Creating Environments of Harmony

Over the last fifty years, the amount of material items in the United States has more than doubled. At the same time the divorce rate has also doubled, crime has more than tripled, and we have soaring rates of depression. Research shows that once our basic needs are met, more stuff does not make us any happier. Actually in can make you feel increasingly overwhelmed, powerless, and depressed.

One way to move beyond the challenge of stuff is to simplify your life by getting rid and redistributing your stuff. Listen in to our teleconference on “Creating Environments of Harmony.” Samantha Shields, a creative energy optimizer, gave valuable insights on the challenges and tips to make your home more harmonious and livable. I shared my insights on the impact on our relationships and what is needed for healthy development. Then anthropologist, Dr. Jane Granskog, shared information on characteristics of societies that have found sustainable ways of living over the centuries.  Enjoy, it will broaden your perspective and give you many insights for moving beyond the challenge of stuff.



The Long Life of Character

Successful Relating
Fulfillment through Connection and Community
Alice G. Vlietstra, Ph.D.
October, 2009
In this issue:

1. Welcome
2. The Short Life of Materialism
3. The Long Life of Character
4. The Challenge
5. Announcements

1. Welcome
Welcome.  Fall is here.  In the Midwest US the trees are displaying their beautiful red, yellow, and orange colors.  It is the time of harvest, sharing, and celebrating life. 

The new harvest this year brings stories of people who are replacing their failed money serving mindset with the mindset serving life.  The idea that we might put life ahead of money, at first, may seem unrealistic, but not when you understand how we are wired. This is the focus of this e-newsletter. 

It will also be the focus of our upcoming complementary workshop November 10.  See the details at

2.  The Short Life of Materialism  

If you ask the average American, what do you need to be happy?  A TV watcher might say food, shelter, a car, and their favorite advertized items.  We do need a certain amount of food, clothes, and shelter to live.  A nice home is good and a bit beyond the bare necessities is nice.  But after the novelty wears off, we are left with an empty feeling.  Advertisers tell us we can fill the emptiness by shopping for more stuff.  This can keep the big corporations busy, but it may not make us happier.  What research shows, that in order to be truly happy, we don't need more stuff.  We need each other.    

Indeed, researchers, Kasser and Ryan, found that people who put money and materialism high on their list of priorities were at greater risk for anxiety, low self esteem, and depression.  Money-seekers also scored lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization. They state, "The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find it there." Why?  Our attention to material objects habituates with time, giving way to attention focused on more self-directed human goals. 

3.  The Long Life of Character

Beyond stuff, researchers find long-tem authentic happiness results from family, relationships, self-acceptance, and meaning. Scientists, using advanced imaging technology, report that the mere act of helping another triggers the brain's pleasure center and benefits our health by boosting our immune system and reducing our heart rate.  By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune system, increase our heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee.

Findings generally show beyond the minimum level of income needed to meet basic needs, participating in a cooperative caring community is a far better predictor of happiness and emotional health than the size of our paycheck or bank account. The desire of many Americans to create a society of healthy children, families, communities, and natural systems is no accident.  It is the expression of our deepest desires. 

Key to the experience of this kind of happiness is the development of character.  One of the first to identify the deeper qualities of happiness and success was the stoic philosopher,  Epictetus.  He observed that if there was one prime law to happiness and success, it was "Character is destiny." Freud made the same observation as do happiness researchers today. 

Developmentally, the healthy path to a fully formed consciousness is a progression from the survival based, self-centered, undifferentiated magical consciousness of the young infant to the fully mature, inclusive, and multidimensional consciousness of the wise elder.  It requires a balanced development of the higher brain based on reflection, community and caring with the primitive under socialized instinctual brain.  This occurs in the nurturing context of caring adults, families, and communities.   

4. Facing the Challenge

The challenge is that a depersonalized economic system that has no attachment to place disrupts the bonds of community and family, making it difficult to promote the development of our higher character.  For example, leaving social learning of teens to peer groups, without adult leadership, limits the development of their morals.  We need to re-establish our local connections.  We can do this in our churches, synagogues, homes, and places where we can have local meetings.  Then we can take time to converse and become aware of the stories that have influenced us.  The women's movement provides an example of this effort. 

In the past the key to a woman's happiness was to fight the right man, marry him, and devote her life to his service.  A new gender story began with discussion circles in which women came together in their living rooms to share their stories.  Previously, if a woman did not conform to the prevailing story, she "had a problem."  As women got together, they discovered the flaw in this story. Soon, millions of women were spreading a new story that saw the feminine as a powerful force in transforming our earth.

The voluntary simplicity movement gives us another example of people discovering what really makes them happy.  You may discover that to be happy, you really do not need that much stuff.

The old story, "Money is destiny" has been a story of competition for scarce physical resources and survival of the fittest.  The consequence has been distrust, increased violence, hurt and pain.  It has ended up in an economy that is depersonalized and disrupts the bonds of community.  Do you want to keep this story? Or, would our rather get together to reexamine it as well as our essential nature? Are we really hedonistic little beasties or are we people who care?

The old truth, "Character is destiny," provides the grist for many cherished and long lived stories. Through them we discover what is important, share our compassion for each other, and what we have learned. They give us an opportunity to discover the true potentials of our human nature and a common vision of the world.  Add to this the communication technologies, now in place, that can meld our local conversations into a global one, ending isolation and competitive violence. We can change our human story from competition and exclusion to cooperation and inclusion.  Which would you prefer?


Tuesday, November 10, 1-4:00 CDT Webster University. Change your story.  Explore, gain support and share.  Come to our workshop "Breakthroughs to Success:  Achieve Prosperity with Harmony."  We will have four speakers, myself, Sue Anderson who will help us with the challenges of stuff, Julie Hood who give us the
latest on critical internet technologies and Cynthia Isaac who will help us get moving and get things done.  It is NO CHARGE.  It will be held at Webster University.  Seating is limited.  Sign up at the link.

Monday, October 26, 7:00 PM CDT Learn about new advances in Transforming Stress to Success."   Just Click this Link:

© Copyright 2009 Alice Vlietstra.  All rights
reserved. The above material is copyrighted but
you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is added or deleted, including the contact information.
However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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