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Choosing Joy - a relationship exploration

Updated: Jan 31

Exploring our most precious relationships can be both helpful and humbling.

  • Helpful - because after stepping through, one realizes both the progress made and the progress still needed.

  • Humbling - because after stepping back, one appreciates our good fortune to have healthy relationships.

Those who frequent The Curiosity Vine likely appreciate we cover many topics. One of our goals is to connect the dots between multiple disciplines. In the case of relationships, this article includes a more personal dot-connecting theme.

Study Guide:

Do you want to activate "Choosing Joy" in your relationships? Please use this link to download the Choosing Joy Study Guide.

This article is dedicated to my wife, family, and friends. I so appreciate how much we learn from each other. This article is also an admittedly geeky love letter to my wife, inspired by our 30th wedding anniversary.


1. Introduction

I approach the relationship subject from three personal motivations:

  1. I am a committed husband. I have been married for over 30 years.  I feel very fortunate for our loving relationship.  My wife, Patti, has taught me much about joy and faith. Her joy is a beautiful product of her faith. We have four adult children and I have other impactful relationships. I am motivated for this relationship exploration in appreciation of my wife. To be fair, my motivation includes a self-serving component as well. I wish to grow my relationship with her so I may also be happy in the second half of our life together.

  2. I am deeply curious about neuroscience, behavioral economics, and psychology.  My occupation as a decision scientist and choice architect means brain science study is a necessary and enjoyable part of my work.  We live in an amazing age in terms of brain insight growth.  In the current age, the human race is quickly increasing our scientific understanding. [i]

  3. I am a person of faith, with my faith grounded in Christianity.  I study other world religions as well.  In fact, I take great comfort in the knowledge that most world religions share time-tested beliefs concerning love, appreciation, empathy, and reconciliation. [ii]

My faith suggests a few essentials:

  1. Prayer is important. Admitting we need help and asking for that help is the first step toward a better relationship.

  2. I am specific in my prayer goals.  What does success look like?  We all get into fights at times.  Disagreement is communication.  But perhaps you want your disagreements to have a purpose.  Perhaps you want to quickly disarm emotion.  Perhaps you want to more quickly feel like you are moving toward the same goal as your partner.

  3. Our shared faith provides an opportunity to create a better relationship together.  God does not “zap” us to make a sudden change to make our relationship better.  Instead, God gives us an opportunity to work together and to help us make our relationship better.

  4. Be realistic with time expectations.  Better relationships always take longer than you wish.  Good relationships are an ongoing process, not an end product.

This article provides a process.  Included is a study guide to help guide you and your partner's journey for 'Choosing Joy.'  I hope this helps!


This article is presented in the following sections:

  1. Introduction

  2. Locus of Control and our natural relationship gap

  3. Framework to close the gap: Accelerating reconciliation

    1. Current State - being right

    2. Future State - being joyful

  4. Conclusion - a call to be joyful

  5. Notes

Today, there is an amazing convergence of religion, faith, and brain science. Many earlier wise people shared time-tested religious and faith-based understandings. [iii] These wise people were often ahead of their time regarding brain understanding. In many ways, science has confirmed and helped to clarify the past wise writings of many world religious contributors. Physicist and author Heinz Pagels [iv] said:

“The relationship between theory and experiment is like a dance in which sometimes one partner leads and sometimes the other.”

In the case of a holistic brain and mind understanding, the wise religious writers serve as theorists and the scientists are the experimenters. This is an important dance with both partners sometimes leading. While not all faith-based theories are supported by science, religious writings often serve as a sound starting point for scientific investigation and validation.

In a science dialogue from The Book of Joy [v], Nobel laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressed:

"Too often we see spirituality and science as antagonistic forces, each with its hand at the other’s throat. Yet Archbishop Tutu has expressed his belief in the importance of what he calls 'self-corroborating truth'—when many different fields of knowledge point to the same conclusion. Similarly, the Dalai Lama was adamant about the importance of making sure that this was not a Buddhist or Christian book, but a universal book supported not only by opinion or tradition but also by science."

When it comes to relationships, we can be our own enemies. It is the naturally occurring foibles and biases of our own brain processes that lead to challenges in our most precious relationships. Today’s science helps us better understand our brain operations impacting our relationships. This article explores how our faith helps us navigate those biases, improve our relationships, and nourish our joy. This article offers a straightforward framework based on a research-informed understanding of our brain and a few essential aspects of faith teachings. This article seeks to bring together topics that, on the surface, may seem separate but do so in a way that provides a deeper understanding.

Locus of Control ("LoC") is central to how we perceive each other. It is a concept with behavioral psychology and neuroscience-based support. In section 3, LoC is applied to a faith-supported framework to help us navigate and improve our relationships. The goal is to help us realize more joy in our relationships. This goal is supported by bringing together multiple faith-based teachings and related scientific support.

2. Locus of Control and our natural relationship gap

In psychology, locus of control [vi] is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives. Locus of control is central to a commonly occurring cognitive bias known as "attribution bias," A person's "locus" is conceptualized as

  1. Internal - a belief that one can control one's own life, or

  2. External - a belief that life is controlled by outside factors which the person cannot influence, or that chance or fate controls their lives.

Think of the locus of control and the space between the internal and external poles like a map. Your location on the locus of control continuum is like a “You Are Here” pin on that map. In this case, the map is a mental map of the degree to which you believe you control outcomes. We will discuss your unique mental map pin-locating process. We observe that relationship participants can be at different “You Are Here” locations at the same time. We explore the impact of differing pin locations on your most precious relationships. By the way, I will use both the singular “locus” and the plural “loci” when referring to one or many “pins on the map.”

People may perceive varying loci of control along a continuum. Individuals and cultures may have different propensities for a locus of control. As a cultural example, Americans generally experience a more individualistic culture compared to other countries. As such, Americans may skew more toward the internal locus of control. Naturally, this is a generalization about Americans. Certainly, some Americans may feel they have less control. [vii]

But your culturally-based locus of control is only a starting point. Situations significantly impact one's locus of control mindset at the time perception is made. Different levels of uncertainty between situations may cause an individual to have a situationally dependent locus of control. Also, how we perceive risk impacts our locus of control. A higher “loss aversion” often causes a higher emphasis or "weight" to be placed on a particular situation, thus impacting one's locus of control. In behavioral economics, an individual's situational dependence is more generally known as "framing." [viii]

Relationship challenges emerge because people tend to assign differing loci of control-originated perceptions based on identical relationship situations. In identical situations, it is natural to associate:

  • Positive outcomes with an Internal Locus of Control. (i.e., “My good actions caused this positive outcome”), or

  • Negative outcomes with an External Locus of Control. (i.e., “The actions of my partner caused this negative outcome”)

As such, it is natural for us to:

Overweight the good stuff we bring to a relationship situation ↔ internal locus of control.

- and at the same time -

Overweight the bad stuff our partner brings to the same situation ↔ external locus of control.

Strangely enough, this is the natural, default setting of our brain.

Throughout this article, related world religious teaching examples are provided. These religion connections are offered to show the "self-collaborating truths" the Dalai Lama said is offered by both religion and science. Baal Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic and founder of the Hasidic movement, provides a perspective related to locus of control and the need for reconciliation.

"Your fellow is your mirror.... should you look upon your fellow and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering - you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself."

—Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement


Locus of control example: Next is a simple example to describe a common married life situation and the potential for a locus of control disconnect. In this example, the bride’s parents are coming for a visit.

The bride – arranges for the visit, makes sure the house is clean, and the bed is ready for their visit.

The groom – makes reservations for dinner.

The bride – will naturally overweight their preparation effort and tend to discount the groom’s contribution.

The groom – will naturally overweight their preparation effort and tend to discount the bride’s contribution.

If any mistakes are made with the preparation, the other will tend to overweigh the mistakes of their partner and underweight their own.

Both the bride and the groom's efforts are part of a preparation system necessary for their parent’s visit and any mistakes are likely inconsequential. Granted, this example seems like a small thing. As we will show next, confirmation bias is caused by the cumulative negative impact of many of these kinds of life situations over time.


As a logical identity, in the same relationship situation, you cannot have it both ways. What the individuals actually bring to the situation must exist at a single point on the causality spectrum. Thus, there is a gap between the actual situation and one's situation attribution perception as anchored via our psychology-based locus of control. In other words, imagine there is an impartial spectator [ix] who could objectively evaluate the situation on behalf of the bride and groom. Their objective, third-party assessment would be a single conclusion, somewhere between that of the bride's and groom's perspective. The gap or variability from the actual is also known as a cognitive bias. [x] This suggests that in most normal relationship disagreements, our perception of the wrongness of the other person gets overplayed, and our perception of our own right-ness gets overplayed. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Significantly, in the relationship context, our diverging individual cognitive biases may worsen the relationship challenge.

The next graphic demonstrates our perception gaps of the identical situation but with differing loci of control.

  • The relative size of the boxes indicates the emotional weight of the perception. A stronger emotional weight relates to a bigger box and a weaker emotional weight relates to a smaller box.

  • The color of the box is the emotional context of the perception. Green is a positive perception and red is a negative perception.

  • The icon figures are the two different partner originators of the perceptions.

For example, the groom's "box a" represents a larger positive emotion. This is how the groom perceives their own effort. At the same time, the bride's "box a" represents a smaller positive emotion. This is how the bride perceives the groom's effort. You may follow this approach to interpret the other boxes as well. The point is that between each partner, the perceived size (emotional weight) of each corresponding box is different. Rationally, the actual size and color of the same box at the same time must be the same. The truth lies at a single point somewhere in the middle. Thus, differing individual locus of control causes an attribution bias that creates differing individual perceptions by the bride and groom.

As you can imagine, left unchecked, this locus of control-based bias may be harmful to a relationship. It requires us to take active measures to overcome this bias. Over time, a persistently unchecked attribution bias brought on by our locus of control may lead to confirmation bias [xi]. Confirmation bias is arguably the most significant cognitive bias impacting our cognition and how we process information to perceive the world. In the case of a relationship, confirmation bias is an attribution error where we persistently overweight the negative bad stuff to justify a negative narrative for our partner. Also, the negative bad stuff is naturally weighted higher than the good stuff. This occurs as found in prospect theory, originally developed by Kahneman and Tversky. [xii] As an aside, Dr. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for this work. Think of the prospect theory impact as reinforcing the overweighted bad stuff our LoC had already started. In the next graphic, the negative red "bad stuff" of the other partner is increased in weight.

  • The groom perceives more "bad stuff" of the bride → area "c" in the groom's view.

  • The bride perceives more "bad stuff" of the groom → area "b" in the bride's view.

Even though, quite likely, there is much good stuff of which to be appreciative. This negative narrative will decrease the speed at which we reconcile. It will decrease our joy nourishment.

A persistent biased negative narrative creates a bad habit. Habits have a way of hardening. As a metaphor, bad habits may become like an almost permanent “scheduled withdrawal from our joy bank account.” Bad habits are sneaky because they feel normal. As such, bad habits are even more challenging to overcome. It is best to avoid bad habits altogether.

Generally, our faith and good common sense teach us that both appreciation and empathy are critical to reconciling relationship issues. In many ways, appreciation and empathy, along with the willingness to reconcile differences are foundational elements of our love for each other. By properly navigating our locus of control, we can better manage the effects of our cognitive biases [xiii] and have more joy nourishment in our most significant relationships.

Please watch this short video for how confirmation bias builds to make poor decisions.

On Jeff Hulett's YouTube Channel: The Path for Bad Decisions ->

Next, I discuss how our faith plays a key role in navigating our cognitive biases and accelerating our reconciliation.

3. Framework to close the gap: Accelerating reconciliation

In this section, we will step through a typical relationship's more challenging "locus of control"-impacted current state and present the means to achieve a more joyful future state. This may not be your exact current state, but you will likely find some application to your relationships. The future state will build toward quicker reconciliation and more relationship-enabled joy. Religion and our faith are referenced as core aspects of the reconciliation framework.

As a starting example describing the need for achieving joy, next is a high-impact resolution made by Ric Elias. Mr. Elias was a first-row passenger on U.S. Airways Flight 1549. [xiv] This is the now famous flight piloted by Captain Chelsea "Sully" Sullenberger. It landed on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. The episode is commonly known as "The Miracle on the Hudson." For 3 minutes, Mr. Elias was completely convinced he was going to die. He prayed. Plus he made a resolution to his wife and young family should he live. He committed that:

"I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy."

Mr. Elias and all the passengers walked away from this flight unharmed. Mr. Elias was given the opportunity to make good on his family's joy commitment. Being happy and nourishing joy are individually owned choices. [xv] That is, we can choose to reconcile, choose appreciation and empathy, and choose not to be right. Mr. Elias was fortunate. He was given a new lease on life after being sure he was going to die. The rest of us do not have such a strong commitment device. Most of us just have to work on it, with the faith that it is the right thing to do to achieve joy.

Current State - “I want to be right”

First, let us discuss a potential current state. Perhaps this is the current state you wish to improve but find the necessary change challenging.

Our current state is characterized by:

  • Holding on to old stuff;

  • Anger escalation too often;

  • Using the past to justify doing the wrong thing in the present;

  • Slow to appreciate;

  • Slow to empathize;

  • Slow to reconcile.

Next, we will explore the characteristics of our unwanted current state. A state that dispenses unnecessary personal and relationship suffering.

Connecting Western Religion, Eastern Religion, and Neuroscience

Christianity: You may recognize the first three dot points in relation to 1 Corinthians 13 of the Holy Bible. An essential value of this "Love is...." verse is that it gives love advice "via negativa." That is, Corinthians tells us what not to do to achieve joy. “What not to do” instructions are often more effective than prescriptive instructions. In this case, the Corinthians verse says: "Love keeps no record of wrongs." This is good advice, as "recording wrongs" is in our nature. Most people keep records of wrongs all the time. Keeping a negative inventory of perceived slights and affronts is a default brain setting. In the next section, "character 2" is discussed as the default brain setting. Corinthians and related teachings help us find balance via the model presented earlier. It serves to counteract the outsized weight we may put on our self-perceptions. As suggested earlier in the bride/groom model, not following Corinthians likely increases the confirmation bias associated with our locus of control.

Please keep in mind:  Not being a “recorder of wrongs” is not to imply we should ignore reality.  It is to suggest we should be humble in the knowledge that our brain naturally overweighs the bad stuff and naturally undervalues the good stuff. Appreciation of your spouse's good stuff is a great approach to make sure the wrongs are kept in the proper perspective.

Neuroscience: Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard University neuroanatomist. Her “Four Character” framework identifies the neurological source of our struggle to follow the Corinthians and our nature to be a recorder of wrongs. The recorder of wrongs is known as "character 2" in the JBT model. It is our nature to record wrongs. Dr. Jill isolates the brain's hemispheres and emotional and cognition centers as a means to identify the source of the weighting challenges identified in the bride-groom model. Via our character 2, our nature is to amplify (overweight) the bad stuff and overlook (underweight) the good stuff. This is at the core of confirmation bias. Effectively, we overweight the bad stuff to confirm our belief of "badness." At the end of section 2, we discussed the danger of bad habits. Persistent overweighting leads to confirmation bias. This may create a reinforcing feedback loop. For example, if one of the partners builds a confirmation bias-based bad habit, that may cause:

  • The individual impacted by confirmation bias habits will find appropriately resetting the perceptions progressively more difficult.

  • The other partner reduces their commitment to both a) building good habits and b) avoiding bad habits of their own.

It is challenging to break bad habits. We are better off avoiding bad habits altogether.

Dr. Jill's story is amazing. She was able to enrich her neuroanatomy scientific training with a stroke she suffered, at the time she was experiencing the stroke! I think of her experience as one of an astronaut. Her experience was like shrinking herself into a teeny capsule. Like an astronaut, she was then able to enter and explore her own brain and record the experiences of her own stroke. Lucky for us, Dr. Jill took the time to publish books and share her experience on podcasts. [xvi]

Buddhism: The Dalai Lama also provides an example of related Buddhist teachings. The Dalai Lama cites Nagarjuna, the Indian Buddhist thinker who lived at the beginning of the common era (around 150 CE). In many ways, the ancient Buddhists are the original neuroscientists. They were able to deduce the brain operations that neuroscientists have only recently been able to test and document. Today's neuroscience is often aligned with ancient Buddhist teachings. Nagarjuna writes of the middle way. He describes the need to seek the "emptiness" of self. Consider the pursuit of emptiness as a means to recognize we are a function of all our relationships.

Without all the relationships in our lives, we would not exist as we do. I also think of the pursuit of emptiness as a means to a) neutralize our chatty left hemispheric neurological operations, while b) enabling our wise and quiet right hemispheric operations to emerge and connect with the world around us. It is the right hemisphere providing our attention for seeking the relationships that define our lives.  The Buddhist’s “emptiness” teaching is well aligned with our neurobiology.

In the context of the earlier bride/groom model, achieving emptiness is where the weight of the self is reduced to naught. The middle way is a means to counteract our naturally occurring propensities for internal locus of control, attribution bias, and confirmation bias. [xvii] The good news is that time-tested religions have helpful, science-aligned advice for managing our relationships and reducing the impact of attendant psychological and neurological challenges.

Notice the last three dot points of the current state characteristics listed earlier. Two of those dot points - appreciation and empathy - are two key elements of our love for each other. We may love because we appreciate each other for our wonderful qualities and we may empathize with each other, especially if the other does something we do not like. Appreciation is for the good stuff, which helps us empathize with the bad stuff. By the way, it is assumed all relationships have some bad stuff. It is assumed relationship bad stuff is unavoidable. Think of the last time you had an argument with your partner. Did you quickly and fully reconcile? Or perhaps, did the feelings of the argument seem to linger for days or even weeks? Perhaps you do not recall an argument but feel there are lingering issues that are not reconciled. The current state is that lingering state.

This framework describes the current state, with the undesired outcome being a longer time to reconcile.

When a relationship challenge occurs, reconciliation is critical. Almost all world religions agree. [xviii] As an example, in the Catholic religion, reconciliation is so sacred that it is found in one of the 7 holy sacraments. Also, remember that empathic and appreciative actions occurred in the past. It is our past actions that ultimately may be appreciated or empathized with. However, reconciliation occurs in the fleeting present. In order to reconcile now, it requires a history of active empathy and appreciation. The future then reveals the effectiveness of the reconciliation.

Critically, immediately following a disagreement, the speed and quality of our reconciliation are revealed. In the not-desired current state, a typical joy delay-causing negative narrative may be:

  • “You were wrong, I’m right, I remember when another bad thing happened” or

  • "I don’t trust you; you are a bad parent; you are a bad person.”

Instead, a fast effective reconciliation will change the narrative. Such as:

  • “I’m sorry, I understand how I may have hurt you.”

  • “Let me share how I experienced you.”

When transitioning to the desired future state, we should consider:

Past: Individually, we own our perception, good or bad.

Present: Seek to understand the other, reduce the focus on self

Future: Together, we share the meaning of our future.

The question: How do we create a loving and joyful future?

Future State - “I want joy”

In the future state, we are now focused on accelerating the quality of the reconciliation process. Our goal is to create a more loving and joyful future. Our future state is characterized by:

  • Let stuff go;

  • Anger sometimes - ok to "feel our feelings," then deescalate quickly;

  • Don’t use the past to justify doing the wrong thing in the present;

  • Fast to appreciate;

  • Fast to empathize;

  • Fast to reconcile.

Notice the alignment between neuroscience, psychology, and world religion. In the future state, we are aligned with 1 Corinthians 13 and the pursuit of emptiness. This is also critical to decreasing the confirmation bias associated with our locus of control. This is an important point: Good relationship habits are built from behaviors suggested in this future state framework. Our good relationship habits enable joy. Our behaviors allow us to let stuff go and accelerate the loving qualities of empathy and appreciation. Our red-ish negative feelings are still valid, but our internal narrative has changed:

  • “It is hard! I know I can be right, but I would rather love.”

  • “Let go, I trust our shared Faith, I appreciate and empathize.”

Also, notice the critical change in the future state framework timeline. The time to reconcile, as noted in the red-ish, future block has significantly decreased. This framework describes the future state, with the outcome being an accelerated time to reconcile. Moving forward, the target future state narrative is:

  • “I’m sorry, I understand how I may have hurt you.”

  • “I seek to understand, appreciate, and empathize.”

  • “I trust you will hear me”

  • “Let me share how I heard you.”

  • “Let’s work together.”

Also, by changing our narrative, we are changing our habits. While it may take time to build your joy-nourishing outcomes, the good news is that: 1) good habits are being reinforced and written; and 2) any existing, hardened habits are being softened, reduced, and rewritten. The essential point is that our brain is listening. The narratives we tell our brain, whether accurate or biased, are recorded and habit-forming. Our faith is integral to telling our brains the healthiest stories.

Please notice that the goal is NOT to eliminate the zone of sad, negative emotion. These emotions provide information and are necessary for people to process to achieve healthy relationships. The point of this framework is to engage our negative emotions in a positive way to build healthy relationships. The framework accelerates joy achievement.

4. Conclusion

Most of us greatly desire to be joyful in our lives. We wish to be joyful with our most precious relationships. Disagreements happen sometimes. It is human nature. The key is, to have an intentional and framework-aligned reconciliation process with your partner. The future state framework presented in this article is consistent with psychology, neuroscience, and world religion. I have been practicing (not always perfectly!) this framework with my wife for the last 30 years. I can say from first-hand experience that it is not always easy. Life gets busy and priorities shift. Our emotions can get the best of us. As such, the success of this process framework is about progress, not perfection. It helps us avoid those hardening habits in our most precious relationships. The effort is its own reward!

Ric Elias committed to his joy and family reconciliation only after facing the unthinkable…. perishing in a plane crash. Most of us do not have this extraordinary opportunity. However, with a little effort and humility, we all may commit to relationship-based joy long before facing death!

A special thanks:

  1. To friend and psychologist Dr. William (Bill) Clarke. Bill provided feedback for the framework design. Any errors or omissions are certainly on me.

  2. To neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor for sharing her epic brain journey as a result of a stroke. Her “4-Character” brain model is an important part of this article.

  3. To Delaine Mazich for sharing her inspiring joy experience. She provided an extraordinary example of working to achieve joy after the loss of a child.

  4. To my firm, Definitive Business Solutions. We provide technology solutions to help organizations and individuals make the best decisions. In the spirit of reconciliation, Definitive provides decision science and behavioral science-enabled tools to help people come together in a productive way.

  5. To many others whose wisdom has informed this article.

  6. To my incredible wife, thanks for an amazing 30 years and your joy commitment.

5. Notes

[i] For a quick brain primer, including authors and references, please see:

Hulett, Our Brain Model, The Curiosity Vine, 2020

For an introduction to one of our significant neuro-process-enabled social behaviors, please see:

Hulett, Origins of our tribal nature, The Curiosity Vine, 2022

[ii] For a compendium of how world religions share common beliefs via scripture, please see:

[iii] N.N. Taleb considers long-term religious principles as part of tail risk management. Tail risk management is the proper risk management of very unlikely, uncertain events, like 1) a death in the family, 2) a natural disaster, 3) a pandemic, or 4) a financial meltdown. Long-term religious principles exist because they work and have stood the test of time.…. like the Golden Rule.

“....religion exists to enforce tail risk management across generations, as its binary and unconditional rules are easy to teach and enforce. We have [The human race has] survived in spite of tail risks; our survival cannot be that random.”

Taleb, Skin In The Game, 2018

[v] Dalai Lama XIV, Tutu, Abrams, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, 2016

[vi] Locus of control serves as an important anchoring point for how our brains perceive our environment. This occurs because our brains do not sense the world in its raw state. Our brains construct a perceived and simplified model of the world around us. This happens for practical reasons. There is simply too much sensory information to sense the "actual" full view of our environment. The full view would create sensory overload. Our brains naturally create modeled shortcuts for handling the cognitive sensory load. Our brains also construct a model of the future world. Our brains are natural forecasters, needed for predicting an uncertain future. In fact "now" and "future" are very similar to our brain's cognitive operations. "Now" is really a "future" that occurs in nanoseconds. Whereas "future" is like a modeled "now" that occurs in days, weeks, months, etc. In fact, our memories are constructed to access information based on those immediate future needs and longer-term future needs. The memory components include

  • "Sensory Memory - <1 sec,"

  • "Short-term memory Memory - <1 min," and

  • "Long-term memory Memory - lifetime"

Our brains model "now" and "future" as part of the same time-based continuum that simplifies the cognitive sensory load.

As such, think of the locus of control as an overlay to our naturally occurring cognitive model-building process. The degree to which you believe you control outcomes is an important anchor point for your brain's model-building process. The nature of your brain's sensory model and thus, your perception of reality, is heavily influenced by your locus of control starting point.

Shiffrin, Bassett, Kriegeskorte, Tenenbaum, The brain produces mind by modeling, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020

Hulett, Our Brain Model, The Curiosity Vine, 2020

[vii] A source of the American cultural propensity for an internal locus of control is associated with individualism as proclaimed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The document includes the statement: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The cultural pursuit of unalienable rights requires a certain self-focused desire in order to achieve "Life, Liberty, and Happiness." This self-focused desire requires higher degrees of internal locus of control. Higher degrees of internal locus of control are caused by an individual believing their diligence will pay off with life, liberty, and happiness.

Also, please notice the statement "all men are created equal." In colonial times, this statement was implied to mean "All White Heterosexual Men are created equal." Women, people of color, sexually diverse, and other non-white men were clearly not part of the "all equal" group in 1776. Since then, strides have been made to expand the "all equal" group to actually mean "all humans." While legal strides have been made, biases related to human nature's tribalistic tendencies are still a natural part of the human genome. The extent to which all Americans do not feel included in the "all equal" group suggests the degree to which some Americans may perceive more of an external locus of control. Thus, on average, Americans may exhibit a higher propensity for internal locus of control than other cultures. However, this average is part of a wide distribution, where Americans other than white men may be more likely to skew to the external locus of control side of that distribution.

Hancock, et al, Declaration of Independence, National Archives, originally published in 1776

Hulett, Origins of our tribal nature, The Curiosity Vine, 2022

[viii] For a nice explanation of behavioral economics and the "framing" concept, please see:

Witynski, Behavioral economics, explained, University of Chicago News, 2022

[ix] "The Impartial Spectator" is a concept from the economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. This citation provides context and direct citations to Smith's works:

"The Theory of Moral Sentiment (1759)" and "The Wealth of Nations (1776)"

[x] Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Olivier Sibony (2021) Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment. The authors do a nice job explaining the difference between bias and noise. A related and shorter explanation is provided in:

[xi] Editors, Confirmation bias, Wikipedia, 2022

Please note that I do not usually reference Wikipedia. In this case, the Wikipedia article is well-researched and well-supported.

[xii] Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis Of Decision Under Risk. The theory demonstrates how people are asymmetric in how they react to loss aversion and benefits. It also shows how psychological anchoring can impact this reaction.

[xiii] In the following article, I discuss our brain’s neurotransmitter operations and define “neurodiversity” to describe our unique neurotransmitter “mixing” to form unique perceptions. It is our neurodiversity that creates our unique cognitive biases and the opportunity for faith to help us navigate those biases.

Hulett, Origins of our tribal nature, The Curiosity Vine, 2022

[xiv] Elias, 3 things I learned while my plane crashed, TED Talk, 2011

[xv] Many thesauruses show "happy" and "joy" as synonyms. However, like many words, once one digs into definitions, nuanced differences tend to appear. The way I think about the difference between "joy" and "happy" is much the way an economist thinks about the difference between "stock" and "flow" or an accountant thinks about the difference between a "balance sheet” and an "income statement.”

"Happiness" is like a "flow." It generally happens as the result of an activity. It is often temporary and associated with the timing of the activity. Listening to music makes me happy. Being with my family makes me happy.

"Joy" is like a "stock." It is like a sink or a store of value. “Joy” is more permanent. Think of it like the cumulative value of a savings account in that we periodically make joy-nourishing deposits. While "happiness" may be temporary, "joy" tends to build or diminish like a store of value. Being “happy” today is like an investment in future “joy.” For this article, we provide a framework to help us invest in our long-term joy.

Delaine Mazich faces the unthinkable, she lost her college-age son about a year ago. She describes “joy” somewhat differently. She considers “joy” as a constant. A constant that is provided by her faith. She describes being drawn to friends that nourish her joy. My wife is part of Delaine’s inner faith circle. I am humbled by her joy and willingness to share.

[xvi] For a nice description of our "anti-corinthian" nature, see our article describing neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor's "4-character" model. This is an apt description based on the limbic system, cerebral cortex, and the 2 brain hemispheres. Our anti-corinthian nature is generally found in our character 2. I named my character 2 "Anthony."

In the 4-character model, character 1 is the source of critical information, for good and bad. It is our character 2 that is our “negative emotion” and protective character. Character 2 naturally leverages character 1’s treasure trove of negative historical information. Left unchecked, character 2 will go down a rabbit hole, continuing to assemble negative information. Character 2 has no sense of severity nuance. To character 2, it is “all bad.” When it comes to relationships, character 2 is a source of our negative confirmation bias about our partner. It is what makes our partner’s red-ish box seem bigger than it really is.

In terms of relationships, it is the interactions of our character 2s that may cause reconciliation challenges. In the case of our bride/groom model, if both partners' character 2s are dominating our collective consciousness, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to effectively reconcile. Reconciliation is a function of our quiet and wise character 4. It is best to wait until your AND your partner's character 2 calms itself in order to engage both of your character 4's in productive reconciliation. Just like the light of day keeps us from seeing the stars, one must quiet their chatty character 2 in order to hear our wise character 4.

[xvii] The author is greatly appreciative of the Buddhist teachings and is an admitted Buddhist novice. The Dalai Lama's book is a wonderful introduction to Nagarjuna and the middle way. The pursuit of emptiness is a means to recognize our place in the broader universe as a part of a larger system. The pursuit of emptiness occurs from a right hemisphere neurological focus. By contrast, it is our left hemisphere that operates to define us as individuals.

Also, emptiness is a means to let go of the negative parts of your relationships with other phenomena. (including your spouse!) Buddhists recognize the concept of "dependent origination" suggesting we sometimes develop unhealthy relationship dependence. This is known as "grasping" and may occur from attachment (attraction) or aversion (repulsion).

Jill Bolte Taylor provides an effective understanding of the Left/Right hemisphere dynamic via her stroke experience, please see the citation. Her stroke was isolated in her left hemisphere. With her chatty left hemisphere offline, she was able to explore the universe-expanding perspective of the quiet but wise right hemisphere. Humanity is fortunate for Dr. Taylor's stroke experience and that Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist.

[xviii] Most world religions encourage us to live for others. For world religion forgiveness and reconciliation scripture examples, see the "Forgiveness and Reconciliation" section on page 701:


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