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Positive Psychology of What Makes Life Worth Living and the Meaning Hypothesis © Paul T. P. Wong.

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Presentation on theme: "Positive Psychology of What Makes Life Worth Living and the Meaning Hypothesis © Paul T. P. Wong."— Presentation transcript:

1 Positive Psychology of What Makes Life Worth Living and the Meaning Hypothesis
© Paul T. P. Wong

2 Overview What is American Positive Psychology (PP)?
What makes life worth living or what is the good life? What is the meaning hypothesis according to Frankl & Wong?

3 Evolution of PP The science of positive emotion, positive character and positive institutions (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) The study of what makes life worth living and how to work with stress and suffering (Peterson & Park, 2003)

4 What characterizes American PP?
It is primarily concerned with happiness and subjective well-being Emphasizes peace and prosperity as the ideal condition for PP Believes that meaning in life primarily comes from happiness, positive experiences and human strengths


6 Seligman (2011): Five components of well-being

7 Virtues & Character Strengths
Meaning is at the centre of Positive Psychology.

8 Peterson (2013) Major domains of the good life
Meaningful work Love Play Service This is Chris Peterson’s last major work, reflecting his latest thinking on the good life or worthy life. Once again, the focus is on meaningful work, meaningful relationship, and self-transcendence (service to others).

9 Six Limitations of PP: Too much emphasis on the neutral and positive territories of life Not enough recognition of the positive potential of negatives & the negative potential of positives; Not enough recognition of the importance of morality & responsibility Not enough recognition of the impact of existential givens Not enough recognition of the importance of philosophy of life A lack of balance between individualistic and collectivist concerns

10 What is the meaning of life?
The most important question in psychology and psychotherapy: What makes life worth living? What is the meaning of life? Different visions of the good life or worthy life Meaning is important for survival and flourishing Meaning involves all aspects of the person – cognitive, affective, motivational, social, cultural, spiritual and relational

11 Existential Positive Psychology (EPP)
The Meaning Hypothesis – life has intrinsic meaning The Deep and Wide Hypothesis – suffering deepens & broadens resources The Duality Hypothesis – positives & negatives work together for optimal functioning

12 The Meaning Hypothesis
The capacity for meaning seeking and meaning making (both existential & cognitive meaning) The primary motivation for meaning (both global meaning & situational meaning) Meaning offers us the best protection against existential anxieties and the best hope of living a worthy & vital life A meaning mindset is more adaptive than the success mindset.

13 The meaning mindset vs. the success mindset
Meaning Fulfillment Sacrificial Life Ideal Life Failure Success The meaning-oriented mindset focuses on self-transcendence whereas the ego-centered mindset focuses on success. If you choose the meaning-mindset, you can still find fulfillment, even when you fail to complete your mission (Examples: revolutionaries and heroes of faith in Hebrew chapter 11 of the Bible). Failure is no failure when one pursues a virtuous and noble mission for the common good. Meaning-orientation should lead to more altruism, higher life satisfaction and greater psychological maturity than the happiness-orientation, over the long haul; happiness-orientation is likely to result in more selfishness, more greed, and less altruism Wasted Life Shallow Life Emptiness

14 The Meaning Mindset Life has intrinsic meaning and value
I have the capacity for meaning seeking and meaning making Meaning can be discovered anywhere I can live at a deeper level by detecting the meaning & significance of any situation I can live at a higher plane by serving a higher purpose & being attuned to the transcendental realm and sacredness in daily living. I can live fully by integrating by my potentialities with my vulnerabilities moment by moment Meaning of life can be lived in the presence of misery, insecurity, and suffering. Meaning matters, especially in difficult times. That is why research shows that meaning is often associated with stress and anxiety.

15 Life Orientation Scale
I can find something meaningful or significant in everyday events There is a reason for everything that happens to me There is no ultimate meaning and purpose in life There is no point in searching for meaning in life No matter how painful the situation, life is still worth living The meaning of life is to “eat, drink and be happy” What really matters to me is to pursue a higher purpose or calling regardless of personal cost I would rather be a happy pig than a sad saint I am willing to sacrifice personal interests for the greater good Personal happiness and success are more important to me than achieving inner goodness and moral excellence

16 The Search for Meaning Based on:
Authenticity – seeking & pursuing a unique meaning that has real value for the person Integrity – seeking & pursuing meaning that is consistent with one’s conscience & sense of responsibility The search for situational & ultimate meaning is an ongoing & ever-evolving process.

17 Costs of Search for Meaning
One may have to suffer & give one’s life for an ideal or mission. Soul searching to discover one’s calling may be a difficult process for some people. Meaning-making and meaning-reconstruction after trauma can be painful.

18 Benefits of Meaning in Life
Mental & physical health Survival & flourishing Recovery & resilience Religiousness & spirituality Personal growth Social harmony

19 Two Types of Situational Meaning
Cognitive Meaning, in terms of appraisal & attribution; it often involves intuitive information processing Existential Meaning, in terms of personal responsibleness to the situation; it involves both intuitive conscience & guiding light from Providence or the Spirit In terms of the terminology of logotherapy, specific (i.e. situational) meaning can involve both cognitive meaning and existential meaning. His concept of ultimate meaning has to do with beliefs in a supernatural being, one’s place in the world, therefore, ultimate meaning has to do with spiritual and existential meaning. Dr. Frankl believes that it is more productive to address the specific meaning of the moment/situation, rather than talking about meaning of life in general, because ultimate meanings exist in the supra-human dimension, which is “hidden” from us. He cautions against addressing ultimate meanings in therapy, unless the client is openly religious (Frankl, 1984). However, meaning of the moment is not separable from meaning of whole, similar to our perception of figure and ground. There is the challenge and opportunity for us to arrive at some limited understanding of how specific meanings fit into larger patterns of ultimate meaning. Each individual must discover the specific meanings of the moment. Only the individual knows the right meaning specific to the moment. The therapist can also facilitate the quest and guide them to those areas in which meanings can be found (Fabry, 1994; Frankl, 1984, 1986).

20 Ultimate Meaning It is concerned with finding out how one fits in the large scheme of life. “This grandiose order, I believe, is what Frankl understands by logos, ultimate meaning. We can never hope to ‘find’ it in its totality, we can only pursue it to the best of our abilities” (Fabry, 1987, p. 5) “The Ultimate Meaning of one’s life is not a matter of his intellectual cognition, but rather of his existential commitment… Man takes a stand and makes a choice.” (Frankl, 1985, 84) Quotation is from Frankl’s (1985) Psychotherapy and Existentialism. “Ultimate meaning remains a basic assumption that can be tested only in daily living” (Fabry, 1994, p.64)


22 Achievement Acceptance Transcendence Intimacy Relationship Religion
Sources of Meaning According to Wong (1998), there are 8 sources of meaning and the good life. Achievement Acceptance Transcendence Intimacy Relationship Religion Fairness Positive emotions

23 Are you living a balanced life?
Religion/ Spirituality Situational and Cultural Context Achievement Acceptance Self-transcendence Intimacy Relationship Fairness Positive Emotion and Well-being

24 The Deep & Wide Hypothesis
Suffering deepens our inner resources such as meaning, faith, courage, etc. Suffering also broadens our resources such as creativity, innovation, & social support. One can attribute positive meanings to suffering. Personal growth is dependent on the benefits of suffering.

25 Meaning in Suffering Suffering awakens the quest for meaning & the defiant human spirit. Suffering beings, Homo patiente, are concerned with meaning while human beings, Homo sapiens, are concerned with success and happiness. Suffering gives us opportunity to develop and express our highest values and noblest virtues. The will to joy in the midst of suffering is both heroic & spiritual. Frankl (1985) “Suffering is intended to guard man from apathy, from psychic rigor mortis. As long as we suffer we remain psychically alive. In fact, we mature in suffering, grow because of it – it makes us rich and stronger.” (p.109) “Suffering and trouble belong to life as much as fate and death. None of these can be subtracted from life without destroying its meaning” (p.111) Confronting any situation, we either shape fate or endure it. We try to change the situation as long as it is still possible, or endure the fate with an heroic attitude. Enduring unavoidable and uncontrollable suffering constitutes a moral achievement.

26 The Power of Negative Thinking
`Negative no susume-plus shiko ni unzarishiteiru anata e` By Yu Mogami (2007) This book shows people how to live a rich & vital life through harnessing the power of negative thinking.

27 The Duality Hypothesis
The meaning hypothesis recognizes the adaptive power of meaning-seeking & meaning- making. The deep & wide hypothesis focuses on the adaptive benefits of suffering and negative emotion. This duality hypothesis emphasizes the benefits and necessity of integrating approach and avoidance systems as being complementary

28 The Duality Hypothesis (cont)
Albert Camus: “There is no joy of life without despair.” Rollo May: “The ultimate paradox is that negation becomes affirmation.” Carl Jung: “It is evil to negate the dark side of personality (the Shadow).”

29 The Duality Hypothesis (cont)
When the two systems work together, the likelihood of survival and flourishing is greater than focusing exclusively on either approach or avoidance. There is a down side to everything positive, and there is up side to everything negative. Positive and negative potentials are often two sides of the same coin. PURE represents the positive system, while ABCDE represents coping with negatives.


31 Meaning Intervention Accept and confront the negative reality -- the reality principle Believe that life is worth living and affirm what is good– the faith principle Commit to worthy goals and responsible actions – the action principle Discover the meaning and happiness of living – the meaning principle Enjoy the success -- the reinforcement principle or Evaluate the above – the self-regulation principle

32 A Dual-System Model Normal Life Conditions Approach System (PURE)
Meaning, happiness & Personal growth Reduce Threats Transform Threats (ABCDE + PURE) Threats Noxious conditions Avoidance system (Defense mech. + coping) Safety and Survival Vicious Cycle Vigilance

33 Individual differences and personal resources
A Dual-System Model Individual differences and personal resources Positive Conditions Negative Conditions Positive Outcome Negative Outcome Approach Avoidance PURE ABCDE Cultural and Contextual Variables

34 Conclusion The future of Positive Psychology and Meaning Therapy depends on integrating both disciplines, resulting in Existential Positive Psychology (EPP). Research in EPP will increase our understanding of how to live well & die well under all circumstances. EPP will enable us to design a better society or organization to optimize well-being.

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