Is the World Good or Bad?

Wellness isn’t just about the body, because Lord knows our bodies will have a hard time being healthy and resilient if our minds are troubled, or simply inflexible. One of the fundamental ways our minds get in the way of our own success is the blind spot. It’s a belief, attitude or value that’s determining our behavior though we may not be fully aware of it. In coaching we call that an Underlying Automatic Belief (UAB). Maybe you’ve been brought up to believe that men are smarter than women, or past experience tells you that exercise is sheer drudgery. Through the coaching process, a self-limiting belief can be brought to the surface, challenged, and reconsidered.

We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. – The Talmud

I’ve been following the terrific blog of Jer Clifton who’s writing his master’s thesis at U Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. (I’ve written about coaching as a great vehicle to apply the findings of positive psychology in Are You Positive?).  Jer recently posted an easy-to-read synopsis of his thesis which is about Universal Assessments. UAs are a bit broader than UABs. He defines them as “judgments about the universe as a whole…[that] express themselves through words and behaviors.” They help us make sense of the world and “generate expectancy,” in other words they affect how we learn new things and how we remember the past.

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe. — Albert Einstein

Jer’s thesis was all about “hypothesis generation” where he examined many UAs, narrowing them down to 13 major ones that “may help humans live particularly happy and fulfilled lives.” The next step will be to collect a “vast real world UA-bank” to kick-start future research on the role they play in our lives. Isn’t that cool?!

I’m posting the 13 UAs here and hope that you’ll be on the lookout for some real-world examples. If you find some, please leave them in the comment section, and I’ll pass them on to Jer.

    1. Is the world good or bad?  Thinking that the world is good and having a gut-level positive response was the single most relevant UA I identified.  It pays to have a little crush on existence.
    2. Is the universe interesting or boring?  It’s hard to imagine developing strengths like “love of learning” and “curiosity” without a strong belief in universal interestingness.
    3. Is the universe beautiful or ugly?  My wife’s top strength is “appreciation of beauty and excellence.”  Why would she or anyone stop to savor (which research says is good for you) the roses if one does not expect roses, or much else, to be worth savoring?
    4. Can the universe change or can’t it?  My good friend Eric is remarkably politically informed AND remarkably politically apathetic.  I think he imbibes the notion that nothing really changes in this world.   This UA may separate “believers” and those who are at their heart grumpy old men.
    5. Is the universe getting better or getting worse?  We know stories matter.  What is the story you tell over the universe?  Where are we going?  How will this all end?  I think religion can play a big role in all of these, but especially this one.
    6. Is the world safe or dangerous?  A sense of danger causes you to scan the horizon for threats while a sense of safety is a prerequisite to feeling good and being open to new things and new ways of thinking.
    7. Is the universe to be explored or avoided?  Of course, we cannot avoid the world completely, but we can try to stay away from it as much as we can.  Alternatively, we could pursue immersion, novelty, and new experiences.
    8. Is the universe comprehensible or incomprehensible?  Why should I try to understand the world if I have no chance of doing so?
    9. Am I at the center of the universe or not?  If I do not get a job I apply for, does that mean that there is something wrong with me?  Maybe, but someone who thinks that they are the center of the universe will tend to think it is definitely their fault somehow.  Being at the center of the universe means that you are always in the right place at the right time for credit and blame.
    10. Is the universe intentional or mindless?  Is there a mind behind the scenes orchestrating events, or is it random?  This mind might be Jesus, superstition, fate, Karma, etc.  An example of this UA might be, “the world is out to get me.
    11. Is the universe best experienced alone or with others? If the world is a war zone, we need buddies in our bunker.  If the world is a paradise, we need playmates.

    12. Is the universe as it should be, or should it change?  When we approach something new, do we assume that there is a reason for it being the way it is and it likely needs to be accepted, or is there little reason for it being the way it is and should we prepare ourselves to change it?  This might be at the core of conservative and liberal tendencies.  This is the only UA continuum that did not have an obviously “better” choice.
    13. Is the universe just or unjust?  Strengths like prudence and self-regulation would be difficult to come by if one did not believe that his or her actions affected outcomes.

Here is my contribution:  “The world is your oyster.”  – This one relates to UA #7 – Is the universe to be explored or avoided? Apparently Shakespeare’s character, Pistol, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, thought it was ours to explore.