• Moderator and Organizer: Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D.
  • Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D.
  • Richard Bargdill, M.A. & Louis Hoffman, Ph.D.
  • Edward T. Bonner, M.A. & Harris Friedman, Ph.D.
  • Kirk Schneider, Ph.D. & Shawn Rubin, Psy.D.
  • Kenneth Hart, Ph.D. & Tyler Carey, M.A.
  • Discussant: Brent Robbins, Ph.D.

Symposium Overview

This proposed symposium envisions a positive psychology (PP) based on HEP perspectives. We have argued that the most promising way for HEP to rejuvenate itself and regain its rightful place in academia and society is to rekindle its vision of the human potential for growth and embrace empirical research (Robbins, 2008; Wong, 2010a, 2011a). We have also argued that PP can fulfill its full potential only by embracing the humanistic values and the rich heritage and of HEP (Schneider, 2011; Wong, 2009a, b, 2011b).

In this symposium, we explore how to develop a HEP-oriented PP that will be compassionate, pragmatic, and strength-oriented. Such a PP focuses on both self-actualization and the development of a socio-ecology that meets the deepest human needs. It transcends theoretical and cultural differences and advocates cross-fertilization and cooperation. It does not turn a blind eye to the dark sides of the human condition, such as poverty, violence, and injustice while focusing on the potential of positive transformation for individuals and societies (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2009b). It accepts the inherent paradoxes and dilemmas of life but affirms the human capacity to integrate contradictions and complexities (Rogers, 1995; Schneider, 1999; Wong in press). Finally, it is holistic and inclusive, capable of embracing wisdoms from the East and West and integrating the best from the arts and science for the betterment of the human condition (Hoffman, Yang, Kaklauskas, & Chan, 2009; Wong, in press).

All presentations in this symposium are in some way (a) rooted in humanistic-existential- transpersonal (HET) traditions, (b) supported by empirical research broadly defined, (c) informed by some creative theoretical concepts and formulations, (d) applicable to developing innovative programs in some domains to make life better, and (e) future-oriented, imaging the pathways to create a global village that is more humane, compassionate and harmonious.

Meaning-Centered Research: A Positive Research Agenda for Making Life Better for All

Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D.

More than any time in history, our postmodern world struggles with values and meaning Wong (2007) has called for a century of meaning – for a paradigm shift from behavior to meaning as the mission of mainstream psychology. This shift has important implications for individuals and society, because it challenges us to move beyond the pursuit of personal success and happiness to the Big Questions about the human condition (Wong, 2009a). It calls for a bold vision of creating a culture that meets people’s needs for meaning and spirituality (Schumaker, 2007; Wong, 2007, 2009a).

This presentation identifies three areas of meaning research which may illustrate how HEP perspectives can fundamentally change mainstream psychology.

(a) Meaning-oriented research methodology: Research will show that quantitative data are often meaningless without qualitative research on the phenomenological experiences of participants in the studies. For example, a low score on Searching for Meaning can either mean existential indifference or fulfillment.

(b) Meaning-mindset (Wong, 2011b): Meaning as the ultimate concern contributes to eudaimonia, character strength, & compassion. All great leaders who have made a lasting difference in the world risked their lives for a worthy cause and a higher purpose. Our educational systems need to attach greater value to meaning and responsibility.

(c) The dual-systems model (Wong, in press): Research on the interactions between avoidance (protective) and approach (expansive) systems will show that balancing between negative and positive forces provides a roadmap to achieve high levels of well-being and social harmony. Many of the paradoxes and dilemmas of life can be resolved by understanding the balancing act between Yin and Yang. We need to learn how to function fully only within the context of limitations, obstacles, and setbacks. The human potential for growth resides in our meaning-making capacity to transform negatives and balance the opposites.

Humanistic Psychology and Positive Psychology: Culture, Meaning, and Authenticity

Richard Bargdill, M.A. and Louis Hoffman, Ph.D.

Humanistic psychology and positive psychology have evident points of convergence, yet have been primarily critical and antagonistic toward each other. This is partially due to conflicts and misunderstandings but is also rooted in important epistemological and values differences. For humanistic psychology, it is imperative to retain an authentic voice when engaged in dialogues with positive psychology, which includes staying committed to one’s philosophical foundations and values while remaining open to other perspectives. We begin this paper articulating a framework for such an authentic engagement.

Next, two examples with regards to meaning are developed. First, meaning is a highly depend upon culture. Many instances of sustaining meaning emerge from engagement with or reinterpreting cultural rituals, myths, and identifications. In much of Eastern thought, for instance, meaning is highly paradoxical. As such, any attempts to separate “positive” from the negatives, such as suffering, is inauthentic. Investigating any human virtue, in sense, means also investigating the experience of the opposite. Courage and cowardliness are inseparable and always informing the other. From this viewpoint, positive psychology without an embracement of broader elements of human experience is incomplete and, as such, greatly limited in the depth of meaning achievable.

The paper also considers research pertaining to how meaning is made from biographical events. Here meaning-making is seen as a process of organizing emotionally chaotic, self-altering, and temporality disturbing events into some kind of “understanding.” This understanding allows the person to make sense of the events and carry away from this event (sometimes years later) a moral or life lesson. Hence, meaning is portable experience. When meaning is never made, as is often the case with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, the experience continues to haunt the victim.

Understanding Awe from Humanistic & Positive Psychology: Phenomenological with Psychometric Approaches

Edward T. Bonner, M.A. and Harris L. Friedman, Ph.D.

Humanistic and positive psychologists overlap in many of their interests but frequently differ regarding preferences for methods, as well as in their underlying epistemological assumptions. In terms of methods, positive psychologists usually prefer quantitative over qualitative approaches, whereas humanistic psychologists usually prefer the opposite. In terms of epistemology, positive psychologists usually prefer logical positivism, whereas humanistic psychologists usually prefer various forms of post-positivism. However, considerable quantitative research has been performed by humanistic psychologists, while considerable qualitative research has been performed by positive psychologists, so there are many exceptions to any generalizations about how these differ. To bridge this divide, we advocate for greater pluralism in both method and epistemology as a fruitful way to bring humanistic and positive psychology together in achieving their common interests.

Awe is a central concept in much of humanistic and positive psychology, but it lacks consensual scientific meaning, as well as sound measurement approaches. Previous understandings and the changing meaning of awe are analyzed in historical context. Using an interpretative phenomenological analysis of interviews focused on understanding experiences of awe, ten themes were revealed, which were further reduced into three major categories of meaning. This led to a psychometric strategy to better operationalize and test this conceptual clarification of awe, as well as toward preliminarily constructing a measure for further scientific research and theory development about awe. Combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches in exploring awe concretely illustrates a case in which seeming incompatible approaches to research and theory can be reconciled, as well as how this holds various applied implications. This strategy serves as an example of the type of work that can further a much-needed rapprochement between humanistic and positive psychology, as these have more in common than is currently apparent.

Toward a Humanistic Positive Psychology: Why Can’t We Just Get Along?

Kirk Schneider, Ph.D. and Shawn Rubin, Psy.D.

I propose that despite the nay-saying 1) positive psychology is justifiably a branch of humanistic psychology, and 2) a humanistic positive psychology would be salutary to the profession of psychology. From the standpoint of theory, I show how positive psychology shares humanistic psychology’s concern with what it means to be fully, experientially human, and how that understanding illuminates the vital or fulfilled life. However, I also show how the findings of positive psychology, particularly in the area “happiness” research—or what has recently been termed “human flourishing,” stop short of the fuller aforementioned aims. Specifically, I show how positive psychology appears to oversimplify both the experience of human flourishing and its social-adaptive value. While the positive psychology findings on flourishing are useful in limited contexts, e.g., in terms of their implications for the attainment of pleasure, physical health, and cultural competency, they are inadequate with respect to the more complicated contexts of creativity, emotional depth, and social consciousness. I will detail the nature of these discrepancies, such as their implications for perception of reality, psychological growth, and capacity for self-reflection, and consider their role in an expanded vision of human resiliency.

Living Without Meaning and Purpose: Addictive Behaviors From the Perspective of Logotherapy

Kenneth E. Hart, Ph.D. and Tyler Carey, M.A.

Research on meaning in life and purpose in life (MIL/PIL) is rapidly growing reflecting the increasing recognition of HEP perspectives in positive psychology. Logotherapy (Frankl, 1985) is situated in the HEP tradition. The Greek word ‘logos’ can be defined as meaning and spirituality. According to ‘logotherapy’ (Frankl, 1985), the presence or absence of a sense of MIL/PIL can play a pivotal role in both the etiology of substance abuse disorders and in the process of remediation and “recovery”.

In this paper, we will present a review of 21 quantitative studies that examined the association of MIL/PIL and the use and abuse of alcohol.  Results, show an expected inverse relationship between MIL/PIL scores and drinking. This finding supports Frankl’s self-medication model where alcohol use and abuse is viewed as a palliative for coping with the psycho-spiritual suffering caused by the “inner emptiness” of a life that lacks meaning and coherence.  We will also review 12 studies which compared MIL/PILscores of normal (non-clinical) “controls” with clients in treatment for alcohol abuse. All these case-control studies produced findings consistent with the theory that “hitting rock bottom” may be experienced by alcohol abusers as a highly aversive form of existential malaise that serves to motivate them to seek professional help.

While drinkers may seek the bottle for temporary relief from existential unhappiness, they find, over time, that their existential vacuum deepens and evolves into a full blown ‘noogenic neurosis’. Based on our existential analysis of substance abuse, logotherapy or meaning-therapy (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2011c) not only explains the etiology of addiction but also contributes to recovery by providing both relief from the existential crisis and the pathways to meaningful living. We conclude that the positive psychology of meaning not only repair what is wrong but also brings out what is good in recovering addicts.


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