Friday, June 17, 2005

Of Squirrels and Spirituality

From the latest "Reflective Happiness" newsletter, this word from the psychology front:

"George Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, leads the Medici group asking about the relation of spirituality and religion to well being. One of the first questions is to distinguish spirituality from religiousness. Vaillant believes that spirituality is limbic and primitive, while religion is cortical and highly cultural. I [Dr. Martin Seligman] would put it another way: spirituality is to humans as nuts are to squirrels. Evolution has favored spirituality, the desire to belong to and to serve something larger than the self, and it creates the positive sum games of meaning and the building of positive institutions to support meaning and purpose.

But this is more than an armchair project. Vaillant has in his databank the detailed findings of the three most complete studies of human beings across the entire lifespan: the Harvard classes of 1939-44, the Glick study of Inner City Boston, and the Terman Study of Genius. In each of these teen-age to grave studies, there are various measures of well being, of aging well, of spirituality and of religion, and this will likely give us our first close look at how spirituality and religion enhance living and at how and when they do so."

More on how all this relates to literature when I've had the chance to mull it over. For now, just remember: the next time someone starts talking about spirituality, think Mr. Peanut.

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