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Well, I’m through, and, as I knew, it wasn’t half as dreadful as I irrationally thought it was going to be. I know my reviewers are laid back, but somehow that doesn’t help shake the chills off.

I feel remarkably elated today, possibly even more so than I did yesterday, at passing, and it’s only towards this evening that I expect that elation to wear off, gradually being replaced by that deep-seated restlessness that I’ve got to get on with my thesis. I’ve got to submit in May next year and I’ve got to get on with it. Hurry up.

And I’ve got so much to do, I don’t know where to start. And if you’ve not experienced a PhD, just know that it feels like that permanently, no matter what you do!

This is the beginning of the end, in the sense that I’ve got 10 months on my schedule and not a minute to lose. I’m virtually throwing myself into my work and not coming out until there’s nothing left to do.

And yet, there’s a whole world around me, outside this bubble I live in, zooming through time at break-neck speed, growing, changing, and thundering along. I’m missing that world and the people in it.

I guess I’m just waiting for one side or the other to tip the scales and then I’ll know what’s important.

What’s important.

Butterflies are fluttering in my stomach and in fact all around me right now. Annual PhD progress review starts in an hour and I am utterly jittery, despite being fully prepared paperwork-wise and yes, despite my tendency not to show an ounce of nervousness when you look at me from the outside. I look the picture of confidence to everyone, who all say “You’ll be fine!” as if I can do it by magic. Yet inside, I’m freaking out, lunging at the butterflies as they evade me effortlessly, and I’ve got the chills.

Ahhhh.

This is so my life right now.

Yes.

Happiness…that fleeting, evasive, near-invisible entity that we keep chasing, often to find that we are so busy chasing that we have forgotten to be happy in our own right.

Be happy.

They say happiness is at its highest when we stop worrying about being happy and just live as if we did not care, and then, supposedly, happiness comes of itself. This isn’t happiness, though: it’s flow. Flow is a state of deep engagement with valued activities such that we are so absorbed in doing them that we do not consciously realise that we are. Happiness, on the other hand, is deliberate, a conscious choice. We all have a choice to be happy, and unless we consciously make that choice, and determine to be happy, then we are left in that not really ill, but nevertheless mundane and unrewarding state of normality that so many others are in around us.

I choose to be happy, therefore I am.

People generally think, however much they might deny it when you ask them, that better surroundings and better circumstances will make them happier. To an extent, it’s true. But when you consider that we can feel so much happier when we make a deliberate choice to be, in everyday life, surroundings and circumstances matter less and less.

There are any number of “happiness exercises” to follow in a daily regimen that have been demonstrated to make people feel lastingly happier. For example, counting blessings, actively expressing gratitude, engaging in random acts of kindness, and enjoying the present moment are known to uplift spirits and foster a genuine sense of happiness, rather than just momentary, hedonic enjoyment.

Take counting blessings.

We really don’t realise how much time we spend each day worrying or complaining – whether out loud or to ourselves – about things that are lacking, not good enough, broken, damaged, dead, annoying, hassling, unattractive, or bad. I myself often wake up annoyed that I have woken too early or too late, that making breakfast is a hassle, that there is too much traffic, that my work is mundane on a day-to-day basis, and that evenings are boring and there isn’t anything worthwhile on the radio. How much happier we’d be if we cast these negative thoughts aside and replaced them with deliberately chosen positive ones instead! This comes about from self-awareness. Many of us hardly ever meta-cognise – think about our thoughts – and as a result often aren’t aware of how damaging those thoughts can be. If we stopped every so often in the course of a day, and thought, “How have my thought patterns been today? Have I been thinking positively about things, or have I been annoyed, angry, bored, pessimistic, or negative?” we’d be able to recognise the nature of our thoughts and make a deliberate choice to think differently – positively – if we recognise that we’ve been negative about things. Think about all the good things in life! And no, this doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to things we should be concerned about or try to improve – it means acknowledging the things we have, that many others don’t, that make our lives worthwhile. Acknowledging the good stuff makes us feel happier, and when we are happier, we do have a greater motivation to work on the things that aren’t so good.

Expressing gratitude goes along the same vein.

Often we pass kindness by or acknowledge it with a “thanks”. And yet we are quick to shout and make a scene when things don’t go our way because of something somebody else did. For example, if we’re served a meal in a restaurant, we enjoy it, pay for it, and leave. If we find it’s not to our liking, though, we complain, express irritation and anger, and often feel negative about it for the rest of the day. Why this disproportionate favour for being negative? When’s the last time you complimented a chef or cafe when you really enjoyed a meal? What makes us think that paying money for it is all we owe to someone who has given us something we really enjoyed or admired? People – whether close to us or not – do nice things for us every day, often without us even noticing. And if we fired up that meta-cognition and took notice of those things, and made a point of really thanking those people properly, instead of dismissing them with a mere “thanks”, we’d surprise ourselves with how good it makes us feel. Not only that, but it’s surprising how noticeable those people’s happiness is when they are recognised for their efforts when they so often go without proper recognition. That feeling of mutual happiness rebounds, reacts, and creates more happiness.

Random acts of kindness.

Most of us allow ourselves to get carried away. With the trivialities of our work, study, everyday relationships, and daily chores. When we meta-cognise, it’s sad to see ourselves trudging along every day working on our own chores without sparing any time to do something helpful for someone else without being asked. This is where those irritating, self-absorbed excuses come along: “I’m tired”, “I don’t have time”, “I’m too busy”, “Why should I do that for them if they don’t do it for me?”, “Why doesn’t someone else do it?”, and “I’m not Jesus Christ/God/Miracle Man/Superman/Wonder Woman”. Yes, these are excuses. They are excuses just the same as we excuse ourselves from doing small-scale chores every day under the pretext of “not having a chance to get around to it”, like replying to emails that take less than 5 minutes to deal with, calling a friend we’ve been meaning to meet up with, or cleaning the house. I still believe – very definitely – that however “busy” we think we are, none of us work 24 hours a day, and throughout the day, we all have short periods when we are doing nothing – daydreaming, sitting around chatting, or procrastinating. It’s those short periods each day that we can capitalise on to do something helpful or nice for someone else, without being required to. The happiness that results from doing something nice for someone completely randomly is pretty indescribable – it’s exalting and humbling at the same time, because it reminds us of the power of humanity to transcend the trivialities of everyday life, and creates happiness in others. So yes, we do have time, we are not too busy, and we can create happiness by being nice to others.

Enjoying the present moment.

Zimbardo’s present work on time perspective is undeservedly overshadowed by his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment that graces just about every psychology textbook on the market. As a doctoral researcher, I’m often flabbergasted by the amount of time I spend (and this is meta-cognising again) thinking about the past or the future, instead of looking at the present and what I can enjoy about it. Yes, there is a need to look back at things that have happened in the past and recognise our mistakes, shortcomings, and failures and cherish our memories of good times. There is also a need to take precautions against worrying events of tomorrow and have hope for the future and imagine ourselves as better people in times to come. But equally, we should take time each day to be in the moment – be mindful – and to think about our immediate surroundings, our inner feelings, and our present thought processes. There’s a lot to be discovered. I’ve often done this with a pen and diary – just sitting alone in a quiet, breezy room, feeling the air, and doing free, continuous writing for an hour or so, jotting down anything that comes into my head, describing the room and how I’m feeling, the sound of the traffic outside, the dogs barking, the things I’ve been thinking as I’ve been writing. Then I go back and read it – that written account of an hour of mindfulness – and it’s liberating. It serves to calm us down from the constantly-on-the-go attitude we live with, and yet it’s different from zoning out in front of the TV, or “crashing”, because those activities put us in a passive state where we aren’t really thinking about anything, and we definitely aren’t meta-cognising!

These are all things that can make us happy. They’re all free, none of them have to take up too much of our precious time, and they are all results of our own deliberate choices.

When I was in elementary school we had a teacher known as Mr K. Though I couldn’t make any sense of it then, he would always tell the class: “You make a cake, you go down to the shop to buy the eggs. Be proactive.” Cake? Eggs? And what does ‘porcative’ mean? Such was the naivety of the 11-year-old me. And yet it all makes sense now: We grow up, and we let ourselves loose in that ever-flowing river of work, chores, and business as usual. We forego the things that take extra time or that require us to do something different or go the extra mile, yet those are often the things that make that much difference to our own happiness, and that of people around us. Isn’t it a shame that we pass them by? Isn’t it a shame we keep flowing down that river, so rarely making the deliberate choice to stop and do something to create a bit more happiness?

I’ve already dealt with a host of generally nerve-wracking chores this morning, which, admittedly, has lowered my sense of agitation somewhat, though I could not get started on cleaning up my thousand-participant data file this morning without first blogging out this insanely bittersweet rant about nothing in particular.

Well, thank God for blogs.

While it has only been so long since I started using this blog in earnest, I feel better once I’ve blogged out, no matter how little sense it would probably make to someone else. I suppose, in a way, blogs can take the place of people who are no longer around to share our daily nonsense rants. I sometimes try to convince myself it’s all for the better that things have worked out this way – dead man or no dead man, blog or no blog. I try to convince myself in earnest that I have been mistaken that I was ever a worthwhile friend and that right now, the best thing I can do is throw myself into my work and categorically stop wishing that I were an accepted part of the seemingly cohesive social circles that surround me. I can’t be who they are. I will never be who they are. I will always feel, and therefore be, different, have different views of the world, and different priorities, and I will never have the time to commit to them wholly, and therefore I will never become a part of those circles. Most of the time, I don’t even know what they get up to.

I realise none of this makes any sense. That’s why I say thank God for blogs.

Sometimes I wish I could afford to be less of a workaholic and more of the laid back social animals my colleagues seem to be. But I can’t. Sometimes – often, even – I wish I had a face easier to read so that people would know that I need a hug. A really big, really warm, really accepting hug. But I don’t. I never will, and mostly, it’s of my own making, because I’m that reserved and stubborn that I swerve away from the people I’d like to know more about simply because I’m afraid I’d bore them. It’s this ivory tower I’ve shut myself in that lets me get so much work done, and that’s what other people marvel at when they praise all I achieve. Yes, I achieve a lot, but so what. Hard work speaks for itself, and whatever work I do now is for myself. That’s not what’s important.

“What’s important in life?” asked one of my classmates in an Individual Differences seminar when I was an undergrad. The subject was the critical review of a paper concerning the overt expression of emotional experiences in individualist versus collectivist cultures. How we got onto values escapes me. But suddenly the question was asked, and it got me to thinking what really is important in life. However much science and technology can make our lives easier and get us closer to the hypothetical ‘truth’, those things only matter insofar as we base them on what we hold to be important. If we did not hold them to be important, we would be concerned with other things and society would have grown to evolve other institutions.

What’s important in life is friends and family and the sense of assurance you feel when you know they’re fine. When you don’t have that, work, play, and anything else you do feels as meaningless and mundane as…well. Whatever.

Then you hear the laughter coming from the offices down the corridor and the lively conversations they have that you can’t follow because you’re not part of their circles, and you see them buzzing up and down working on their projects, and then you look at yourself in your own unfrequented office and the hours you spend staring at your screen in silence, trying not to notice the excitement around you that you can never be part of, and you feel ridiculous because the only likely outlet you seem to have to rant about such ridiculousness is this blog.

For goodness’ sake.

Today is one of those days when I wish I could just disappear from this place and never have to come back, and I know that if that were possible, no one would really notice my absence.

I’m enjoying this serenity – the calm after the storm of writing, editing, rewriting, and submitting a whole load of paperwork in an insanely hectic whirlwind of panic over the last 2 months.

Ten documents, including a progress report of 8000 words, for progress review later this month – check. An 11000-word manuscript, for a journal – check. A skills development plan of 19 pages – check. Slides for the research conference on Thursday – check.

Check that you’ve still got your head screwed on and that your brain’s still in it.

Check.

It’s amazing how it’s possible to function so well when you’re still experiencing such a profound sadness inside. I suppose this comes about from not wanting to share my sadness with the world. To me, the world already has enough sadness in it, without my adding my own miseries of loneliness, guilt, or shame. It’s my way of dealing with the sadness to keep it inside, hidden from other people, so that no one knows. If no one knows, then it cannot possibly exist.

Soon this serenity will become a serendipity for someone. What can we do? I’m only human.

Soon, things will start coming out into plain sight, and I hope that, through this coming, the sadness will begin to feel real, instead of the surreal dream-like state it has felt like for nearly a year. Sometimes it has been so confusing that I don’t even know if it’s real or not. I know it is real, because if it were not, I would not feel it, and yet my reluctance to make it known to others has meant I have mentioned it in passing to only a few people, and they, perhaps sensing my reluctance, or becoming perplexed by the mish-mash of other bizarre personal dilemmas I serve to them with it to disguise it, do not dwell on it for long, and thus it never becomes real to me, because it is never spoken.

To hell with it. “And he can go to the devil,” as Razumikhin would say.

So, with all that paperwork done, and the manuscript submitted, what’s next on the serendipity-lined road to so-called PhD awesomeness?

The theoretical paper on the cultural constructedness of human flourishing?

Check.

I don’t think I’ve ever paid quite so much attention to how guilty I feel about being a bad friend as I do today. Embarking on a PhD, and indeed a career abroad, feels so selfish sometimes, as if the friends we’ve left behind don’t matter any more. Sure, you keep in touch, but being there physically has an emotional power you just can’t convey in writing. It’s the age-old case of words being not enough!

It feels like people have so much potential in them to be caring, nurturing friends, if only they’d put aside their concerns for a flourishing career, a fat pay packet, fast cars. And however much I don’t feel that way, here I am, working on my career all the same. However much time it takes to write an email or a card, or a whole letter, it still feels like it’s not enough. I would feel so much happier if I could take care of my friends the way I want, and here we are, the ways of the world are preventing me from doing what I want. Again.

How many times have I been through this.

I still half-believe he died because I didn’t deserve him, like I was a bad friend, like I didn’t love him enough. When you start taking people for granted, even if you feel thankful for all you’ve been blessed with every day, I suppose it still isn’t enough. It isn’t enough because you still aren’t there in person to love them, to face life’s battles together. And the person I’m thinking of when I write this slowly starts blurring, fading, and insinuating into another, and another. It is the same with almost all the people I love and care about in the world. This impossible distance, and the emotional aloofness it creates, forcefully, no matter how much you try to stop it.

I’ve already established that life is simply too short. Until these days it had been just another cliche for me, but now that I’ve experienced all that’s happened, I finally see how real it is. It’s amazing the way we, humankind, have protected ourselves so well from the worries of death by building society and all its half-corrupt institutions that promise intellectual enlightenment as if that were some force that could reckon with death. Fools! Nothing can reckon with death. When it comes, it comes, and then you’re gone. And it doesn’t matter where you go. You just go.

So what are we here for?

For all my faith in science, I’d still like to believe I’m here for my friends. If we don’t reach enlightenment, who cares? If I am a bad friend, I am a bad friend all the same. Not science, not academia, not even nature can change that. Only I can. So have I? Have I become a good friend yet? What does it mean to be a good friend?

And suddenly a dead man becomes the answer to all my questions.

I’m madly rushing to finish my second manuscript. Tables, figures, scribbles and leaking ink everywhere! When O when will this madness end?

I don’t know how to answer that really.

Positive psychology is the science of wellbeing. It differs from the humanistic approaches of the 20th century – on which it is based – by its adherence, at least from the perspective of some positive psychologists, to empirical validation of its claims. Moreover, it is a discipline that seeks to understand and promote all personal and social institutions that contribute positively to human life and help people to flourish.

To flourish.

Human flourishing is an elusive phenomenon, like a butterfly, that is impossible to catch hold of when we try but flutters down and lands softly on our shoulder when we are not looking.

Although the study of flourishing has taken a more dynamic turn since outgrowing its boundaries as a purely philosophical matter and branching into the realm of positive psychology, it still seems, to use Sheldon’s phrase, a ‘smorgasbord’ of loosely connected topics and phenomena with no underlying theory that unifies its purpose. I’m inclined to agree – and it’s not as if Sheldon’s own proposed theory has revolutionised thinking in the area. Is flourishing a form of mental health, a type of general wellbeing made up of bits and pieces of ‘lesser’ types of wellbeing, or a state of having all of one’s psychological needs satisfied? Or, as I would argue, is it just a fashionable word to use to describe ‘good’ aspects of human functioning in general? To a degree, these understandings overlap and seem superfluous to a discipline that has been argued to be a smorgasbord! And there is a need to unify the construct of flourishing itself before we can legitimately claim to be interested in understanding what can predict it.

Hence, my thesis.

To accept the truth that the study of flourishing was inherited by psychology from philosophy should not compel us to also accept that ideations of flourishing proposed in the realm of philosophy are necessarily what psychological research must base its own ideations of flourishing upon. Why? Because it isn’t scientific. Science dictates, in agreement with logic, that human truths can best be discovered through study of people, not of a select group of them. In this case, prevailing psychological theories of flourishing are based seemingly upon either existing ideations dating back to philosophy, which cannot necessarily be justified, or upon the arbitrary assignment, on the part of the psychologists in question, of certain definitions of flourishing around which a similarly arbitrary theory can be constructed. Thus, what positive psychology today argues to be flourishing is simply not derivative of what flourishing is for people.

This brings us back to the claim of empirical validation. Yes, positive psychology proposes theories of wellbeing and has managed, legitimately and on many occasions, to validate such theories in the population. This, however, shows only that such theories are valid for the population and not that they are important. Because what’s important, people say themselves. That’s why I argue that a science of wellbeing must begin with people and not with philosophy or with the arbitrary assignments of theory by psychologists. What wellbeing is, people say, and what it means to flourish, people know. They know through the way wellbeing has been constructed in societies, in cultures, in ethnic and religious groups, in families, and in their own opinions. Thus only people can state with any credibility what kind of wellbeing is important, and how important, and what such importance signifies. Flourishing is not a product of philosophers’ deliberations or of artificial theory, it is a culturally constructed phenomenon, dynamic and subject to change across time, place, and person.

The cultural constructedness of flourishing is not, by any means, at odds with scientific enquiry. Rather, philosophical and deductive psychological theories are so. Science is in a position of studying what is, and what is about flourishing is in most part its elusiveness as a subject of scientific study. There is no way of measuring it objectively. Thus, it can only be defined through what people say.

My thesis is that flourishing is a construct, and, before that, a word, still misused in positive psychology, pitched into writing and conversation for its shock value as a description of all that positive psychology claims to stand for. This may be so. But without understanding and measuring flourishing in the way we believe it should be collectively, our knowledge of it will remain fleeting and dependent upon the narrow scope of thinking, in comparison to our collective, that produced its definition in the first place.

To think that in this so-called era of enlightenment, human rights abuses of such formidable magnitude can be pushed through corrupt and misinformed political systems so audaciously and contradictory to both social and scientific opposition at a global scale – I’ll be damned.
http://www.aksam.com.tr/kurtaj-yasagi-fakir-kadini-oldurur–119412h.html

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!