President’s Report for the Positive Living Newsletter (May 2016). Read the rest of the newsletter here.
A Perfect Storm is Coming to the Meaning Conference
I am most pleased to report that things are going very well with our conference planning. First, we have gathered a very large group of distinguished world-class keynotes speakers. Second, we have received a very large number of submissions from all over the world. Third, this year’s conference theme promises to be historical in its impact.
From my special vantage point of persistent pain, I can now see with greater clarity that a perfect storm is coming to the Meaning Conference (www.meaning.ca/conference). I can visualize the confluence of several emergent trends in second wave positive psychology (PP2.0), making this conference a milestone in the development of PP2.0.
In this report, I want to share with you some of my thoughts I have already posted on my Facebook timeline (www.facebook.com/PaulTPWong) during my last two weeks of recovery from a total knee replacement surgery. I hope that these thoughts will give you a glimpse of the distinct contours of PP2.0 at the Meaning Conference.
Healing and Flourishing through the Inevitable Gates of Pain and Suffering
My recent experience with physiotherapists has convinced me that they can learn something from PP2.0. They cannot motivate their clients by simply telling them “no pain, no gain” or “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Here are three principles from PP2.0 that can help motivate people to engage in painful exercises:
- Treat your clients as human beings with empathy and respect, and express confidence in their innate capacity to overcome obstacles and grow.
- Emphasize that pain is always an inevitable part of life—trying to avoid pain may result in more pain.
- Remind your clients that the only way to improve their functioning and achieve a fulfilling future in spite of their current limiting situation is to embrace the painful exercises and transform their pain into courage and strength in every step of the journey of recovery. (posted on April 28, 2016)
It is impossible to build a complete science of happiness by ignoring suffering and pain. Life is full of suffering and pain—this is a fundamental reality of human existence. All the scientific efforts to discover how to optimize happiness without any reference to this reality are like building a sandcastle. It is inevitable that human beings will experience pain; even great happiness may lead to pain. That’s why the starting point of PP2.0 is the need to embrace human suffering as the solid foundation to build a science of happiness. In other words, a deep understanding of the meaning of suffering is an integral part of the science of happiness in PP2.0. (posted on May 2, 2016)
According to PP2.0, it is impossible to build a positive organization or create a better world purely based on the PERMA model. We also need to recognize the dark side of life and take measures to identify, prevent, and reduce the destructive forces of greed, pride, lust, abuse of power, deception, and bullying. (posted on May 2, 2016)
PP2.0 Discovers Chaironic Happiness
Is happiness possible when everything goes wrong, when friends betray you, when the tides and trends turn against you, and both work situations and home life are full of problems?
In the midst of pain, discomfort, and sleeplessness, I find myself once again blessed with many spiritual blessings.
I have just come up with a brief Chaironic Happiness Scale to measure this kind of spiritual bliss.
- Are you spiritually attuned?
- Are you at peace with yourself, others, and the world?
- Have you ever experienced the ecstasy of worship and praise?
- Do you feel pure joy when you are in close communion with God or nature?
- Are you familiar with the inner blessings that come from meditation and prayer?
- Do you feel transported to a transcendental realm of joy as you watch the glorious sunrise or the majestic starry sky?
- Have you experienced aesthetic chills or sublime feelings in appreciating artistic creations?
- Do you experience joy when you hold a baby or see children playing happily?
- Have you ever paused and felt grateful for being alive on such a beautiful planet?
- Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by an unexpected gift from a stranger or from your spiritual community? (posted on May 3, 2016)
Meaning Really Matters in Life and Death
Having spent much time in pain and in the shadow of death, I have become increasingly impatient with so many quick-and-dirty instruments of meaning in life that crunch out endless streams of numbers and academic papers without telling us what constitutes meaning in life and how to live a meaningful life for people who desperately seek an answer.
Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning resonates with millions of people because Frankl discovered his answer the hard way. Unfortunately, so many meaning researchers only pay Frankl a passing lip service without really taking time to learn from him. (posted on April 26, 2016)
In order to clarify what really adds value, significance, and meaning to your life or your career, ask yourself this important question: “What really matters at the end of my life?” or “What really matters one hundred years from now?” (posted on April 27, 2016)
By definition, existential meaning has to do with the meaning of human existence or the meaning of one’s own life as a whole. It cannot simply mean having some cognitive understanding of the cause and effect in life, or having some goal or purpose in life. These conditions may be necessary, but are definitely not sufficient to warrant the conclusion that one’s life has meaning on both subjective and objective grounds.
According to Viktor Frankl, at a minimum, existential meaning rests on two pillars: (1) assuming personal responsibility to pursue some goal or purpose that is greater than oneself, and (2) being aware of one’s unique and significant contribution to the world. (posted on April 26, 2016)
Given the endless academic debate regarding the meaning of life, I propose that perhaps the best way to clarify the concept of meaning in life is to move from the abstract conceptual level of philosophical, religious, or psychological discourse to the concrete level of real people living in the real world.
Based on my more than 30 years of meaning research and meaning therapy, I propose that we can best help people understand the vital role of meaning of life by focusing on the following existential questions:
- Do you know what to do with your life?
- Do you know what you are good at?
- Do you know what interests you most?
- Do you know what matters most in life?
- Do you know what kind of person you want to be?
- Do you know that you are responsible for your own happiness and choosing your future?
- Do you know what your role is in the world and how you fit in?
- Are you currently working towards some goal?
- Are you pursuing an ideal or a dream that makes you feel excited and significant?
- Do you have a choice in pursuing what you really want to do?
- Do you aspire to make a unique contribution to the world?
- Is there any person who matters more to you than your own life?
- Do you believe that there is more to life than just making a living or having a good time?
- Do you believe that life is worth living in spite of all the pain and hardship?
- Do you intend to continue your daily struggle indefinitely even when you find life boring, painful, and uncertain?
I believe that this Existential Meaning Questionnaire captures the essence of meaning in life more than many of the arm-chair meaning in life measures. Even without making any reference to meaning in life, we know from experience and common sense that those who say “No” to most of the above questions will live miserable lives, whereas those who say “Yes” will live worthy, significant, and fulfilling lives even without thinking seriously about meaning. (posted on April 30, 2016)
A Personal Invitation
The above provocative thoughts represent just a small sample of the rich and vast tapestry of PP2.0. I personally invite you to come and bear witness to psychological history taking place at the 9th Biennial International Meaning Conference, July 28-31, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.
We are living in a very challenging period of history. With all the progress in technology, production, and living standards—with all the scientific research on how to improve our happiness and well-being—we seem to have still lost our way. We no longer know how to live and behave as fully functioning human beings, and we are no longer able to treat all others with respect and human decency. Something important seems to be missing in spite of the tremendous progress in our pursuit of happiness.
I believe that the conference theme of “Spirituality, Self-Transcendence, and Second Wave Positive Psychology” redirects us to a more spiritually-oriented future based on our universal capacities for belief in transcendence, meaning-seeking, and meaning-making.
This Meaning Conference represents a major landmark in the development of PP2.0 with its first Summit on PP2.0. Please make an effort to be here in Toronto this July and be a part of the exciting action.