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Chapter 13

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McMaster University
Jennifer Ostovich

Chapter 13: Experience, existence and the meaning of life Humanistic and Positive Psychology - humanists argue that the mind is fundamentally different from things such as molecules or atoms/physics  it’s not just another science - it’s unique because the mind is aware, it knows that it’s being studied and has opinions about itself that affect the way it is studied - psychology therefore needs to address this phenomenon ofawareness, and also consider the following phenomena: reflective thinking, imagination, introspection, self-criticism, free will - this is the focus of humanists, they look at themeaning of life, free will, self-awareness Phenomenology: Awareness is everything - phenomenology: one’s conscious experience of the world - it is more important than the world itself - everything that has happened and true about you now, andanything thatmight happen in the future can influence you only by affecting your thoughts and feelings at this moment  from a phenomenological viewpoint, the only place and time in which you exist is in your consciousness, here, right now  you are here now, and you choose what to think, feel, do - the past/future is no more than ideas, it’s about how we perceive - construal: your particular experience of the world o it forms the basis of how you live your life, including the goals you pursue and the obstacles and opportunities you perceive o by choosing your construal of the world- by deciding how to interpret your experience- you can achieve free will - psychology needs to study how people perceive, understand and experience reality - introspection: Wilhelm Wundt asked RAs to observe their own perceptions and thought processes Existentialism - a broad philosophicalmovement that began in Europe in mid-1800s - arose as reaction against industrial revolution, science andrationalism  rationality had gone to far in attempts to account for everything - goal was to regain contact with the experience of being alive and aware - existential analysis begins with concrete and specific experience of a human being existing at a particularmoment in time and space  what is the nature of existence? How does it feel and what does itmean? The three parts of experience - conscious experience of being alive has 3 components - Umwelt: biological experience o sensations, including pain, pleasure etc. - Mitwelt: social experience o what you think and feel as a social being, emotions and thoughts about other people and emotions and thoughts directed at you (when you think about someone you love or fear, that experience if Mitwelt) - Eigenwelt: inner, psychological experience o How you think and feel when you try to understand yourself, your own mind and your own existence o Includes experience of introspection “Thrown-ness” and Angst - thrown-ness is an important basis of your experience  it is the time, place and circumstances into which you happened to be born - according to existential philosophy, there are no answers to“why am i here” and “what should i be doing” besides from answers that you invent for yourself - existential anxiety or angst arises when you are unable to answer these questions about the meaning of life - choices are never perfect, there are trade offs, thus always leads to anguish - there are no sets ofrules which guide you tomake choices  your choices are yours alone- no escape from existential solitude- you remain forlorn, alone with your existential choices - any aware person realizes that most outcomes are beyond control  will feel despair, which will redouble responsibility to affect aspects of the world that you can influence Bad Faith - according to existentialists such as Sartre, you must face angst and other unpleasant-sounding experiences - you need to face mortality and apparentmeaninglessness of life directly and seek purpose for existence  this is our existential responsibility, which requires existential courage(or optimistic toughness) - a temporary solution that does not require courage or toughness is avoidance  i.e. living in bad faith, as the existentialists would call this head-in-the-sand approach o quit worrying, carry on, find material comfort - problems with this strategy: o by avoiding the troubling facts of existence is to live a cowardly lie. If you are going to give up and not examine the substance and meaning of your experience, you might as well not be alive  Kurt Vonnegut (Cat’s Cradle): the difference between us and a pile ofmud is that we have awareness so that we can look around and experience the world, but our time is limited  therefore, we must experience as much of the world as possible  We must be aware that this is our only chance, if not we will leave unexamined lives and eventually loose our awareness w/o realizing how special it was o Even if we domanage to ignore troubling existential issues and surround ourselves with material comfort, we will still not be happy  Meaningful life > wealthy, experiences affect happiness more than possessions  Until we think seriously about what is important, we will continue to have frustrating glimpses of a more satisfying life o It is impossible to have an ostrich approach to the existential issues  There is no exit to the existential dilemma, even if you fool yourself into thinking that there is Authentic existence - the alternative to bad faith is to courageously come to terms with existence - use the authentic existence approach, face the facts- you are mortal, life is short and you are master of your own destiny within those limits o entails being honest, insightful, morally correct - this will not relieve you from loneliness and unhappiness because an examination of conscious experience will reveal the awful truths of life - life has no meaning beyond what you give it, and he essence of human discovery is that the human being is the only animal that understands it must die - this terror inspired by the prospect of death can cause people to distort reality to feel better  existentialism takes moral courage to cast aside defense mechanisms and the veneer of culture and peer into the void ofmorality and meaninglessness - Friedrich Nietzsche decided that the most honourable response was to rise above it all and become a superman (triumph over apparent meaninglessness of life by developing the existential strength to face what must be faced)  sadly he never managed to reach this point - Sartre claimed that only through existential analysis can people regain awareness of their freedom o Existential theory is the only one which gives man dignity, the only one which does not reduce him to an object o The existential challengeis to do all you can to better the human condition, even in the face of life’s uncertainties - Frankl: you can become stronger in the face of difficult circumstances if you canmove from “what do i want from life” to “what does life want from me” o E.g. people who believed in “I strive to make this world a better place”, “I acceptmy limitations” felt more hope, moremeaning o Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to do something for somebody else The eastern alternative - European existentialist- existentialism begins with the experience of a single individual at a singlemoment in time o the fundamental reality is your own experience at this moment- the past, future and experiences of others are forever closed off o this view is different from the perspective of eastern cultures (religions( which are often associated with collectivist cultures - e.g. Zen Buddhism: key idea is anatta (i.e. non-self) o the singular self you sense inside your mind is merely an illusion  what feels like your “self” is just a temporary composite of many things (physiology, environment, social setting, society- all of which is constantly changing) o furthermore, this illusion of having an independent self is harmful because it leads to feelings of isolation, an excessive concern with “me” o the reality is that everyone and everything is interconnected o it is not true that all you have is your experience- all consciousness and all of time have equal claim to existence and are equally important and time flows from present to present, not fro past to present to future o one’s existence is nomore or less real or important than anyone else’s o this actually enhances the importance of the self  you are an integral and interconnected part of the universe, and it is part of you- instead of being forever alone and powerless  you are immortal in a sense that you are part of something larger than yourself that twill last forever o if you can grasp these ideas, your selfish thoughts and fearsof the future will fall away  you will understand anicca: nothing lasts forever and it’s best to accept his fact instead of fighting it  all moments in the past, current and future have equal status  well-being of others is just as important  englightened if you achieve this understanding  manifested by caring for others the same as for yourself, which leads to universal compassion- this is the essence of wisdom and leads to a serene, selfless state called nirvana  beats despair and anguish Optimistic Humanism: Rogers and Maslow - Americans mixed the European existential philosophy, the less isolated eastern view of the self and the “American can do attitude” to get an optimistic philosophy of life - Combined: standard existential assumptions that phenomenology is central and that people have free will + idea that people are basically good (assumption, no evidence) o “good”: Seek to relate closely with others and have innate need to improve themselves and the world Self-actualization: Rogers - basic tendency is to actualize, maintain and enhance life o differs from classic existentialists who believed that existence has no intrinsic goal - a person can be understood only from the perspective of her phenomenal field (entire panorama of conscious experience) o field is where unconscious conflicts, environmental influences, memories, hopes etc. come together o they combine in different ways at every moment of a person’s life and gives rise to person’s ongoing conscious experience The hierarchyof needs: Maslow - begins with same assumptions as Rogers- ultimate need or motive is to self-actualize, however, this motive becomes active only if the person’s more basic needs aremet first - human motivation is characterized by a hierarchy of needs - at odds with traditional existentialists: an individual starving has free choice in what to concern himself with - applications in career choice o someone grows up in economic instability, find job which will be safe, not earn the most money vs. someone who has these safety needs guaranteed, will be able to find something based on possibilities of self-expression/can takerisks (parents have succeeded in providing this granted security) - applications in employee motivation o employees will not show initiative and imagination unless they feel secure, and those who feel secure want something besides more money- they want to express themselves through their work by identifying with the organization’s goals and contributing to them o e.g. Southwest Airlines: never laid anyone off, goes to extraordinary lengths to make each employee feel like a valuable part - hierarchy also explains how people in different cultures have different bases of happiness o financial status was associated with life satisfaction more often in poorer nations whereas in richer nations, one’s home life was more important money is more important when you have very little and at a certain point, it begins to become irrelevant to happiness (thoughwe often seek it) – in turn, our emotional needs and relationships with others grow to matter much more o The fully functioningperson - both believed that the best way to live is to become more clearly aware of reality and yourself - Rogers- become a fully functioning person if you take responsibility for your choices and perceive the world accurately w/o neurotic distortions o ~authentic existence, except there’s an additional component of joy o Person faces the world w/o fear, self-doubt or defences - Pre-requisite: unconditional positive regard from importantpeople in your life (Rogers) o Maslow differed: anybody from any background could become a fully functioning person - If you feel that other people value you only for your positive traits, then you will develop conditions of worth o It limits your freedom to act and think o If you believe that you are valuable only if certain things about you are true, then youmay distort your perception of reality to believe them, even if they are not true o If you think you are valuable only if your behaviour conforms to certain rules and expectations, you may lose your ability to choose what to do o Violates existential imperatives to see the world as it is andto choose freely - If experienced unconditional positive regard, does not develop such conditions of worth o As a result, confident in her values, free from existential anxiety o Sense of innate goodness leads her to make right choices - Fully functional person lives a life rich in emotion and self-discovery  spontaneous, reflective, adaptable, confident, trusting, creative, understanding of others and more accepting of others as separate individuals etc. Psychotherapy - goal of humanistic psychotherapy: help client become fully functioning person - therapist develops a genuine and caring relationship with client and provides unconditional + regard o help client perceive his own thoughts/feelings w/o therapist seeking to change them o make client feel appreciated no matter what o allows insight and removal of conditions of worth - requires lots of time and patience - study: descriptions of who they are and ideal diverged greater among those who felt they needed therapy  post therapy, ideas alignedmore closely - problems o results seem to be equally due to changes in clients’ ideal views as to change sin their self-views o describing oneself as highly similar to one’s idea of a perfect person is not always a good measure of psychological adjustment  even schizophrenics consider themselves close to ideal - despite these problems, rogerian psychotherapy has contributed to the idea that psychotherapist needs to listen to the client more patience and less hesitance to impose own values on clients Personal Constructs: Kelly - George Kelly: person’s individual experience of the world, emphasized how one’s cognitive system assembles one’s various construals of the world into individually held theories called personal constructs - These constructs help determine how new experiences are constructed - Personal construct theory (his theory of personality) Sources of constructs - constructs are bipolar dimensions (scales ranging between one concepts and its opposite, such as good-bad) along which people or objects can be arranged - each person’s cognitivie system is made of unique set of constructs (include paired opposites of all sorts) - favoured the Role Construct Repertory Test as method of assessment o identify 3 people who have been important to you, describe how two of them seem similar and different from the third  repeat with other important ideas o the question is the same in each case: how are two of thesesimilar to each other and different from the third? o The way you discriminate reveals the constructs through which you view the world o E.g. if you constantly state that two are strong and the third is weak  strong vs. weak is one of your personal constructs - Particular constructs are more readily brought to mind in certain individuals  chronically accessible constructs - Constructs come from, but not determined by, past experiences o Everyone is a scientist who obtains data and devises a theory to explain the data o Any data could fit at least two of alternative theories  scientist always chooses which theory to use, and according to the principle of parsimony (Occam’s razor), the simplest is the best o Makes a judgement call, because the simplest might not always ensure the right choice o The sum of your experiences and perceptions provides the data you use to develop an interpretation/theory of what the world is like o This theory is your personal construct system  becomes frame work for perceptions and thoughts about the world o Framework determined by your freely chosen interpretation of past experiences, so you could have drawn different conclusions no matter what happened to you - Sociality corollary: understanding another personmeans understanding her personal construct system  need to be able to look at the world through that person’s eyes - Psychotherapist needs to lead the client to self-understanding Constructs and reality - so depending on one’s personal constructs, any pattern of experience can lead to numerous construals- so you choose the construals you use - constructive alternativism: your personal reality does not simply exist apart from you, you construct it in your mind, you can always choose to reconstruct reality differently - scientific paradigms: frameworks for construing the meaning of data  the basic approaches to personality are all paradigms o this perspective was a choice of each psychologist  to focus on some aspects of human psychology and ignore others o its not about which is right/wrong, but which paradigm addresses the topic that interests the researcher and personality psychology needs all of them because ach one leaves out something important - everyone has developed systems which affect how they understand matters  useful but narrow-minded devotion to just one paradigm can make one person forget other ways of constructing reality - e.g. construal of opportunity cost  leads to how you view things, in light of this view, may say that you are becoming poor by not collecting as much as money as possible - maximizers (believe one should also seek to get as much as one possibly can) vs. satisficers (some outcomes are good enough even though they are short ofmaximum)  satisficers enjoy more happiness and satisfication - the content of psychotherapy is not the most important aspect, its more about whether the psychotherapist can get patient to construe reality in a different way  once they can do that, they can work out which construal works the best for them Flow: Csikszentimihalyi - phenomenological approach: conscious experience of beingalive - this guy focused on optimal experience- he believed that moment to moment experiences is what reallymatters, its about how to make the most out of it - best way to spend time is in autotelic activities (those that are most enjoyable for one’s own sake) - flow: subjective experience of an autotelic activity, the enjoyment itself o not same as happiness, but characterized by tremendous concentration, lack of distractibility and thoughts concerning only the activity at hand o mood slightly elevated, time passes quickly, loosing track oftime - flow arises when challenges presented is well matched with skill level o too hard  anxiety, worry, frustration o easy  boredom, anxiety o balanced  flow
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