We are constituted so that simple acts of kindness, such as giving to charity or expressing gratitude, have a positive effect on our long-term moods. The key to the happy life, it seems, is the good life: a life with sustained relationships, challenging work, and connections to community.
Maybe one of the most heartening findings from the psychology of pleasure is there's more to looking good than your physical appearance. If you like somebody, they look better to you. This is why spouses in happy marriages tend to think that their husband or wife looks much better than anyone else thinks that they do.
We benefit, intellectually and personally, from the interplay between different selves, from the balance between long-term contemplation and short-term impulse. We should be wary about tipping the scales too far. The community of selves shouldn't be a democracy, but it shouldn't be a dictatorship, either.
The enjoyment we get from something is powerfully influenced by what we think that thing really is. This is true for intellectual pleasures, such as the appreciation of paintings and stories, and it is true as well for pleasures that seem simpler and more animalistic, such as the satisfaction of hunger and lust.
Natural selection shaped the human brain to be drawn toward aspects of nature that enhance our survival and reproduction, like verdant landscapes and docile creatures. There is no payoff to getting the warm fuzzies in the presence of rats, snakes, mosquitoes, cockroaches, herpes simplex and the rabies virus.
The irrationality of disgust suggests it is unreliable as a source of moral insight. There may be good arguments against gay marriage, partial-birth abortions and human cloning, but the fact that some people find such acts to be disgusting should carry no weight.
More-radical scholars insist that an inherent clash exists between science and our long-held conceptions about consciousness and moral agency: if you accept that our brains are a myriad of smaller components, you must reject such notions as character, praise, blame, and free will.
Strong moral arguments exist for why we should often try to ignore stereotypes or override them. But we shouldn't assume they represent some irrational quirk of the unconscious mind. In fact, they're largely the consequence of the mind's attempt to make a rational decision.
Some of the natural world is appealing, some of it is terrifying, and some of it grosses us out. Modern people don't want to be dropped naked into a swamp. We want to tour Yosemite with our water bottles and G.P.S. devices. The natural world is a source of happiness and fulfillment, but only when prescribed in the right doses.
You'd expect, as good Darwinian creatures, we would evolve to be fascinated with how the world really is, and we would use language to convey real-world information, we'd be obsessed with knowing the way things are, and we would entirely reject stories that aren't true. They're useless. But that's not the way we work.
Once we accept violence as an adaptation, it makes sense that its expression is calibrated to the environment. The same individual will behave differently if he comes of age in Detroit, Mich., versus Windsor, Ontario; in New York in the 1980s versus New York now; in a culture of honor versus a culture of dignity.
I want to convince you that humans are, to some extent, natural born essentialists. What I mean by this is we don't just respond to things as we see them or feel them or hear them. Rather, our response is conditioned on our beliefs, about what they really are, what they came from, what they're made of, what their hidden nature is.