project.

http://www.happinessproject.typepad.com/

"What was your motivation for starting the Happiness Project?

One rainy afternoon, I saw that I was in danger of wasting my life.

As I was staring out the window of a taxi, a realization jolted me so violently that I jumped in my seat. I suddenly saw that years were slipping by, and I was ignoring the great fundamentals of my life.

"What do I want?" I asked myself. "Well...I want to be happy."

But I never thought about what made me happy, or how I might be happier, or even what it meant to be "happy.""

Eric Kandel's reasons to be cheerful

<snip>He cites neuroscientific evidence for the effectiveness of psychotherapy in treating mental illness, particularly for a type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.

CBT is the most comprehensively researched of all the psychotherapies.

It has been shown to be as effective, if not more effective, than medication for anxiety and depressive disorders in randomised controlled trials, although best results are usually reported when both medication and CBT are used, particularly in moderate or severe cases.

Recently, researchers have started to use brain scanning techniques to see how the function of the brain changes after CBT treatment.</snip>

CBT
<snip>
What is CBT?
It is a way of talking about:

How you think about yourself, the world and other people
How what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.

CBT can help you to change how you think ("Cognitive") and what you do ("Behaviour)". These changes can help you to feel better. Unlike some of the other talking treatments, it focuses on the "here and now" problems and difficulties. Instead of focussing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind now.

It has been found to be helpful in:

Anxiety
Depression
Panic
Agoraphobia and other phobias
Social phobia
Bulimia
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder
Schizophrenia

How does it work?

CBT can help you to make sense of overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller parts. This makes it easier to see how they are connected and how they affect you.</snip>




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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #9 on: 2007-03-24 18:36:53 »
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Personally, I find it easy to cope with sadness as an Atheist.  I find sadness to be one of the most beautiful emotions, and one of the best sources for creative energy.  Every time I get sad, I look for lessons...unhappiness is often a great bringer of life-wisdom and self-knowledge.  Try to understand WHY you are sad; don't satisfy yourself with the thought that "life just isn't worth living"...what does that mean?  What would it take for life to become worth living?  Why has {whatever unfortunate circumstance} caused you to see life as less valuable?  Understanding that can help you understand how you might change things...because, as an Atheist, you are NOT subject to the mysterious whims of some omnipotent deity, but a free agent with the power to create limitless causational ripples through the universe.  There is no room for self-victimization in Atheism, your life is yours and yours alone, to define as you desire.  While you may not be able to directly create the circumstances of life around you, you can at least interact dialectically with them and create your own interpretation of them.  Your suffering is not a result of sin or karma, but rather your own interpretation of the circumstances of your life.  Recognize this and you will learn to use your emotions the way a painter uses colors, instead of just having them splattered all over you.
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #10 on: 2007-03-26 02:17:40 »
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I know what follows doesn't strictly follow the theme of this thread but is somewhat loosely related and an interesting read none the less.

Happy Talk
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,2040045,00.html

While experts may have cracked what it is that makes us miserable, psychologists, politicians and scientists are now very much in pursuit of happiness. Phil Hogan tries to look on the bright side and investigates whether wellbeing can be taught

Sunday March 25, 2007
The Observer

Has happiness ever been so deeply troubling? Barely a week goes by without some poll telling us how miserable our children are (Unicef), or how Britain has been ranked 41st on the world map of life satisfaction (University of Leicester). Why can't we be like the sunny people of Denmark (No1) - or even Bahrain, straight in at number 33 with its fancy oil refinery and votes for women? What's our problem? Look at us - we're prosperous, handsome and fit, with a TV in every bedroom and a chicken in every fridge. And yet a survey carried out for the BBC last year found that only 36 per cent of us would describe ourselves as 'very happy', compared to 52 per cent in 1957 - yes, those well-loved, carefree days of bread and dripping, toothache and Arthur Askey.

British happiness levels have been static since the Seventies, which mirrors the experience of most developed countries. Economists say that when average incomes reach about 10,000, life satisfaction starts flatlining. In other words, money can buy you happiness, but not for long. Once you have everything you need (food, shelter, matches) your mind gets sucked into a spiral of unquenchable wants - patio furniture, profiteroles, vodka, broadband porn, ranch-style housing, luxury travel, breast implants, nicer shoes. We are never satisfied. It doesn't help, when we gaze out from our mountain of personal debt - British households were in hock for 1.3 trillion at the last count - that there's always someone waving at us from somewhere just a bit higher up the hill. It doesn't help either that our work-life balance is poor and that we are anxious about the decline in public manners, or the growing difficulty of getting from A to B. Men are contemplating their falling sperm counts; women are forgetting to have babies. God we're miserable.

I'm not feeling too ecstatic myself. I am stuck in traffic on the M25. I'm heading for a 'wellbeing' conference at Wellington College, an 8,000-a-term public school in Berkshire. At the end of last year the school's new 'superhead', the historian and political biographer Anthony Seldon, introduced 'happiness' lessons for its 14- and 15-year-olds. Now he wants to spread the revolution to other schools.

Can happiness be taught? Previous orthodoxy had it that happiness was determined by genes and upbringing - studies with lottery winners and paraplegics suggested that a misanthrope who becomes an overnight millionaire will sink to his 'natural' level of misery once he gets used to the money, just as a natural optimist will readjust more readily to losing the use of his legs. But in the past five years positive psychology has been mushrooming across US academic institutions (it is Harvard's largest course). It's fuelled by Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and America's most influential psychologist, whose studies have led to a radical switch of emphasis in research and therapy from the postwar practice of looking at damaged lives to looking at ones that work. 'The focus on pathology,' he wrote in 2000, 'results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features which make life worth living. Hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility and perseverance are either ignored or explained as transformations of more authentic negative impulses.'

Positive psychology isn't an entirely new idea. The late Thirties saw a blossoming of research in giftedness, marital happiness, effective parenting. But war supervened, and its freight of homecoming trauma victims determined the path that therapy would take, where 'thousands of psychologists found they could make a living treating mental illness'. Seligman says there's not much left to learn about malfunctioning minds. Happiness is the future. Using placebo-controlled mental exercises on volunteers and programmes for clinical practitioners, he proved that individuals can substantially raise their base satisfaction levels. His activities for patients with depression were measurably better than drugs. Anyone could be happy.

You don't have to be depressed to want more life satisfaction. Last year the BBC screened The Happiness Formula (to which Seligman contributed) and Making Slough Happy. The latter encouraged 50 citizens to improve their wellbeing with 10 simple tips 'culled from global happiness research', ranging from counting your blessings to smiling at strangers. I don't know if it succeeded. It doesn't seem to stretch one's negative thoughts too far to imagine it didn't. And yet you can see why they might want to try.

Slough isn't a million miles from Wellington College, though it is if you go the wrong way up the M3 as I do. Unsurprisingly I am running dangerously low on wellbeing when I finally turn into its topiaried grounds. The conference is well attended. Anthony Seldon, a diminutive, magnetic figure, makes a speech lamenting the 'utterly terrible' way we crunch our children through the exam system. Schools should be harmonious and inspiring, he says. He talks about the important new science of wellbeing, and anticipates naysayers and cynics with a list of pithy rebuttals. He is serious but also deadpan funny and gets a laugh when he uses the word 'bollocks'. He leads the 200-plus crowd of teachers in a few minutes of meditation. I already wish he'd been my headmaster.

The wellbeing course they teach is drawn from research carried out by Dr Nick Baylis, Britain's first lecturer in positive psychology at Cambridge and co-director of the university's Wellbeing Institute. Baylis explains how, through his study of 'healthy and good-hearted lives' (he punctuates his address with rousing quotes from alpha achievers Steve Redgrave and SAS commander Peter de la Billiere), he has formulated skills that can be learnt.
He talks about 'channelling negative emotions' and the importance of 'healthy and creative partnerships'. These - along with a good night's sleep, exercise and decent nutrition - are the tools to help a young person conquer their fears, reach their goals, to be whole. He tells us about the stammer he had as a kid. How he retreated from his early life by watching 14,000 hours of TV. His academic achievements include the lowest-ever recorded grade for a degree at Exeter University. In his tall, tousled, self-joshing, plain-speaking fashion, he is a Manichean James Stewart, taking a stand for honour and truth and beauty and goodness.

It's not difficult to see how this inquiry into happiness - the citing of sporting and showbiz exemplars who have fought the odds and lived the dream, the feelgood language of the self-help bestseller and life-coach - might invite comparison with the folksy nostrums of popular culture, not to say jeering headlines. But everyone says the science is hard as nails. And what if it works? Who can be against feeling good when the alternative is feeling bad? No one here, though at one point Toby Young (author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) stands up to denounce the proceedings as 'facile' and to demand where the world's great artists and writers would be without a little unhappiness. Seldon suggests that it would be unfair to deprive children of a well-adjusted life on the off-chance that one of them might turn out to be the next Dostoevsky.
After coffee we hear from Richard Layard, a Labour peer, emeritus economics professor at the LSE and author of Happiness: Lessons From A New Science, who reflects disapprovingly upon the 'tsunami of individualism' in Britain and America that has followed the collapse of religion and socialism. 'Schools have to be in the vanguard of the new civilisation,' he says, praising the advances made by positive psychology in the US, where the 'evidence-based policies' of Seligman's 'resilience programme' have seen reductions in antisocial behaviour and depression. Layard is behind a project to roll out the scheme for 11- to 13-year-olds in Manchester, Hertforshire and South Tyneside.

Before lunch, the school's head of PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) Ian Morris, who tailored the course for Wellington with Baylis, demonstrates the links between our biology and our emotions, and directs a 'classroom' role-play exercise in which a young woman 'channels' her anger into something calm and reasonable. It's not entirely convincing, though I suppose it could be fun for teenagers.

It's hard to get more than a taste of what the course offers. I flip through the handbook, which runs deep and wide with topics from sleep and diet to bomb disposal, to what 10 years of crystal meth can do to your face. I learn from a study into saliva carried out by the Goethe University in Frankfurt that singing stimulates the immune system and improves mood. I discover (via researchers at Harvard) that people who think everything is funny live longer. I immediately think about my mother, who could laugh for Yorkshire and who is now 131. I vow to laugh more, but what at?
Later, back on the spirit-draining, gridlocked reaches of the M25, I find myself remembering that it's not just kids who need to live well, but adults, too. According to the BBC poll, 81 per cent of us think the government should concentrate on making us happy rather than well off. The issue has been a 'wake-up call' for politicians. David Cameron told the BBC last year: 'We should be thinking not just what is good for putting money in people's pockets but what is good for putting joy in people's hearts.' Even in 1999 Tony Blair acknowledged: 'Money isn't everything... Delivering the best possible quality of life means more than concentrating solely on economic growth.' Since then, there has been a rising clamour for more happiness, or less unhappiness, most recently with Oliver James's book Affluenza, which identifies mass consumerism as the root of our malaise. But if cars and holidays and celebrity culture can't satisfy us, what can? The procurement of wealth - as measured by GDP per capita - has been the default measurement of policy-making for so long it seems inconceivable it could be supplanted by anything so slippery as happiness.

Wheels of government are beginning to turn on the issue. Two dense reports carried out by Sheffield University for Defra last year looked at international research into the factors affecting wellbeing, and ways in which they might influence sustainable development policies across departments. Some of the findings are less than overwhelming. I wasn't surprised to learn, for example, that 'people higher in self-esteem seem less likely to suffer depression'.

But there were subtler things. Being separated is worse than being widowed. Raising children, far from being an unalloyed joy, is 'an additional challenge to wellbeing'. Absolute changes of fortune are less important than one's relative status - a pay rise will gladden your heart more if none of your friends gets one. Believing in God helps, but how do you legislate for that without bringing back the Spanish Inquisition?

The next day I speak to David Halpern, a senior policy adviser in Blair's strategy unit who co-authored a discussion paper in 2002 on happiness and how policies might be formulated to promote 'a more leisured work-life balance'. The first step, he tells me, is to decide whether life satisfaction is any of any government's business. 'I think it is, and most people on the street would say it is.' Everything is a trade-off, he says. 'If we can make 90 per cent of the people much happier and 10 per cent more miserable, would that be good or bad? You have to make a holistic judgment about what will contribute greatest to total wellbeing.'

Some areas are relatively easy. In unemployment, research shows the fact of being out of work affects an individual's wellbeing more than actual loss of income. So, in policy terms, he says, you should get people into work. But sometimes the research points to something else. 'The classic example is health, where the dominant variable is being treated with respect. In terms of satisfaction, it matters more than the objective clinical outcome. So do you get your hospital to maximise that outcome, or say that what matters is the subjective experience as well? And take the police. We know that how fast you get there matters less than getting there when you said you would. So if you take the subjective experience seriously, it has real consequences on how you utilise your resources.'

This new measure of subjective experience is emerging in policy papers. 'It's a more credible area, as people have seen the reduced utility of income to increased wellbeing. But ministers have been cautious. If life satisfaction hasn't moved for 30 years, you need to see an intervention that works, be it with old people or kids - a better version of Making Slough Happy. That becomes the moment politicians say: We can do this, which costs X and leads to Y as a result.'

So, I ask, when do we turn into Denmark?

'The one thing that hasn't crystallised yet is: what are the politics of it? What are the big collective choices you have to make as a society? Put it this way: if you've got David Cameron versus someone else, what kind of argument will they have? Some of it will be around equity, distributional issues. But it hasn't fully matured. No one quite knows what they're offering.'

So what's the best way to get happy? Changing the way we look at the world, or the world itself?
Nick Baylis is wary of the current political interest in wellbeing, suspecting it may be just a fad. Nor is he a fan of TV shows that trivialise positive psychology by equating it with 'positive thinking'. He describes Making Slough Happy as 'monstrous drivel' and says The Happiness Factor was full of quick little fixes. 'Why not spray lavender on your pillow at night! Then there'll be some presenter pulling up in a Ferrari and saying: "You might think driving one of THESE is going to make YOU happier. You'd be WRONG. Science proves that it's NOT." Cut to girl with clipboard handing out questionnaires. I just sat there going, "Oh my God."'

We are sitting in his front room - the nerve centre of Cambridge's Wellbeing Institute. At first glance it's a typical don's lair - comfy sofas, a cluttered desk, cake and tea - but, where one might expect to be surrounded by academic tomes, memoirs by David Beckham, Betty Boothroyd, Bruce Springsteen, Julia Roberts stare down from the bookshelves. These are among the dozens of public figures Baylis identifies as having the right stuff in terms of steel, passion or resourcefulness - lives whose fighting example he has distilled in his wellbeing manual, Learning From Wonderful Lives. The book is a hybrid of styles, combining the tropes of self-help guides - lots of capital letters, exhortative chapter headings, pepperings of Dawn French, Bill Gates, Einstein - with scientific theory. Baylis is lucid and convincing - inspiring, even - but some uncharitable part of me still asks whether I can learn anything from Alan Titchmarsh. And if I do, will I end up talking like someone who has had a personality transplant?

Happiness' scientists distinguish between 'hedonic' activities - drugs, shopping, TV, junk food - and the Aristotelian notion of 'eudaemonia', the life truly well lived, as rehearsed in Baylis's evidence-based skills manual: developing a purpose, mentoring, becoming an expert in something, battling fatigue, escaping from negative patterns. It seems the best sort of happiness is to be had by giving up the worst sort of pleasures. I can buy that, but do we have to bring Anita Roddick into it? Or Tom Cruise? It may be a coincidence that some of the most determined and pluckiest and positive people alive are also some of the people I'd least like to be trapped in a lift with. It may be I am beyond help.

It works for Baylis, though. 'I looked at people who came from more difficult backgrounds than mine to become summa cum laudes or Olympic athletes, and I said: How did they do that? I began to learn, to pinch some of their strategies, and say to myself: Yes, this looks grim, but what would Lance Armstrong do?'

Finding out how people got where they are is a habit he acquired doing voluntary work at the Feltham Young Offender Institution in Middlesex. His research, comparing the lives of inmates with kids from equally tough backgrounds who ended up with respectable careers in the Grenadier Guards, fed into his eventual doctoral thesis at Cambridge, which identified fantasy and escapism as a core element in the lives of young adults who go off the rails. He recognised this trait from his own unhappy boyhood, in which fear was 'the dominant emotion'. A single incident (being shouted at by a teacher) left him with a stammer for years, though he doubts that was any more than a trigger.

aylis scraped through school and left university 'in tears' with a third in psychology. After a stint waiting tables, there were fruitless attempts at writing fiction (he did the masters course at UEA) and film studies (NFT) before pitching up at Feltham to start a creative-writing programme for inmates. 'I was comfortable among prisoners. Like me, they were scared of reality, but just dealt with it more clumsily.'

I ask if he'd been born into a different class he might have ended up behind bars. 'Without a doubt,' he says. He got into criminology (with the Open University) and back into psychology at Cambridge. But his doctoral thesis was stalled by examiners who questioned its status as psychology. With no obvious way out, Baylis contacted a Harvard professor of psychiatry, George Vaillant, after stumbling on his 1977 book Adaptation to Life - a study of lives that had gone well. (Baylis simply phoned Harvard, not even knowing whether Vaillant was still alive. 'Amazingly, he answered the phone!'). Vaillant came to Cambridge, examined his work and became his mentor. Positive psychology was just taking off in America - another stroke of luck. 'Suddenly I'm part of the PP thinktanks and I'm flown off to the Gulf of Mexico for a week-long conference. Suddenly I was no longer Nick Baylis rattling around, but part of the emerging positive psychology movement.'

That was in 2001. But the British psychological establishment has been slow to embrace positive psychology. So it was 'a million-to-one chance' that in 2003 Baylis and Felicia Huppert (his key ally at Cambridge) persuaded the Royal Society to finance a two-day world conference titled the Science of Wellbeing. Seligman was the key speaker, and the event gained widespread media coverage. In the wake of that success they launched the Wellbeing Institute at the University of Cambridge in 2006.

Baylis's own life itself sounds like a case history in the story of wellbeing. He seems to have had unusual determination. 'More like desperation,' he says. 'But these are universal skills. How we arouse our emotions and channel them. Use our minds to heal our bodies, bodies to heal our minds. Made simple, it's about how to improve your relationship with life. So I come to this not as an intellectual or an academic. I do it because it's absolutely heartfelt.'

Two days later, I'm back at Wellington College, sitting in on one of Ian Morris's wellbeing classes. The school only recently became co-ed so it's still all boys in Year 10, deep-voiced and vogueishly unkempt. The lesson today is excess, and Mr Morris hands out images of famous individuals who pushed themselves over the brink - Janis Joplin, Ayrton Senna, Kurt Cobain, George Best. Then he runs a clip from Britain's Biggest Spenders, a TV documentary featuring a week in the life of Scott, a young self-made millionaire entrepreneur who spends 100,000 a month on Lamborghinis and preposterous new suits threaded from real gold. What do we think of him?

No one sees Scott as a role model exactly, but there's some sympathy. One student pins down the 'class' question, suggesting that people with 'old money' don't splash it around like those who have earnt it and that we are perhaps too quick to condemn Scott's taste in diamond-encrusted watches. Another thinks Scott is 'on a high because he's still young'. Scott's money hasn't made him miserable - yet. These are bright boys and everyone gets the point.

But now there's barely time for a brief discussion on prematurely dead rock stars before the lesson ends. Afterwards I suggest to Morris that it didn't seem quite long enough. He agrees: 'It wasn't. What the course relies upon is a constant dripping tap, which is difficult when you only see them once a fortnight.'

The programme has been running a term and a half, so it's still a work in progress, but he is confident about its prospects, saying that it gives PSHE (commonly known as 'citizenship' lessons) a more distinctive framework. 'For some time I'd been looking for an overarching philosophy for PSHE, rather than just sex and drugs lessons, and this just landed on my plate. Nick's research is very clear.'

He agrees when I say much of it is just common sense. 'But there are other times a light will go on, and they'll say, "I never thought of that ..." So it's a mixture of them already understanding some bits but also seeing a new pathway through a particular aspect of their lives.'

Later, I wait for Anthony Sheldon in his grand office, surrounded by leather-bound volumes of Swift and Punch, along with biographies he has written of Major and Blair. He arrives slightly bemused, having read Toby Young's article in the Spectator pooh-poohing Wellington College's wellbeing lessons. 'Toby is lovely. He just needs to attend some of these classes. Learn a bit more about himself. He suffers from a disconnection from other people. He is a classic case of an intellectual who lives in his own head.'

I ask Seldon if he thinks the wellbeing programme gets a fair press. He says that generally it does. 'But a number of intellectuals have a problem with it. They don't understand it. It's not an intellectual thing. It's a developmental approach. The purpose of education is not just to cram your children through exams and then think you're doing a fantastic job. Yes, in our kind of school, where you have well-off, bright, motivated kids, hey presto, 90 per cent get As and Bs at A-level. But so what? That's not education. Education is taking everything it means to be a human being and developing all facets of it. That's where the wellbeing comes in.'

I ask where he gets his zeal for this spiritual approach. (His background offers no obvious clue - Tonbridge public school; Oxford; his father, the economist Arthur Seldon, was one of the architects of Thatcherism.) 'I had a very exciting childhood, adolescence, university, but in terms of me as a human being, it didn't get me where I wanted. I'd read philosophy, politics and economics, but it didn't mean very much. I wanted to find something that made me feel much more grounded.' He got into meditation and yoga, which he says 'helped centre me and give me a better sense of value'.

So should we be teaching wellbeing in all schools? 'Schools have a responsibility to help develop these qualities. Not just snotty public schools, but every school in the land. It's particularly important with children from less- privileged backgrounds that schools do this.'

Outside in the freezing drizzle I trudge down the drive. I decided to leave the car at home after Monday's fiasco and last night's snow, which now means a wet walk to the station and four trains home. On the upside, though, I can get a soothing cappuccino and a muffin at Reading, find a quiet seat and have a snooze on the journey. Oh yes. I take in some deep breaths. Perhaps I am already channelling my negative emotions. Last week I would have called it wishful thinking.
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Re:What do atheists do to feel better when they're sad?
« Reply #11 on: 2007-03-26 04:28:57 »
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Quote from: teh on 2007-03-26 02:17:40   

I know what follows doesn't strictly follow the theme of this thread but is somewhat loosely related and an interesting read none the less.

Happy Talk
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,2040045,00.html

[Blunderov] A deeply absorbing read. Thanks.
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