POSITIVE PSYCHOTHERAPY AND MEANING IN LIFE
According to Victor Frankl (1973) man’s search for meaning is a sign of being truly human that should be termed spiritual distress rather than mental disease. The fundamental and basic human need is to understand and find meaning in existence, something that is relevant to every human being.
There is a clear distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being could be described as the accumulation of mostly positive experiences, whereas eudaimonic well-being is a deeper attempt to find meaning and purpose in life that very often moves beyond simply having a positive experience (Friedman, 2012). Every dimension of being human includes the physiological, the psychological (the emotional as well as the mental), and the spiritual, representing layers of properties and functions all interacting with each other.
A meaningful life focuses on common ground involving the exercise of intelligence, directed towards the good, the true, and the beautiful. This includes reflecting on aims, acting on them and discovering one’s inner potential. The aim of positive psychotherapy, therefore, clarifies the importance of imparting meaning to clients’ lives, focusing on what is conceived as positive, fostering meaningfulness and mindfulness of meaning, clarifying goals and dilemmas, assisting in self-understanding and decision-making and helping the client develop a suitably strong self.
Though each person’s search for meaning may involve different pathways, most individuals search for deeper significance and transcendence in their lives. Transcending the mundane requires bringing the sacred into relationship, not only with the therapist but with everything that one does in life. The emphasis here is on recognizing the wonder of integrity that comes when people invest themselves in sacred matters. Researchers Pargament, Lomax, McGee, and Fang (2014) found that associating moments with sacred qualities, such as transcendence, boundlessness, and ultimacy gave deeper meaning to general areas of life, allowing for commitment, dedication, and preservation. This included engaging in less aggressive reactions and more problem solving, that in turn elicited deeper spiritual emotions of love, gratitude, and feelings of awe. Findings supported the notion that sanctification in general is linked to greater relationship satisfaction, general well-being, positive affect, and less stress-related growth.
Positive psychology focusses on the significance of one’s highest human potential, and on the study of strengths and virtues amongst other. According to Steger, Shin, Shim, & Fitch-Martin, 2013, p.166, meaning is the “degree to which people have achieved comprehension (through making sense of their lives and experience, developing a coherent mental model of their selves, the world around them, and their fit and interactions with the world) and have achieved purpose (through discerning, committing to, and pursuing over-arching lifelong goals, aims, and aspirations)”.
Making meaning is a resource that positive psychotherapists use to assist a client’s understanding of a worldview that results from a potentially traumatic experience; the meaning is used across experiences, including negative ones, to serve as the driving force to continue moving forward. The client is invited to uniquely construct their own meaning, to build resilience to adapt to stressors which are a part of everyday life, to restore balance when confronted with a stressor and to grow into their best potential and capacity.
- Frankl, V. (1973). Psychiatry and man’s quest for meaning. Journal of Religion and Health, 1, 93–103.
- Friedman, E. M. (2012). Well-being, aging, and immunity. In S. Segerstrom (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of psychoneuroimmunology (pp. 37–62). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Pargament, K. I., Lomax, J. W., McGee, J. S., & Fang, Q. (2014). Sacred moments in psychotherapy from the perspectives of mental health providers and clients: Prevalence, predictors, and consequences. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1(4), 248–262. doi:10.1037/scp0000043
- Steger, M. F., Shin, J. Y., Shim, Y., & Fitch-Martin, A. (2013). Is meaning in life a flagship indicator of well-being? In A. S. Waterman (Ed.), The best within us: Positive psychology perspectives on eudaimonia (pp. 159–182). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.