Paul P. T. Wong, Ph.D., is a psychology professor, clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and the founder of the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute and the International Network on Personal Meaning. He is the conference chair for the 7th Biennial Meaning Conference. Full Bio.
Paul's articles are here.
Something unusual and significant is happening in Toronto, quietly and under the radar.
Every other Sunday afternoon, people from all walks of life gather at my home for our regular Meaningful Living Meetup. On average, more than 30 people cram into my living room. This picture was taken last year, when the group was smaller.Who participates?
Participants come from all ethnic backgrounds and different walks of life: graduate students, retirees, mental health professionals, entrepreneurs, accountants, engineers, and stay-at-home moms (who appreciate the babysitting provided). Interestingly, many of the participants have physical or mental health issues.
One case in point is an elderly lady who has only 30% of her lung capacity. Even with the help of a portable oxygen tank, she still struggles with every breath and has difficulty completing a sentence without pausing. She keeps coming because she says that learning about the meaning of life empowers her to go on in spite of pain.
Another example is a young lady suffering from depression and suicidal tendencies. Group support and the content of each lesson give her new grounds for hope.
About half of the members come from other countries, such as China, Mexico, Romania, Poland, and Russia. In spite of their diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds, these immigrants face the same problems with language barriers and lack of employment opportunities.
We also have retirees who are seeking new meaning for their post-employment days. They are excited about making new connections.
In slightly over a year, our membership has grown to over 180. What accounts for this growth? Judging from the comments members have made, people come because topics on meaningful living resonate with them and because they enjoy exploring these topics with others. Here are a few comments:
“It’s so wonderful to meet people from all walks of life who share similar values. Following our heart and values is a narrow and lonely path at times. I also appreciate the warm and casual atmosphere of the meetings.”
“It feels like heaven on earth to be able to celebrate life together and help each other to grow.”
“How to live a good life? An age old question that always brings about thought provoking dialogues. A great cross-section of people from different walks of life will make this journey even more interesting.”
What happens in a meeting?Importantly, participants learn about the latest research findings relevant to meaningful living. For each topic, I give a mini-lecture that covers the empirical and theoretical foundations. These are largely based on my two edited volumes, The Human Quest for Meaning. Some of these mini-lectures can be found on my YouTube channel, Personal Meaning.
Here are some of the topics we cover:
- Know who you are: Accept your true self.
- Know what really matters: Identify your core values.
- Understand the nature of the good life: Choose the path of meaning and virtue.
- Affirm the intrinsic value of life: Learn from Viktor Frankl.
- Explore the human quest for meaning: Learn how to ask “why” questions.
- Discover the sources of meaning and happiness: Learn how to live a balanced life.
- Discover the meaning of meaning: Learn the PURE model. PURE stands for Purpose, Understanding, Responsible Action, Enjoy a meaningful life/Evaluate life anew. (For more information, here’s a short discussion of the PURE model).
- Five steps to build up your resilience: Practice the ABCDE model. Accept the reality of the situation, Believe that life is worth living, Commit to goals and action, Discover the significance of self and situations, and Evaluate the foregoing.
- What is personal is also universal: Practice double vision.
- Find happiness in difficult times: Understand the sources of true happiness.
- Explore how good and evil interact: Learn the dual system model.
- Other people matter: Understand the basis for good relationships.
We conclude with pathways to well-being and flourishing as we put it all together.
Presentation materials and summaries of the first 5 topics are available here. More will be provided as they are ready.For an example of the empirical and theoretical underpinnings, when we discuss “How do I find happiness in difficult times?” we refer to Seligman’s happiness models in Authentic Happiness and Flourish, as well as Ed Diener’s research on subjective well-being and national well-being. We also bring in the humanistic/existential perspectives of Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl.
Other main attractions of our Meetup are the group discussion led by my wife, Dr. Lilian Wong, and the informal interactions around refreshments. The main take-home lesson is that people not only need scientific information about how to live a meaningful and happy life but also need the support of others sharing the same desire to grow and flourish.
In sum, our Meaningful Living Meetup is a grassroots method of giving positive psychology away. Participants learn that the human capacity for meaning-seeking and meaning-making not only repairs what is broken, but also provides pathways to well-being and flourishing.
Author’s note: I will outline my vision for transforming the world through meaningful living at the concluding Celebration Banquet of our Meaning Conference, held July 26-29 in Toronto.
Several people from other cities have expressed interest in starting Meaningful Living Groups. I recommend that group leaders have a solid grounding in the empirical and theoretical foundations of meaningful living. In our recent newsletter, I outlined a set of sessions at the upcoming Biennial Meaning Conference that can help someone gain the knowledge needed to facilitate Meaningful Living groups. Early registration for the conference ends June 30. Register here.
We are working on a virtual version of Meaningful Living meetups.
Anyone interested in the conference or Meetup groups can contact me: Dr. Paul P. T. Wong.
Wong, P. T. P. (Ed.) (2012). The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications, Second Edition. Routledge.
Wong, P. T. P. & Fry, P. S. (Eds.) (1998). The Human Quest for Meaning: A Handbook of Psychological Research and Clinical Applications. Routledge.
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, Second Edition. Routledge. This chapter describes the PURE and ABCDE models.
Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.
Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search For Meaning. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Maslow, A. (1993). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (An Esalen Book). New York: Penguin (Non-Classics).
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
Meetup image and picture of Dr. Lilian Wong courtesy of the Wong family.
Picture of Paul Wong lecturing at the previous Biennial Meaning Conference used with permission from PurposeResearch.
Pathways picture courtesy of Jay Daverth