Monday, July 19, 2010
What do you think?
Arriving at a kind of hiatus in life (otherwise or commonly known as a mid-life crisis though I suspect I am actually past middle age – aagh!) and having recently attended a buzzy conference on Happiness, having some long-standing interests in creativity and writing and the cross-over with psychology, and having found some work at the University of Wollongong, the thought has occurred to me that maybe I could do a PhD. After all, it might prevent the onset of Alzheimers. But just having that thought immediately sets off the counter attack. The mountain seems immediately so massive and enormous, and how do you even find the pathway to start? (or the signposts to the pathway to start?) Well, I guess you talk to people and you bounce around a few ideas. Then you read a few articles and then you even go to the library, make an appointment to see someone and talk to other people who have done one and find out how it was for them. So I made a start - I went to the library – first I downloaded some articles at home – fantastic, you can just press a button and the article is there in a pdf for you...how far away is that from those treks to the library back in the 80s and even the 90s, into the dungeons to locate the journal you need, that much valued red tome with the right year and volume numbers in gold letters on its spine, lug it heavily to the photocopier, pull out your supply of 5 cent pieces and photocopy the article with great difficulty because it is a heavily bound and awkward red (or green) tome which, when you get home, you find is not all that pertinent.... but anyway, back to first steps, having downloaded some pertinent and fascinating articles about why the writing cure doesn’t help poets and why writers are 38% more likely to suffer from a mood disorder than the rest of us (of course, because the statistic confounds writers and poets!), another on cognitive distortions in the works of depressed and nondepressed writers and poets, and yet other articles on the therapeutic and health benefits of writing...I made that special trip to the library and found gold! Books on positive psychology, methods of positive psychology, creativity and flourishing, articles on hope theory and books on manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament, books on how to “write yourself a new life”. So now I have an even huger mountain – of books to read before they are due back at that library, with a stiff $2 a day fine for lateness – no mucking about! So now, what I need to do, is just to read all those books and articles and digest them all...and then come up with a topic! Again, the task seems mountainous – I have so many questions, but aren’t they all already answered in some of these books that have appeared in the last decade on positive psychology, on the health benefits of writing, on the science of creativity, on the psychology of creative writing! So in answer to myself, what I need to do is, actually, to write. Start writing. My central idea, my central passion, is that writing is beneficial – this despite the correlation between artistic temperament and mental illness – remember correlations are not causes and we don’t know which comes first – who knows, writing may serve to soothe manic-depressive restlessness – but back to the central idea – that writing does help - whether it is purely self-expression or simply to help organise ideas. That said, there are a myriad of subquestions that I need to consider. I’ve made a mind-map of all those questions from my preliminary reading. That will be tomorrow’s topic! But for today, I’ll stop with a quick comment on the first chapter of “A Primer in Positive Psychology” by Christopher Peterson, OUP 2006, which was a fun read. It describes the whole ’movement’- essentially not a movement but an attempt to correct the imbalance in traditional psychology’s focus on “disease, disorder and distress” at the neglect of studying “what goes right in life from birth to death”. Positive psychology, championed by the famous Martin Seligman (remember Learned Helplessness from Psych 1 back in the 70s?) dates back to 1998, but, as Ebbinghaus put it (for psychology) – while positive psychology has “only a short history”, it has “a long past.” Peterson’s book is wryly written – he is insistent that positive psychology is not a Pollyanna movement, and doesn't deny the ‘valleys’ of life while focussing on the peaks. So I need to read some more about positive psychology – there are at least a few textbooks on the subject now - as well as write up my notes from the fabulous Happiness conference at which much science, fun and inspiration was tossed around. I figure if I read one chapter a day of all these tomes I might be somewhat nearer to formulating a topic that is defined enough for me to be able to answer the question – “oh, so you are thinking of doing a PHD – what on?” If I am true to my passions and beliefs, the act of writing it all down will somehow clarify for me what it is I want to understand. It seems like a good start anyway. So tomorrow – all the questions I want to answer, plus a reminder about existentialism and humanistic psychology! Oh and the best quote I came across today “a pessimist is a person who has been intimately acquainted with an optimist” (Hubbard, 1927).