Reaping Our Innate Rewards


Kevin Sharpe


A Proposal

Science shows behaviors that lead to happiness and success

The corpses near me, crawling with lice, did not bother me.

In Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp, Victor Frankl sat on the wooden lid of an access shaft.

Only the steps of passing guards could rouse me from my dreams; or perhaps it would be a call to the sick-bay or to collect a newly arrived supply of medicine for my hut consisting of perhaps five or ten tablets of aspirin, to last for several days for fifty patients. I collected them and then did my rounds, feeling the patients’ pulses and giving half-tablets to the serious cases.

To survive in the camps, Frankl practiced his doctoring, he thought of his wife, and he tried to reconstruct his scientific manuscript the Auschwitz guards had removed. A meaning possessed him; a purpose filled him and insulated him from the horror.

This book concerns natural morality, universal principles present in all societies and religions. Frankl’s experience and writing illustrate one he quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche:

[The person] who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

To survive and live life to its fullest, we need meaning and purpose. Can we generalize Frankl’s observations to a lesson about life for everyone?

Science provides an answer. When absorbed in an activity and unaware of ourselves – when we garden, sew, construct a model airplane, play the piano, paint, or a myriad other things – we experience "flow." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi arrived at the idea of flow when he studied artists who spent many hours immersed in their painting or sculpting. They worked as if nothing mattered except their creation. They labored for reward that lay intrinsically in the work itself, not for external marks of praise, promotion, or money. When we flow in an activity that fully engages our skills, we feel exhilarated and endued with meaning and purpose. We become less self-conscious and less aware of time passing. Flow allows us to bear almost anything else going on in their lives, including the horrors of a concentration camp.

Research on flow supports the principle proposed by Frankl, but this book discusses several others in a collection of twenty-eight chapters. They show what behaviors in what circumstances will usually and naturally lead to success and happiness. The studies that support such principles also show, however, that many require modification and apply only in specific circumstances. Some principles start as anecdotes but, with scientific support and modification, emerge as universally germane and therefore sure to work with each of us.

Science and spiritual wisdom come together in this work to produce both a handbook for living and a treatise on the nature of human existence.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Anecdotes to Truthfulness

Chapter 2: Happy with Whys

Chapter 3: Motivated to Achieve

Chapter 4: Reward or Punishment

Chapter 5: Believe then Confirm

Chapter 6: Self-Believe then Self-Confirm

Chapter 7: Doubt and Hope

Chapter 8: Succeed and Self-Feed

Chapter 9: Achieving with Goals

Chapter 10: Self-Control then Succeed

Chapter 11: Act and Be

Chapter 12: Give and Receive

Chapter 13: Friendship and Selfishness

Chapter 14: Blame and Benevolence

Chapter 15: Spread and Enjoy

Chapter 16: Positive and Liked

Chapter 17: Actions to Attitudes

Chapter 18: Down to/from Up

Chapter 19: Dander and Destruction

Chapter 20: Health in Stress

Chapter 21: Money and Spirit

Chapter 22: Recall and Recover

Chapter 23: Conciliation or Escalation

Chapter 24: Friend or Individualist

Chapter 25: Contagion from Emotions

Chapter 26: In versus Out

Chapter 27: Erring and Forgetting

Chapter 28: Living for Happiness

Submitted for publication. Copyright © 2000 by Kevin Sharpe.