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Toward a Reflexive Positive Psychology Insights from the Chinese Buddhist Notion of Emptiness

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This paper claims that the missing value dimension in positive psychology's model of the good life is attributable to its focus on the unreflective first-order desires, as exemplified by hope theory, and its misguided claim of scientific neutrality that renders invisible the moral maps of human experiences. It is argued that the solution of the problem lies in self-reflexivity, which is an extra mental space needed for the drawing and redrawing of moral maps. Exposition of self-reflexivity shows how a self-to-self transaction adds a so far neglected intrapersonal dimension to cross-cultural analysis, and how moral maps are rendered visible and transformative in second-order desires, as exemplified by the Chinese Buddhist notions of savoring and `emptiness.'
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Theory & Psychology
DOI: 10.1177/0959354308093400
2008; 18; 655 Theory Psychology
Louise Sundararajan
Buddhist Notion of Emptiness
Toward a Reflexive Positive Psychology: Insights from the Chinese
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Toward a Reflexive Positive
Psychology
Insights from the Chinese Buddhist Notion of Emptiness
Louise Sundararajan
ROCHESTER,NY
ABSTRACT. This paper claims that the missing value dimension in positive
psychology’s model of the good life is attributable to its focus on the unre-
flective first-order desires, as exemplified by hope theory, and its misguided
claim of scientific neutrality that renders invisible the moral maps of human
experiences. It is argued that the solution of the problem lies in self-reflexivity,
which is an extra mental space needed for the drawing and redrawing of moral
maps. Exposition of self-reflexivity shows how a self-to-self transaction adds a
so far neglected intrapersonal dimension to cross-cultural analysis, and how
moral maps are rendered visible and transformative in second-order desires, as
exemplified by the Chinese Buddhist notions of savoring and ‘emptiness.
K
EY WORDS: emptiness, first-order and second-order concerns/commentaries,
first-order and second-order desires, first-order experience, hope theory, moral
map, Novelty-focus and Authenticity-focus cultures, second-order awareness,
savoring, self-reflexivity
Imagine a sadomasochist who comes to savor serial killing and
derives great pleasure from it. Imagine a hit man who derives
enormous gratification from stalking and slaying. Imagine a terrorist
who, attached to al-Qaeda, flies a hijacked plane into the World Trade
Center. Can these three people be said to have achieved the pleasant
life, the good life, and the meaningful life, respectively? The answer is
yes. (Seligman, 2002, p. 303, n. 249)
Such statements by the founder of positive psychology point to what many
critics both within and outside psychology find to be problematic about psy-
chology as a science (Richardson, Fowers, & Guignon, 1999). Seligman has
given us a model of the good life ostensibly devoid of a moral map, which is
a horizon of significance that anchors and renders intelligible our concerns
THEORY & PSYCHOLOGY Copyright © 2008 SAGE Publications. VOL. 18(5): 655–674
DOI: 10.1177/0959354308093400 http://tap.sagepub.com
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and evaluations (for an analysis of positive psychology’s myopia with regard
to its own moral maps, see Sundararajan, 2005). Excising the value question
for the sake of ‘scientific neutrality’ seriously undermines the credibility of
this model, for it is questionable whether any form of life that is considered
‘good’ can be devoid of a moral map. This paper locates the root cause of the
problem in self-reflexive consciousness, which is the extra mental space that
allows the drawing and redrawing of moral maps, a dimension of conscious-
ness that is neglected by positive psychology. It is this lack of self-reflexivity
that renders invisible the moral maps that subtend our visions of the good life.
This is the central argument of the paper.
In what follows, I show, first, how self-reflexivity constitutes a so far neg-
lected intrapersonal dimension in cross-cultural differences in moral maps;
and, second, how, at the level of individual consciousness, self-reflexivity can
render our moral maps visible, articulate, transformative, and in turn
amenable to transformation. For illustration, the Chinese notions of savoring
and ‘emptiness’ will be presented in contrast and comparison with hope the-
ory, an illustrative example of positive psychology. These cross-cultural com-
parisons will help to bring to light the implicit moral maps to which positive
psychology subscribes, despite its neutrality claims. Implications of a self-
reflexive turn in psychology are discussed in the concluding section.
An Intrapersonal Dimension of Cross-Cultural Differences
A Definition of Self-Reflexivity
Self-reflexivity, in simplest terms, refers to a recursive loop in which a thing
becomes self-referential. In the context of consciousness, self-reflexivity
refers to an extra mental space that consists of a combination of two variants
of consciousness, distinguished by Lambie and Marcel (2002) as: (a), inward-
directed, as opposed to outward-directed attentional focus; and (b), second-
order awareness, as opposed to first-order experience. The first component is
based on the two foci of cognitive attention, inward toward the self versus
outward toward the world. These orientations help shape the nature and con-
tent of our emotional experiences (Lambie & Marcel, 2002). Inwardly
directed attention in which the self relates to itself, for instance in self-
monitoring, may be an unconscious process. Full-fledged reflexive con-
sciousness has a second component—a higher-level consciousness, generally
known as second-order awareness. This component will be examined later, as
it does not concern us at the level of cultural analysis. In the following para-
graphs, I show how self-reflexivity in the sense of inward cognitive attention
constitutes a so far neglected intrapersonal dimension of cross-cultural differ-
ences, and how this variable can shed some light on the implicit moral maps
of positive psychology.
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Cross-Cultural Differences in Moral Maps
The moral map is defined by Charles Taylor (1985) as ‘certain essential evalua-
tions which provide the horizon or foundation for the other evaluations one
makes’ (p. 39), such as happiness or the good life. Elsewhere, Taylor (1997)
refers to the moral map as the ‘horizon’ of significance, or ‘a background of
intelligibility’ (p. 37) through which our values can be articulated. Moral maps
differ across cultures. To illustrate cultural differences in moral maps, I compare
and contrast a formulation of hope in positive psychology (Snyder, Cheavens, &
Michael, 2005) with selected passages from Cai-gen Tan (Discourse on
Vegetable Roots; for English translation, see Hung, c. 1500/1926). Cai-gen Tan
is a book of aphorisms written by Hung Ying-ming in the 16th century, and has
been an influential book to this day as pop psychology/philosophy (for a con-
temporary Chinese commentary, see Wang, 2004)—something of a Chinese
counterpart of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
The hope theory of Snyder et al. (2005) postulates two essential elements
of hope: agency thinking (self as author of causal chains of events) and path-
way thinking (plan to meet goal). This model of hope seems to be grounded
in what Nisbett (2003) refers to as goal-oriented reasoning, which is to
‘define the goal to be achieved and develop a model that will allow you to
attain it’ (p.128). More specifically, ‘this view implies a behavioral sequence
whereby a person sets his objective, develops a plan designed to reach that
objective, and then acts to change the environment in accordance with that
plan’ (p. 75). An important element of this thinking is the belief that ‘man can
freely manipulate his environment for his own purposes’ (Mushakoji Kinhide,
cited in Nisbett, 2003, p. 75). A diametrically different moral map is found in
the Cai-gen Tan, which extols mastery within and denigrates mastery without:
‘Those capable of self-reflection turn everything they deal with into medicine
for health, whereas those quick to blame others turn every thought into arms
for war’ (Wang, 2004, p. 206, item 121).
Novelty- versus Authenticity-Focus Cultures
The contrast between these two moral maps, as illustrated by hope theory and
Cai-gen Tan, seems to fit the theory of primary versus secondary control, with
the former privileging ‘changing the world’ and the latter ‘changing the self
(Rothbaum, Weisz, & Snyder, 1982). However, we may gain a deeper under-
standing if the difference in control is cast in a cross-cultural framework.
Novelty- versus Authenticity-focus is a theoretical framework proposed here
(Averill & Sundararajan, 2005; Sundararajan, 2002; Sundararajan & Averill,
2007). This theory has an intrapersonal dimension which, as Bacon (2005)
points out, is not found in most cross-cultural contrasts, such as collectivism
versus individualism (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002), or interde-
pendent versus independent cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). The intrap-
ersonal dimension refers to difference in self transactions, difference that is
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predicated on the two foci of cognitive attention—outward toward the world
versus inward toward the self—orientations that profoundly impact on the
nature and content of our emotional experiences (Lambie & Marcel, 2002).
One direct consequence of the difference in self transactions—self in trans-
action with the world versus with itself—is a differential emphasis on same-
ness/similarity and difference/dissimilarity, as we shall see. The stage is now
set for a formal definition of Novelty- versus Authenticity-focus transactions.
Novelty-focus refers to an outward orientation, a self-to-non-self relation-
ship in which the partners of the transaction are dissimilar. The dissimilarity
of the partners predicts that the self-to-world transaction is characterized by
low emotional involvement (psychological distance, instrumentality, objec-
tivity, etc.), and high cognitive differentiation (difference, uniqueness, etc.).
Authenticity-focus, by contrast, refers to an inward orientation, a self-to-self
relationship in which the partners of the transaction are the most similar
‘other, since neither of the two poles of this transaction is a non-self. The
similarity of the partners predicts that the self-to-self transaction is character-
ized by high emotional involvement (participation, solidarity, integration,
etc.) and low cognitive differentiation (similarity, redundancy, etc.). This
transactional framework of the self can explain not only the premium placed
on instrumentality and objectivity in the contemporary West, but also the dif-
ference in self construals across cultures. The atomic self privileged in the
West can be predicated from a Novelty-focus self transaction that capitalizes
on difference and distance from the other: ‘I stand apart from all others, pro-
tected against them, entitled to make demands upon them, concerned with my
personal choices, my personal aims or fears as over against any other who
may threaten to frustrate me’ (Fingarette, 1991, p. 192). The self construal
predicated on Authenticity-focus, in contrast, is well articulated by
Kierkegaard’s purely structural definition of the self: ‘The self is a relation
which relates itself to its own self (cited in Neville, 1996, p. 204). This self-
reflexive self is ubiquitous in Chinese classical texts. Here is one instance
from Mencius: ‘He who is sincere with himself is called true’ (Tu, 1985a,
p. 96, italics added). Neville (1996) has noted that in the writing of many
Chinese scholars the term ‘self is ‘nearly always used simply in its reflexive
form, as in self-cultivation, self-criticism, and so forth, not as a noun sub-
stantive’ (p. 216, n. 1). Indeed, ‘we would do better, says Fingarette (1991),
‘to translate Confucius by use of the reflexive idioms’ (p. 199): for instance,
instead of ‘examine my self or ‘govern the self, the text should be rendered
‘examine myself, ‘impinge on oneself, ‘govern oneself, ‘sacrifice oneself,
and so on (p. 198).
This heightened sense of self and subjectivity in traditional China cannot be
explained by the prevalent cross-cultural constructs of either Individualism–
Collectivism (Oyserman et al., 2002) or Independent–Interdependent (Markus &
Kitayama, 1991)—constructs that predict a relatively marginal role of the self
in collectivistic or interdependent cultures. In contradistinction to the received
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wisdom that the primary focus in traditional societies falls on the collective life of
the group, Tu (1985b) claims that in the Confucian tradition, ‘[t]he ultimate pur-
pose of life is neither regulating the family nor harmonizing the father–son rela-
tionship, but self-realization’ (p. 243). Consistent with the construct of
Authenticity-focus, the self-reflexive orientation of Confucianism is referred to
by Tu (1985a) as ‘authenticity’: ‘ … the word “authenticity” ... seems to me more
appropriate than narrowly conceived moralistic terms such as “honesty” and “loy-
alty” to convey the original Confucian sense of learning for the sake of the self
(p. 52). It is against the backdrop of the Authenticity-focus in Chinese culture that
we may appreciate the fact that savoring, a self-reflexive emotional concept and
action, is more developed in China than its counterpart in the West (Frijda &
Sundararajan, 2007), as we shall see.
At the level of cultural analysis, moral maps are nonconscious assumptions.
For moral maps to become explicit and articulate, second-order awareness is
required. Second-order awareness consists of ‘experience plus an additional
experience of that experience’ (Zelazo, 1996, p. 73), thanks to an extra recur-
sive loop of consciousness. Whereas first-order experience is implicit and not
reportable, second-order awareness is reportable and articulate. An example of
first-order experience is when one slams the door without being aware of one’s
anger. Articulation of one’s emotions requires second-order awareness; the
same goes for moral maps. To this topic we now turn.
Moral Maps and Second-Order Commentaries of Emotion
In contrast to the implicit moral maps at the level of cultural analysis, Charles
Taylor (1985) speaks of the moral map in a more active and dynamic sense.
For instance, he talks about the drawing of a moral map, which ‘involves
defining what it is we really are about, what is really important to us; it
involves entering the problematic area of our self-understanding and self-
interpretation’ (p. 68, italics added). The drawing and redrawing of moral
maps is not possible without second-order awareness, which renders them
visible and articulate. Second-order awareness of moral maps is manifest in
second-order desires (Taylor, 1985) or second-order commentaries (Archer,
2000), to be explained below.
Taylor makes an important distinction between first-order and second-
order desires. First-order desires are concerned primarily with the object of
desire—the quality of which tends to serve as basis for one’s preferences—
leaving the quality of desire itself unquestioned. The desire to evaluate our
desires, ‘to regard some as desirable and others as undesirable’ (Taylor, 1985,
p. 16), constitutes second-order desire. According to Frankfurt (1971), while
all animals exhibit desires, only humans exhibit the desire to have certain
kinds of desires and not others. At the level of second-order desires, one may
be able to go beyond the object of one’s emotions—the person one loves or
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hates, for instance—to evaluate one’s emotional feelings themselves: one can
feel ashamed of one’s undue jubilance at the misfortune of one’s opponent,
proud of one’s feeling of guilt, or happy about the devastating impact of one’s
anger on the wrong-doer. As these instances show, the dichotomy of positive
and negative emotions no longer holds at the level of second-order desires,
when joy carries a negative and guilt a positive valence, and so on. Second-
order desires entail a full-fledged self-reflexivity, which, we may recall, is a
combination of inward attention and second-order awareness. In the follow-
ing paragraphs, I will show how the second-order awareness in full-fledged
self-reflexivity renders moral maps visible, potent, transformative, and also
amenable to further revisions. With the self-reflexive consciousness, we now
approach the central theme of this paper, namely that it is this extra mental
space that allows the drawing and redrawing of moral maps, a dimension of
consciousness that is neglected by positive psychology. The theoretical
framework that lends itself to this exposition is Archer’s (2000) notion of
emotion as first-order or second-order commentaries, which correspond to
Taylor’s first-order and second-order desires, respectively.
According to the sociologist Margaret Archer (2000), emotions are contin-
uous running commentaries on our concerns. When there is a mismatch
between the anticipation of our concern and our body’s relation with the envi-
ronment, emotional commentaries arise to modify the latter (p. 204). This is
emotion at the level of the first-order concerns or commentaries. Second-
order commentary arises when we comment on our own commentaries. The
notion of emotion as second-order commentary challenges the mechanistic
understanding of emotion as ‘readout’ in mainstream psychology. For
instance, Oatley (1992) claims that emotions ‘are signals that imply that
something needs attention’, in a way similar to ‘burglar alarms that go off
when there is an intruder’ (p. 50). In sharp contrast to mechanical signals that
terminate once the message is conveyed, emotional commentaries are reflex-
ive and generative: we comment on our own commentaries, which in turn can
generate further commentaries ad infinitum. The generative nature of emo-
tional commentaries makes it possible for the making and remaking of our
moral maps a potentially endless process. The potentially endless cycle of our
second-order commentaries bears reiterating. Taylor (1997) argues for the
importance of constantly calling into question existing visions of the good
life, thereby reminding ourselves that the moral maps we draw always have
room for change and growth, as does life itself.
For Archer (2000) also, the importance of second-order commentaries lies in
their potential for change and growth, which mechanical signals such as alarm
bells do not have. Archer is emphatic about the transformative impact of reflex-
ivity in the commentaries one makes to oneself. Unlike a sports commentator’s
running commentaries, which have no impact on the game, the second-order
commentaries we make about our own concerns can modify the concerns them-
selves. This transformative nature of second-order commentaries of emotion
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forms a sharp contrast to the ‘expressive monologue’ (recall the alarm bell;
Archer, 2000, p.196) that looms large in the cognitive accounts of emotion in
mainstream psychology.
The transformative movements of the second-order emotional commen-
taries have been extensively documented by Archer (2000). Morphogenesis of
emotions includes second-order prioritization of emotions, that is, how our
concerns are monitored, displaced, and reordered in their priorities by their
commentaries. Archer notes in particular how the second-order emotional
commentary can modify the power of its constituents, the emotional goal
itself. Following Charles Taylor, Archer (2000) refers to such emotional trans-
formations as ‘transvaluation’ (p. 222). Archer points out that as a result of
over-investment in the transvalued feelings, second-order commentaries tend
to polarize differences, with one term of the binary opposition over-valued
and the other term de-valued. For our purposes, the focus of analysis in the
following paragraphs will be on how the drawing and redrawing of moral
maps in second-order commentaries contribute to emotional transformation.
The topic of moral maps and evaluations touches upon an important com-
ponent of emotions, namely cognitive appraisal. According to appraisal theory
(Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003), information processing in emotion is an intrinsi-
cally evaluative process, which entails the encoding of emotional information
by certain schemas or templates. This theoretical framework allows us to
understand the transformation of emotion in terms of cognitive recoding
(Teasdale & Barnard, 1993) of experience. More specifically, in the language
of information processing, transformation of emotion entails a process in
which a mental code—such as first-order concerns—that initially codes the
emotional information is overwritten by a different mental code—such as the
moral map. Modification at this high level that pertains to a revision of the cog-
nitive template/map of the world is akin to a shift of the tectonic plates of
the soul—the cognitive recoding to be described below is necessarily a very
emotional event that should not be confused with intellectualizing or self talk.
Transvaluation as Recoding of First-Order Concerns
To reiterate a distinction made by Archer (2000), emotions come in two vari-
eties: first-order concerns and second-order commentaries. First-order con-
cerns tend to be more tightly coupled with action than are their second-order
counterparts. This observation may explain the ancillary role of emotion in
hope theory. Emotions, according to Snyder et al. (2005), are ‘sequelae’ of
goal pursuits (p. 114). More specifically, emotions ‘reflect the person’s per-
ceived success (positive emotions) or lack of success (negative emotions) in
goal pursuit activities’ (p. 114). This formulation is applicable only to emo-
tion as first-order concern/commentary.
Emotion at the level of second-order commentaries behaves differently.
For instance, hope theory (Snyder et al., 2005) predicts that impediments in
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pursuit of goals decrease wellbeing. Not so, says Cai-gen Tan: frustration is
good for you and gratification of desires rots like opium, or, more literally,
Words that grate on one’s ears, and things that frustrate one’s desires are the
foundation stones for self-cultivation in virtue. A life filled with words
pleasant to one’s ears, and things gratifying to one’s desires is a life buried
in opium. (Wang, 2004, p. 24, item 5)
Another case in point is the Chinese notion of the golden mean (cf. Legge,
1893/1971), which is a binocular vision that sees two sides of the same
coin—thesis and antithesis—at once. When this principle recodes experience,
success is not necessarily positive, nor failure negative, because, in the words
of Cai-gen Tan, ‘an extreme engenders its opposite’:
In favor the seeds of calamity are sown, thus it is time to stop and turn
around when things are going one’s way; after failure things may turn in the
opposite direction toward success, thus it is important not to give up when
frustrated. (Wang, 2004, p. 31, item 9)
Like the hinge that maintains its equilibrium above and beyond the move-
ments of the door, one who follows the golden mean treats success and
failure alike, since both require the modulation of a delicate sense of bal-
ance and proportion, elements which have become definitive of the
Chinese notion of wellbeing. Thus at the level of second-order commen-
tary, the principle of the golden mean can recode the dichotomy of success
and failure—values that hold sway in first-order concerns—such that suc-
cess no longer necessarily correlates with positive emotions, and failure
with negative emotions.
To examine further the recoding of experience by the moral map at the level
of second-order commentaries, I first introduce the Chinese notion of savoring,
then the Buddhist notion of emptiness—the former shall serve as a theoretical
framework for the latter, and both will be examined along two axes: self-reflex-
ivity and transformation of emotional intent. Expositions on savoring and
emptiness will help to expand the horizon of positive psychology beyond its
focus on unreflective first-order concerns, and its misguided claim of scientific
neutrality that renders invisible the value dimension of human experiences.
The Chinese Notion of Savoring
In the following analysis, I situate the Chinese notion of emptiness (kong) in
the cultural/historical context of aesthetic savoring. An investigation of kong
needs to start with a review of the Chinese notion of savoring for two reasons:
(a) phenomenologically speaking, kong is a particular case of savoring—the
savoring of loss and grief; and (b) as a well-articulated second order commen-
tary, the notion of savoring renders accessible to analysis the cognitive struc-
ture and information processing involved in second-order desires such as kong.
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Savoring as Second-Order Commentary of Taste
The Chinese notion of savoring (Frijda & Sundararajan, 2007; Sundararajan,
2004; Sundararajan & Averill, 2007) is broader in scope than the contempo-
rary formulation of this topic in positive psychology (Bryant & Veroff, 2007).
Whereas Bryant and Veroffs formulation (2007) is confined to positive expe-
riences, the Chinese savoring includes negative experiences as well, and
has a relatively wider scope of temporality that extends to both the after-taste
of an experience (Eoyang, 1993) and the subtle incipient phase of things
(Sundararajan, 2004).
Cast in the framework of Archer (2000) and Taylor (1985), savoring is a
second-order commentary on the first-order taste. One major difference
between the first-order desire of taste and the second-order desire of savoring
lies in the fact that the latter is a self-initiated action and cannot be imposed
from without. Otherwise put, the devil can be made to have a taste of his own
medicine, but cannot be made to savor it unless he wants to. This agentic
aspect of savoring and its corresponding conative implications loom large in
one of the earliest textual references to flavor: the Chung Yung stated: ‘There
is no body but eats and drinks. But they are few who can distinguish [zhi, lit-
erally ‘cognize’] flavors’ (Legge, 1893/1971, Vol. 1, p. 387). The term ‘zhi’ is
difficult to translate. To be cognizant of (zhi) flavors entails knowing that one
knows the flavors. Without the reflexive awareness of knowing (knowing that
one knows), it wouldn’t be possible to manipulate one’s experience in ways
characteristic of savoring, such as prolonging the experience, making fine dis-
criminations of taste, and so on.
Savoring and Transformation of Emotional Intent
With reflexive awareness, one’s attention shifts from the object of emotion to
emotion itself as the object of one’s reflection and desire. Reflective attend-
ing is different from goal pursuits in many respects. Reflective attending
tends to foreground the sensations, feelings, and action-readiness that are left
out in the calibration of goal pursuits. Reflective attending is also more pas-
sive than goal pursuits. Because of its disengagement from goal-oriented rea-
soning and execution of an action plan, reflective attending is referred to by
Frijda and Sundararajan (2007) as ‘detachment, which may be understood as
an over-arching mental attitude of receptive observation, of unfocused atten-
tion that lets information come in from the outside and elicits meanings from
within, without prior selection by expectancies and, perhaps, subsequent
selection by relevance.
Of particular relevance for an analysis of emotional intent is ‘action-readi-
ness, which may be defined as a state of readiness to entertain, modify, or
abandon a particular relationship to some object of perception or thought,
including oneself (Frijda, 2007). Action-readiness can be manifest in overt
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action, such as approaching an object of desire, or in mental imagery, such as
wishing to slap someone in anger. The action-readiness characteristic of
savoring is manifest in the actions that aim at maximizing sensory and affec-
tive contact with the object. In gustatory savoring, that includes perceiving the
dish as a dish and not as food, inhaling smells, and having the food circulate
around one’s tongue; in aesthetic savoring, it involves stillness, turning away
from distractions, seeking to let imagination flow, relaxing the body so that it
allows virtual participation in the scene, and so on. This type of action-readiness
is referred to by Frijda (2007) as ‘acceptance wriggles’—movements designed
to enhance and prolong pleasurable sensations. As such, savoring signifies the
emotional intent of acceptance or letting be, which is diametrically opposed
to the intent of mastery or control behind agency and goal pursuits (cf.
Bryant, 1989). This contrast in inward versus outward mastery, as we may
recall, corresponds to the Authenticity-focus and Novelty-focus orientations,
respectively.
As noted above, whereas savoring is confined to positive experiences in the
West (Bryant & Veroff, 2007), its Chinese counterpart has a broader scope
that includes negative experiences as well. The key to understanding savoring
as an effective response to negative outcomes in life lies in its function as sec-
ond-order commentary, which holds the potential for cognitive recoding of
emotional experience, resulting in novel appraisals and transformations of the
original emotional intent. A case in point is the Buddhist notion of emptiness
(kong). Kong in its original context as part and parcel of Buddhist religious
beliefs and practices (cf. Streng, 1967) falls outside the pale of this paper. The
focus of analysis in the following section will be on emptiness in its function
as a moral map—a pan-cultural template that codes emotional experiences in
a wide variety of contexts, ranging from the mundane to the aesthetic, just as
Puritan ethics is a moral map that cuts across all religious denominations in
its influence on capitalism in the contemporary West. In the present context,
the emotional experience of emptiness is not contingent upon religious affil-
iation to Buddhism, or upon attainment in Buddhist practices such as medita-
tion or the eightfold path, although knowledge and understanding of the
concept of kong would help.
The Buddhist Notion of Emptiness
Kong and Detachment
The Chinese notion of kong can be traced back to the Buddhist concept of
sunyata, meaning ‘nothingness’ or ‘emptiness, which is the logical conclu-
sion of the Buddhist doctrine of the impermanence of all things. Expressing
the Buddhist sentiment of ‘vanity, vanity, all is vanity, the appraisal of kong
tends to be global, such as ‘[a]ll glamour is empty in the end’ (commentary
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on Cai-gen Tan, Wang, 2004, p. 80). Typically kong entails an appraisal not
only of the state of affairs of particular goals, but an appraisal so far-reaching
that it calls into question the very possibility of having goals and concerns at
all. Otherwise put, kong names this existential shudder that shakes up the very
foundation of things, the very basis of all goals and concerns that the
Buddhists call ‘attachment. Indeed a common expression for the word kong
is ‘ten thousand desires/concerns have become ashes. Or in the words of Cai-
gen Tan: ‘What’s life like before you were born and after you are dead? Upon
such reflections all desires are rendered cold ashes’ (Wang, 2004, item 184,
pp. 303–304). But kong does not spell nihilism: with the deconstruction of
attachment comes the consolation of ‘detachment.
Detachment entails a very complex emotional state, a phenomenon aptly
captured by the following statement of the medieval philosopher and mystic
Master Eckhart: ‘Therefore, detachment is the very best thing. It purifies the
soul, cleanses the conscience, inflames the heart, arouses the spirit, quickens
desire, and makes God known’ (O’Neal, 1996, p. 193). The above statement
of Master Eckhart shows how detachment is different from resignation.
Resignation is manifested cognitively as ‘hopelessness’ and other related
themes, and behaviorally as social withdrawal. Functionally, resignation sig-
nifies the adaptive aspect of depression as giving up (impossible) goals.
Detachment, in contrast, is much more complex in structure. Detachment may
be understood as a second-order commentary (in the form of savoring) of dis-
illusionment. It entails transformation of the original emotional intent. In
Eckhart’s statement above, this emotional transformation takes the form of a
creative combination of opposite emotional intent—it ‘purifies’ (the soul) and
‘cleanses’ (the conscience), on the one hand, and ‘inflames’ (the heart) and
‘arouses’ (the spirit), on the other.
Another possible consequence of radical emotional transformation is hedo-
nic reversal. Hedonic reversal comes in two varieties: one is the taste aversion
of disgust (Rozin, Haidt, & McCauley, 2000); the other is the narrower defi-
nition of hedonic reversal by Rozin (1999) in the sense of liking objects that
initially give rise to aversion, such as the acquired taste for chili pepper. In the
Buddhist tradition, salience of mortality has often been the trigger for kong,
with its characteristic hedonic reversal from liking to disgust: ‘Fame and
material gain are sweet, but upon the thought of death they both taste like
chewing wax’ (Cai-gen Tan, Wang, 2004, p. 267, item 160). For individuals
with sufficient understanding of the Buddhist notion of impermanence, hedo-
nic reversal can set in on seemingly innocuous occasions such as when the
party is over:
The guests are crowded in the hall and the revelry is at its height. What a
happy occasion! All of a sudden, the water in the clepsydra comes to an end,
the candles and the incense go out, and the tea grows cold. What a dreary
scene! Disgusting and utterly tasteless. This is the way most things are.
(Cai-gen Tan, adapted from Hung, c. 1500/1926, p. 202)
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In the following paragraphs, selected poems from classical Chinese poetry
are presented to examine more closely emotions associated with kong and
detachment.
Emptiness in Classical Chinese Poetry
Consider first the three poems by Meng Chiao (751–814) lamenting the pre-
mature death of his child (translation mine; for a more literal rendition by
Steven Owen, see Meng, c. 800/1975):
Apricots Die Young
The fallen apricot blossoms, buds cut by the frost and die in infancy.
Grieving my late child, I wrote these poems.
A
Don’t let freezing hands play with these pearls—
These pearls fly loose easily.
Don’t let the sudden frost cut off spring—
Frost bitten spring has no splendor.
Frozen, falling, tiny young buds
In colorful array like my baby’s robe.
Picking them from the ground—not yet a handful,
The sun setting, I go home in hopeless [kong] sorrow.
B
The ground is strewn with stars that I picked up in vain [kong],
The branches are bare with no flowers in sight.
Sad is one solitary old man,
Melancholy is a childless home.
Much better are the diving ducks,
Much better are the nest building crows.
Ducklings fly defying the waves,
Fledglings brace the wind, boasting to one another.
Not so resilient are flowers and infants—once gone they come back to life
no more,
Facing all these creatures, I sigh in vain [kong] with sorrow.
C
Cold and raw, the frost kills the spring,
Sharpening branches of the tree into delicate knifes.
Dead is the heart of the tree,
The mountain hollows wail loudly in vain [kong].
Dot by dot, the fallen blossoms on the ground,
Gleaming like specks of light from drops of oil.
I am beginning to realize that between heaven and earth,
All things are fragile.
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Emotions depicted in all three poems by Meng Chiao are variants of the loss
and grief theme. Translated as ‘hopeless’ (‘The sun setting, I go home in hope-
less [kong] sorrow’) in the first poem, kong is not just the ‘hopelessness’ or
‘helplessness’ of depression. Indeed, there is a structural difference between
kong and the rest of the terms in the loss and grief cluster: kong is the second-
order commentary on loss and grief. The instances of kong are as follows:
The sun setting, I go home in hopeless [kong] sorrow.
The ground is strewn with stars that I picked up in vain [kong].
I sigh in vain [kong] with sorrow.
The mountain hollows wail loudly in vain [kong].
Kong expresses the futility (‘emptiness, ‘uselessness, and ‘meaningless-
ness’) of having sorrow, of gathering the fallen blossoms from the ground, of
expressing grief by sighing, or of grieving like the mountain hollows wailing
in the wind. In all these instances, the term kong is a feeling about feeling, a
higher-order representation of emotions made possible by the recursive loop
of self-reflexivity.
Another crucial difference between kong and the rest of the loss and grief
cluster is that the latter is univocal in its negative valence, whereas the former
is not. Kong is loss with a consolation. The consolation of illumination or
enlightenment is expressed in the realization of impermanence in the envoi of
poem C: ‘I am beginning to realize that between heaven and earth,/ All things
are fragile.
Consider another example. The following lyric is written by the last ruler of
Southern T’ang, Li Yü (937–978), who, in addition to personal tragedies—the
death of his wife and their young son—lost his throne and was taken as a cap-
tive to the new capital of the usurping Sung dynasty, where he stayed for the
rest of his life till his 41st birthday, upon which occasion he was forced to
drink poisoned wine and died. The following lyric (entitled Tune: ‘Ripples
Sifting Sand’) was written during Li Yü’s captivity away from his palace
(translation mine; for a more literary rendition by Daniel Bryant, see Li, c.
950/1975):
The past can only be lamented,
Confronted by the scene, I find it hard to evade.
Autumn wind, courtyards, the steps encroached by moss;
Unrolled, the beaded screens hang idly,
All day long, who comes?
Buried deep is my golden sword,
So is my youthful vigor in the weeds.
In the coolness of the night, against the tranquility of the sky, the moon
shines forth with all its splendor.
Calling to my mind the reflections of jade terraces and marble halls,
How they shimmer emptily [kong] in the River Ch’in-huai.
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As can be expected, there is much nostalgia, loss, and grief in the last
emperor’s reminiscences, but the sense of kong that concludes the poem is not
simply all that. The last emperor thought of the gleaming reflection of his
palaces in the river Ch’in-huai, and felt ‘empty’ (‘kong’). The translation ‘in
vain’ would do as well here. In vain is the beauty of the former palaces—all
their grandeur in reminiscence only mocks the dethroned ruler. Yet, there is
more. Kong is the feeling that everything is ‘empty’ to the very core. Indeed
the imagery of the shimmering reflections of grandeur captures well this
Buddhist sense of emptiness: all that splendor of towers and palaces, of the
gleaming jade and marble, turns out to be sheer reflection on water, a mirage
shot through and through with ‘nothingness.
In the present context, the poet/emperor’s detachment is manifest in a para-
doxical combination of antithetical emotions: on the one hand, the ‘empty’
reflections on water suggest the sentiment of disillusionment and emotional
withdrawal; on the other, there is a hint of consolation, an appreciation—so
characteristic of savoring—for the aesthetic beauty of things, without which it
would not have been possible for the poet to capture that enchanted moment,
when the moon shines forth in full splendor against the coolness and serenity
of the evening sky. We may recall the insight from Master Eckhart cited before
that this paradoxical combination of emotions is characteristic of detachment.
To explore further the structure of detachment, consider the following lines
of a lyric by Ou Yang Hsiu (1007–1072) (translation mine; for translation of
the whole poem by Jerome P. Seaton, see Ou Yang, c. 1050/1975):
Recollections of West Lake
Flocks of blossoms gone, West Lake is good,
In total disarray, the shattered remains of red
Misty rain, flying willow catkins;
Hanging over the railings, the willow sways in the wind all day long.
Dispersed without a trace are the pipe songs,
Gone are the tourists of the lake,
Not till then do I realize the emptiness [kong] of spring,
Rolling down the thin gauze curtain;
I am delighted to see a pair of swallows, coming home in the fine rain.
It is quite common, at least in the Chinese tradition, for a sense of kong to fol-
low on the heels of the feeling that the party is over—tourists are gone and music
bands dispersed at the famed West Lake. But more than the realization that
spring has come to an end, kong entails a self-reflexive appraisal of one’s attach-
ment to spring as well. The concomitant detachment consists of, again, a para-
doxical combination of emotions: on the one hand, there are the sentiments of
resignation and emotional withdrawal, as suggested by the gesture of pulling
down the curtain; on the other, there is an appreciation of affective ties, as sug-
gested by the return (presumably out of attachment to the nest site) of the mated
swallows. Detachment also entails the emergence of a psychological space. It is
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from this psychological space, cordoned off, as it were, by layers of diaphanous
screens—the gauze curtain and the fine rain—that the poet welcomes the return-
ing swallows with renewed appreciation but without attachment. Note the pro-
found transformation of the poet’s emotional intent from tenacious attachment to
spring (‘not until’ all the merry-making of the season has come to an end will he
give up the hope) to quiet resignation (letting down the curtain), from a sense of
loss marked by the departure of spring to a sense of gain as suggested by the
returning swallows. But things do not necessarily go full cycle—the poet has
come to approach loss and gain alike with a grain of detachment.
Along with the emergence of psychological space is the transformation of
time. The impetuousness of spring with its festivities—the tourists and the
music bands—is transformed, with the realization of kong, into a leisurely,
contemplative time, embodied by the willow that sways gently in the wind all
day long. Note the absence of ‘goal-directed energy’ characteristic of ‘agency
thinking’ (Snyder et al., 2005) in this picture. What we have instead are
‘acceptance wriggles’ (Frijda, 2007): the willow hangs in the wind languidly
with as little self-determination and purposeful pursuit as the contemplative
poet behind the gauze curtain.
Lastly, in its movement from attachment to disillusionment, kong mimics
the taste aversion of disgust, except that in the present context the realization
of kong entails a double reversion of taste from good to bad, and back again.
Shweder and Haidt (2000) found in medieval Hindu texts a subtype of disgust
that entails ‘horror and disillusionment, as well as world-weariness associated
with the quest for detachment, transcendence, and salvation’ (p. 403). The
possible connection between disillusionment and disgust as ‘the rejection
response to bad-tasting foods [and, by extension, experiences]’ (Rozin et al.,
2000, p. 644) is intimated at the beginning of the poem in reference to the
spoliation of spring: ‘Flocks of blossoms gone. . . . In total disarray, the shat-
tered remains of red’ (lines 1 and 2, first stanza). But the implicit disillusion-
ment is countered with the opposite evaluation: contrary to conventional
wisdom, the scene of devastation at West Lake is pronounced ‘good’ (line 1),
a hedonic reversal reminiscent of liking objects that initially give rise to aver-
sion, such as preference for the fiery chili pepper (Rozin, 1999). Read along
this line, this poem concerns a redefinition of pleasure, and draws the dis-
tinction between conventional pleasure, which does not survive the spring (or
symbolically youth), and refined pleasure, which does (for more details on
emotion refinement, see Frijda & Sundararajan, 2007).
Taken together, this selection of classical Chinese poems shows how the
Buddhist notion of emptiness can recode experience to allow for a paradoxical
combination of opposite emotional intent—savoring of loss and bereavement—
an interdigitation of the positive emotion of contemplative appreciation (savor-
ing), on the one hand, and the negative emotion of grief and sorrow, on the
other. Because of its radical recoding of experience, kong signifies a creative
response to severe loss, failure, and frustration, a response in terms of acceptance,
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but not resignation; letting be, but not giving up; savoring rather than coping
(cf. Bryant, 1989).
The foregoing analysis offers the leverage for an incisive critique of posi-
tive psychology. It suggests that positive psychology has been preoccupied,
on the one hand, with false dichotomies such as positive and negative emo-
tions, dichotomies that may apply to first-order desires but not second-order
desires. On the other hand, positive psychology has failed to factor in real
individual and cultural differences in moral maps such as Novelty-focus and
Authenticity-focus orientations, a difference in self-transaction that is
reflected in the outward mastery of coping versus the inward mastery of
savoring, respectively. Between false dichotomies and real differences, moral
maps have fallen through the cracks in positive psychology.
Summary and Conclusion
This study showcased the Buddhist notion of emptiness to flesh out two inter-
related themes: (a) moral maps are important in shaping our emotional experi-
ences; and (b) the drawing and redrawing of the moral map requires an extra
mental space known as self-reflexivity, which in the domain of emotions is var-
iously referred to by theorists as second-order desires, or second-order com-
mentaries. The late Ted Sarbin (1989) made the important distinction between
emotions and emotional lives. One important characteristic of emotional lives,
but not necessarily of lab-induced emotions, is the hierarchy of concerns. At
any given moment, one may find the need to prioritize the multiple pleasures of
life—to go out on a beautiful sunny day, or to remain indoors to finish an inter-
esting book. The more serious conflicts of concerns usually involve the onto-
logical question: the unimpeded functioning of a prostitute’s professional skills
(‘can I do’) may not tally with her ontological question of ‘can I be (this way).
Acceptance and avowal of experience may not coincide either: the rape victim’s
orgasm may not be graced by avowal of the experience, as the question of
avowal concerns not the pleasure of bodily functioning so much as the integrity
of being. To the extent that, as Archer (2000) points out, conflict of concerns
pushes toward second-order commentaries, and to the extent that ‘life is unlive-
able at first-order with contradictory emotional commentaries’(p. 220), second-
order commentaries can be expected to be commonplace in our emotional lives.
Yet, the study of emotion as second-order desires and commentaries has so far
been neglected in mainstream psychology (Archer, 2000).
In its uncritical acceptance of the mainstream approach, positive psychol-
ogy tends to focus on unreflective first-order concerns; and to make matters
worse, it touts the misguided neutrality claim of science that renders invisible
the value dimension of human experiences. One important consequence of
this myopia is ethnocentrism, in the sense of researchers mistaking their own
culturally specific categories to be universal (Christopher & Hickinbottom,
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2008; Teo & Febbraro, 2003). As Danziger (1997) points out, it is ‘cultural
embeddedness’ (in Euro-American cultures) that accounts for the taken-for-
granted quality that so many psychological concepts possess.
By way of conclusion, implications of this study may be adumbrated as follows:
1. Our understanding of the good life is incomplete without factoring in the
value dimension. This is especially true in cross-cultural studies of the
good life, where the moral map of another culture may be drastically dif-
ferent from that of the researcher’s.
2. The Buddhist notion of emptiness offers an alternative response to the
vicissitudes of life. Instead of the rhetoric of coping, which privileges
agency and goal pursuit, the Buddhist kong advocates letting be and
acceptance that facilitates savoring of experiences, even negative ones.
3. Solution to the undesirable consequences of misguided belief systems,
such as ‘terrorism’, lies not in ‘value-free’ neutrality so much as in fos-
tering reflexivity in our emotional commentaries. As Archer (2000)
points out rightly, emotional concerns are corrigible not because it is pos-
sible for reason to reign supreme (as Kant claims), but because we are
‘dealing with a reflexive being who not only has (first-order) concerns
but who also has the (second-order) capacity to evaluate her concerns and
to arrive at her ultimate concerns’ (p. 209).
4. Lastly, the moral map has been rendered invisible by the neutrality claim
of the scientist. To restore to the moral map its proper place in the
scientific vision of a good life, psychology needs to develop, in addition
to its empirical prowess, a self-reflexive consciousness. The inaugura-
tion of reflexive psychology can be traced back to Saint Augustine, who
claimed that the road to God (read ‘Truth’) is ‘passing through our own
reflexive awareness of ourselves’ (cited in Taylor, 1997, p. 27). From
this perspective, what psychology as a science needs in order to achieve
the goal of objectivity is not naïve neutrality but reflexivity that renders
more transparent and accountable the researcher’s own moral maps (cf.
Sundararajan, 2005).
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. A draft of this paper was presented at the 113th Annual
Convention of the American Psychological Association, August 2005,
Washington, DC. Thanks are due all the reviewers for their valuable feed-
back and helpful suggestions.
L
OUISE SUNDARARAJAN received her Ph.D. in History of Religions from
Harvard University, and her Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology from Boston
University. Currently a forensic psychologist, she was President of the
International Society for the Study of Human Ideas on Ultimate Reality and
Meaning. A member of the International Society for Research on Emotions,
she has authored over 40 articles in refereed journals and books, on topics
ranging from Chinese poetics to alexithymia. A
DDRESS: 691 French Road,
Rochester, NY, 14618, USA. [email: louiselu@frontiernet.net]
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THEORY & PSYCHOLOGY 18(5)
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... Theory & Psychology, Sundararajan (2008) also explored Asian conceptions of well-being relying on assumptions about the self that differ from assumptions in individualistic Western contexts. This volume, however, did not include any perspective from the African continent. ...
Chapter
For a long time, well-being research had been driven from a Western perspective with a neglect of cultural and contextual variables. In this chapter we argue with reference to well-being research as manifested in positive psychology (PP) as a discipline, that contextual, metatheoretical and metadisciplinary perspectives need to be taken into account. Developments in PP over time are described, illustrating the importance of contexts and assumptions in understanding well-being, and how new assumptions in the third wave of PP resonate with old African wisdoms about interconnectedness as a core value in human lives. The first wave of PP focused on advocating for the positive in human functioning, many facets of well-being were differentiated in theory and empirical studies, while assuming a naturalist worldview and that findings from the West are globally applicable. The second wave showed that PP needs to take context, culture and negative facets of human life into account for understanding the nature and dynamics of well-being. The emerging third wave of PP is characterized by the acceptance of a strong relational ontology and trends towards contextualization, interconnectedness and post-disciplinarity. Harmonizing Western and African perspectives are indicated, and specifically also the understanding of well-being as harmony and harmonization. The third wave suggests a move to “well-being studies”, instead of the disciplinary bound “positive psychology studies”—a butterfly leaving its cocoon.
... Besides Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism are also important components of the Chinese traditional culture (Guang, 2013;Tang, 1995). In Buddhism, core values include kong (emptiness) and wu (enlightenment) (Adamek, 2005;Sundararajan, 2008). Daoism values transcendance, solitude, and freedom (Sundararajan, 2015). ...
Article
We investigated parenting aspirations among Chinese international students of diverse sexual identities in the United States. We also studied associations of perceived impact of Chinese and American culture with parenting aspirations. In total, 265 Chinese international students (Mage = 23.03 years; all cisgender) participated in an online survey; 210 self-identified as heterosexual (58 male and 152 female) and 55 as members of sexual minorities (16 male and 39 female). Results showed that sexual minority students were less likely than heterosexual students to aspire to become parents. Both for heterosexual and for sexual minority students, the perceived impact of Confucianism was positively associated with parenting aspirations, but that of American culture was negatively associated with parenting desire. Moreover, sexual identity moderated the association between the perceived impact of Buddhism and parenting aspirations. For heterosexual students, the association between perceived impact of Buddhism and parenting aspirations was positive, but for sexual minority students, it was negative. Our findings highlighted the essential role of Confucianism in aspirations for the future among Chinese youth. The impact of Buddhism was, however, moderated by students’ sexual identities. Overall, the results extend those of earlier research on the role of sexual identities in shaping young adults’ aspirations.
... Existing critical analyses of positive psychology have overwhelmingly focused on its philosophical and theoretical shortcomings (e.g., Becker & Marecek, 2008;Binkley, 2011Binkley, , 2014Cabanas, 2018;Held, 2004Held, , 2018Rios-Fernandez & Novo, 2012;Schneider, 2011;Sundararajan, 2008;Taylor, 2001;Yakushko & Blodgett, 2018;Yen, 2010). Similarly, existing critiques of its application to the workplace are limited to conceptual analyses only (Bretherton & Niemiec, 2017;Fineman, 2006;Joseph, 2020;McDonald et al., 2018). ...
Article
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When applied to the Global South, mainstream positivist approaches to work and organisational psychology impose alien theories of personality (the self) and leadership. In the case of women, they fail to capture the richness of their experiences of life and leadership, which are influenced by the nexus between history, power and marginalisation – for many, even oppression. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the value of a critical social psychological approach, despite its grounding in the Global North discourse, to analyse women’s leadership from a cross‐cultural context. To illustrate, we provide an empirical example of a Vietnamese woman leader’s life‐story drawing on the theoretical resources from critical social psychology to interpret her experiences. When viewed from this perspective, women’s leadership is understood within a dialogical space, which is prior to and more fundamental than any instrumental reason and technical rationality. It is argued that this approach resists essentialising assumptions about gender and cultural practices of leadership, providing a more liberating means to understand the life and leadership of Vietnamese women. In the final analysis, we argue that this study contributes to the nascent field of critical work and organisational psychology.
... Positive relational qualities are not only linked to the experience of meaning in life, but also to harmony on individual, social and spiritual levels (Nwoye, 2018;Ohajunwa and Mji, 2018;Wang et al., 2018;Li and Düring, 2020;Wissing et al., 2020). Theoretical and empirical studies mostly explored interpersonal harmony together with intrapersonal and contextual harmony -probably because these studies are mostly linked to integrative philosophical perspectives such as Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, or African ontological perspectives linking people, nature and spiritual forces (e.g., Igbokwe and Ndom, 2008;Sundararajan, 2008Sundararajan, , 2013Nyamnjoh, 2015;Huang, 2016;Nwoye, 2018;Wang et al., 2018). From the above, it is easy to comprehend that relational qualities and harmony are also linked with virtues, values, peace and moral behavior, often as part of interdisciplinary studies (e.g., Fowers and Anderson, 2018;White, 2018;Fowers et al., 2020;McGrath and Brown, 2020;Fowers, 2021;McGrath, 2021;Delle Fave et al., in press). ...
Article
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The positive psychology (PP) landscape is changing, and its initial identity is being challenged. Moving beyond the “third wave of PP,” two roads for future research and practice in well-being studies are discerned: The first is the state of the art PP trajectory that will (for the near future) continue as a scientific (sub)discipline in/next to psychology (because of its popular brand name). The second trajectory (main focus of this manuscript) links to pointers described as part of the so-called third wave of PP, which will be argued as actually being the beginning of a new domain of inter- or transdisciplinary well-being studies in its own right. It has a broader scope than the state of the art in PP, but is more delineated than in planetary well-being studies. It is in particular suitable to understand the complex nature of bio-psycho-social-ecological well-being, and to promote health and wellness in times of enormous challenges and changes. A unique cohering focus for this post-disciplinary well-being research domain is proposed. In both trajectories, future research will have to increase cognizance of metatheoretical assumptions, develop more encompassing theories to bridge the conceptual fragmentation in the field, and implement methodological reforms, while keeping context and the interwovenness of the various levels of the scientific text in mind. Opportunities are indicated to contribute to the discourse on the identity and development of scientific knowledge in mainstream positive psychology and the evolving post-disciplinary domain of well-being studies.
... Existing critical analyses of positive psychology have overwhelmingly focused on its philosophical and theoretical shortcomings (e.g., Becker & Marecek, 2008;Binkley, 2011Binkley, , 2014Cabanas, 2018;Held, 2004Held, , 2018Rios-Fernandez & Novo, 2012;Schneider, 2011;Sundararajan, 2008;Taylor, 2001;Yakushko & Blodgett, 2018;Yen, 2010). Similarly, existing critiques of its application to the workplace are limited to conceptual analyses only (Bretherton & Niemiec, 2017;Fineman, 2006;Joseph, 2020;McDonald et al., 2018). ...
Article
An ever-expanding literature now exists critiquing the theory and philosophy of positive psychology, however, research has yet to provide a critical analysis of its practical application. The current study extends on these critiques by exploring how positive psychology is applied to the workplace by investigating practitioner-based sources including interviews with workplace coaches who use positive psychological interventions and applied published texts. The study draws on Michel Foucault’s concepts of power/knowledge and discourse as a theoretical and methodological framework. Three dominant discourses were identified which illustrate the ways in which positive psychology is applied to the workplace. These include the promotion of its scientific credentials, employing a strength-based approach and using goal-setting and behavioral reinforcement interventions. When applied to the workplace, these discourses psychologize workplace problems, resulting in potentially negative outcomes for employees. However, interviews with some of the workplace coaches indicate they practice a degree of reflexivity, providing a salutary lesson for the science of positive psychology.
... Consistent with the dynamic model of psychological research proposed by Power and Velez (2020), and especially resonating with the authors' claim that a focus on observation can drive research questions, determine methodological choices, and generate data for analysis, our entire research project was guided and shaped by the observation of our local informants that the Yi had no equivalent term for resilience. The second element of our decolonization is self-reflexivity (Power & Velez, 2020;Sundararajan, 2008), which entails reflection on the researchers' own (colonized) mainstream assumptions. The decolonizing question driven by self-reflexivity is this: What adjustments are needed for my psychological lens so that I can conceive of a world the way the culturally different locals do? ...
Article
This study attempts to widen the conceptual space of resilience in (Western) psychology in order to better capture the resilience landscape of an ethnic minority group ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic—the Nuosu-Yi in Southwest China. Without decolonizing the construct of resilience, non-Western versions of coping with adversities cannot be properly understood. Our process of decolonization of resilience involved two steps: First, we conducted semistructured interviews with the target population ( N = 21) to take inventory of their Indigenous notions of resilience. Second, for conceptual comparison, we mapped the themes and categories, derived from thematic analysis, of the interview data onto the conceptual space of the Resilience Scale for Adults (RSA), which we used as proxy for mainstream conceptualizations of resilience. This mapping revealed multiple lacunae in the theoretical framework of RSA, and unique properties in the Indigenous approach to adversities in contrast. Far reaching theoretical and practical implications of this investigation are discussed.
... HRD can gain much by engaging with some of the new research findings that positive psychology has produced in the same way it has with humanistic psychology; however, this needs to be an engagement based on a critical and reflexive approach. This includes being aware of how positive psychology's individualistic ontology (its focus on internal mental states) operates (Slife & Richardson, 2008), its closed attitude concerning what does and does not constitute knowledge production (Taylor, 2001) (its focus on quantifying individual employees' psychological competencies and measuring their contributions to organisational outcomes), and its lack of reflexivity (Binkley, 2014;Sundararajan, 2008). On the issue of knowledge production, Reio and Batista (2014) comment that positive psychology's quantitative bias is unfortunate because qualitative traditions offer considerable utility in testing and exploring new ways to think and practice HRD from a positive strengths based approach. ...
... From the other side, under the influence of Buddhism, Tibetans emphasize spirituality. The Buddhist notion of emptiness (Kong) advocates letting be and acceptance instead of active coping, which mitigates human agency (Sundararajan, 2008). ...
Article
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A growing body of research has explored well-being in diverse cultural contexts, and indicates that the definition and perception of well-being vary according to cultural context. Little is known, however, about whether intercultural differences in China (i.e., Tibetan and Han) lead to different perceptions of well-being and how social contexts and personal characteristics are associated with well-being in Tibetan and Han emerging adults. Using a self-determination framework, the current study examines the relationship between parental autonomy support (PAS) and psychological well-being (PWB) in Tibetan and Han emerging adults in China. Guided by implicit theory and self-regulatory theory, we propose a serial multiple mediation model of growth mindset and grit in the association between PAS and PWB. Propensity score matching was used to balance the two ethnic groups in terms of age, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), with a ratio of one to two. Finally, 59 Tibetan (71.2% girls) and 118 Han (69.5% girls) emerging adults aged from 18 to 25 years were included in the current study, and completed an online questionnaire survey. Findings suggest that (a) Tibetan emerging adults perceived higher levels of PWB than their peers from the Han ethnic group; (b) a serial multiple mediation model for the association between PAS and PWB was supported in Han emerging adults; (c) the indirect effects between PAS and PWB varied between Tibetan and Han emerging adults. Our findings suggest that PAS and grit contribute to PWB of emerging adults in both cultural contexts, whereas growth mindset may be beneficial for Han emerging adults only.
Article
Purpose This paper aims to contribute or rekindle internal and external dialogues about the interactions, decisions and behaviour in the work environments; while also consider some critical overarching values that can help workforce members cope with the stress and pressure, which augment as the speed of life increases. Design/methodology/approach The methodology used in this project is an integrative literature review, supported by, findings and reflections from two doctoral dissertations: one in workplace spirituality and one in Buddhist psychology; and the researcher’s analysis and joint application of these two streams over the past decade. Findings Workplace spirituality and Buddhist psychology share overlapping, multi-interpretable traits, with as the main discrepancies that workplace spirituality is a relatively new concept, while Buddhist psychology has been around for more than 2,500 years; and workplace spirituality focusses only on the workplace, while Buddhist psychology focusses on every area of the life. Yet, the overarching notion of doing right while respecting and accepting others and aiming for an overarching better quality of life remains a strong driver in both realms. Research limitations/implications This paper will hopefully entice future researchers to engage in additional studies on spiritual intersections to expand on such databases and enhance awareness, acceptance and implementation amongst scholars and practitioners in business settings. Practical implications Exploring intersections of behavioural disciplines such as workplace spirituality and Buddhist psychology addresses an important need within workforce members and therewith also those within their social circles, as they evoke deeper and consistent contemplation on the aspects that connect us together and can enhance overall well-being and happiness at a greater magnitude than, this study experiences it today. Social implications The study aims to deliver a contribution to the database of awareness-enhancing literature, in an effort to help spawn dialogue and critical thinking about the attitudes and behaviours towards ourselves, others and the future. Originality/value This paper presents an overview of themes in two psychological streams, both focussing on living and acting with greater consciousness, to make more mindful decisions, improve the overall experience of cooperating towards a common good and understand the responsibility towards creating a future that will be sustainable rather than destroyed.
Book
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Naming the mind: How psychology found its language, 1997. London: Sage. Summary Intelligence, motivation, personality, learning, stimulation, behaviour and attitude are just some of the categories that map the terrain of `psychological reality'. These are the concepts which, among others, underpin theoretical and empirical work in modern psychology - and yet these concepts have only recently taken on their contemporary meanings. In this fascinating work, Kurt Danziger goes beyond the taken-for-granted quality of psychological language to offer a profound and broad-ranging analysis of the recent evolution of the concepts and categories on which it depends. He explores this process and shows how its consequences depend on cultural contexts and the history of an emergent discipline. Danziger's internationally acclaimed Constructing the Subject examined the historical dependence of modern psychology on the social practices of psychological investigation. In Naming the Mind, he develops a complementary account that looks at the historically changing structure of psychological discourse. Naming the Mind is an elegant and persuasive explanation of how modern psychology found its language. It will be invaluable reading for students and academics throughout psychology, and for anyone with an interest in the history of the human sciences. Reviews “I wish I had it in my power to make this book by Kurt Danziger required reading for any psychologist who teaches or contemplates teaching a course in the history of the field. Why? Because it eloquently challenges the current view that the category language of the 20th-century American psychology reflects a natural and universal order of psychological phenomena. In Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found Its Language, Danziger shows very convincingly what is wrong with that picture” - Laurel Furumoto, Theory & Psychology “Naming the Mind consolidates a vast body of scholarship on psychological language and offers a persuasive model for appreciating the dynamic play and implications of this expert language....For those researchers concerned with psychology's language, Naming the Mind is a smart read" - Jill Morawski, Feminism & Psychology "Danziger is to be congratulated for his vision, his courage, and his articulate style in delivering his devastating message that today's psychology is not forever." - Michael Wertheimer, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences "...helps to reveal the socially constructive character of psychological categories that are often taken as 'natural' entities in a reality independent of sociocultural processes. His method for doing this, however, is not ethnographic, but historical, and his book demonstrates how historical analysis can make an important contribution to the ongoing development of psychology." Harry Heft, The Psychological Record "Kurt Danziger’s Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found Its Language, published in 1997, has already been highly valued as a must-read book in the domain of history of psychology, theoretical psychology, and critical psychology ... This review will evaluate the book from the viewpoint of the philosophy of mind and its relevant domains in philosophy. My conclusion is that this book is also a must-read for philosophers." - Tetsuya Kono, Philosophy of the Social Sciences Details • Publisher: Sage • Hardcover Edition: May 6, 1997 (ISBN-10: 080397762X; ISBN-13: 978-0803977624) • Paperback Edition: May 6, 1997 (ISBN-10: 0803977638; ISBN-13: 978-0803977631)
Book
Humanity and the very notion of the human subject are under threat from postmodernist thinking which has declared not only the 'Death of God' but also the 'Death of Man'. This book is a revindication of the concept of humanity, rejecting contemporary social theory that seeks to diminish human properties and powers. Archer argues that being human depends on an interaction with the real world in which practice takes primacy over language in the emergence of human self-consciousness, thought, emotionality and personal identity - all of which are prior to, and more basic than, our acquisition of a social identity. This original and provocative new book from leading social theorist Margaret S. Archer builds on the themes explored in her previous books Culture and Agency (CUP 1988) and Realist Social Theory (CUP 1995). It will be required reading for academics and students of social theory, cultural theory, political theory, philosophy and theology.
Article
List of figures and tables Acknowledgments Prologue Part I. Theory and Function: 1. The structure of emotions 2. Intuitive and empirical approaches to understanding 3. Rationality and emotions 4. Mutual plans and social emotions Part II. Conflict and Unpredictability: 5. Plans and emotions in fictional narrative 6. Stress and distress 7. Freud's cognitive psychology of intention: the case of Dora Part III. Enjoyment and Creativity: 8. Happiness 9. Putting emotions into words Epilogue Notes References Author index Subject index.