John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor call it affluenza. Greg Easterbrook calls it the progress paradox. And Kristen Lee calls it social indoctrination.
What I am referring to is the promise life makes that when we make more money we will be happy, that when we have more we will feel better about ourselves, and that when we live a life that society defines as successful, we will feel fulfilled.
The problem is, as many researchers know, these promises aren’t true. Money, fame, the perfect body, the coveted position, academic success, or athletic prowess doesn’t guarantee happiness. Instead, even when we achieve these things we may still find ourselves is stuck, lost, and unhappy.
One of the best things we can do is rethink and unlearn our thoughts and the behaviors that follow them. In her new book, Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking, Kristen Lee – who is the lead faculty for Behavioral Science at Northeastern University – offers the science, practical advice, and step by step methods to help readers stop sleepwalking through life. She provides insight that can help turn fake thinking into agile thinking, selfish actions into inclusive ones, hiding behaviors into healing behaviors, and false truths into those that bring genuine happiness and fulfillment.
According to Lee, indoctrination “is the process of teaching someone to fully accept the ideas opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and not consider those of other persuasions.”
The result is what she calls Asinine Societal Self-Imposed Expectations (ASSIE).
“ASSIE’s metastasize into an airbrushed you, and although kinda cute, the real you is waaay better,” writes Lee.
Mental intelligence, on the other hand, begins with trading the polished for the naked, the poised for the exposed, and the fake for the real. It draws upon agility, adaptability, the desire to always continue learning, beliefs and feelings based on reciprocity, collective efficacy, and impact-driven living.
The process also seeks not to find conclusions, but rather to ask the right questions that guide greater consciousness, awareness, clarity, and resilience. It is also not neat.
“Check your pretenses. ‘Control’ and ‘neat’ are illusions. None of us can hold it together every second. We are always spiraling up and down. Chaos and homeostasis are always at odds,” writes Lee.
The conflict is wearing one wardrobe while feeling like wearing a different one. While the first helps us fit in with others, it doesn’t help us fit in with ourselves. Even worse, it holds us hostage.
One of the places this happens rather frequently is in our educational institutions.
“Unfortunately, this type of conscious citizenry gets drowned out in the face of school climates that push for individual and institutional advancements. That we overemphasize personal success, rather than working for the greater good, may be one of the saddest realities of modern-day society,” writes Lee.
The good life doesn’t follow a pattern, isn’t a fixed state, and doesn’t avoid disruption. Instead, disruptions become moments of questioning, reflection, and the beginning of a whole new path, complete with new challenges, new learning, and greater growth.
By finding our signature brand, we can also bring impact to those around us in ways that connect our legacy to those around us in an upward spiral, which might otherwise be called karma.
“Society teaches us to focus on personal success, sometimes to the point where we overlook opportunities for social impact. We are often taught to worry more about looking good than doing good,” writes Lee. Not only does this keep the good life out of reach, it subverts a fundamental component of human life – reciprocity.
And in the age of anxiety, it is easy to fall into the role of over-functioning, over-performing, and being overly dependent on the accolades.
Lee asks: Do you want to be shiny – or do you want to be free? How we answer that question will often determine whether we wake up and stay “woke,” or remain asleep at the wheel of life.
With our eyes open, we often see the many falsehoods propagated throughout our lives, like one Lee calls WEIRD, or Western-Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic.
Yet we can question these falsehoods, move from deficit thinking to strength thinking, employ critical thinking, and trade quick concrete answers for the more valid ambiguity and uncertainty that better define life.
“Our old methods of excavating for problems leaves us with more problems. Everything rides on changing the positions we hold, the questions we ask, and the answers we’re willing to accept. When we only mine for weakness, that’s exactly what we’ll find,” writes Lee.
We don’t have to accept the script that life hands us because we all have our own script, already prepared inside ourselves. We simply have to be willing to explore and exchange the boxed in, depleted versions of life for those that bring us true happiness, connection, and our own definitions of success.
Insightful, timely, and poignant, Mentalligence is a book that has far-reaching and eminently useful impacts for anyone looking to liver a better life.
Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking
Kristen Lee EdD, LICSW
Health Communications Inc.
Softcover, 273 Pages