Research Institute on Flourishing and Suffering (RIFS)

Dr. Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych

From the perspective of second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0), the complexity of the human mind can be best understood in terms of contradictions between opposing forces, such as good and evil, happiness and suffering. Therefore, the circle of wholeness and wellbeing consists of two halves, the existential positive psychology of suffering (Yin) and the positive psychology of flourishing (Yang).

Research on the relationship between flourishing and suffering demands more attention because healing, flourishing, and growth may depend on the optimal tension and balancing between conflicting forces. (Wong, 2019). When we embrace suffering and death as part of us, and work with them as our life partners, we may become more open, authentic, and creative, resulting in sustainable flourishing.

“Yes, ironically, this is the very wound that can lead to new spiritual growth.  Thinking of your death can help you to radically alter your fixed and habitual perception. Instead of living according to the merely visible material realm of life, you begin to refine your sensibility and become aware of the treasures that are hidden in the invisible side of life.” (O’Donohue, 1999)

The RIFS is the research arm of the International Society for Existential Positive Psychology, the professional division of the INPM. Its objective is to support original collaborative research, maintain a Research Ethics Board, and publish a peer reviewed journal (The International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology [IJEPP]). You are invited to becoming a founding member of this institute by joining the INPM.

References

O’Donohue, J. (1999). Anam Cara: Spiritual wisdom from the Celtic world. Transworld Pub.

Wong, P. T. P. (2019). Second wave positive psychology’s (PP 2.0) contribution to counselling psychology. Counselling Psychology Quarterly [Special Issue]. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1671320


Recommended Readings for the Existential Positive Psychology (2.0) of Flourishing Through Suffering*

*This list is far from being exhaustive. Here, I only included those publications that have played an important role in my development of existential positive psychology and my own publications on this subject matter. I welcome suggestions of additional publications important for this emerging field.

Click here to see full list.

New Ideas for PP 2.0 Research

Existential Positive Psychology (PP 2.0) and Positivity Ratios

What would be the best positivity ratio for you? It seems intuitive that the greater the ratio the better. Thus, a ratio of 10 positives to 1 negative would be the best. However, one can get bored eventually even with the most desirable positive experiences. One would have to create some feelings of sadness, even when one lives in a world of perfect happiness.

Personally, I totally enjoy a state of bitter-sweet nostalgia in my old age, and I enjoyed feelings of melancholy as a young man. Thus, what ratio would be best for your all depends on your personality, culture, and the context you are in.

In positive psychology, the positive ratio of three positives to one negative used to be touted as the golden rule for happiness (Fredrickson, 2013; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Although Barbara Fredrickson’s concept of a critical positivity ratio has been debunked by Nick Brown (Brown et al., 2013, 2014a, 2014b; Friedman & Brown, 2018; Rotondaro, 2013; Snæbjörnsdóttir, 2010), the positive ratio remains a powerful concept, especially for existential positive psychology (PP 2.0) in the age of COVID-19.

PP 2.0 insists that any true measures of wellbeing, meaning, or the growth mindset must factor in some aspects of the dark side of life, such as the Dark Triad of personality, Viktor Frankl’s Tragic Triad of life, or sickness.

According to this conceptual framework, positive and negative conditions must be employed as co-variates. Similarly, outcome measures must include the Yin-Yang aspects of human experiences. Thus, measures of complete wellbeing must include both the happiness index (SWB) and suffering index, which could be calculated as a positivity ratio.

In other words, any measure of positive outcome in a world full of hardship and suffering need to incorporate some measure of negative experience. One way to do it is to use the positivity ratio. For example:

My hypothesis is that future research will support the following:

(a) The optimal positive ratio varies according to the whether the context is predominantly a happy occasion (e.g., wedding, promotion) or a sad occasion (e.g., funeral, unemployment), or whether the culture is preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness or with relief from suffering.

(b) The positivity of 3:1 units is not the same as 9:3 units, because that the greater the unit, the more intense the positivity or negativity; it is based on the assumption that positivity and negativity are  two separate but interacting dimensions rather than two poles of the same dimension.

References

Brown, N. J. L., Sokal, A. D., & Friedman, H. L. (2013). The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: The critical positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68(9), 801–813. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032850

Brown, N. J. L., Sokal, A. D., & Friedman, H. L. (2014a). Positive psychology and romantic scientism. American Psychologist, 69(6), 636–637. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037390

Brown, N. J. L., Sokal, A. D., & Friedman, H. L. (2014b). The persistence of wishful thinking. American Psychologist, 69(6), 629–632. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037050

Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on positivity ratios. American Psychologist, 68(9), 814–822. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033584

Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American psychologist, 60(7), 678-86. Doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.7.678.

Friedman, H. L., & Brown, N. J. L. (2018). Implications of debunking the “critical positivity ratio” for humanistic psychology: Introduction to special issue. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 58(3), 239–261. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167818762227

Rotondaro, V. (2013). Nick Brown smelled bull. Narratively. https://narratively.com/nick-brown-smelled-bull/

Snæbjörnsdóttir, B. (2010). The a priori nature of Fredrickson’s theory of emotions [Bachelor’s thesis]. https://skemman.is/bitstream/1946/5286/1/BS.pdf

The Role of Wu-Wei in Flourishing

A “flow” state occurs when one is fully, competently engaged with a challenging task to the point of forgetting oneself and the passing of time. In contrast, a state of “Wu-Wei” is defined by two dimensions: (a) Fully focusing on the present without any task or goal in mind, and (b) in perfect harmony with what is naturally unfolding at the moment. This can take place while walking in the woods, fishing by oneself, or practicing Qi Gong or Yoga.

Wu-Wei also result in a state of self-transcendence by forgetting oneself and the passing of time, but through a different path of “action without action” and characterized by the emotion of peace and harmony (i.e., mature happiness rather than feelings of excitement). Wu-Wei is primarily situated in the default mode network of the brain.

Personally, I can accomplish more through Wu-Wei than action because most of my impactful insights and life-changing decisions came from mindful meditation or biblical contemplation. I also have experienced mature happiness through Wu-Wei rather than pleasurable activities because not only can I have a blessed time of inner peace and deep joy in communion with God, nature, and others, but surprisingly also have chaironic happiness.

References

Clough, R. B. (n.d.). The daoist wu wei love of rocks and walden. Academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/24153106/The_daoist_wu_wei_love_of_rocks_and_walden

Clough, R. B. (n.d.). Wu wei – Augustinian-Daoist transcending through humility. Academic.edu. https://www.academia.edu/24152170/Wu_wei_Augustinian_Daoist_transcending_through_humility

Moleski, M. (2012). Attending to mysteries: instilling Polanyi’s epistemology with the wisdom of Wu Wei. Academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/4302659/Attending_to_Mysteries_Instilling_Polanyis_Epistemology_with_the_Wisdom_of_Wu_Wei

Tinery, J. (2014). A meditation on the art of not trying. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/science/a-meditation-on-the-art-of-not-trying.html

Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 52(2), 69–81. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022511

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 (2nd ed., pp. 3-22). New York, NY: Routledge.

Wong, P. T. P. (2020). Made for Resilience and Happiness: Effective Coping with COVID-19 According to Viktor E. Frankl and Paul T. P. Wong. Toronto, ON: INPM Press.

Wong, P. T. P., & Bowers, V. (2018). Mature happiness and global wellbeing in difficult times. In N. R. Silton (Ed.), Scientific concepts behind happiness, kindness, and empathy in contemporary society. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Xing, Y., & Sims, D. (2011). Leadership, Daoist Wu Wei and reflexivity: Flow, self-protection and excuse in Chinese bank managers’ leadership practice. Management Learning, 43(1), 97-112. DOI: 10.1177/1350507611409659