I am disappointed that I won’t be able to attend the International Meaning Conference coming up in Toronto at the end of July. They are putting together an all-star line up of researchers in positive psychology with an emphasis on “healing and flourishing through meaning.”
Editor’s Note: Early registration for the two July conferences in Toronto ends this week on June 15. We already featured the Canadian Positive Psychology Conference that will take place July 20-21. The full speaker list and preliminary conference program are up on the CPPA website, along with a button to register. Jeremy features the International Biennial Meaning Conference that will take place July 27-29 with preconference workshops on July 26. Register here.
The headliners will include Todd Kashdan, author of the must-read book Curious? and a strong voice for emphasizing meaning over happiness; Laura A. King, widely cited for her unique, narrative approaches to meaning and well-being (such as her well-known work on the practice of journaling about your Best Possible Self) and, of course, Paul Wong, who literally wrote the book on meaning.
At the conference they will also be honoring three individuals who have made significant contributions to research or therapy based on meaning:The first honoree is Dr. Christopher Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Chris (he’s such a lovable guy, it’s hard to refer to him as Professor Peterson) was one of my professors in the MAPP program. His Primer in Positive Psychology laid the foundation for my studies in the field and his Handbook on Character Strengths and Virtues (often referred to as a “manual of the sanities”) has changed the face of psychology. Chris has a wonderful Psychology Today blog called The Good Life. The second honoree is Dr. Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology, psychiatry, and education at University of Rochester who, along with Edward Deci, founded Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT is a powerful theory of human motivation that is known for its simple elegance. I use the word “powerful” because SDT teaches us that our motivation to change and grow comes from within. SDT also shows us the conditions that facilitate that process. I am often amazed by how much of human behavior can be explained by SDT. See my recent blog posting: Stop Trying to Motivate your Employees! (Self-Determination Theory at Work).
The only honoree I wasn’t previously familiar with is Dr. Emmy Van Deurzen, founder and principal of the New School of Psychotherapy and a big voice in existential therapy. I am fascinated by this approach as it sounds like it overlaps with the ideas of psychological flexibility and Acceptance and Commitment Theory, which I think represent the future of psychological well-being.Existential therapy is based on authenticity, and getting a deeper understanding of the human condition by accepting certain givens about life, such as impermanence, isolation, and meaninglessness. Accepting these realities of human existence allows people to take responsibility for their lives and gives them freedom to align their actions and choices based on their personal beliefs and values.
The existential therapy approach particularly resonated with me due to its holistic nature. In existential therapy, people are considered based on their orientations along four interwoven dimensions: the physical, the social, the psychological and the spiritual.
I am a big fan and student of positive psychology, but I believe true well-being is found by embracing and accepting some of the negative aspects of life balanced by a mindful approach (perhaps while “tilting towards the positive.”)
Congratulations to these honored researchers who are helping us to explore deep questions of humanity.
This article was posted simultaneously in Jeremy’s blog today where it is titled Great Minds Gather to Discuss Meaning in Life.
References and recommended reading:
Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. eds. (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.
Hayes, S. (2009). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Association for Contextual Behavioral Science.
Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.
King, L. A. (2010). The Science of Psychology: An Appreciative View. McGraw-Hill.
McCarthy, J. (2011). Mental yoga: Why psychological flexibility matters. Huffington Post.
Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
van Deurzen, E. (2010). Everyday Mysteries: A Handbook of Existential Psychotherapy, Second Edition. Routledge.
Wong, P. T. P. (Ed.) (2012). The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications, Second Edition. Routledge.