Submitted by David Carreno for the Positive Living Newsletter (November 2017). Read the rest of the newsletter here.

First of all, I would like to express my thanks for the incredible welcome that I received from Dr. Paul T. P. Wong and Dr. Lilian C. J. Wong. It is so rewarding to know that psychology also includes human professionals who practise what they preach. 

The motive of the present text is to introduce myself to all of you as a new member of this community. Currently, I am a research fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Almeria, Spain. For the past couple of months, I have been doing a research internship with Dr. Wong in Toronto. The path towards this academic point has been particularly meaningful for me. Inspired mainly by my maternal grandfather, the dream of my life has always been to study at the university and become a cultivated person. This dream was the light at the end of many tunnels I passed through during my childhood and as a teenager. Finally, after finishing high school, and influenced by my ignorance, I registered in mechanical engineering. People used to say that diligent students in technical-scientific courses should become professional engineers as they have many job opportunities and high salaries. Wrong.

In the first four months of studying mechanical engineering, I started to skip classes and get involved in “unhealthy habits”. But, on one of those endless nights in my bedroom, I suddenly realised that what my life was lacking was passion. In a moment of insight, many existential questions invaded my mind: Do I really love the profession I am studying? No. What are the skills I have developed throughout my life that make me unique, special? Understanding people, connecting with them, and helping them to be happy. Do I love doing that? It’s what I love the most. How could I transfer these skills and passions into a profession? Psychology. Could I contribute to society through the development and practice of this field? Yes, I think so. I want to start right now.

And that was how psychology came explicitly into my mind for the first time. Against the opposition of many important people, including my lovely mother, who anecdotally graduated in psychology last year, and with the unconditional support of my father, I left mechanical engineering to focus on psychology. That day, I went directly to the library of my city (Bullas) to pick my first psychology book (Practical Psychology of Daily Life by Bernabe Tierno). I remember breaking into tears while I was reading. Many of my ideas were so well captured in that book! Definitely, psychology was my field, my calling.

Since then, I have passionately dedicated myself to psychology, learning and putting this knowledge into practice to help people around me. Firstly, most of my bachelor and master degrees focused on the study of Functional Contextualism, a modern approach of behaviorism. This approach gave me a lot of skills and knowledge about experimental settings and the basics of behavior. Above all, I learned how to be more accurate when defining and operationalising psychological constructs. However, as I deepened my studies in behaviorism and faced personal difficulties during these years, I found that something about human behavior was missing in this approach. A big portion of the knowledge I had learned in my experience of helping people, and myself too, was absent both in this theoretical framework and in its clinical application. The enriching complexity of the self, meaning in life, personal relationships, social values, and human beings in general, were obviated or reduced to a couple of simplistic formulas. I found myself in the situation of doing research in this area, but reading authors such as Yalom and Frankl sustained my motivation for psychology.

But fortunately, thanks to the indescribable support of my partner, Nikolett Eisenbeck, with whom I share my dreams, a few months ago I decided to follow my instinct and focus my research on what I really enjoy; on what I have learned through my experience with other human beings, on what led me to choose psychology as my profession. This is undoubtedly better covered by an existential humanistic approach, an integrated study of meaning in life, self, personal values, human suffering, death, personal relationships and psychological well-being, among many others.

My doctoral thesis is about the shift in personal values and meaning in life experienced by cancer patients and its relation to psychological well-being. My core interest is to scientifically study the role that human relationships and social values have on the meaning in life and personal flourishing.

To conclude, this is what fundamentally made me contact Dr. Wong, to attend the Summer Institute, and to become a new member of this professional network. Although I am a novice, I hope to contribute to the development of this approach with all of you. A hard but meaningful path is waiting.