Is self delusion necessary for happiness?

From what we now know about the brain, much of what we experience is a fiction to begin with. The raw data from our senses get processed to a high degree in the brain. This creates information that allows us to survive and mate, propagating more humans with brains which do a high degree of processing. If we saw reality as it actually is, we wouldn’t recognize it.

Optical illusions show us the man behind the curtain. They make us aware of the shortcomings of our mental processes. They reveal the shortcuts our brains take to make sense of the world.

If we put aside our fictitious perception of reality, how about delusion in the psychological sense? When Bruce M. Hood gives talks, he brings a sweater with him. He asks for a volunteer to put the sweater on and several hands go up. He then mentions that the sweater belonged to a serial killer. The hands go down. Why? Is the sweater infected with serial killer cooties? No. Our brains are wired to make us essentialists. We know rationally that the sweater is no different than any other sweater, but deep in our gut, we are repulsed. The sweater is tainted.

This is why we value a Andy Warhol painting over a forgery, even if they are identical in all respects. We feel that the Warhol has an essence the forgery doesn’t. However, this essence cannot be detected or measured by any apparatus, because it only exists in our minds.

People espouse beliefs that even though they have never undergone scientific scrutiny, the veracity is never questioned. However, these beliefs serve a function for those that hold them.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Perhaps, you have even said it. Does it mean that a deity is designing the events in our lives with a purpose in mind? Does it mean that the laws of cause and effect work in such a way that every downturn yields an opportunity? For me, this saying strains my credulity. However, for my friends who believe it, It brings them hope. I would never want to take that away. Are they deluded? Yes, but as I have shown, we all are.

I think is important what we put into our brains. I believe there are useful fictions that can lead to happier lives, but you have to find them believable for them to work. Those of who are more skeptical find this difficult and have to compensate in other ways.

With all of that said. It is my belief that the experience of presence, being in the here and now without commentary from your mind, is the least deluded form of delusion we can know. It is raw experience without the opinions and biases of one’s thoughts. This experience brings happiness to a lot of people.

We also have the capacity to grant significance. If we consciously chose to make significant those things we value and downplay the important of petty annoyances, we will be happier. As Leslie Cameron-Bandler says, the secret to happiness is keeping your appreciation high and your expectations low. Expectations are projections of the future. A future which we can never predict. So expectations are delusions. What about appreciation? It does not try to predict or assign essences. Perhaps, it clouds our judgment, but it does it in a good way.

In summary, I think there are many ways to be happy. Some are more delusional than others. Is one better than another? It’s a matter of opinion. That is until scientists get around to studying it. Until then, enjoy your delusions.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

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