Archives for March, 2012
March 30th is my birthday. This year, I’m reaching the milestone of middle adulthood. Being in my early 40s brings both joy and a reason to reflect. In these four decades, I have met many interesting people, traveled to many beautiful places, and done many useful things. In this reflection, I have decided to give more weight to the positive things instead of the negative ones. I have succeeded and I have failed, yet both experiences are useful and make me the way I am today. Both the positive and the negative experiences are positive in the end. Because our default state is positive; we give valuable meanings to every experience; and every single meaning adds up to the pile of “life experiences.” Carl Jung once said that midlife serves as an important preparation for late adulthood, “the evening of life.” He was right. I have been thinking about how I’d like to spend retirement years with loved ones, visiting places I’d love to remember, and meeting special people whom I admire. To achieve all these, I need to prepare myself for some changes: reinvesting time and resources for better purposes, and learning things that would be useful mentally and emotionally in later stages of life.
I studied law in college, business and education in graduate school, and now am studying psychology. I have several reasons for why I decided to pursue the study of the human mind and behaviors. The most personal reason that I hold very dear to my heart is: I’m confused with people’s “erratic” and “unpredictable” behaviors, and I’d love to understand them. There are always physiological, cognitive, cultural, social, humanistic, and other perspectives behind a particular behavior and why-and-how our mind works. The many schools and viewpoints of psychology have opened my eyes to see that a single act may have been the result of accumulated past experiences, which come with “good” or “bad” shades. Traumatic experiences, for instance, give a “bad” foundation for the future self, which may require some therapy to cope with. And each experience, be it joyful or traumatic, is experienced and recorded differently in every individual.
In the extraverted world we live in, introverts are oftentimes considered “weird.” In extreme cases, they may have been considered “outcasts.” Many labels are placed upon these quiet and deep-thinking individuals, yet the world needs them to balance out the louder and more outspoken type of individuals, known as “extraverts.” How many introverts are out there? Many studies have resulted differently: 25 percent, 50 percent, or even 57 percent of the world population are introverts. No one knows for sure how many they actually are in general population, but among gifted individuals, introverts are the majority. Of course, not all introverts are gifted. If you think all introverts are shy, well think again. Introversion has nothing to do with being shy or shyness. The latter is about being awkward, uncomfortable, and doesn’t like being around people. Many introverts are comfortable around many people. The main difference between an introvert and an extravert is the source of their energy.
Almost twenty years ago, I bought a small book written by Thomas Nagel titled What Does It All Mean? Since then, I have read it many times over, lost it, and bought it again. Only to have it lost again and, this time, found. This tiny volume is only 101 pages long, which is divided into ten small chapters: Introduction, How Do We Know Anything?, Other Minds, The Mind-Body Problem, The Meaning of Words, Free Will, Right and Wrong, Justice, Death, and The Meaning of Life. This book provided a structure on how I should look at life, its meaning, and death. It is a philosophy book, yet it is so practical and applicable, unlike those esoteric volumes by big names who lived a few centuries ago. I learned to approach every decision and every event in life with a pair of critical eyes and critical mind since I finished reading it in one sitting.
Raising children is about shaping traits and instilling values, not merely about fixing behaviors. Teaching children how to flourish should begin with focusing on their strengths, not their weaknesses. By focusing on their strengths, parents and children are more motivated to work together as a team. But teaching positivity isn’t synonymous with using positive reinforcements all the time. It’s a tricky balance of reframing. Every child is born with his own level of so-called “natural” happiness. Some were born with over-the-top cheerfulness, while others are born with less. This explains why some children are fussier, while others keep grinning from ear to ear, regardless of the mood of the surrounding environment. Happy kids tend to respond differently to failure than not-too-happy kids. Their strengths, however, should be distinguished from their natural level of happiness. Whether your child has a high level of natural happiness or a low level, he must learn to fail.
Out of four cardinal virtues –wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance—the first two are most required in self-development. By having the courage to do the “right” things, an individual develops wisdom to practice justice and temperance. Oftentimes, in the study of psychology, both wisdom and courage are discussed together. One can hardly exist without the other. And to optimize human performance, we need to cultivate both courage and wisdom. Courage is considered the foundation of all virtues, as lacking it would be difficult to perform a virtue, any virtue, or even any action either virtuous or not. Thus, it is safe to assume that an individual’s precursor to virtuosity is courage. What courage is probably quite simple to watch, but not to define. We may have observed that “courage” constitutes the will that matches the capacity to do the initial act, to speak the truth, and to take leadership on an issue that matters. In short, it is the drive to do something, instead of staying silent. One’s level of courage may differ from others inherently, but it is something that can be learned through conditioning.
Copernicus published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolution of Celestial Spheres) in 1543 and shook the whole world and changed how we see the earth and ourselves today. Prior to this book, it was believed that the earth was the center of the universe and the planets don't revolve around the sun but it was the other way around. Today, we know that the earth and other planets in the solar system revolve around the sun and the Milky Way galaxy consists of many more stars like the sun. Such a paradigm shift takes us to another level of consciousness. It also changes many things in the field of science and the arts. Such a breakthrough clarifies our previously foggy perspective. The field of psychology also experienced such as breakthrough in paradigm shift when pathological perspective was no longer the only way to approach an issue. In this perspective, an individual without any psychological disorder is considered “fine” and doesn't require any psychotherapy. Psychotherapists only work when a patient comes with at least a pathology to investigate, treat, and (hopefully) cure.
We may not be aware that we are moving forward from childhood to another childhood. According to Carl Jung, the first phase of life is called “individuation,” while the rest is named “transcendence.” Once we've hit “transcendence,” we are likely to hold on to the notion of “innocence,” which is a characteristic of the “childhood” period. However, the quality of “innocence” differs. In “individuation” phase, we are focusing on things and events outside ourselves, with which we learn how to maneuver and polish our survival skills, as well as physical survival and reproduction. In Developmental Psychology, this phase occurs during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. In this phase, many things would create confusion and uncertainty, hence considered the most “turbulent” time in people's lives.
Every one of us copes with life’s expectations, challenges, and turmoil uniquely in our own specific ways based upon individual self-system. According to Toru Sato, PhD the author of The Psychology of Human Relationships, Consciousness, and Development, self-system is “an understanding in our minds that enables us to maintain the energy necessary for us to both psychologically and physically survive.” In short, we all need a good working self-system to maintain a relative peace of mind in performing activities and progressing. A person with “resilient” self-system knows the timing and the amount of holding on and letting go, which would affect feelings, maintain a sense of fulfillment, and overall well-being. While there is no specific self-system that’s more favorable, it is most logical to cultivate resiliency through assimilation and accommodation processes, as Jean Piaget posited. “Assimilation” requires minimal change, while “accommodation” requires registering new information and making it our own that may cause more internal conflicts including repressive thoughts and denials.
What constitutes a "good life" may not be identical from one person to another. This notion, however, can be tracked back to Aristotle’s eudaimonia. “Eudaimonia” means happiness or welfare, which was used by Aristotle as the center of his ideas on ethics and political philosophy. Happiness or welfare makes every effort of any human progress worthwhile, in which virtue and moral wisdom are expected to reside. It’s not about euphoria or instant gratification. In further development of philosophy, numerous models have grown out of it: effectiveness, self-efficacy, mindfulness, awareness, and flow. The “flow” is a concept further developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, which is a state of focused concentration. It is also known as a state of intrinsic motivation, in which the activity provides both the motivation and the satisfaction to make one completely immersed in the activity.