Jul 112012

It should not be surprising, in our scientific, technological world, that faith has been subjected to empirical studies and analysis. Hold onto your hat: it turns out that both people and communities of faith develop through a predictable series of stages… or find a comfortable level and stay there.

James W. Fowler, a minister in the United Methodist Church, wrote “Stages of Faith” in 1981 while a professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University. Additional research has followed. Here is a summary of the results.

Preschool children often confuse fantasy and reality. Their mix of ideas are picked-up, but not fully-developed, from those around them. They may believe in God and the Tooth Fairy, but already know that the guy at the mall is not really Santa.

School-age children begin to use logic and take things very literally. They may strongly and stubbornly hold onto ideas that come from trusted authorities. Their parents may still be insisting on the details of Santa’s visit to every home on Christmas eve.

Teenagers become aware of multiple, conflicting belief systems, but often associate strongly with a single institution and its doctrine. These staunch believers tend to “double-down” against any challenge to the anchors of their faith. They are easily persuaded that exposure to other ideas is dangerous so that they are determined to remain isolated within their community of support.

In young adulthood, with continued exposure to other peoples and their beliefs, some begin a period of critical re-examination of the elements of their faith. They may become disillusioned with their former community and move forward to independently search for a new foundation. Paradoxically, this progressive movement is often criticized as “backsliding.” Many men, especially, become “spiritual but not religious” and stop worshiping in a church.

In mid-life, it sometimes occurs to people that much about life is conflicting, unknown, or even unknowable. Neither faith nor logic fully satisfy. Much has to be taken, at any given time, as a paradox or mystery. Sacred stories and symbols may be a comfort, but not a foundation. Their spirituality may merge with their intent to “live a good life.”

A few older folks reach a point where they feel that life and gratitude, day by day, is sufficient blessing. There is no need to agonize over doubts, carry guilt from past mistakes, or dread what may happen in the next year, or the next moment. These folks may open themselves, within their remaining capacities, to take full satisfaction in the love of, and service to, others. These people may still embrace the formal worship of a specific divinity, but their capacity to love is no longer dependent on any given doctrine.

No developmental stage that serves the needs of the individual and their community is necessarily bad. Still, increasing tolerance always accompanies increasing spiritual development.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jan 182011

by David Satterlee

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Preface

The weakness of psychology, during its short history as a science, has been its primary focus on human weaknesses rather than on human strengths. That began to change dramatically when Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman leveraged his research on learned helplessness and hopelessness into a new focus on learned optimism and happiness.

A primary focus of positive psychology is on human strengths, a core set of virtues. The intent is to study, measure, and understand these strengths so that they can be purposefully developed, increasing both subjective and objective psychological well-being. Continue reading »

Oct 262010

The Question of Human Behavior

by David Satterlee

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“The stream of causation from past to future runs through our present choices.” —David G. Myers, 2002

Individuals and groups have shown an astonishing capacity for both great good and great evil. World War II produced unprecedented levels of national violence. Individuals who risked themselves to help others escape from certain extermination are our modern heroes. Caretakers of the gravely disabled sacrifice large parts of their own lives in service to others. We honor those able to demonstrate a common levels of virtues such as compassion, commitment, and self-control.

Continue reading »

Feb 152010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 7

Bodily Pleasures

Pleasures are transient raw feelings that spring from sensory satisfactions along with positive emotional responses. These may be rudimentary sensations or the product of complex activities that require mental interpretations. Pleasures fade quickly when the stimulus is removed, and one may become habituated to them.

Higher Pleasures

Higher pleasures are likewise, raw, transient, and habituable. The distinction is that although sensual, they require rational cognitive processing to assign meaning.


Gratifications are engaging activities that may be reflected upon with satisfaction. These activities are the products of our human strengths and virtues.

Enhancing the Pleasures

The key to enhancing pleasure is to repeat sparingly, sample widely, and savor mindfully.

  • Habituation and worse
    The transient pleasures of sensation cannot produce lasting happiness. Increasing the intensity or frequency of the sensation only reduces the satisfaction with each event; this is a simple matter of the design of our neurological systems. Addictive responses to habituation can become not only unsatisfying, but damaging.
  • Savoring
    [Ref: Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff, Loyola University] “The awareness of pleasure and of the deliberate conscious attention to the experience of pleasure.”
    To promote savoring:
    • Share with others
    • Memory-building
    • Self-congratulation
    • Sharpening perceptions
    • Absorption
  • Mindfulness
    We usually fail to take notice of most of our experience, acting without much thought. Classically, this is due to allowing our mental activities to be flooded with unregulated stimulation and unsupervised thoughts. Mindfulness is a product of the maturity necessary to give deliberate attention to only the events at hand.
  • “Have a beautiful day”
    A student is assigned to “have a beautiful day.” This is not as easy as it sounds. Use the techniques mentioned above. Don’t let yourself become any more than momentarily distracted.
The Gratifications

Happiness can be obtained from both pleasures and gratifications. [See top of article.] Pleasures are associated with “the pleasant life.” Gratifications are associated with “the good life.” Gratifications are available abundantly to even those disadvantaged who are deprived of many potential pleasures. – “What is the good life?” Aristotle

The reader is recommended to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Feb 142010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths” Martin Bolt, Chapter 8

Optimism and Psychological Well-being

Optimism is associated with a positive mood, a higher morale, and psychological health. Optimism helps us to resist distress from a wide range of sources.

Optimism and Physical Well-being

Optimistic people feel better, are healthier, and live longer. They have stronger immune systems recover faster from trauma.

Realistic Optimism

Realistic optimism avoids wishful thinking while maintaining a positive future outlook. Unrealistic optimism underestimates risks and may discourage appropriate preventive actions such as using contraceptives or quitting smoking.

Explanatory Styles and Coping Strategies

Optimists tend to explain problems in terms that are temporary, specific, and external, leading to initiatives to resolve the problem. Pessimists tend to explain problems in terms that are stable, global, and internal, creating a feeling of helplessness.

Charles Holahan and Rudolph Moos identified three coping strategies: active-cognitive strategies affect thoughts, active-behavioral strategies modify situations, and avoidance strategies inhibit awareness.

Psychology of Hope

We are intrinsically goal directed and readily imagine possibilities. Hope reflects both willpower and perceived ability (waypower).


Strategies for goal setting include clearly establishing desired outcomes in all major areas of life. Bowls should be periodically reviewed, added, and deleted as necessary. Goals should be visualized as vividly in concretely as possible. Goal should be prioritized, with important ones receiving the most attention.

Learning optimism

Reflecting on previous successes reaffirms our potential for future success. We must understand adversity, and create beliefs that have real consequences.

Communal hope

Hope and happiness usually exist within the context of a community. Social support networks increased hope in all manner of situations. Individualism can be damaging to hope. Hopeful goals are best when they seek to serve and benefit others.

Feb 102010

Do you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time?

Yes, frequently.

Throughout life, I have been prone to be introspective, voraciously curious, and a creative problem solver. I enjoy “disappearing into the problem.” I am more of a craftsman then an artist. Nonetheless, my explorations and projects easily consume my full attention. By the early 1990s I had discovered and read Csikszentmihalyi’s book on “Flow” and quickly recognized the altered state of mind that I cherished. Armed with a theoretical foundation, I have been able to more deliberately produce flow experiences.

I read and study more slowly than most. I often experience flow while working to understand, organize, and incorporate new knowledge into my belief system. This can be more difficult because I have a historically poor retention for details and I take the time to acknowledge and consider levels of ambiguity. I usually experience the deep-involvement of flow during this type of independent self-study; classroom instruction generally requires the opposite: waiting, diffusion, and disassociation.

Technical work has frequently produced flow experiences. These include designing electronic circuits, programming, analyzing systems, troubleshooting, computer programming, database design, and many others. In one programming project, I arranged with my supervisor to work for three weeks in an unmarked locked room outside of my departmental area, with no telephone or meetings. I brought a bag lunch and was usually able to stay in focus while walking to the restroom head-down and refusing to interact with anyone. I consider the result to be some of my best work. I tend to advance into a new technology or field of interest every two years or so. Early on, in an attempt to stay focused, I specifically excluded brain surgery from my potential career path.

I often find myself tackling new projects that challenge my existing knowledge and skills. At work, I have advanced and receive promotions, including directing the work of and teaching technical classes to engineers, by mastering new technologies almost exclusively through self-study. In one case, I was given full responsibility for designing and installing a new generation of plant-wide process data acquisition system at Amoco’s largest refinery. I frequently lobbied for and successfully introduced innovations.

I have replacing a diesel engine in my Oldsmobile station wagon with a computer-controlled later-model gasoline engine. I have undertaken home additions, outbuildings, and complex remodeling projects. At one point, I set and achieved the goal of becoming “a nationally recognized natural health educator.”

These are just a few examples. Essentially, I thrive on, and continually seek-out flow experiences. My current quest is to move beyond mastering technologies to building a better intellectual framework for understanding complex systems, especially the many strands and stages of human development. I find flow more and more often while writing to explain and interpret specialist-level material for interested laymen.

Addendum: I was recently delighted to discover a fictional model for my own life experience while impulsively reading a 1950s middle-school novel set in the period of the American Revolution.

Jan 192010
Lecture 6 – Visualizing Desire (Brian Knutson)

Stanford University’s Brian Knutson is unraveling the mysteries of human desire with state-of-the-art medical imaging.

Knutson’s research sheds new light on how individuals make complex financial decisions, and offers new ways for alleviating schizophrenia.

Watch it on Academic Earth

Jan 172010
Lecture 5 – Googling the Brain on a Chip (Kwabena Boahen)

Kwabena Boahen is using the human brain as the blueprint for designing radically more powerful and energy-efficient computers.

In this short demo, Boahen describes how his Brains in Silicon lab at Stanford University has created computer chips with "synapses" and "neurons" — and how these chips might revolutionize computing.

Watch it on Academic Earth

Jan 152010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

The field of positive psychology embraces a particular set of perceptions:

1. We create our personal and social worlds. High-functioning people take responsibility for dynamically exercising opportunities for choice, change, and control.

2. We cannot control all elements of our personal and social worlds. Recognizing these external constraints improves our choices.

3. Scientific research is especially important for accurately understanding the relationships between the subjective elements considered by positive psychology.

4. Positive psychology has been not so much newly invented as newly emphasized. Concepts of virtues, values, and character are of long and enduring interest.

5. Psychology has allowed us to develop objectives scales to quantify human strengths and their biological, environmental, and cognitive influences.

6. While psychology conducts research on value judgments, it must be recognized that value judgments affect the conduct of research. No part of human development can be studied in isolation. For instance, we require both autonomy and relatedness.

Jan 152010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

The Personal Growth Initiative Scale was published in 1998 by Christine Robitschek. The PGIS incorporates choice, change, control, and clear direction. She believes that personal growth must be a deliberate undertaking. A high score reflects a person who: “recognizes and capitalizes on opportunities for personal change. They search out and create situations that will foster their growth. In contrast, people with low scores actively avoid situations that challenge them to grow.”

“PGIS scores seemed to be strongly positive way related to psychological well-being and negatively related to psychological distress.” “PGIS spores or positively linked to assertiveness, internal locus of control, an instrumentality (knowing how to reach an important goals).” According to Bert Hodges, “Values provide distant but real guides that help us to find our way, that help us in the journey of life. Values provide not only place but perspective; they indicate where we have come from and where we’re going.”

Values will vary according to a person’s world view and life goals. Mihal Csikszentmilalyi says that a meaningful, productive life involves both differentiation and integration. Differentiation results from taking proactive responsibility for personal development. Integration results from also accepting responsibility for our relationships with others in our social networks. While it is healthful to be able to function atonymously, we also need to feel connected and have a sense of belonging. For instance, adolescents need to grow up, but do better if they retain strong connections with their parents.

Personal Growth Initiative Scale (PGIS) Exercise

Original source: Robitschek, 1998.

Using the scale, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement.

1 = definitely disagree
2 = mostly disagree
3 = somewhat disagree
4 = somewhat agree
5 = mostly agree
6 = definitely agree

1. _____ I know how to change specific things that I want a change in my life.

2. _____ I have a good sense of where I’m headed in my life.

3. _____ If I want to change something in my life, I know how to initiate the transition process.

4. _____ I can choose the role I want to have in a group.

5. _____ I know what I need to do to get started toward reaching my goals.

6. _____ I have a specific action plan to help me reach my goals.

7. _____ I take charge of my life.

8. _____ I know what my unique contribution to the world might be.

9. _____ I have a plan for making my life more balanced.


To score your responses, simply add the numbers you checked to obtain a total score. PGIS scores range from 9 to 54. People who score higher (31.5 is the midpoint) recognize and capitalize on opportunities for personal change. More than that, they search out and create situations that will Foster their growth. In contrast, people with low scores actively avoid situations that challenge them to grow.

Jan 122010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“Change” reflects our ability to adjust typical patterns of behavior. The way we think about the ability of ourselves and others to change affects how we think about and judge behavior. Entity theorists believe that our characteristics change very little. They are more willing to make generalized character judgments based on fewer observed behaviors. Incremental theorists believe that we are more able to make desired changes. They are more willing to seek opportunities for and apply themselves toward personal development. An incrementalist would certainly be more likely to make an effort to change.

One’s attitude toward the human potential for change is reflected in the relative importance of ability vs. effort in achieving success or demonstrating intelligence. Albert Einstein sounds like an incrementalist when he is quoted as saying “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” If one believes that their characteristics are fixed, they may interpret poor performance on a task means that they are stupid, worthless, or a complete loser. Others are able to interpret failure as the mark of effort and see the need to intensify or redirect their efforts. One path leads to pessimism, learned helplessness, and self-reinforcing failure. The other path leads to optimism, sustained effort, preparation to seize opportunities, and self-reinforcing experience with success.

While positive attitudes and hard work do not guarantee success, they clearly promote it. Lucky breaks , social support, health, and even genetic gifts are important facilitators for many people who are admired as “successful.” The book “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell makes a fascinating study of opportunistic success. Nonetheless, cultivated attitudes and habits about the potential for change creates an environment that rewards effort toward desired change.

“Parents and teachers can also teach students to relish a challenge. Doing easy tasks is often a waste of time. The fun comes in confronting something difficult and finding strategies that work. Finally, adults should help children value learning more than grades. Too often kids rely on grades to prove their worth. Sure, grades are important. But they are not as significant as learning.” (p. 10)

Jan 122010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“Choice” reflects our freedom to strive for self-determination. We all have the experience of considering options, choosing a behavior, and experiencing the consequences. The American culture is structured around the concept of freedom. We cherish the concept, nurture the capacity, and defend the right to make choices. We are more likely to sign petitions if someone has tried to coerce us into not doing so. Like Romeo and Juliet, we may become more passionate about an option that we feel is being denied to us. The concept of “reverse psychology” depends upon related principles.

Autonomy, acting with a sense of true choice, may be considered a “fundamental human need.” A sense of autonomy increases or interest in and commitment to the things we do. Conversely, restricting choice decreases our interest in an activity. Our sense of autonomy, our human freedom of choice, increases are commitment, ability to achieve, and level of satisfaction.