Psychological Self-Help

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feel somewhat dissatisfied. These needs are (1) to have purpose--
striving for something in the future. You may seek goals (good job,
children, retirement) or fulfillment (happiness, pride, how we imagine
we will feel when we reach our worthy goals). (2) A need to have
value --wanting to be seen as good and justified in our actions. Moral
systems, like the Golden Rule, originally enabled us to live together
with some degree of harmony. (3) A need for efficacy --feeling
effective, capable, in control, and that we have made or will make a
difference. Humans even need and strive for illusions of control; a
myth reduces distress. (4) A need for self-worth-- finding a basis for
feeling positive about their lives. The more of these sources of self-
esteem we have, the more secure we are. (But, excessive demands on
the "self" for meaning causes depression.) Unfortunately, self-worth
often involves trying to feel superior to someone or groups of others,
thus, for example, the poor southern white male in 1860 felt superior
to the black slave and fought, in part, to maintain his status (see
chapters 7 and 9 for many examples of chauvinism). These four needs
(and their causes) combine with our life experiences (our culture, our
family rules, our religion, and our friends' views) to produce our
personal value system and the meaning attached to our life. 
Baumeister contends that humans, pushed by these four needs
and aided by an enormously imaginative brain, have for thousands of
years created beliefs (myths) in a "higher power" which will protect
and provide for us, make sense of natural events, and give purpose or
meaning to our lives. That is, human needs and fears motivated the
development of religions which embodied and reinforced our values.
Moreover, he says that many of the promises religions have made,
such as lasting marriages (with the male in charge), help avoiding or
handling misfortunes, the answering of prayers, eternal salvation, etc.
are very comforting ideas but pretty much illusory. He and many other
scholars (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, & Tipton, 1985; Lasch, 1984) think
the decline of explicit moral teachings by the church in the last 50 to
75 years has left individuals with a "values gap," without a moral base
on which to build a philosophy of life. Since a complete set of values is
no longer handed down to us by family, culture, or church, we now
must construct our own value system (or avoid the task).
Unfortunately, all of us, especially the young, are rather unprepared
for this difficult and important task. Without guidance, we usually
adopt just bits and pieces of values and goals from others, then to a
large extent we use personal satisfaction as our guiding light: having
fun, looking good, loving, working, and being successful and happy.
Those aren't bad values but, surely, they aren't humans' noblest
efforts either. 
The remainder of Baumeister's book deals with psychological
explanations of how our species got to this point, namely, moving from
having to know God (an authority) in order to be moral to today
having to know ourselves (self-reliance) in order to self-actualize and
achieve our purposes. This psycho-history of morals (and such things
as religion's treatment of women and sex) is fascinating; I recommend
his book strongly. The insights provided should encourage you to re-
consider the wisdom of several religions and then formulate your own
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