George A. Miller, in his 1969 APA Presidential Address advocated his vision of giving psychology away to the public as a means of promoting human welfare. He emphasized that psychologists have the responsibility to distill and disseminate research findings to educate the general public. A peaceful psychological revolution will result when people change their conception of themselves and improve their lives.
It took another twenty years before this positive revolution received extensive media coverage and became part of public consciousness. Martin Seligman (1989) in his APA President Address initiated the positive psychology movement to focus on positive emotions and human strengths. Like Miller, Seligman (2002) stressed the need to provide scientific answers to the pressing questions people ask, such as how to find authentic happiness and live healthy productive lives.
The current issue of Psynopsis showcases how Canadian psychologists have been giving psychology away in a variety of ways. This paper provides an overview of my activities of giving positive psychology away in the last 30 years. My balanced view of positive psychology (Wong, in press a, b) recognizes the central role of meaning-seeking and meaning-making to (a) overcome and transform negative life events to positive potentials and (b) manage the interactions between positives and negatives in order to achieve optimal levels of well-being for individuals and society.
One out of five Canadians experiences some form of mental illness or disorder in their lifetime (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2010). The challenge to meet Canada’s mental health needs is threefold: (a) Finding effective ways to treat people with mental disorders (b) Improving social conditions to reduce mental disorders and enhance well-being, and (c) Developing people’s strengths so that they can cope effectively and live vitally. Research by myself and others has shown that a meaning oriented balanced positive psychology can meet the above three challenges (Wong, 2010, in press a, b; Wong & Fry, 1998; Wong & Wong, 2006). My activities to translate expert knowledge to serve the common good have covered the following domains:
- organized weekend seminars and offered free life review workshops to the elderly through Trent University
- served on the Canadian Advisor Council on Aging which contributes to policy-making and providing resources for healthy aging to the public
- established the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM) in 1996 and had it registered with Revenue Canada as a non-profit organization in 1998. The mission statement of INPM is “To advance health, spirituality, peace and human fulfillment through research, education and applied psychology with a focus on the universal human quest for meaning and purpose.” One of the functions of INPM is to educate the general public about the vital role of meaning and purpose in their lives. INPM was featured in the APA International Psychology Bulletin in the Spring Issue of 2002
- publishing the free Positive Living Newsletter. Each issue addresses some psychological issues important to living the good life, such as meaningful work and having healthy marriages
- managing the INPM Positive Living Forum (http://positiveliving.yuku.com) for the general public which is still active with more than 400 members
- organizing Biennial International Meaning Conferences which address a variety of major issues of interest to the general public. For example, for 2010 the conference theme was Creating a psychologically healthy workplace; and for 2008, the conference theme was Living well and dying well. Our conferences typically receive a great deal of press coverage not only because the topic resonates with the general public but also because we offer free public lectures given by prominent keynote speakers
- managing three websites as free resources on positive psychology (www.meaning.ca; www.existentialpsychology.org; www.INPM.org)
- doing interviews with major TV and Radio stations and newspapers on various topics related to psychology and mental health
- giving lecture tours nationally and globally on the positive psychology of meaning as well as Meaning-Centered Counselling and Therapy
I have been meeting with several Canadian professors and practitioners to discuss ways to promote positive psychology in Canada. We plan on developing a certificate program for applied positive psychology, thus offering Canadians the opportunity to learn from this emerging field of psychology. Another plan is to establish a special interest section on positive psychology in CPA in order to strengthen research, practice, and public interest. Those interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Miller, G. A. (1969). The presidential address. American Psychologist, 24, 1063-1075.
- Seligman, M. E. (1998). The presidential address. American Psychologist, 54, 559-562.
- Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York, NY: Free Press.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2010). Meaning therapy: An integrative and positive existential psychotherapy. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 40, 85-94.
- Wong, P. T. P. (Ed.) (in press a). The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Wong. P. T. P. (in press b). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Fry, P. (1998). The human quest for meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Earlbaum.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping. New York, NY: Springer.
Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Giving positive psychology away. Psynopsis. Retrieved from http://www.cpa.ca/docs/file/Psynopsis/PsynopsisWEBSpring2011.pdf