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Ch-4: Create a Positive World by Adopting a Positive World View

Part 2: Chaos versus Creativity Deep Beliefs

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
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Chapter 4, Part 2, from You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
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Underlying causes of negative or positive thinking--our world views

 Which world view is more accurate? Can we believe in progress? 
 Evolution is the steady force behind long-range progress
 Turnabout in the causal status of consciousness
 If you have a pessimistic view of the world


Two world views--which is more like yours? A graduating college senior was feeling quite depressed and felt little motivation to look for a job. What was behind this student's depression? He said, "Our parents had all the breaks, and there's nothing left for us." In his mind it was easy for them to get a high-paying job, buy a house, and raise a family in a world without crime or serious problems.

Yet, he saw himself facing a world full of too many competitors. He foresaw an overpopulated, polluted world where everyone would be poor and unhappy. He had little to look forward to: "I learned in a class that everything is basically chaos and everything living eventually returns to dust."

Contrast this doomsday view of the future to that of another graduating senior. "I've been supporting myself since I was 18, and I can't wait to find a job as a professional." This student was moving toward future goals of a home and family. He gave me a lecture, "Getting a good job in my field is tough. Some of my friends think their parents had it so easy, but they forget that our parents also had recessions, the cold war, and other problems. When I think of all the advances in technology and improved communication between people, I'm excited about the future. I think ideas of a global economy and a global society are fantastic. I want to be a part of that."

These opposing views of the world and human nature are more than just intellectual differences. They affect our mental health. A pessimistic view of the universe and human nature will predispose the believer toward depression and other negative emotions. A positive view of the universe and human nature will predispose the believer toward happiness and will provide hope and energy to face life's daily problems. Research strongly supports the value of a positive world view and optimism for minimizing negative emotions and maximizing happiness (Carver & Scheier, 2002; Chang, 2001; Peterson, 2000; and SHAQ results).

Which world view is more accurate? Can we believe in progress? Are the basic forces inherent in the world and human nature driving us toward extinction or toward a far better world? Which is more powerful--the forces of chaos or the forces of creativity?

If we look at history from a perspective of a few years or even a few decades, we may get a different idea about progress than when we look at it from a longer time frame. For example, suppose you had been living in 1939. The country had been in a terrible depression for 10 years, and Hitler was conquering Europe and executing millions of Jewish people. Just 12 years before, we had won the war to end all wars and the economy had been booming. Who could be optimistic in those days? It seemed as if the world was going to hell.

Yet, suppose you had been living in America in 1949--just 10 years later. The Allies had just won World War II, the economy was booming, and people believed the future was bright. It was easy to be an optimist then.

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Evolution is the steady force behind long-range progress. When we look at history as a whole, the ups and downs over a few years or even a few decades fade. The subtle, yet powerful forces of evolution become much clearer. At one time humans didn't even exist. The great philosopher and paleontologist [studies evolution], Teilhard de Chardin (1959) wrote that the world is divided into different levels of organization--the physical, the biological, and the spiritual levels.

Each level evolved slowly until it reached a critical mass of organization. Then its development suddenly exploded. At the physical level, in the primordial soup of molecules interacting and evolving, something happened. At some critical mass of organization, the first form of life emerged. Biological evolution had begun.

Millions of years later, the biological evolution produced a brain that reached some critical mass of organization, the first form of higher level thinking emerged. Spiritual evolution had begun. By spiritual, he meant the level that includes information, knowledge, thought, and the spiritual realm [in the more traditional sense]. The spiritual level is higher than the biological, and the biological level is higher than the physical. However, the spiritual level could not exist without the lower levels. First, it couldn't have evolved without them. Second, the spiritual level emerges from the lower levels like a melody emerges from an orchestra or like life emerges from a collection of molecules in a cell.

For the first time in history some part of existence had the ability to know itself and the world around it at a high level of thought. At this new level of thought, organisms could consciously create their own inner and outer worlds--not just react to the world. Humans could become creators of the world--not just residents or victims of it. Endowed with this new power, humans have changed the world more in the past hundred years than in the preceding million years. Imagine the differences in just the past 100 years--electricity, automobiles, televisions, airplanes, books, computers, colleges, hospitals, and modern homes.

Teilhard believed that, even within the spiritual level, higher spiritual levels are evolving. The seeds of this new level are present today. We are approaching a critical mass of information which could lead to a new level of integration and spirituality among all humans. We call part of this proliferation of information the knowledge explosion. The computer revolution has changed almost ever aspect of society. Artificial intelligence is a whole new field for understanding and using intelligence in order to create robots and get more control over our machines and environment. As late as 1800, it would have been hard for most people to imagine the electronic marvels we have now.

Teilhard used the concept of higher consciousness to represent what many people mean by the more traditional word of spiritual(1). Higher consciousness is a level at which we are more conscious and knowledgeable about ourselves as thinking, feeling persons. We can create and love an internal and external world that will meet our human needs. At higher levels of spirituality, we also care about our natural environment and all living creatures.

At the higher consciousness levels (in the psychological and philosophical realms) a similar phenomenon is possible. For example, we can see great progress in psychology. In 1900 psychological research was just beginning. Now psychologists publish hundreds of research articles each month. Self-development has mushroomed. When I was young, I couldn't find any self-help books to help me learn how to be happier. I didn't know what a psychologist was. Now, self-help books fill whole aisles in bookstores, and psychotherapy and self-help organizations are everywhere.

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Recently, Dr. Roger Sperry, a Nobel-prize winning psychobiologist wrote about how science is taking this new level of consciousness seriously--as a powerful causal force shaping the present as well as the future. He states,

. . . this turnabout in the causal status of consciousness abolishes 
the traditional science-values dichotomy. . . .
Subjective human values, no longer written off as ineffectual epiphenomena nor reduced to
micro-phenomena, become
the most critically powerful force shaping today's civilized world
the underlying answer to current global ills and a key to world change.
(The Science of the Mind, 1995, p. 37)

Groups, societies, and all humankind can collectively develop states of higher consciousness. Reaching that critical mass level can open new potentials that were previously beyond our imagination. Thousands of years ago, humans could live together peacefully only in small groups--such as extended families. Over time our abilities to organize and live together peacefully has evolved. The size of groups able to function in minimal harmony has grown from families to tribes, to small nations, to large nations, and eventually to a new world order that includes all nations and all people.

How is it that all of a sudden the iron curtain was dismantled? Why are there worldwide peace and environmental movements? Why has there been such a growth in acceptance of human diversity? The spiritual level is fermenting. As more people begin adopting healthy belief systems, they are producing constructive revolutions in our institutions.

In short, I am not the only one with a quest for happiness. We all thirst for happiness. We are learning how to find happiness from each other. We're moving toward some critical mass in which most of the people in the world will know about these keys to happiness. Then, the values of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" will have an explosive impact.

This new world culture will not only have the will and goal for happiness but the knowledge and other means to obtain happiness for most of its people most of the time. That is not just wishful thinking. Powerful creative forces are built into every cell of every living creature. These growth forces are providing the impetus to make this better world a reality. Humankind does learn from experience.

Perhaps, you find what I have been saying hard to believe right now. You may have a basic world view that is different. We don't all have to believe the same thing to be happy. I have just presented what I believe to be the truth. However, I suggest that you consider the following:

If you have a pessimistic view of the future,
you will be predisposed to negative thoughts and depression.
If you have an optimistic view of the future,
you will be predisposed to feel happy.
If you want to change an underlying cause of your negativism or depression, 
you must examine and replace negative world views
with more positive ones that you can honestly believe--
or at least hope for.

PRACTICE: Examine your basic world view--Is it negative or positive?

Part I: How does you view of the future compare to the ones discussed above? Do you believe in these creative forces inherent in life and the universe? Do you believe that they will probably triumph over chaos or negative forces? Why? How do these beliefs affect your daily thoughts and happiness?

Part II: Think and write about a possible more positive world view. Try reading works by more thoughtful, optimistic authors. The more ambitious reader might try Teihard's book, The Phenomenon of Man.


1. 1 By spiritual I do not infer the existence of any type of "supernatural" beings or world that is beyond the "natural" universe. I leave it to the readers to draw their own conclusions about the existence of such a world. By spiritual, I mean more what some philosophers have called the "meta" levels of knowledge or the higher consciousness levels--such as humans knowing about themselves and their own essential nature.

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