Here are my written answers to Remi Pearson’s pre-interview questions. The full interview video will be posted here as soon as it has been edited.
- What do you do differently in a post-covid world?
- I do not do anything differently. Besides, I don’t think that we are out of the woods yet. There are still so many new cases of Covid-19 and its variants each day; we cannot really declare that the pandemic is over.
- What can we do better in terms of healing in the past couple of years according to your book “Made for resilience and happiness” (Wong, 2020)?
- We can not longer live in our delusions and illusions of living a happy life free from major problems. It is a good thing that many people experience a rude awaking that life is short and fragile; we need to make some positive changes in order to survive and thrive in a world full of suffering.
- Related to that above point, we are more likely to search for meaning as a result of suffering. Pain and adversity are the major triggers for our search for meaning, because pain is no long pain once we find its meaning (Frankl, 1946/1985).
- This pandemic shows that we need to live life and relate to people at a deeper level. The best possible life is a deep life.
- How is meaning therapy is built on positive psychology movement and its implication for mental health? What is existential positive psychology?
Meaning therapy is actually built on the integration of Frankl’s logotherapy and positive psychology. Its focus is on the pursuit of meaning in terms of self-transcendence. Positive psychology considers meaning as one of the main pillars of flourishing as in Seligman’s PERMA model. In contrast, Frankl’s concept of self-transcendence means both transcending our selfishness and inescapable suffering and achieving the self-transcendental values of serving something bigger than ourselves. Wholeness or complete wellbeing is made up of both Yin and Yang. Yin has to do with how to overcome and transcend the undesirable and painful aspects of life. Yang has to do with life expansion to become the best version of ourselves and enjoy a positive mental state or happiness most of the time. The mental health implications for meaning therapy are many:
- Firstly, mental illness is not primarily due to irrational or dysfunctional thinking; rather, it is because our basic need for meaning is not met. We are like fish out of water, when we are isolated from ourselves, from others, and from God or nature, because we are made for connectiveness – we need to be connected with out true self, with others, and with transcendental values.
- Secondly, we need to embrace and live with the dark side of life. Most of our psychological problems comes from trying to avoid or escape the suffering which is an important part of life. It is important to face our soul and make the unconscious conscious so that we can come to terms with the undesirable parts of us.
- Existential positive psychology is the research and application of how to heal our worst and develop our best by navigating a dynamic balance between suffering and happiness through dialectical interactions.
- If PURE is the ultimate goal in life, is there something beyond that?
PURE is the acronym of Purpose, Understanding, Responsibility, and Enjoyment. The pursuit of meaning is the ultimate goal in life, if meaning is fully understood as self-transcendence (Frankl, 1946/1985; Wong, 2014, 2016):
- ST demands a fundamental re-orientation from the horizontal life of egotism and self-absorption to the vertical life of serving a higher purpose and the common good. This involves the responsibility dimension of deciding to make some fundamental change in one’s life. This usually happens as a result of some sort of awakening from one’s shallow life because of a traumatic encounter or reading a very inspirational book. A meaningful life is about how to develop our potentials for the betterment of humanity. This has to do with the purpose or motivational aspects of meaning. It is related to Viktor Frankl’s concept of the creative value of experiencing meaning through contributing some objective value to the world.
- ST also involves situations in which we forget ourselves and the passage of time in the flow of being fully engaged in a task or in situations which we stand in awe of the wonders of nature, of the beauty in ordinary people or ordinary events. This has to do with the emotional or enjoyment aspects of life. It is related to Frankl’s concept of experiential value of receiving something from the world that is enjoyable and beautiful. Recent research shows that we can find meaning just by discovering the simple pleasures of life without finding one’s passion or purpose. But if everyone just spends time enjoying this beautiful and wonderful world, who will provide the financial support of their rich tourist lifestyle? Who is responsible for the essential services such as education, health care and food production? We can also ask a deeper question: what happens when disaster strikes, like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the devastation and brutalities of war make life unbearable. If one’s own reason for living is enjoyment, then you will no longer have any reason for your existence.
- ST demands existential courage or a defiant attitude to take a heroic stance towards fate or trauma. Frankl call this the attitudinal value of saying “Yes” to life no matter how difficult life is. It is also related to one’s courage and faith to persevere in pursing one’s dream in spite of all the oppositions and obstacles. It is also related to the understanding dimension, when life no longer makes sense, such as when bad things happen to good people, or when you are confronted with a dilemma or predicament without any ready solution. In such turbulent situations, your suffering is reduced if you are able to reframe the difficulty and find some meaning for your suffering.
- PURE is not the ultimate goal in life. The ultimate goal is to achieve a life of balance and harmony between meaning and meaninglessness, and between life and death.
- What are the benefits of reflecting on your life? What are the surprise findings in working on your autobiography?
I have written extensively on the benefits of reminiscence or life review (Regional Geriatric Program of Toronto, 2018; Wong, 1991, 1995a; Wong & Watt, 1991). Here are some of my surprises:
- The most important intelligence is not IQ or EQ but LQ. Life intelligence (LQ) is also called existential intelligence by Howard Gardner; LQ is about understanding the big questions in life such as who I am, why I am here, what is my role in this life? What is the meaning of life? My older brothers are very talented and intelligent people, yet they ruined their careers, marriages, and lives because of the lack of LQ.
- Most people are quite resilient and know how to survive even in very trying conditions, but very few people know how to handle success – they don’t know how to resist the temptations that come from wealth, fame, or power. They are the victims of their own desires for sensual pleasures or inflated ego.
- Everyone is born for a purpose. We will not be happy if we do not have the courage to become what we are meant to be. For example, even when I was in Grade 3 or 4, my desire was to be like Confucius or Buddha. I just wanted to be a very good human being more than to be rich and famous. As an adult, I want to model after Jesus. I considered myself a voice in the wilderness, calling people to turn away from their self-destructive way.
- The most important virtue may be faith. It is by faith that we move from one impossible task to another more difficult one. In each stage, I became better and stronger, as if there was an invisible hand guiding me.
- How to age well? Why do we need death acceptance in order to be happy?
I have spent many years doing research on death acceptance and successful aging (Wong, 1989, 1998, 2000, 2007; Wong & Tomer, 2011; Wong et al., 1994). My short answers to your questions are as follows:
- To age well, there are several essentials. To me, meaning and spirituality are most important. According to Harvard’s famous longitudinal study, relationship is most important. Secondly, one can benefit from a college education and lifelong learning. Thirdly, you need to stay healthy through good diets and regular exercises. Finally, be actively engaged with life.
- Death acceptance is important for happiness for several reasons. First of all, once you accept death, you can face it without fear. Like all kinds of fear, if you run away or avoid them, they will haunt you down and become even more scary, but once you face them, they are no longer scary. Another reason is that once you accept the truth that life is short and fragile, and death can happen to anyone at an appointed time, you will be more motivated to make the best use of your time on earth, therefore, you will be more likely to live fully and meaningfully.
- Life intelligence enables us to live wisely and make the best use of our limited days on earth.
- How can you improve mental toughness?
The best way to improve mental toughness is leaning to how to endure hardships and suffering. The earlier in life one starts this, the better. All my early research supports this conclusion (Amsel et al., 1971; Rosenbaum, 1990; Wong, 1979, 1995b, 2005, 2006, 2018 2019; Wong & Wong, 2012):
- In the old days back in China, all children were drilled regarding the importance of enduring hardships and suffering with aphorisms such as “No one can become a fully functioning human being without suffering,” and “If you want to surpass others in achievement, you need to surpass others in overcoming suffering.”
- I have also done many experiments to teach learned persistence or learnt resourcefulness with rats by reinforcing them with increasing demands of the amount of work needed to obtain the same amount of reward. Basically, it taught them persistence and led them to try different kind of responses.
- These animal studies led to human research and the development of my deep and wide hypothesis (Wong & Worth 2017). If you have learned to dig deeper and wider, you will eventually find what you are looking for. Gradually increasing the demand for hard work or for enduring discomfort is also know as transcendental training.
- Recognize that no matter how bad, the night will end, and the sun will rise again. True grit is based on faith.
- How can meaning therapy help develop positive leadership & management skills?
I have also done a lot of research in this area (Wong, 2010a, 2010b, in press; Wong et al., 2017; Wong, Page et al., in press). I would remind leaders that the intrinsic motivation of meaning is most powerful; therefore, leaders need to help workers see not only the big picture of their work, but also align work to their personal meaning in life. Secondly, I would emphasize that relating to people in a caring and authentic way is equally important. More specifically,
- Emphasize the value of interpersonal relationships as equally important as good performance.
- Emphasis the importance of personal and collective responsibility.
- Show genuine caring for the workers and help them to develop.
- All the above skill come under Servant Leadership.
- If the search for meaning is lifelong process, will we ever get there? How to main the focus? When do we celebrate?
This question reflects the need for a deep understanding of meaning, which often eludes the best-meaning researchers.
- There are three levels of meaning – ultimate meaning, meaning of life as a whole, and situational meaning. We can never get there regarding ultimate meaning because it is about the transcendental realm full of wonders and mysteries.
- Each stage of development may demand different meaning projects. For example, in retirement, one may start a new career (Wong, 2022a).
- In novel situations, we need to ask ourselves these three questions: What is happening? What does it mean? What is the right way to respond? (2021a, 2021b)
- We can celebrate for the completion of each project and for overcoming each obstacle. We can also celebrate for the gift of each day (Jans-Beken, 2021; Jans-Beken & Wong, 2019).
- What themes we might see developing your future work?
I am now working on a couple of themes which will take a couple of years to complete.
- What is life intelligence? How to cultivate it? (Wong, 2017, 2022b).
- What is existential wellbeing? How to measure it? (Wong, in press; Wong & Yu, 2021)
- Varieties of suffering and the new behavioral economics (Wong, 2021c; Wong, Cowden et al., in press).
- Amsel, A., Wong, P. T. P., & Traupmann, K. L. (1971). Short-term and long-term factors in extinction and durable persistence. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 90(1), 90–95. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0031407
- Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. Washington Square Press. (First published in 1946)
- Jans-Beken, L. (2021). A Perspective on Mature Gratitude as a Way of Coping With COVID-19. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 632911. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.632911
- 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
- Pearson, R. S. (Host) (2019-present). Perspectives with Remi (Sharon) Pearson [Audio Podcast]. Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/show/354ePLIvSfb32sFMGP30nE
- Regional Geriatric Program of Toronto. (2018, April). Functions of reminiscence. https://www.rgptoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Functions-of-Reminiscence.pdf
- Rosenbaum, M. (1990). Learned resourcefulness on coping skills, self-control, and adaptive behavior. Springer.
- Wong, P. T. (2000). Meaning of Life and Meaning of Death in Successful Aging. https://www.meaning.ca/archives/archive/art_successful-aging_P_Wong.htm.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1979). Frustration, exploration, and learning. Canadian Psychological Review, 20, 133-144.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1989). Personal meaning and successful aging. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 30(3), 516–525. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0079829
- Wong, P. T. P. (1991). Social support functions of group reminiscence. Canadian Journal of Community Health, 10, 151-161.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1995a). The processes of adaptive reminiscence. In B. K. Haight & J. D. Webster (Eds.), The art and science of reminiscing: Theory, research, methods, and applications (p. 23–35). Taylor & Francis.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1995b). A stage model of coping with frustrative stress. In R. Wong (Ed.), Biological perspectives on motivated activities (pp. 339–378). Ablex Publishing.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1998). Spirituality, meaning, and successful aging. In P. T. P. Wong & P. S. Fry (Eds.), The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (pp. 359–394). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2005). Trauma recovery and the promises of positive existential psychology [Review of the book Coping with trauma: Hope through understanding (2nd ed.)]. PsycCRITIQUES, 50(12). https://doi.org/10.1037/051307
- Wong, P. T. P. (2006). The positive psychology of persistence and flexibility. Positive Living Newsletter. http://meaning.ca/archives/presidents_columns/pres_col_feb_2006_persistance-and-flexibility.htm
- Wong, P. T. P. (2007). Meaning-management theory and death acceptance. In A. Tomer, G. T. Eliason, & P. T. P. Wong (Eds.), Existential and spiritual issues in death attitudes (pp. 65-87). Erlbaum.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2010a, February 23). Servant leadership and positive management. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. http://www.drpaulwong.com/servant-leadership-and-positive-management/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2010b). The PURE strategy to create lean and excellent organizations. International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 3(2), 1-21.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2014). Viktor Frankl’s meaning seeking model and positive psychology. In A. Batthyany & P. Russo-Netzer (Eds.), Meaning in existential and positive psychology (pp. 149–184). Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2016). Integrative Meaning Therapy: From Logotherapy to Existential Positive Interventions. In P. Russo-Netzer, S. E. Schulenberg, & A. Batthyany (Eds.), Clinical Perspectives on Meaning: Positive and Existential Psychotherapy (pp. 323-342). Springer International Publishing.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2017, October 3). Lessons of life intelligence through life education. Invited talk presented at Tzu Chi University, Hualien, Taiwan.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2018, May 11). Four-factor theory of true grit. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. http://www.drpaulwong.com/four-factor-theory-of-true-grit/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019, May 7). Learned helplessness or learned resourcefulness? Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. http://www.drpaulwong.com/learned-helplessness-or-learned-resourcefulness/
- 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. (2021a). 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. (2021b). The Frankl cure for the 21st century: Why self-transcendence is the key to mental health and flourishing. The International Forum for Logotherapy, 41(2), 33-50. Doi: 10.31234/osf.io/tbx3f
- Wong, P. T. P. (2021c, January). 7 reasons why the new normal may be good for you [President’s column]. Positive Living Newsletter. https://www.meaning.ca/article/7-reasons-why-the-new-normal-may-be-good-for-you/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2022a). Foreword. In P. Worth (Ed.), Positive Psychology Across The Life Span An Existential Perspective. Routledge.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2022b, April 19). What really matters in the darkest hour: The 3 essentials of life intelligence (LQ) for career success [Keynote]. University of New Brunswick. http://www.drpaulwong.com/what-really-matters-in-the-darkest-hour/
- Wong, P. T. P. (In press). The Best Possible Life in a Troubled World: The Seven Principles of Self-transcendence. Positive Psychology in Counseling and Education.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Tomer, A. (2011). Beyond terror and denial: The positive psychology of death acceptance. Death Studies, 35(2), 99-106.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Watt, L. (1991). What types of reminiscence are associated with successful aging? Psychology and Aging, 6(2), 272-279.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (2012). A meaning-centered approach to building youth resilience. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 585-617). Routledge.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Worth, P. (2017). The deep-and-wide hypothesis in giftedness and creativity [Special issue]. Psychology and Education, 54(3/4). http://www.psychologyandeducation.net/pae/category/volume-54-no-3-4-2017/
- Wong, P. T. P., & Yu, T. T. F. (2021). Existential suffering in palliative care: An existential positive psychology perspective. Medicina, 57(9), 924. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina57090924
- Wong, P. T. P., Cowden, R. G., Mayer, C.-H., & Bowers, V. L. (In press). Shifting the Paradigm of Positive Psychology: Toward an Existential Positive Psychology of Wellbeing.
- Wong, P. T. P., Ivtzan, I., & Lomas, T. (2017). Good work: A meaning-centred approach. In L. G. Oades, M. F. Steger, A. Delle Fave, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of the psychology of positivity and strengths-based approaches at work (pp. 233-247). Wiley Blackwell.
- Wong, P. T. P., Page, T., & Cheung, T. (In press). A self-transcendence model of servant leadership. In S. Dhiman & G. Roberts (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Servant Leadership. http://www.drpaulwong.com/a-self-transcendence-model-of-servant-leadership/
- Wong, P. T. P., Reker, G. T., & Gesser, G. (1994). Death Attitude Profile-Revised (DAP-R): A multidimensional measure of attitudes toward death. In R. A. Neimeyer (Ed.), Death anxiety handbook: Research, instrumentation, and application (pp. 121-148). Taylor & Francis.
Pearson, R. (2022, May) Interview with Paul T. P. Wong. PERSPECTIVES With Remi (Sharon) Pearson.