A Living Humanist Document

Shortly after my twentieth birthday I experienced the most intense unhappiness of my life.  While the experience was tremendously painful, something wonderful resulted from it. After confronting myself with questions such as: “Should I continue to live or should I commit suicide?” “What do I want out of my life?” and “What would cause me to be happy?” I opened up a blank document on my computer and began trying to answer my questions.

The original document was less than a page long and listed some goals I thought I should try to achieve in order to live a better life. Soon thereafter I realized that, in order to answer my questions more effectively, I should analyze why I had chosen the goals I did and write down any helpful insights about life that I thought of or came across.

In the years that have passed, I have had no greater obsession than continuing to answer, in greater and greater depth, the questions that my mind raised that summer, especially by realizing more sophisticated insights about my life, analyzing the practical applicability of those insights, and incorporating the practical applicability of those insights into my document and life.

As my thinking and writing evolved, I realized I was no longer just drafting a document relating to my life goals—I was creating a comprehensive life guide. And I was beginning to reap the tremendous benefits of living with such a governing document.

In light of the commonalities of the human experience, I recently published a public version of my “Life Guide” for free at www.joshhumi.com, in the hope that it will help others.

One key insight I came across as I was writing my life guide was presented in a TED talk by Daniel Kahneman. Through this talk, I realized that there are two types of happiness: experiential happiness, which is the enjoyment of a present-moment experience (for example, eating a tasty meal or sharing a laugh with friends), and reflective happiness, which is one’s belief that he or she has lived a valuable life, to the extent that one reasonably believes he or she could have lived a valuable life (for example, via personally meaningful accomplishments).

Psychologists find that while experiential happiness is fleeting and typically doesn’t impact one’s happiness after the experience is over (since one rarely relives the memory of the positive experience in his or her mind), reflective happiness has a long-lasting “background” impact on one’s happiness. Indeed, to the extent that happiness to be gained from an experiential experience (e.g. watching a good movie) conflicts with that to be gained from a reflective experience (e.g. advancing one’s values), all else being equal, pursuing the latter will likely have a greater positive impact on one’s happiness over the long run.

Aided by this insight and coupled with my strong self-identification as a humanist, I realized the important role that helping to advance my humanist-based values for the benefit of future generations plays in my own happiness. As a result, I drafted the abbreviated excerpt below in my life guide.


Helping to Bring about a Brighter Future for Future Generations

Despite the fact that I will not be a member, I am emotionally connected to future generations of humanity, and I hope they do well. I can empathize with both the positive and negative emotions that they will experience, not to mention that their story is part of my story, even though I will not be privy to the plot progression after my death.

Trying to advance humanity in the direction I believe it should go is a powerful activity for me to engage in, and potentially a tremendous source of reflective happiness. Reality is interactive and I can affect it, including via a ripple effect.

As the writer and humanist Isaac Asimov said:

Never can we sit back and wait for miracles to save us. Miracles don’t happen. Sweat happens. Effort happens. Thought happens. And it is up to us humanists to help—to expend our sweat, our effort, and our thought. Then, there will be hope for the world.

Or as the rocker/humanitarian Bono put it: “The world is more malleable than you think, and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”

The causes I believe are the most important to advance in order to help bring about a brighter future include:

  • the global spread of democracy with freedom of speech and other basic human rights;
  • an end to the indoctrination of children into religion, on a global basis;
  • endowing all children with an education that teaches them how to learn on their own the topics in which they become interested;
  • the eradication of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
  • the advancement of science and technology; and
  • the preservation of the environment.

For the full, public version of Josh Humi’s “Life Guide,” please visit www.joshhumi.com.