Is Humanism about reason or about emotion? It might seem that reason is all we need, but as scientists such as Antonio Damasio have demonstrated, without feelings, we are unable to make choices. Reason guides us toward our goals, but to have goals and values, we need preferences, which come from emotions.
So, is it all about the pursuit of happiness? In some sense, it is. But not just our own personal happiness. The happiness of others matters. In their book, Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart, Lex Bayer and John Figdor write, “We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.”
I spoke to John Figdor about this idea, which relates to the concept of sympathetic joy, an idea well known in Buddhism. In fact, certain meditations such as loving-kindness meditation, can increase the sense of social connection and have the potential to help you share in the happiness of others. John also explained a technique of interrogating your desires to see where they stem from that, although it comes from philosophy, is a kind of mindfulness technique. Here is the interview:
John Figdor serves as the Humanist Chaplain for the Humanist Community at Stanford. He holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Divinity School. He formerly served as assistant humanist chaplain at the Humanist Community at Harvard.
Rick Heller leads the Humanist Mindfulness Group at the Humanist Community at Harvard. A freelance journalist, he has written for the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Buddhadharma, Free Inquiry, Tikkun, and Wise Brain Bulletin. His web site is rickheller.com and he can be followed on Twitter @SecularMeditate.