As a war baby growing up in war-torn China, Paul T. P. Wong learned even as a child that life was a constant battle. His parents believed that endurance of suffering and higher education were essential to living a good life. It is not surprising that Paul Wong’s lifelong research revolves around the positive psychology of suffering (Wong, 2019a). It is also natural that all the members of his family have advanced degrees. His wife, Lilian C.J. Wong, Ph.D. (UBC), is a school psychologist and a registered psychotherapist. Their first son, Austin, M.A. (Queen’s), J.D. (U of T), is an entertainment lawyer and movie producer; he is Head of Legal and Business affairs at Wattpad WEBTOON Studios. Their younger son, Wesley, Ph.D., in Physics (Harvard), is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School in the Departments of Biological Chemistry, Molecular Pharmacology and Pediatrics.
Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych, is Professor Emeritus of Trent University and Trinity Western University. He is a Fellow of APA, APS, and CPA, and the founding President of the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM) and the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute (www.meaningtherapy.com). As a leader in Christian ministry, he has been a church planter, pastor, founding Director of the Graduate Program in Counselling Psychology of Trinity Western University, and Head of the Division of Social Sciences of Tyndale University. Generally known as father of existential positive psychology (PP2.0) and integrative meaning therapy, he has been invited to speak at major universities (e.g., Harvard) and has given keynotes, workshops and podcasts in all seven continents.
His professional contributions include serving on the Biological/Psychological Review Panel of the NIMH and the National Advisory Council on Aging for the Government of Canada. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology and has orchestrated the Biennial International Meaning Conferences for 20 years (INPM, 2021).
From his early research on animal model of positive psychology (Wong, 2019a) to his recent research on self-transcendence (Wong, Mayer et al., 2021), his main contribution to quality-of-life research is the new science of how to transform the positive potential of suffering into global flourishing (Wong, 2019b). This emerging subdiscipline of existential positive psychology (Wong et al., in press) encompasses the following three interrelated hypotheses:
The Meaning Hypothesis
Meaningful living depends on meeting the needs for faith in God or Dao, hope for a meaningful life, and love for others (Wong, 1998, 2012, 2022a); when these universal spiritual needs are not met, people will be like fish out of water and develop symptoms of mental illness. His other important findings on meaning in life research include: a) meaningful living is based on the breadth, depth, and balance of different sources of meaning; b) the responsibility of reorienting from the pursuit of worldly success and happiness towards the pursuit of meaning or self-transcendence; c) the meaning-centered approach to work engagement and servant leadership is a promising direction in the post-pandemic workplace; d) the meaning hypothesis provides a comprehensive framework for both mental health and psychotherapy (Wong 2014, 2015); and e) the search for meaning, rather than meaning-making, provides the ultimate human motivation for positive transformation (Wong, 2020a).
The Suffering Hypothesis
One cannot live a meaningful life without finding meaning in suffering. Meaning and suffering are two sides of the same coin. The “suffering” factor is a missing link in wellbeing research and this explains why we have difficulty predicting happiness or flourishing in real life (Wong 2019b). For example, it is difficult to be happy when one cannot regulate negative emotions, and one cannot find meaningful work due to the bad habits of avoiding hard work and failures. Suffering becomes an even more prominent variable in the era of the pandemic (Wong, Mayer et al., 2021). In short, suffering becomes meaningful when we address ultimate concerns and transcend the dark side of life with courage, faith, wisdom and meaning-centered positive transformation (Wong, 2022a)
The Multicultural Hypothesis
Being a bi-cultural person grants Wong a unique lens to view human behavior. That is why all his research involves some East-West integration (e.g., Wong & Wong, 2006). In fact, one of the main tenets of existential positive psychology is that global flourishing can advance when we research both existential universals and their unique experiences and expressions in different cultures (Wong, 2019b). It is unrealistic to study global wellbeing mainly based on WEIRD societies and ignore research from other cultures (Wong & Cowden, accepted). As a case in point, most of Wong’s impactful research (Google Scholar, 2022) were dismissed by the WEIRD gatekeepers as “nothing new” (Wong, 2019a, 2020b). The fact that the only major award given to Wong is from the Chinese Indigenous Social Science Association (2022) is yet another indicator of WEIRD biases or anti-Asian racism. It is Wong’s last hope that one day his pioneer research on the existential positive psychology of meaningful suffering will gain broader recognition for the betterment of psychology and society.
Life is hard and people are complex. Fate could be cruel sometimes, and often people inflict harm on each other unwittingly due to defense mechanisms. That’s why psychology needs to move beyond testing simple operationally defined concepts to addressing existential issues. The new paradigm of flourishing through suffering provides an exciting new vista for wellbeing research in the 21st century. It represents a new framework for a general theory of global flourishing, capable of integrating the bright and dark sides of life and the existential wisdom from East and West through the dialectical process of navigating a balance between opposites (Wong, Arslan et al., 2021). This general theory aims at cultivating sustainable wellbeing or mature happiness based on peace, balance, and harmony – the cornerstones of wellbeing and flourishing in every season of life (Wong & Bowers, 2018; Worth, 2021). This existential positive psychology framework provides new grounds of hope for people to learn how to live in harmony within themselves, with each other, and with heaven and earth.
Wong’s conceptualization of existential positive psychology can be viewed as a general theory of global wellbeing and flourishing, as depicted in the following graph (Figure 1). This general theory can also be named the brain-pain-culture theory (Wong 2022b), modelled after Soper’s (2020) brain-pain theory of life worth living.
An Existential Positive Psychology Framework for Global Flourishing
- Chinese Indigenous Social Science Association. (2022). 2022 年會 conference: 研討會議程 [2022 annual meeting conference Agenda]. http://cissa.heart.net.tw/index.php?action=view_sub&show_mem_no=1645003070
- Google Scholar. (2022). Paul T. P. Wong. https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=eBAq-D0AAAAJ&hl=en
- International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM). (2021). 11th Biennial International Meaning Conference. https://www.meaning.ca/conferences-and-events/meaning-conference-2021/
- Soper, C. A. (2020). The evolution of life worth living: Why we choose to live. C. A. Soper.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1998). Implicit theories of meaningful life and the development of the Personal Meaning Profile. In P. T. P. Wong, & P. Fry (Eds.), The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (pp. 111-140). Erlbaum.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2012). Toward a dual-systems model of what makes life worth living. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 3-22). Routledge.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2014). Meaning in life. In A. C. Michalos (Ed.), Encyclopedia of quality of life and well-being research (pp. 3894-3898). Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2015). The meaning hypothesis of living a good life: Virtue, happiness, and meaning. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. http://www.drpaulwong.com/the-meaning-hypothesis-of-living-a-good-life-virtue-happiness-and-meaning/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019a, November 21). Why and how I developed the positive psychology of suffering. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. http://www.drpaulwong.com/why-and-how-i-developed-the-positive-psychology-of-suffering/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019b). Second wave positive psychology’s (PP 2.0) contribution to counselling psychology. Counselling Psychology Quarterly [Special Issue]. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1671320
- Wong, P. T. P. (2020a). Meaning and evil and a two-factor model of search for meaning [Review of the essay Meaning and Evolution, by R. Baumeister & W. von Hippel]. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, 4(1), 63-67. Doi: 10.26613/esic/4.1.170
- Wong, P. T. P. (2020b). The unheard cry of a successful Asian psychologist. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2020.1820430
- 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). Review of the evolution of life worth living: Why we choose to live. International Journal of Wellbeing, 12(3), 101-112. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v12i3.2395
- 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. (submitted). Accelerating the science and practice of psychology beyond WEIRD biases: Enriching the landscape through Asian psychology. Frontiers in Psychology. http://www.drpaulwong.com/beyond-weird-biases
- Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping. Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P., Arslan, G., Bowers, V. L., Peacock, E. J., Kjell, O. N. E., Ivtzan, I., Lomas, T. (2021). Self-transcendence as a buffer against COVID-19 suffering: The development and validation of the Self-Transcendence measure-B. Frontiers, 12, 4229. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.648549
- 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. In A. H. Kemp (Ed.), Broadening the scope of wellbeing science: Multidisciplinary and interdiscipinary perspectives on human flourishing and wellbeing.
- 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
- Worth, P. (Ed.). (2021) Positive psychology across the life span an existential perspective. Routledge.
Wong, P. T. P. (2023). Pioneer in research in existential positive psychology of suffering and global flourishing: Paul T. P. Wong. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 18, 2153-2157. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-023-10207-7