This President’s Annual Report was part of the International Network on Personal Meaning’s (INPM) official Board of Directors’ report for the 2022 Annual General Meeting. The full report could be accessed here.
I am grateful that I have survived a tough year – facing all kinds of setbacks and catching COVID-19 at the end of the year – but paradoxically, 2022 was not only the most productive year of my life (see my achievements here), but also the most important year of discovering the true meaning of the new paradigm of flourishing through suffering.
After several decades of researching this new paradigm, I think I have finally reached the level of seeing that all the roots are intertwined for our personal growth and flourishing. I want to share with you briefly about my new vision, which may serve as a blueprint for the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM) in 2023 and beyond.
True Positivity is Embracing and Transforming Negativity
Psychology has wrestled with the problem of whether to focus on the bright side or dark side of life. I propose that the right question for psychology is neither “What is wrong with us?” nor “What is right with us?” but “How can we live well and live right in spite of our brokenness and suffering?”
The paradoxical truth is that to become whole, we need to embrace our brokenness. Yes, it is true that for both things in life, the maxim “no pain, no gain” holds true. Yes, Rumi, the great 13th-century Persian poet, was spot on when he said, “the cure of pain is in the pain”: we achieve healing by enduring and transforming pain.
Contrary to the dominant view, true positivity is discovering how to be the light in our darkest hours. Indeed, there is no shortcut to wellbeing, there is no simplistic solution to the complex issue of how to be happy in a world full of suffering and evil.
In one of my earlier papers (Wong & Gingras, 2010), I already stated that that existential wellbeing or true positivity is achievable when we are going through the valley of suffering and death: “Inasmuch as we hate suffering and fear death, these existential givens are essential for human flourishing. It takes the terror of death for one to discover the beauty of life; it takes adversity to discover one’s strengths.”
This principle is articulated more clearly in my recent papers (Wong et al., 2021; Wong et al., 2022). This is the first tenet of the new paradigm of existential positive psychology (EPP): The best way to avoid both toxic positivity and debilitating negativity is through cultivating true positivity or mature happiness (Wong & Bowers, 2018) and existential wellbeing (Wong, in press; Wong et al., in preparation).
The practical implication is that no matter how bad your problems are, or how impossible your situation, you can always discover something to be grateful for. If you practice existential gratitude (Jans-Beken & Wong, 2019), your life will change for the better.
Sustainable Flourishing Comes from Transcending Opposites Through Dialectics
In life as well as in research, the quickest way to go from Point A to Point B is not always a straight line. There is a lot of wisdom in the aphorism “more haste, less speed,” especially for researchers.
I propose that the most promising way to do psychology research is neither through simplistic binary thinking nor through the positivist way of operationally define complex concepts in tautology or arbitrary abstract terms.
A more fruitful way is the deep and wide process of deep learning. This involves the search for all the important facts and truths about human nature and human existence through multidisciplinary investigations and dialectical integration of opposites, such as existential concerns and positive aspiration, Eastern wisdoms and Western scientific findings.
It is always more comfortable to maintain one perspective and reject all competing views. Such tribal mentality is responsible for the costly scientific revolution (Kuhn, 1962), which may delay progress. Important research findings challenging the dominant view routinely get attacked or ignored, until they reach a critical mass which demand a paradigm shift.
Alternatively, Bala’s (2006) dialogic approach and William James’ pluralistic radical empiricism (Wong, 2011) may be a more pragmatic and functional way to develop the science of wellbeing and flourishing (Wong, 2021, in press-b; Wong & Cowden, 2022; Wong et al., 2022).
This second tenet of EPP is the necessary dialectical process to experience true positivity and sustainable wellbeing by learning how to hold two opposing thoughts, values, and emotions simultaneously, and navigating a dynamic, adaptive balance in each context (Wong, 2022a).
In most life situations, the best way is always the middle way or the way of Zhong Yong. It takes deep reflection and the wisdom of the soul to find the right balance in our response (Wong, 2022b; Wong & Bowers, 2018).
Re-orientation from Egotism to Self-transcendence is Necessary for Positive Mental Health
You may wonder: How is it possible us to feel positive about life with all the horrible things going on, such as Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine’s apartment buildings, international terrorism, and senseless violence at home?
You may also ask: How it is possible to feel good about ourselves when the future so bleak and uncertain? How can I be happy when I am living with someone that is from Hell?
Most of you may ask questions about the inner struggles between good and evil: How can I be free from the human bondage of carnal desires and egotistic pride (Wong, 2022c)?
Precisely because of the impossible situations beyond human control, such as Job in the Bible and Sisyphus in Greek mythology, we need the new self-transcendence paradigm. In order to transcend all our limitations, we need to simultaneously sink our roots deep into the dark soil of hardships and suffering and reach out to the highest spiritual ideals of faith, hope, and love (Wong, in press-a). Metaphorically, the deeper our roots, the higher we grow and spread our branches (Wong, 2016; Wong & Laird, in press).
The Golden Triangle of Mental Health and Wellbeing (from Wong, 2020)
Realizing all the powerful negative forces beyond human control, I propose that neither positive psychology nor humanistic psychology can resolve the mystery of human problem without breaking free from the epistemological restrictions of materialism and reaching out to the invisible, unknowable, transcendental, cosmic powers of faith, hope, and love.
The best literature and the most noble aspects of culture also extoll the power and virtue of faith, hope, and love in transforming victims into victors. Here are a few examples of the transforming power of Faith (Dalai Lama et al., 2016; Vaillant, 2017), Hope (Ferrari, 2021; Graham, 2023), and Love (Fromm, 1956/2019; Rosmarin, 2021).
My two certificate courses to be offered this year will be:
- Integrative meaning therapy, covering the innovative principles and skills to overcome different kinds of disorders and predicaments and transform victims into victors.
- Introduction to Existential Positive Psychology (EPP), covering the basic tenets and principles of EPP, so that one can become an overcomer and achieve existential wellbeing in the challenging journey called life.
Many exciting new ideas for research and interventions are overflowing my cup. If I don’t stop writing, this annual report may turn into a long journal article. But I promise that I will share some of the exciting new developments later in our Positive Living Newsletter.
Many people complain about founder’s syndrome, but very few people understand founder’s sorrow, which I insinuated in my 2021 annual report.
As I look into the future, I am full of confidence that the mission of the INPM will flourish under new leaders who are younger and smarter than me. I just believe that all my tears, sweat, and blood in developing the INPM will not be wasted.
At the same time, I still feel very sad that after so many years, we have not yet found qualified individuals willing to step forward and carry on this important mission.
The fundamental problem of finding a successor may be attributed to the fact we still do not have a clearly recognizable identity. Squeezed between the highly popular positive psychology and the well-established existential psychology or logotherapy, INPM, as an emerging field, still does not have a highly visible and distinct identity. The lack of institutional support only deepens the problem.
A related problem is the daunting task of finding a CEO, who is willing to take over all my workload to keep INPM growing in spite of oppositions and obstacles.
At present, I am fortunate to have Tim Yu, a part-time competent Executive Assistant, who can relieve me of some of my administrative duties. Hope that we will be able to have a paid and experienced CEO soon.
With some sense of urgency, I appeal to our members to recommend suitable candidates as potential board members or president.
I want to conclude this report by affirming a bright vision for the INPM in spite of its challenges. I hope and trust that our message of faith, hope, and love will be a source of healing and inspiration for all the suffering individuals in every part of the world.
May the year of the Rabbit spur you to make the first hop towards a bright and meaningful future.
“I offer my views on implacable hope, created, nurtured, and sustained at the moment to enhance and perpetuate survival.” – Anthony J. Marsella (2023)
- Bala, A. (2006). Dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern science. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Dalai Lama, Tutu, D., & Abrams, D. C. (2016). The book of joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. Viking.
- Ferrari, T. (2021). The power of hope: how to overcome adversity and rise to your highest self. Tony Ferrari.
- Fromm, E. (2019). The art of loving. Harper Perennial Modem Classics. (Originally published in 1956)
- Graham, C. (2023). The power of hope: how the science of well-being can save us from despair. Princeton University Press.
- Jans-Beken, L. G. P. J., & Wong, P. T. P. (2019). Development and preliminary validation of the Existential Gratitude Scale (EGS). Counselling Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1656054
- Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
- Marsella, A. J. (2023, January 16). Hope…an implacable cosmos-endowed vitalism. Transcend Media Service. https://www.transcend.org/tms/2023/01/hope-an-implacable-cosmos-endowed-vitalism/
- Rosmarin, D. H. (2021). The connections paradigm. Templeton Press.
- Vaillant, G. E. (2017). Heaven on my mind: Using the Harvard grant study of adult development to explore the value of the prospection of life after death. Nova Science Publishers.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Reclaiming positive psychology: A meaning-centered approach to sustainable growth and radical empiricism. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 51(4), 408-412.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2016). Self-transcendence: A paradoxical way to become your best. International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology, 6(1). https://www.meaning.ca/ijepp-article/vol6-no1/self-transcendence-a-paradoxical-way-to-become-your-best/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2020). Made for resilience and happiness: Effective coping with COVID-19 according to Viktor E. Frankl and Paul T. P. Wong. INPM Press.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2021). What is existential positive psychology (PP 2.0)? Why is it necessary for mental health during the pandemic. International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology, 10(1), 1–16. https://www.meaning.ca/ijepp-article/vol10-no1/what-is-existential-positive-psychology-pp-2-0-why-is-it-necessary-for-mental-health-during-the-pandemic/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2022a). The best possible life in a troubled world: The seven principles of self-transcendence [亂世中活出最好的人生：自我超越的七項原則]. Positive Psychology in Counseling and Education. Doi:10.30099/PPCE.202206_(1).0001
- Wong, P. T. P. (2022b). The wisdom of the soul: The missing key to happiness and positive mental health? [Review of the book A Time for Wisdom: Knowledge, Detachment, Tranquility, Transcendence, by P. T. McLaughlin & M. R. McMinn]. International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology, 11(2). https://www.meaning.ca/ijepp-article/vol11-no2/the-wisdom-of-the-soul-the-missing-key-to-happiness-and-positive-mental-health/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2022c, June 24). How can I be free from my struggles and live a happy life? [President’s Column]. Positive Living Newsletter. https://www.meaning.ca/article/how-can-i-be-free-from-my-struggles-and-live-a-happy-life)
- Wong, P. T. P. (in press-a). Spiritual-existential wellbeing (SEW): The faith-hope-love model of mental health and total wellbeing. International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology, 11(2). http://www.drpaulwong.com/spiritual-existential-wellbeing
- Wong, P. T. P. (in press-b). An existential perspective on positive psychology: Towards a general theory of global flourishing. In L. Hoffman (Ed.), APA Handbook of Humanistic and Existential Psychology. http://www.drpaulwong.com/relationship-with-positive-psychology/
- Wong, P. T. P., & Bowers, V. (2018). Mature happiness and global wellbeing in difficult times. In N. R. Silton (Ed.), Scientific concepts behind happiness, kindness, and empathy in contemporary society (pp. 112-134). IGI Global.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Cowden, R. G. (2022). Accelerating the science and practice of psychology beyond WEIRD biases: Enriching the landscape through Asian psychology. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1054519
- Wong, P. T. P., & Gingras, D. (2010). Finding meaning and happiness while dying of cancer: Lessons on existential positive psychology [Review of the film Ikiru, 1952]. PsycCRITIQUES, 55(2). https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018658
- Wong, P. T. P., & Laird, D. (in press). The suffering hypothesis: Viktor Frankl’s spiritual remedies and recent developments. In C. McLafferty, Jr. and J. Levinson (Eds.), Logotherapy and Existential Analysis: Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy Frankl Institute Vienna (Vol. 2). Springer Research.
- Wong, P. T. P., Cowden, R. G., Mayer, C.-H., & Bowers, V. L. (2022). Shifting the paradigm of positive psychology: Toward an existential positive psychology of wellbeing. In A. H. Kemp (Ed.), Broadening the scope of wellbeing science: Multidisciplinary and interdiscipinary perspectives on human flourishing and wellbeing (pp. 13-27). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-18329-4_2
- Wong, P. T. P., Cowden, R. G., Yu, T. T. F., & Arslan, G. (in preparation). Existential wellbeing and the development of the existential wellbeing scale (EWBS). Frontiers in Psychology.
- Wong, P. T. P., Mayer, C.-H., & Arslan, G. (Eds.). (2021). COVID-19 and Existential Positive Psychology (PP 2.0): The new science of self-transcendence [Special Issue]. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/14988/covid-19-and-existential-positive-psychology-pp20-the-new-science-of-self-transcendence