Paolo Coelho on happiness and two challenges for psychologists
Posted February 4, 2010on:
Psychologists need poetry
I have one piece of advice for anyone who aspires to be a psychologist. Read poetry. Read good novels.
Your College or Department will jump your through a lot of pseud-scientific hoops. Jump through them but for a different reason to the one they give. Jump through them because they will teach you how to ‘fail informatively’. Yes. Fail informatively.
In the future, you will be able to handle unfamiliar situations by proposing one or more reasonable ways forward. And then you can set up some experiments. You can choose the best way forward. And if you have set up your experiment well, the less favorable ways will also teach you a little more than ‘wrong way’. This is the reason why you should study science.
To understand people, well, meet a lot of people and do things with them. And read.
For psychologists out there, this parable talks about two important psychological phenonena.
#1 Management of attention.
To manage one’s own direction and to pay attention to what is going on around us.
We need lots of practice at doing this. Computer games help us do this. TV and reading books does not. Sport helps us learn this. Writing does not. But speaking does. Make sure you get lots of practice at learning to manage your attention so that you tackle frontiers with greater ease!
#2 We live at our frontier.
To define who we are by what we do.
Not what we feel, or believe. But what we do in various contexts defined by who else is there. We are our frontier. We are our edge.
Perhaps we are a young man who cannot carry two drops of oil and look around a new place. Or frontier is the new place, the new idea, and our own confusion. It is here that we are ‘alive’ with our dreams and our hopes, our confusions and our sorrows.
This is a tough challenge for psychologists. We have nothing to measure. The definition may even be circular. That is because psychology is not a thing. It is a goal or a purpose that is supremely personal. Our goal is to live a our frontier. The story of our frontier and our confusion is the story we all want to hear.
When we want to do the maths, then we look at whether we were in a situation that covers the whole gamut of emotions and whether we were able to respond appropriately as events unfolded. Or were we like the young boy, first forgetting the context and then forgetting his task. Can we recover from confusion and distress or do we get stuck? Are we so scared of life that we insist that it be plain sailing all day and every day?
Do we approach our frontier or do we hang back? And under what conditions are we able to approach our frontier and learn to carry the oil and look around despite our initial confusion?
Yes, positive psychologists do know something about this. But so do poets. Begin with them.
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