Dr. Paul Wong is a Psychology professor, Clinical Psychologist, author, speaker and justice fighter. His greatest happiness is to bring happiness to those who are suffering. He is the founder of the International Network on Personal Meaning, the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute and the International Society for Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy.
You can subscribe to Dr. Wong’s Positive Living Newsletter for information regarding Meaning Conferences and other INPM events as well as for words of wisdom and inspiration on positive living. Click here to subscribe to this free monthly newsletter (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the sign-up form).
Dr. Wong’s blog, Total Fitness and Practical Spirituality, explores various issues related to spirituality and health. More specifically, it examines the potentials of total health benefits of translating Christian spiritual principles into physical exercises and daily activiies.
TRANSCRIPTION OF MY THIRTEEN-MINUTE VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH DR. PAUL WONG
Paul, I’d like to focus today on the International Meaning Conference on July 26-29 in Toronto. This is the seventh such conference, which is held every two years. It’s sponsored by INPM, the International Network on Personal Meaning. (Click here for the conference website.)
First of all, can you tell us when the INPM was founded, why it was founded, and what its mission is?
INPM was founded in 1998. The mission is to advance the vision and mission of Viktor Frankl, which is healing through meaning. Everybody has to have meaning and purpose in their lives, so I think that is a worthy cause. Now we added the word “flourishing,” so the mission is healing and flourishing through meaning. We want to not only provide a cure for human problems but also offer hope for human flourishing.
Why is this upcoming conference worthy of people’s attention?
Because this is one of a kind. It is the only international conference focusing on meaning. The second unique thing about this conference is that we were able to get leaders from different fields and theoretical camps to get together to tackle the problems and challenges of how to live a meaningful life and how to flourish. Psychologists are still very tribal, very territorial. They like to be with their own gang. The positive psychologists go to a positive psychology conference. Existential psychologists go to an existential psychology conference. So here is a conference that can bring birds of different feathers to the same place. This is not an easy task!
Each previous conference has focused on a different aspect of people’s lives, from addiction and mental health to positive work and workplaces to death and dying. What is the theme of this year’s conference?
This year’s theme is a positive vision of healing and flourishing through meaning.
What can people expect to see and hear at this conference?
At the conference, they will learn about cutting-edge research and the most innovative interventions from leading experts from theoretical camps. If you want to acquire multiple skills, here’s the place to go. Also, for people who are dissatisfied with their own lives and dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the world, they can also get a glimpse of our vision so they can join us to change the world and change their lives.
Where can people go for more information?
We have several websites. The International Network on Personal Meaning is the main website. We also have inpm.org, which is made for the Meaningful Living Group, a grassroots movement to teach people how to live meaningfully. A professional site dealing with existential psychology is called the International Society for Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy; it focuses on research and theory. Finally, they can join The Meaningful Living Project on Facebook to see a lot of ideas about how to live a meaningful life.
On a more personal level, why is the issue of meaning and purpose so important to you?
The world is full of suffering and full of injustice. Part of the problem is people’s lack of a sense of meaning. Because if you have a sense of meaning about your life, you will suffer less. Also, you can avoid both the excesses of success and unnecessary suffering related to adversity. Life is full of ups and downs. You need to have a proper perspective, you need to have the big picture of humanity, of our environment, of the cosmos. If all you care about is “my success” and “my happiness,” you will get into disappointment, disillusionment and have all kinds of problems. That’s why I believe, and research supports my idea, that to have a sense of meaning is the best way to deal with depression and addiction. Also, it’s the most effective way to improve well-being. That’s a thumbnail sketch.
Your personal mission is to alleviate suffering. Do you agree with Viktor Frankl, who wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Yes, Because if you do not discover the meaning of your suffering, then you suffer more than you have to. If you say, “I’m suffering for my family,” or “I’m suffering for my friend,” or “I’m suffering for my country,” that sense of meaning removes a lot of unnecessary psychological struggles connected with suffering. If you think your suffering doesn’t mean anything, you think, “Why me?” and “Why am I so unfortunate? Why do terrible things happen to me?” This psychological reaction makes the pain worse, makes the unfortunate event more than it is. The reaction to an event is more important than the event itself. Absent a sense of triumph and meaning and hope, then that event is more horrible, then you can complain about everything and blame everybody.
Do you see any distinction in the ability to tolerate suffering between an individual who already had a strong sense of meaning and purpose and an individual who finds meaning and purpose in the suffering itself?
If people have the proper mindset, if people have a proper understanding of the role of meaning in human lives, it’s like they have immunization, like a shot in the arm.. They are prepared. If they do not have a meaning mindset, when tragedy strikes, when something bad happens to them, then they go through the struggle of finding out why it happened to them, and why they have such bad luck, and are they being punished for the bad deeds in their last life. They are troubled by all kinds of thoughts so they go through that process. But if they have come to that point already, they will be spared from the struggle again. Does that make sense to you?
Yes, very much so. It’s my experience that when you have a sense of meaning and you have to enter into suffering, it doesn’t make the pain any less, but it helps you recover more rapidly from it.
Yes, it makes the pain more tolerable, more bearable.
Did you have any personal or professional interaction with Viktor Frankl?
I had a couple phone calls with him. He was very excited about what I was doing at that time, which was editing the first edition of The Human Quest for Meaning. He was very happy about that. The Human Quest for Meaning is now in the second edition,and both editions are selling very well. Basically, my book, The Human Quest for Meaning, is an extension of his original Man’s Search for Meaning. You see the connection? From man’s quest for meaning to the human quest for meaning. Many people say “Man” is sexist, right? So I say this is a human quest for meaning. My book includes all the contemporary research and theorizing that expand on Frankl’s original idea.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today, Paul. I enjoyed our conversation so very much. This is a topic that is one of my personal favorites, and I’m so glad that you have taken the initiative to write about it and to host conferences and organizations. Thank you for the work you’re doing in the world.
Click here to see all the video and audio interviews I’ve conducted.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?
Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to start one
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier
Through God’s Eyes won first place in the “Spirituality and Inspirational” category at the San Diego Book Awards on June 22, 2013.
Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.
• an overview of the book
• the complete table of contents
• the Foreword by Caroline Myss
• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
• a sample end-of-chapter story
• endorsements from authors and thought leaders
Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!
THROUGH GOD’S EYES PDF SAMPLER
Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents on Amazon.
Order it at GodIsLogical.com.
In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
• What is the secret to liberating yourself from other people’s judgments and expectations?
• Why is there an exception to “Everything happens for a reason”?
Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.
Schedule a Mastery Mentoring phone session with Phil to learn how to apply principles of spiritual living more effortlessly and effectively. Priced affordably! Click here to e-mail Phil for details.
Phil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent people he interviewed, including Joan Borysenko, Deepak Chopra, geneticist Dr. Francis Collins, acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford, Dr. Larry Dossey, Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman, Caroline Myss, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Dr. Bernie Siegel, James Van Praagh, singer Billy Vera, Doreen Virtue, Neale Donald Walsch, and bassist Victor Wooten.
Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories. Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers. Learn more by visiting the official Sixty Seconds website.
Sixty Seconds was one of three finalists in the General Interest/How-To category at the 12th annual Visionary Awards presented by COVR (Coalition of Visionary Resources) in Denver on June 27, 2009.