03/05/2014 04:33 pm ET Updated May 05, 2014

Spirit Must Ground Third Metric

America needs Arianna's Third Metric. Millions of us are killing ourselves as we work our way toward the top of the pyramid. Ask any aspiring screenwriter desperate for recognition or newly minted Ph.D. in English literature angling for a job in her field. Or, even worse, a "successful" lawyer at a big firm making his half million as he grinds away 70 hours a week and comes home every night dog-tired and depressed. The higher we aim, the more likely we'll be passed over. Too often we feel like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the mountainside one more time.

Arianna would have us find joy in things outside our relentless work schedule. She asks us to "seek a new definition of success that's more sustainable and more humane." Wellbeing, wisdom, wonder, and the ability to take joy in service -- these are the components of the Third Metric. Money and power have their place, but they are not enough.

I'm all for the ideal, but it's unworkable if most of us believe deep down that money is wealth -- and that we'd almost kill for the things that only money can bring us. The new ideal must be founded on a paradigm shift that undergirds American attitudes about what makes life good. This paradigm will highlight the qualities of the soul, our inner self that emerges when the mind is uncluttered.

In my view that shift is underway, but it has a metaphysical side that often goes unrecognized and is essential to further progress. Arianna appreciates this truth, as her new book to be released later this month will show. Whether she will go as far as I do is far from certain, and I am eager to find out. In any case, my point here is to emphasize the essential role that metaphysics must play if the Third Metric is to gain traction and change the world -- a claim that I will defend near the conclusion of the essay. But first a little recent history.

Six years ago Huston Smith, America's leading historian of religions, wrote me that "materialism is on the ropes." By materialism he meant the philosophy that denies spirit, soul, the Divine, afterlife, and often free will. He meant the philosophy that claims only material things are real. Brains, yes, but souls, no. Was Smith imagining something he wanted to believe? Maybe not.

All over the place a new spiritual paradigm is emerging. It comes not so much from the organized religions, but from psychical research (or parapsychology), a purely secular enterprise. In the last five years a new publishing niche has emerged: a plethora of books about the near-death experience, deathbed visions, and especially the afterlife are being read by millions of curious, searching Americans. And many more of us have heard about the pioneering work on reincarnation by Ian Stevenson, the esteemed University of Virginia psychiatrist who investigated 2,500 cases of little children who seemed to remember their previous life. Such works, all growing out of psychical research, and many of them written by professional researchers with Ph.D.s, are proliferating at an amazing rate. My book The Afterlife Unveiled has already sold ten times as many copies as the publisher thought likely.

A specific example of the paradigm shift showed up recently in the University of Virginia's magazine Virginia. An article titled "The Science of Reincarnation" summarized the recent work by Stevenson's successor, Jim Tucker, on recent American reincarnation cases. What stood out for me more than the well-presented article itself were the 100 comments on it. There were the usual expressions of outrage by the guardians of materialist orthodoxy over the University's decision to run the article, but there were many more of support for Tucker's work. Five years ago the ratio of approval to disapproval would have been reversed.

While some of you will be alarmed, even horrified, I don't share your concern. These eruptions of spirit are being studied by parapsychologists who know how to sift out lunacy and fraud. What's left is often impressive and impossible to explain using conventional psychiatric models that deny the reality of spirit.

More relevant to Arianna's Third Metric, the new emerging evidence makes the mad scramble for material wealth at the expense of everything else irrational and even ridiculous. The spirit communications that I and many of my colleagues dissect in the search for authenticity emphasize four truths: (1) our precious planet is not the only world we will know; (2) the sooner we make our peace with death the less melancholy and frightened we will be as we confront it; (3) the key to success and happiness here is not how many things we acquire but the well-being we bring to ourselves and those around us; and (4) the life habits we cultivate here, and not the monuments to ego we build, will determine our starting place in the world to come.

Gandhi said that "the modern or Western insatiableness arises from the lack of a living faith in a future state." I could not agree more. When we as a society reach the conclusion that there is such a state, we'll stop feeling the need to crowd every pleasure into a single lifetime. And if we take our spirit friends at their word--they tell us their world is every bit as interesting and rewarding as ours--we won't feel we are missing out on a joy that can be known only here. It'll be easier to feel content with what we have.

I believe, along with many of my colleagues, that this feeling of contentment is absolutely key to the success of the Third Metric. It will unleash the energy and time to pursue the things that matter--family fun, enriching friendships, appreciation of the beauty of nature, reading the great books we never got around to, developing talents we never knew we had, hobbies of all types, and volunteer work as we give back to our communities.

But none of this will happen without the necessary underlying metaphysics described here. Without it Arianna's call to change might look like valiant praise for a great but unattainable cause. I join her in dreaming of the day that our society reaches a tipping point that will stop fueling the insane drive toward more and more things to clutter our lives with. The breathtaking advances of psychical research over the last decade are helping to create this tipping point.