Self-Transcendence as the Path to Virtue, Happiness and Meaning
In my last presentation (Wong, 2015), I introduced Viktor Frankl’s concept of the
meaning dimension as a necessary spiritual orientation for the good life of virtue, meaning, and happiness. I proposed that meaning mindset (Wong, 2012) represents the cognitive aspect of self-transcendence and a psychological instrument to measure one’s unconditional belief that life
has inherent meaning. Meaning mindset helps us make sense of life and facilitates the discovery of meaning. In this presentation, I introduce the Self-Transcendence Measure, a psychological instrument designed to measure our primary motive towards self-transcendence. This 17-item scale (Appendix A) was primarily based on Viktor Frankl’s (1985, 1986, 1988) concept of self-transcendence as the end-value of seeking and serving something greater and beyond oneself; it was also based on Wong’s (2014a, 2016) recent conceptualization of Frankl’s meaning-seeking model. More specifically, the 17 items were generated according to several dimensions of self-transcendence, such as serving the greater good; appreciating and pursuing the classical ideals of beauty, goodness, and truth; making a significant contribution to the world; feeling connected with other people; feeling connected with God or nature; transcending temporal and physical limitations; and accepting and rising above suffering and death. The face validity of these items was screened by a group of graduate students taking a course on self-transcendence. In the literature, self-transcendence has long been an important concept in various lines of research, from spirituality and transpersonal psychology to personality traits, aging, and palliative care. Several instruments have already been developed to measure self-transcendence in various contexts (Cloninger, Svrakic, & Przybeck, 1993; Garcia-Romeu, 2012; Reed, 1991). My presentation in Chicago will clarify how the Self-Transcendence Measure differs from other instruments. In addition to presenting some preliminary data of reliability and validity, I will make the case that Frankl has awakened our awareness of our spiritual need for self-transcendence and “enabled us to change the way we act towards the world: to reconfigure our lives in ways that are more satisfying, fulfilling and authentic” (Cooper, 2015, p. 67). In other words, when we are able to step out of ourselves from a limited self-orientation—our egotistic concerns and our existential anxiety about our finitude and insignificance—towards some greater good, we will be liberated and empowered to nurture the better angels of our nature and experience the good life of virtue, happiness, and meaning. We are living in a challenging period of history. With all the progress in technology, production, and living standards—with all the scientific research on how to improve our happiness and well-being—we seem to have still lost our way. We no longer know how to live and behave as fully functioning human beings, and we are no longer able to treat all others with respect and human decency. Scientific research by itself does not seem able to address the basic moral and spiritual needs of human beings. Within this context, Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy helps rehumanize psychology and shows us how to be truly human again (Wong, in press). By combining ancient spiritual practices with modern psychology research on meaning and purpose, Frankl demonstrates that the new way of acting towards the world is actually the ancient way of self-transcendence, based on our universal capacities for belief in transcendence, meaning seeking, and meaning making.
I will conclude by arguing that the Self-Transcendence Measure represents an important instrument in advancing second wave positive psychology (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon, & Worth, 2015; Wong, 2011) for several reasons. Firstly, it measures a sustainable well-being that is less dependent on positive emotions and positive circumstances. Secondly, it shifts the focus from behaviour and cognition to the spiritual dimension that really separates human beings from other animals. Thirdly, it recognizes the importance of being attuned (Wong, 2014b) with oneself, one’s world, and others as a fundamental mental state of happiness and well-being. Finally, acknowledges that self-transcendence is the most promising path to moral virtue, eudemonic happiness, and existential meaning.
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Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning (revised & updated ed.). New York, NY: Washington Square Press.
Frankl, V. E. (1986). The doctor and the soul: From psychotherapy to logotherapy (revised & expanded ed.). New York, NY: Random House.
Frankl, V. E. (1988). The will to meaning: Foundations and applications of logotherapy (expanded ed.). New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Garcia-Romeu, A. P. (2012). Self-transcendence: Measurement and experience (Doctoral dissertation, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology).
Ivtzan, I., Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Worth, P. (2015). Second wave positive psychology: Embracing the dark side of life. London, UK: Routledge.
Reed, P. G. (1991). Toward a nursing theory of self-transcendence: Deductive reformulation using developmental theories. Advances in Nursing Science, 13(4), 64-77. Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.
Wong, P. T. P. (2012). What is the Meaning Mindset? International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 4(1), 1-3. Wong, P. T. P. (2014a). Viktor Frankl’s meaning seeking model and positive psychology. In A. Batthyany & P. Russo-Netzer (Eds.), Meaning in existential and positive psychology (pp. 149-184). New York, NY: Springer.
Wong, P. T. P. (2014b). From attunement to a meaning-centred good life: Book review of Daniel Haybron’s Happiness: A very short introduction. International Journal of Wellbeing, 4(2), 100-105. doi:10.5502/ijw.v4i2.5
Wong, P. T. P. (2015). The meaning hypothesis of living a good life: Virtue, happiness, and meaning. Dr. Paul Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/the-meaning-hypothesis-of-living-a-good-life-v...
Wong, P. T. P. (2016). Meaning-seeking, self-transcendence, and well-being. In A. Batthyany (Ed.), Logotherapy and existential analysis: Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute (Vol. 1; pp. 311-322). Cham, CH: Springer.
Wong, P. T. P. (in press). Logotherapy. In A. Wenzel (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of abnormal and clinical psychology. New York, NY: Sage.