Positive humanism represents everything about which I am passionate, even though the ideas outlined in this book are the product of frustration. Once you read why, I am confident you will empathize with my frustrations, and understand why I feel that promoting positive humanism is the most worthy of all social causes.
I was raised Catholic by parents who were more cultural Catholics than practicing Catholics, though I was sent to Sunday school and received the childhood sacraments. After being “confirmed” in the 8th grade, I was done with practicing religion, although I did not yet question my belief in God that was instilled in me by my parents and Christian culture, and when asked, I referred to myself as a “Christian,” thinking, at the time, that the only choices were either “Christian” or “Jew.” One could say, using modern terms, that this is when I became a “none.”
I come from what most would consider a very dysfunctional family. While I will skip the depressing details, let me just say that I loved my parents very much and I am sure they loved me. The dysfunction was mostly between my parents and their lifelong battles with their own personal “demons” (say what you will about religion, they have some wonderful metaphors). Despite these less than ideal conditions, I remained generally a positive kid and stayed away from drugs and alcohol (I remain dry to this day); however, I did need an escape.
As a temporary escape from my reality, I would listen to my sister’s and mom’s self-help cassette tapes, which included the philosophical and pseudoscientific ramblings of the greats such as Denis Waitley, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, and many others. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My sister was in real-estate at the time, my mom was in sales, my father was an inventor, and my brother had a screen printing business. My drive and passion for being an entrepreneur was always strong and apparently has a strong genetic component, so it is difficult to know how much of a part my obsession with self-help played in my future financial successes. However, one cannot underestimate the power of motivation, encouragement, and in some cases, inspiration (no matter how misguided). And I cannot dismiss the positive emotions frequently experienced when listening to these programs and visualizing my own future, even though these programs were more often based on science-fiction than science.
In 1995, after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Bryant University, I started a little web hosting business at a time when only a few percent of businesses knew what web hosting was. This little business grew to a major business that I sold to a publicly traded company in 2001 for 20 million dollars. As the years passed, I would start and sell several businesses ranging from small websites to 18,000 square foot data centers. I spent some serious time reflecting on my success and how I could help others succeed. I devoted a full year to writing Year To Success, a book Donald Trump called, “an inspiration to anyone who reads it.” The main premise of the book is at the heart of my philosophy and one of the “truths” in life that many people seem to miss. Success is not a result of a few steps or “secrets,” but hundreds or perhaps even thousands of contributing factors, many over which we have varying levels of control. It would be several years later when I would realize that this contributing factor idea also applies to virtually every learned skill, talent, and psychological construct, including happiness and well-being. A fact that psychology has established long ago.
The process of writing Year To Success ignited something new in me—critical thinking, reason, and skepticism. In doing the research for my book I have reread over 100 self-help books and programs, and realized how “inaccurate,” to put it politely, most of them were. This genre has a questionable reputation at best for a reason—the countless unsupported and/or exaggerated claims made by the authors, the heavy use of anecdotal “evidence,” the constant confusing of correlation with causality, and the annoyingly frequent references to the mystical and supernatural. My book, while better than most, was still guilty of some of these “self-help crimes.”
Over the next several years, my passion for critical thinking and skepticism continued to grow, and this internal conflict between my two alter-egos: the reality seeking skeptic and the positive success guru, reached a point where I could no longer, in good conscience, agree to do speaking events about achieving success. Still with an unbridled passion for speaking, I started a skeptical podcast that exposed the dishonesty common in marketing, and I created a presentation debunking the many myths of success. But this was just the beginning. Being financially secure, I devoted full time to exploring religions, specifically Christianity—extending my skepticism beyond self-help. It didn’t take long before I was an admitted atheist (reading the entire Bible tends to do that to a person). I realized that beliefs about both religion and success are ultimately psychological phenomena, and could best be explained through understanding psychology. It was this realization that prompted me to go back to school, get my master’s degree in general psychology, and ultimately a PhD in social psychology.
While I was exploring religion, I started a website where I collected 1000s of hours of debates as a way to help others who were going through the same “journey of truth” as I was. I created a discussion group on the site, as well, where I would devote several hours per day (for over 3 years) defending reason. Not just from the claims of religion, but all sorts of pseudoscience including astrology, homeopathy, talking with the dead, astral projection, ESP, levitation—you name it. Most of the debates got ugly, and I realized that I was becoming a person I did not want to be. I grew tired of telling people what they should not believe. I also grew tired of theists’ claims that life does not “make sense” or is “pointless” without God. Claims that atheists are immoral and untrustworthy. Claims that atheists could not experience awe and wonder. Religion does provide structure for many people by combining countless unknowns in life into a single unknown (i.e., “the mystery of God”), and my atheistic position was simply a disbelief in any gods, which is not a philosophy nor a useful world view. I eventually shut down the discussion group and made a conscious effort to leave the role as the “angry atheist” while going back to the person that I really liked to be—the person who focused on helping people succeed. This time; however, I would do so using the scientific foundation of positive psychology and humanistic world view. This means I would approach the topic as an academic rather than a guru, focus on the scientifically established multidimensional construct of well-being rather than the nebulous and illusive idea of “success,” and stress the importance of prosocial acts rather than the accumulation personal wealth—all within a secular framework.
Life is wonderful, even without belief in any gods and the promise of eternal paradise. I consider myself extremely fortunate to continually experience such a high level of well-being, and I know that I am not alone. There are countless non-believers living good lives, but there are also many for whom religion is so deeply ingrained that they cannot conceive of flourishing in a world without adopting the myths of our ancestors. It is my hope that positive humanism provides everyone with a way to live better lives—secular lives, debunks the myths that atheists are evil or immoral people who can’t be trusted, and promotes and encourages a culture of prosocial acts, which are unconstrained by superstition and “divine” limitations.
Positive humanism is an applied secular humanistic philosophy based on the scientific findings of positive psychology that focuses on personal, professional, and societal flourishing. As an applied philosophy its focus is on ideas that lead to increased well-being. As a secular humanistic philosophy, there are no appeals to the supernatural, the magical, or the mystical.
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