The Acquisition of Beliefs That Promote Subjective Well-Being

Article excerpt

Adaptive human learning involves self-instruction and individually determined self-education. When human learning is restricted to the most viable options in the process of belief acquisition, subjective well-being is likely to be promoted. Useful learning is imparted through the right kind of socialization, formal education, informal and incidental learning, and psychotherapy. In each domain the function of external instruction is to foreclose dysfunctional options. This clears the way for functional self-instruction. Informal learning has always been most important. Modern life, however, is making invalid options too numerous and seductive, often initiated by the mass media. A merger of formal and informal instruction and learning is probably becoming indispensable to the acquisition of functional beliefs capable of promoting human happiness.

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The beliefs that underlie the selection of goals, means to goals and the evaluation of action outcomes, are acquired by people in America through the integrated influence of genetic transmission, socialization, informal education, formal education and psychotherapy. Americans are sometimes well served by each of these modalities but more often they are not. The ultimate test is whether a belief contributes to the subjective well-being (SWB) of an individual; whether widely transmitted beliefs contribute to the average level of happiness.

We hold that there is a loose but permanent connection between individual motivation and the desire for a sustainable surplus of positive hedonic outcomes over negative ones (Hosen, Stern, Solovey-Hosen, 2001-2; Hosen, Stern, Solovey-Hosen, in press; Hosen, 1993). Acquiring functional knowledge and beliefs is part of this process.

Effective learning seems to be largely a matter of self instruction followed by regular and systematic practice. If this is true, motivation plays a central role. The teaching function may be largely a matter of foreclosing the acquisition of inaccurate and dysfunctional beliefs. This applies to elements of socialization, formal and informal education, and to psychotherapy.

Socialization

Socialization is the acquisition of the competencies necessary for an individual to benefit from social cooperation over a lifetime. Humans, until quite recently, lived in close physical proximity to people they had known all their lives. Children were not socialized within one- or two-parent nuclear families, in private, or among largely anonymous neighbors. Norms, values, skills and interests were organically transmitted. Younger children learned from adults and older children. Work was performed by adults in the presence of children and adulthood began earlier. Socialization was an organic part of life.

Gopnick, Metzloffand Kuhl (1999) have shown that children from birth are programmed to seek experiences from which they rapidly acquire models of the physical world and of the humans with whom they interact. Much knowledge is already embodied in the structure of the brain. Almost any non-abusive physical and social environment is adequate (Bruer, 1999). Babies know what they need to learn and are attracted to learning opportunities.

Socialization is most fundamentally a question of the development of emotional self-regulation. An effective strategy for caring and responsible adults whose infants are predisposed to fearfulness and who wish to foreclose the possibility of such children (Kagan, Resnick & Snidman, 1988) learning chronic withdrawal, is to reward them for accepting challenge and permitting adjustment and desensitization to mild fear (Kagan, 1994). Similarly, difficult children can be denied tantrums, aggression and blaming of others, while being generously rewarded for self-control and provided opportunities for development of prosocial attitudes (Lykken, 1999). Dominance can be denied them but leadership could be encouraged. …