Second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0), consisting of two pillars—existential positive psychology and indigenous psychology—emerges as a complement to the limitations of positive psychology as championed by Martin Seligman. This special issue illustrates through various papers the depth and breadth PP 2.0 contributes to counselling psychology. Specifically, PP2.0 introduces the following principles and practices: (1) Accepting and confronting with courage the reality that life is full of evil and suffering; (2) sustainable wellbeing can only be achieved through overcoming suffering and the dark side of life; (3) recognizing that everything in life comes in polarities and the importance of achieving an adaptive balance through dialectics; (4) learning from indigenous psychology, such as the ancient wisdom of finding deep joy in bad situations.
Positive psychology, as championed by Seligman (1999; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), emphasized the importance of positive emotions and positive traits; it has a lot to offer to counselling psychology—an allied field with its emphases on client strengths, resilience, and the positive aspects of human functioning (Lopez et al., 2006). Positive psychology also implicitly shares the values of individualism and instrumentalism in Western societies.
Regarding meaning in life, an important topic for counselling psychology, Seligman (2002) defined it this way: “Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are” (p. 263). Here, he defined meaning as an instrument to make one happy, but later research has shown the pursuit of meaning is not always related to happiness, because it demands sacrifice and struggle (Peterson, 2018) and often meaning comes from negative experiences (Vohs et al., 2019; Frankl, 1985). Positive psychology’s research programs are mostly directed to the conditions and outcomes of happiness or wellbeing that occur when life is in neutral and positive territories.
Seligman’s vision of the good life represents an idealized conception of the human condition. It is extremely appealing because it offers a painless way to living a fulfilling life:
The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness. A life that does this is pregnant with meaning, and if God comes at the end, such a life is sacred. (Seligman, 2011, p. 224)
A more realistic view of the good life can be found in the following quotes from another influential positive psychologist, Robert Emmons, who wrote at about the same time as Seligman’s launch of positive psychology:
The good life is not one that is achieved through momentary pleasures or defensive illusions, but through meeting suffering head on and transforming it into opportunities for meaning, wisdom, and growth, with the ultimate objective being the development of the person into a fully-functioning, mature being. On this formula for happiness, age-old wisdom and modern science are in agreement. (Emmons, 2003, p. 156)
More recently, Emmons (2013) wrote, “To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.”
In light of these two contrasting visions, it is clear that Seligman’s view leaves out suffering as an inevitable part of living. His prescription for the good life may work only in a perfect world without evil people, without suffering. But, in reality, all people suffer, for any of the following reasons:
- Some people create their own hell with their unfettered desires and evil schemes to hurt others for their own gain, eventually suffering the consequences.
- Some people are victims of natural disasters, accidents, life circumstances, and fate.
- Some people suffer from their inner demons, painful memories, character defects, or self-destructive habits.
- Most people suffer from the social reality of a dominance hierarchy, an unequal distribution of opportunities, and an ever-widening income gap.
- A small group of people suffer for their willingness to sacrifice and even die pursuing the narrow and difficult path of truth, justice, and compassion.
What is Second Wave Positive Psychology? Why is it Necessary?
Complementing positive psychology’s focus on the neutral and positive territories of life, second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0) recognizes that, for most people, life is lived in negative territories. Individuals can be hurt or injured at all levels—personal, interpersonal, and societal. In an authoritarian society, innocent people can be tortured and killed for their beliefs. In a free society, smart people motivated by the single-minded pursuit of personal happiness and success, aided by wealth and digital power, can also destroy many lives, if they are not morally constrained by their conscience and/or fear of God.
PP 2.0, as conceptualized by Wong (2011), proposes that the most promising strategy to accomplish the mission of positive psychology is to confront the dark side of human existence and understand the unique experience and expression of wellbeing in different cultures. Thus, PP 2.0 emphasizes the existential universal on one hand, and indigenous cultural expression on the other hand.
In sum, PP 2.0 is an umbrella term for a more nuanced and more balanced approach to positive psychology. More specifically, the two pillars of PP 2.0 are existential positive psychology (Wong, 2009, 2016a) and indigenous psychology (Chang, Downey, Hirsch, & Lin, 2016; Wong, 2013, 2016b). These two themes are complementary to each other, resulting in a positive psychology with greater depth by including the existential dimension (e.g., Jans-Beken & Wong, this issue) and greater breadth by including the indigenous view of happiness (e.g., Kwang, this issue). The following basic tenets set PP 2.0 apart as distinct from positive psychology.
Accept that Life is Full of Evil and Suffering
Throughout human history, in everyday news, and from our own personal experience, we know that suffering is an undeniable, self-evident reality. We also know that suffering is not something that can be ignored or avoided; it lurks at every corner, or exists just below the surface, ready to break into the open and disrupt our lives. Suffering can rob us of our mental health if not adequately dealt with, just as pathogens can rob us of our physical health if not treated. In their edited volume on interdisciplinary perspectives on suffering, Malpas and Lickiss (2012) conclude that suffering is universal; suffering involves a negative emotion and poses a harm or threat of harm to body and mind.
A major source of suffering comes from the human evil of exploiting the weak and vulnerable and inflicting cruelty on innocent people for selfish gain. Evil has always been a part of human history, from the Holocaust, to the slave trade, human trafficking, poverty, violence, and wars. The same ruthless story of big-fish-eat-small-fish is played out in endless variations of characters and contexts, from the richest countries to the poorest. People continue to inflict pain on others to satisfy their own desires for happiness, wealth, and power.
A recent article by Mead et al. (2019) raised a similar ethical concern regarding the current wellbeing research: “The construct of wellbeing has been criticised as a neoliberal construction of western individualism that ignores wider systemic issues including increasing burden of chronic disease, widening inequality, concerns over environmental degradation and anthropogenic climate change.”
Evil in whatever disguise is still evil. Whether it appears as a shining angel or speaks the language of justice and compassion, whether it is in your family or in your church, evil always plays the same destructive game of deception, treachery, exploitation, oppression, and taking advantage of others. Just as a tree is known by its fruit, evil is known for bringing suffering and injury to many innocent people. Often, evil is the outcome of willful ignorance, when we refuse to learn the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, or when we refuse to recognize our own limitations, blind spots, and the evil in our own hearts. Evil does not disappear when we ignore its existence and focus on going about our daily business or pursuing happiness. By ignoring its existence, people are actually complicit in allowing evil to grow.
In addition to coping with the evil that has permeated every aspect of our lives, we also have to contend with suffering from natural disasters, sickness, losses coming from advanced age, and the process of dying. The daily stress of competition, human conflict, frustration, and harassment can consume our positive energy and contribute to our negative emotions (e.g., Hutri & Lindeman, 2002). In fact, even the pursuit of happiness is a source of suffering (Wong, 2007). Gruber, Mauss, and Tamir (2011) have documented that people in hot pursuit of happiness tend to be more depressed, miserable, and unhappy.
Research shows that psychological pain, whatever the cause, can be best overcome by directly accepting it (Linehan, 1993), confronting rather than suppressing it (Cioffi & Holloway, 1993), and transforming its meaning (López-Solà, Koban, & Wager, 2018). This research shows that it is more adaptive to accept and transform suffering than to avoid it.
In view of the above, it seems unrealistic to only investigate what makes us happy or what is right and good with us in a neutral or positive context. That is why PP 2.0 is concerned with a deeper question: What brings out the best in all people in their strivings for survival and flourishing in challenging situations?
PP 2.0 asserts that it is only through embracing the dark side of human existence and wrestling with ultimate concerns that we can uplift humanity and improve the human condition (Wong, 2016a). PP 2.0 deals with human beings’ deepest fears and yearnings and captures the triumph of the defiant human spirit over the dark abyss of existential pain.
In my long life, I do not know a single individual who has not suffered from some kind of existential pain, be it the loss of a loved one, fear of personal demise, or an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness and hopelessness. Some of my clients have gone through unimaginable horrors of life. Yet, I could not find anything in the positive psychology literature on how to achieve sustainable meaning and joy in the midst of suffering.
That is why PP 2.0 was developed to fill the gap. PP 2.0 is necessary to confront and transform suffering through meaning and meaning-focused interventions. Meaningful living and sustainable wellbeing depend on embracing and transforming suffering (Frankl, 1985; Peterson, 2018; Wong, 2018, 2019).
Even though we do not seek out suffering, it is an inextricable aspect of some of the most valuable things we all seek. There is the pain of separation between two individuals passionately in love. There is a deep sorrow within loving parents who grieve the loss of a child. Scaling the mountaintop of achievement in any domain involves rigorous training, personal sacrifices, setbacks, and stretching oneself in spite of pain. Suffering is the price we pay for being fully human.
As long as there are desires, ignorance, and selfishness, there will be conflicts and sufferings. As long as there is life and consciousnesses, there is suffering. However, out the dirty soil of evil and suffering emerges the noble souls of courage, resilience, and virtues. That is exactly what Buddhism teaches us about suffering and happiness.
Buddha taught his followers the Four Noble Truths as the pathway to be liberated from suffering and achieve happiness (Dalai Lama, 1998):
- Life is suffering (Dukkha).
- Dukkha arises from craving.
- Dukkha can be eliminated.
- The way to the elimination of dukkha is the Eightfold Path.
It is not surprising that some of the happiest people are Buddhist monks, such as Matthieu Ricard (2008), because they recognize that the best way to achieve durable happiness is to eliminate the roots of suffering (i.e., desires and ignorance), through commitment to the daily practice of the Eightfold Path, which includes mindful meditation.
For years, I have argued that it is not possible to achieve sustainable happiness and wellbeing without overcoming evil and suffering, just as it is impossible for physicians and medical scientists to improve physical health without addressing the reality of pathogens and pain (Thin et al., 2017; Wong & Bowers, 2018). Anderson (2014), in his edited book World Suffering and Quality of Life, documented that how we react to suffering has important implications for wellbeing.
Post-traumatic growth is already a well-established area of research (Joseph & Linley, 2006; Tedeschi, Shakespeare-Finch, Taku, & Calhoun, 2018). Generally, people who experience post-traumatic growth become stronger with a better sense of resiliency and wisdom, become more compassionate and better in relationships, tend to reevaluate their priorities, have increased appreciation for life, and undergo positive changes in their spiritual beliefs. The same growth principle can be applied to all kinds of commonplace suffering. That is why it seems more beneficial to treat healing and thriving not as two separate disciplines but as two sides of the same coin.
Emphasizing the Dynamic Balance Between Opposites through Dialectics
A basic tenet of positive psychology is that positive emotions and negative emotions are separate constructs or dimensions.
Thus, the lack of negative emotions does not guarantee positive emotions, and the absence of positive emotions does not always mean the presence of negative emotions. Positive psychology focuses on doing things to optimize positive emotions without being overly concerned about negative emotions.
Focusing only on the positive has proven to be a very effective strategy in the early stages of development in this discipline. But as positive psychology matures, it needs to be more balanced and nuanced in order to broaden its empirical base and become more relevant to the suffering masses in chronic, malignant conditions.
PP 2.0 proposes that the best way to build up and maintain positive emotions is to confront, accommodate, or transform negative emotions at the same time, because everything in nature exists in polarity. Whenever there is something positive or good, there is always something negative or bad, and vice versa (e.g., Levknecht, 2013).
Therefore, optimal character development or happiness does not depend on building up only the positive, but also depends on navigating the optimal balance between positive and negative for each context. PP 2.0 seeks such a balance through the dialectical interplay between positive and negative in adaptation (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016; McMahan et al., 2015; Wong, 2011, 2012).
Incorporating Indigenous Positive Psychology
Many psychologists have emphasized the importance of culture in wellbeing and the need for diversifying positive psychology (e.g., Oishi & Schimmack, 2010; Rich & Sirikantraporn, 2017). Recent trends have moved from cross-cultural studies to indigenous positive psychology, which emphasizes that what is universal is experienced and expressed differently in different cultures.
Fleming and Manning (2019) have documented that health and wellbeing vary in different cultures and indigenous peoples. Tsai (2007) has shown that the ideal affect or the emotion that people desire most varies across cultures. Eid and Diener (2001) have also found evidence for different norms for experiencing emotions in different cultures. Individualistic and collectivistic nations differed most strongly in norms for self-reflective emotions (e.g., pride and guilt), with the former considering pride as a desirable emotion, and the latter considering guilt as a desirable emotion. Thus, Chang et al. (2016) proposed that the second call for action for positive psychology is to integrate the indigenous positive psychology from different ethnic and racial groups with mainstream research.
There is so much we can learn from some ancient cultures, such as indigenous Chinese psychology. One of its important contributions to positive psychology is the dialectic principle (Peng & Nisbett, 1999). Wong’s (2012) dual-systems model argues that this dialectic principle is essential for achieving a balanced good life, not by accentuating the positive and avoiding the negative, but by embracing and integrating both positive and negative experiences.
Brunner (1986, 1990) conceptualizes meaning not only from a person-centered perspective, but from cultural anthropology. He argues that “culture and the quest for meaning within culture are the proper causes of human action” (1990, p. 20). In honouring his contribution, Shweder (2008) explains the need to understand how meaning and value are shaped culturally:
Meanings mediate the connection between stimulus and response; hence, an unmediated stimulus (the pristine thing, in and of itself, as a “noumena”) is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a response. Moreover, where there are many human minds living together there are traditions of historically made, normatively endorsed and received meanings; that is to say, across time and space there are and have been many durable and locally credible ways to picture and value the world. (p. 62)
In sum, PP 2.0 is inherently cross-cultural, existential, and much more complex than the American brand of positive psychology as evidenced by the above. The aim of PP 2.0 is to bring out the best in humanity, individually and collectively, in spite of suffering and evil. Secondly, PP 2.0 favours the dialectical principle of yin and yang as a more realistic way to enhance positive mental health. Consequently, PP 2.0 does not confine itself to neutral or positive territories; it covers the totality of human experiences and is relevant to under-privileged and suffering people in all cultures.
Implications of PP 2.0 for Counselling Psychology
PP 2.0 has important implications for counselling and therapy by opening up new approaches to human problems. Several important implications for research and applications can be derived from PP 2.0. This special issue provides several examples of how PP 2.0 adds both depth and breadth to counselling psychology.
1) PP 2.0 adds an existential dimension to every area of positive psychology. For example, Jans-Beken and Wong (2019) report the development of an Existential Gratitude Scale, which assesses the tendency to count our blessings in times of adversity. This paper also describes the existential gratitude intervention for people suffering from illnesses or traumas as one of the pathways for post-traumatic growth.
2) PP 2.0 also adds depth to counselling psychology by applying the paradoxical principle of treating suffering as the foundation for sustainable wellbeing, as illustrated by Leung’s (2019) tragic optimism of restoring hope through accepting and overcoming traumas and Bowers’ (2019) mature happiness through transcending the dark side of life.
3) PP 2.0 adds breadth to counselling psychology by emphasizing the Yin-Yang principle of achieving psychological flexibility and wellbeing through navigating the world of polarity and finding a dynamic and adaptive balance in each context. This is illustrated by Leontiev’s (2019) research on the dialectics of aloneness between positive and negative meaning through differential assessment; Li, Wong, and Chao’s (2019) research of investigating the complex interaction between positive and negative psychological processes in counselling; and Jans-Beken’s (2019) paper on the dialectic dynamics between subjective wellbeing and psychopathology. Niemiec’s (2019) research of finding the golden mean between overuse and underuse of character strengths is another example of finding the optimal balance in each context. Newitt, Worth, and Smith (2019) show that meaning-making in life stories can be viewed as a dynamic balance between different experiences of meanings that may provide a person with the greatest sense of who they are.
4) PP 2.0 also adds breadth by recognizing the importance of integrating indigenous psychology and respecting its distinct cultural conceptions of wellbeing, as illustrated by Hwang’s (2019) attempt to bridge the gap between humanistic psychology and positive psychology with his psychodynamic Mandala model of Self-nature; Zhang’s (2019) attempt to apply Wong’s meaning therapy to the Chinese cultural context as a pathway to the good life; and Cohen and Bai’s (2019) paper, which makes the case that when aging is viewed from a post-egoic perspective inherent in Daoism, it becomes the process of “sageing”—living a life of wisdom, compassion, and joy.
5) PP 2.0 enriches counselling psychology by exploring the healing power of transforming negatives into positives. Lomas’ (2019) paper focuses on reframing anger as a moral emotional response to perceived transgressions, thereby endowing it with meaning. Carreno and Pérez-Escobar (2019) challenge the medical model of addiction as a brain disease, proposing a meaning-centered approach for addiction recovery. Mayer, Vanderheiden, and Oosthuizen (2019) focus on transforming shame, guilt, and anxiety into positive experiences. Thomas’s paper (this issue) explores the process of transforming emotional suffering into flourishing thorough the lens of Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. Finally, Armstrong, Desson, St. John, and Watt’s (2019) paper describes a program of developing resilience through emotions, attitudes, and meaning from a PP 2.0 perspective.
The above papers illustrate how PP 2.0 opens up a new vista for research and interventions in counselling psychology, well beyond the familiar territory of mechanistic and binary conceptions so prevalent in psychology. We encourage more counselling psychologists to explore the new opportunities in PP 2.0, which advocates that sustainable wellbeing for individuals and institutions can be best achieved by embracing and transforming the dark side of human existence.
The Universality of Suffering: Embrace it With Courage
PP 2.0 turns PP on its head. Instead of avoiding suffering, it argues that embracing suffering is the foundation and building blocks of healing and thriving in the practice of psychology. Although counselling psychology does not focus on psychopathy, suffering remains the main concern. Whether the presenting problem is loneliness, grieving, meaninglessness, or uncertainty about one’s future, our clients are seeking professional help to reduce their psychological pain and increase their wellbeing.
Even though we do not seek out suffering, it is an inextricable aspect of some of the most valuable things we all seek. There is the pain of separation between two individuals passionately in love. There is a deep sorrow within loving parents who grieve the loss of a child. Scaling the mountaintop of achievement in any domain involves rigorous training, personal sacrifices, setbacks, and stretching oneself in spite of pain. Suffering is the price of we pay for being fully human. It is unfortunate that within the PP community, there remains some resistance to the idea that life is suffering (Wong, in press). As long as there are desires, ignorance, and selfishness, there will be conflicts and sufferings. As long as there is life and consciousnesses, there is suffering. However, out the dirty soil of evil and suffering emerges the noble souls of courage, resilience, and virtues.
PP 2.0 considers all unpleasant and undesirable events and emotions as necessary for personal growth. It does not differentiate between positive psychology and negative psychology; but emphasized that we become better and stronger people by synthesizing both positive and negative experiences. Different schools of psychology have different interpretations of suffering, but they all concur that suffering is an inevitable aspect of living, and mental health depends how we react to this reality.
From the perspective of meaning therapy, the theme of suffering runs through all its interventions:
1) Learning look at life realistically so that we don’t suffer unnecessarily from our negative biases or distorted views.
2) Developing courage and optimism, so that we will not suffering from exaggerated fear, despair and the consequences of giving up.
3) Cultivating inner resources and coping skills, so that we don’t suffer too much stress.
4) Striving towards a worthy life goal, so that we don’t suffer from boredom or meaninglessness.
5) Enduing the pain of change and growth, so that we can live more productive and fulfilling lives.
When we look at the world stage, no country is free from suffering. In counties ravaged by war and dire poverty, life is a living hell, and the massive dislocation of refugees for safety and a better life poses a humanitarian crisis. One cannot imagine how any positive psychology interventions can effectively improve their wellbeing.
Even in affluent North America, suffering remain an inevitable part of life. No matter how privileged one may be, no one can be immune from the pain and suffering brought on from diseases and injuries, or from psychological pain of from a variety of traumatic experiences, such as loss of a loved one, or the helplessness from feeling trapped in a toxic relationship.
On any ordinary day, no matter how we much we want to employ our character strength to create authentic happiness and a better future, we have to do the hard work of battling with our shadow of repressed painful emotions, the inner negative voices of failure or futility, the natural tendency of inertia, and the vexation from daily hazzles and interpersonal frictions. It is some kind of suffering that drives people to seek professional help.
From the perspective of PP 2.0, psychologists need to make suffering an ally for positive transformation. The need to encourage clients to be strong and courageous in the face of hardships as an antidote to suffering:
- Say yes to life and move forward, no matter what;
- Face an uncertain future and all the mountains before you;
- Endure the pain and darkness, believing that it will pass;
- Stand up for what you believe, even if it means death;
- Fight against injustice and oppression, whatever the cost;
- Pursue your ideal, no matter how powerful the opposition;
- Pursue your life goals, fearless of failures or setbacks.
This is the necessary first step towards the building of wellbeing and resilience. For years, I have argued that it is not possible to achieve sustainable happiness and wellbeing without considering the dark side of human existence, as it is impossible for physicians and medical scientists to improve physical health without addressing the reality of pathogens and pain (Thin et al., 2017; Wong & Bowers, 2018). Anderson (2014) in his edited book World Suffering and Quality of Life documented that how we react to suffering has important implications to wellbeing.
Post-traumatic growth is already a well-established area of research (Joseph and Linley, 2006; Tedeschi, Shakespeare-Finch, Taku & Calhoun, 2018). Generally, people who experience post-traumatic growth become stronger with a better sense of resiliency and wisdom, become more compassionate and better in relationships, tend to re-evaluate their priorates, have increased appreciation for life, and undergo positive changes in their spiritual beliefs. The same growth principle can be applied to all kinds of commonplace suffering. That is why it seems more beneficial to treat healing and thriving not as two separate disciplines but as two sides of the same coin.
Past History of Different Psychological Approaches to Transforming Suffering
According to Freud (1946), the id, ego, and superego are in a constant battle with each other: “Consequently, conflict is as much a part of normalcy as it is of pathology.” (Jones and Butman, 1991, p. 72). Any material that threatens ego consciousness are repressed by the unconscious region. We become mentally healthy only when we make the unconscious conscious, through overcoming defense mechanisms. From a psychoanalytical and Jewish perspective, David Bakan (1968) considered suffering as an inherent aspect of ego consciousness, essential for redeeming the soul from evil.
Jung (1981) assumed that suffering is inherent in the design of the psyche, which consists of three parts: the conscious, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious contains various archetypes, such as Persona and Shadow. The Shadow represents the dark site of personality – the chaotic and wild aspects. It is a painful process to confront one’s Shadow, but it is necessary for personal growth and creativity.
Existential philosophy/psychology has the most to contribute to existential suffering (Cooper, 2016). Camus’ Sisyphus (1955) was condemned by the gods to roll a stone to the top of a mountain with enormous effort only to see it roll back to the bottom, thus symbolizing the absurdity of life. But at the end of the story, Camus wrote that Sisyphus must be happy, because he dared to defy the gods and performed the difficult task willingly and creatively. Thus, Sisyphus was able to transform the hopeless ordeal by virtue of his defiant attitude and meaning making.
Yalom (1980, 1981) considered our awareness of ultimate concerns – death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness – and its accompanying existential pain the root of psychopathology, because of our defence mechanisms that prevent us from facing the reality of human existence. Existential therapy challenge people to take responsibility to live a meaningful life through creative work and better relationships.
Frankl (1985) considered human beings as homo patients (suffering beings), who are born to endure physical pain (diseases, and injuries), psychological suffering (stress, hardships, mental disorders) and spiritual distress (lack of a meaningful life, moral dilemmas). To the above list, Langle (2008) added the experience of self-alienation – of not being truly oneself. Meaninglessness is “an existential despair and a spiritual distress rather than an emotional disease or a mental illness” (Frankl, 1977, p. 141).
Suffering not only provides the impetus for the search for meaning, but also makes one stronger. Citing Nietzsche, Frankl emphasized that what does not kill you makes you stronger. Makeson (1998) pointed out that people need to move from asking “Why do I suffer”, which is an unanswerable mystery of human experience, to asking “for whom and for what do I suffer?”, which enables us to understand suffering fully and facilitates meaning making.
Alan T. Bates (2016) in addressing existential suffering for palliative care points out that this kind of suffering is related to a number of clinical issues, including reduced quality of life, increased anxiety and depression, suicidal ideation, and the desire for hastened death in patients. He suggests that physicians can redirect them from existential suffering to a sense of silver-lining through meaning making:
“Patients with terminal illness know they are not a unique exception to universality, and they often know what is going to kill them (a personalized causality). They are also likely experiencing irreversible physical deterioration (nonfunctionality). They have fallen into the same cave as everyone else, it is getting darker and narrower as time goes by, and they even know what unfortunate companion is pushing them along. Hopefully, they can also realize they are still free to explore some of the cave’s more beautiful features, to draw or write on the walls, to show courage in exploring some of the uncharted alcoves, and to map out some of the more treacherous terrain for others who will follow.” By the same token, people can benefit learning how to cope with their everyday struggles with stress, disappointments, losses, and betrayal.
The most important paradoxical principle of second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0) is that strength and wholeness come from vulnerabilities. Therefore, what makes us uncomfortable, and what we want to hide or avoid, is exactly what we need to confront and embrace in order to attain healing, growth, and wholeness. This paradoxical insight comes from the best minds of psychoanalytical and existential psychology
Transforming Negatives into Positives Through Meaning
Meaning therapy (Wong, 2016c) employs several interventions to transform negatives into positives. These include reappraisal, reframing a trauma into a larger and meaningful narrative, and re-authoring to transform oneself from a victim to a hero.
In this special issue, Carreno and Perez-Escobar (2019) critiqued the medical model that addiction is a brain disease and calls for a pluralistic approach. They emphasize that addiction may result from failure in self-regulation, relational problems, a lack of meaning, evasion of guilt, an inability to cope with the dark side of life, and maladaptive ways to seek positive emotion. They propose a meaning-centered approach for addiction recovery.
Lomas (2019) offers a comprehensive overview of empirical research on anger as a moral emotion in response to perceived transgression; he proposes that in counselling situations, some clients’ anger can be endowed with positive meaning through reframing it as a moral emotion.
Based on the principles of PP 2.0, Thoma (2019) describes how we can transform emotional suffering into flourishing through the Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy’s descriptive phenomenology of affective states. Armstrong et al. (2018) describes a program they have developed to meet the unique needs of gifted school children – The D.R.E.A.M (Developing Resilience through Emotions, Attitudes, and Meaning) Program – grounded in rational emotive attachment logotherapy.
Jans-Beken and Wong (2019) define existential gratitude as having an appreciation towards life itself and counting one’s blessings even in times of trouble. They present the initial validity data of the Existential Gratitude Survey, which captures the existential, spiritual dimension of dispositional gratitude. They also include a description of the existential gratitude exercise (Three Blessings) (Wong, 2016a) to transform the negative reaction to trauma to positive meaning – an exercise recognized by Ryff (2016) as innovative meaning intervention.
Emphasizing the Dynamic Balance through the Dialectical and Paradoxical Principles
According to the paradoxical principle, our strength comes from facing and overcoming our vulnerabilities. We are never as vulnerable as when we fall in love or pursue a dream, yet “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness” – a quote commonly attributed to Freud. Similarly, our mental health comes from naming and confronting our existential triad of shame, guilt, and fear (Wong, 2018) as the foundation for our wellbeing.
According to PP 2.0, long-term wellbeing for individuals and institutions can be best achieved by embracing and transforming the dark side of human existence. Thus, we will more likely live authentically and fully when we are willing to confront our own mortality (Wong & Tomer, 2011) and make the best use of our limited time on earth (Wong, 2016a). Similarly, we will more likely succeed in creating virtuous positive organizations by taking appropriate measures to weed out and prevent toxic elements like bullying (Wong, Ivtzan, & Lomas, 2017).
We cannot be truly optimistic without considering the dark reality, and we cannot be truly happy without taking into account all the things that make us unhappy. This paradoxical principle is inescapable; the positive cannot be isolated from its negative—but rather must recognize and accommodate it—because everything exists in polarity and human nature is holistic or unitary. Thus, for optimism to be stable, it needs to confront the negative reality, as proposed by Frankl in his concept of tragic optimism (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2009b).
Leung’s paper (this issue) has shown the importance of accepting suffering by fortifying one’s mind with courage and tragic optimism in overcoming traumas. Such mental toughness better prepares one for the battles ahead than the false expectation that life is like a cakewalk or a joyride in Disneyland.
Furthermore, we do not know happiness without the experience of sadness; you become stronger by overcoming pain, more optimistic by daring to hope in hopeless situations. Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Fundamental to this paradoxical view of life is the belief that everything in nature exists in polarity. As Li et al. (this issue) has shown, positive and negative psychological processes are intricately linked.
Accommodating the ironies and paradoxes of life is also important for mental health, because it teaches people the important virtue of being prudent in all things, thus avoiding the excesses of too much or too little in favour of the golden mean, as shown by Niemiec (this issue) in his consideration of the proper use of character strengths in coping with life suffering.
By thinking of the opposite, one will not stay in despair and depression for long in adversity, because it provides both the reason and motivation to improve one’s condition. Likewise, one will not be over the top in success, because one considers the possibility of falling.
Newitt, Worth, and Smith (this issue), in their synthesis of narrative identity literature, suggest that polarity might play an important role in creating complex meanings of life. Meaning-making is seen as a dynamic equilibrium between polarities in experiences.
Flora (this issue) investigates how the dialectic process of “positive” and “negative” captures the complexity of wellbeing and other psychological processes in psychotherapy. Jans-Beken (this issue) demonstrates the dialectic dynamics for alleviating clinical symptoms and enhancing subjective wellbeing. Leontiev (this issue) presents evidence that loneliness can be best understood by embracing both the negative and positive aspects of being alone.
Hwang (this issue) contributes to the integration between humanistic psychology and positive psychology through his mandala model of self, as influenced by Daoism. In a similar vein, Cohen and Bai (this issue) present a case study using Daoism’s concept of qi-infused creativity to demonstrate the possibility of integrating and transforming negative experiences in the service of moving towards a holistic self.
Zhang (this issue) provides a Yangming theory of mind as a framework consistent with Wong’s meaning therapy. He then explains the important implications of Wong’s PURE model of meaning in life and Wong’s dual-system model for the Chinese community’s mental health service.
PP 2.0 proposes that sustainable happiness and wellbeing depends on embracing the reality of suffering and cultivating inner harmony and serenity. The best proof of the validity of this view is the Buddhist psychology of happiness, which is based on the basic Buddhist tenets that life is suffering and happiness is based on relieving suffering.
Matthieu Ricard (2008), a Buddhist monk known as the happiest person in the world, demonstrates that happiness is a deep state of wellbeing despite the inevitability of suffering; such mature happiness can be cultivated through practicing moderation in all things, as well as meditation. Similarly, Wong and Bowers (2018) has described how one can overcome suffering and negative emotions through transcending the dark side of life and spiritual cultivation. Bowers (this issue) furthers this line of research by presenting a transpersonal perspective of cultivating mature happiness through spiritual development and transcendental experience.
Life is full of evil and suffering. Deep down, we are all inherently vulnerable to being injured physically and psychologically in a world full of dangers and risks. Our core psychological vulnerability is our fear of making the wrong decision, trusting the wrong person, choosing the wrong career, or being inadequate for the task, resulting in failure and shame. Such feelings reflect both realistic worries and the existential anxiety of being thrown into a chaotic world (Heidegger, 1996).
PP 2.0 points out that, paradoxically, it is this deep-seated sense of inadequacy that drives us to reach out to others, to God, and to the path of developing our potentials to pursue something worthwhile. A counselling psychology informed by PP 2.0 will consider suffering and vulnerability as stepping stones for personal growth, but it takes courage, faith, and a dialectical mindset to achieve an adaptive, balanced life and mature happiness in a chaotic and dangerous world.
The various articles in this special issue illustrate how future research and interventions from the perspective of PP 2.0 can vastly deepen and enrich counselling practices. They also highlight the fact that human emotions are complex, and positive mental health depends on our ability to embrace ambivalent emotions and transform negative emotions into positive ones. It is fitting to conclude this editorial with this quote:
PP 2.0 teaches that suffering is the bedrock for everything good in life. Its biggest insight is that one cannot enjoy well-being without overcoming the toxins in one’s life; one can’t grow without enduring the pain of pruning; and one can’t live meaningfully without coming to terms with [the] fear of death. Those who view life as an endless battle are more likely to survive and thrive than those who view life as an endless party. A great life can be achieved only by those who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for a better future. Look for pleasant surprises of hope and joy in all the dark places! (Wong, 2018, p. 10)
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Wong, P. T. P. (2019, July 31). Second wave positive psychology’s (PP 2.0) contribution to counselling psychology, [Special Issue]. Counselling Psychology Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1671320