How can we flourish in times of suffering? This is the key question raised by existential positive psychology (PP 2.0). The answer may surprise many people – self-transcendence (ST).

The simplest way to define ST is that it is the pathway of personal development and spiritual practice that can help free us from our ego and enables us to flourish in spite of suffering and human limitations. Perhaps, this is the least understood, but most important breakthrough in psychology in the 21st century.

At least one good thing has come out of the pandemic – it has destroyed all our positive illusions, such as the world is sweet and safe place, and we can expect only good things to happen. It has forced us to face the undeniable reality that life is indeed full of dangers and suffering, but life is also full of opportunities of flourishing for those who learn how to transcend and transform all their sufferings into positive energy and triumph.

“The silver lining is that in spite of all the gloomy predictions about the mental health crisis and economic fallout, something beautiful and good could emerge out of the devastation.” (Wong, 2020). From this perspective, it is the worst of times; it is also the best of times. But we cannot celebrate the best without overcoming and transcending the worst. This is the main message of this symposium.

Indeed, we don’t know how strong we are until we have to be strong in order to survive. Adversity either breaks us and makes us bitter or makes us strong and better. The new science of self-transcendence breaks new ground by shifting the focus from the horizontal to the vertical dimension. We can enrich human life both individually and collectively, even in the worst circumstances by losing ourselves in the vertical dimension of moving upward as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

The New Science of Flourishing Through Suffering


Wong’s self-transcendence model is based on extension of Viktor Frankl’s ideas (Wong, 2014, 2021). Scott Barry Kaufman’s approach (2020) is based on an extension of Maslow’s model. José I. Rodríguez (2019) examines ethical self-cognizance as means of transcendence. David B. Yaden’s approach to the umbrella term of self-transcendent experiences (2017) is grounded in William James’s foundational work. Richard Cowden will focus on emerging empirical evidence linking suffering with dimensions of flourishing (and languishing).  Andrew Kemp discusses multiple pathways towards transcending suffering and achieving flourishing.

Learning Objectives

In the symposium, you will learn:

  1. Why is suffering necessary for flourishing, especially in times of suffering.
  2. How self-transcendence play an important role in transforming suffering through the motivation or value to sacrifice for the common good.
  3. When and how the emotion of awe contributes to flourishing.
  4. The important role of forgiveness in transcending interpersonal conflict and suffering.
  5. The different pathways towards flourishing.

(This introduction was for the Summit on Flourishing through Suffering (self-transcendence) at the International Network on Personal Meaning’s 11th Biennial International Meaning Conference, August 6-8, 2021, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.)


  1. Kaufman, S. B. (2020). Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization. Tarcher Perigee.
  2. Rodríguez, J. I. (2019). Interpersonal communication for contemporary living (2nd ed). Kendall Hunt.
  3. Wong, P. T. P. (2016). Meaning-seeking, self-transcendence, and well-being. In A. Batthyany (Ed.), Logotherapy and existential analysis: Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute (Vol. 1; pp. 311-322). Springer.
  4. Wong, P. T. P. (2020). 7 Reasons Why the New Normal May Be Good for You [President’s Column]. Positive Living Newsletter. http://www.drpaulwong.com/7-reasons-why-the-new-normal-may-be-good-for-you/
  5. Wong, P. T. P. (2021). Preface: Frankl’s cure for a soulless psychology and a sick society. In N. Krasovska & C.-H. Mayer, Psychobiography of Viktor Frankl. Springer publishing.


Wong, P. T. P. (2021, August 6-8). Meaning Conference 2021 summit symposium on from suffering to flourishing – introduction. In P. T. P. Wong (Chair), Flourishing through suffering (Self-transcendence) [Symposium]. International Network on Personal Meaning 11th Biennial International Meaning Conference, Toronto, ON, Canada.