Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Not the Years in Your Life, but the Life in Your Years: Lessons from Canadian Psychology on Living Fully

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Not the Years in Your Life, but the Life in Your Years: Lessons from Canadian Psychology on Living Fully

Article excerpt

Randy Pausch, a computer science professor, delivered his "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007. The idea behind this lecture series is that top academics are asked to think carefully about what matters to them and provide a hypothetical last lecture. However, Pausch did not have to imagine that it was his last lecture, because he had been told that the pancreatic cancer that he had been diagnosed with was terminal. Pausch's (2007) lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," was not about dying; it was about overcoming obstacles, facilitating the dreams of others, and seizing every moment... it was about living. Pausch and Zaslow (2008) wrote an incredibly meaningful book called The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times bestseller. This book is a magnificent reminder about what is important in life. In a similar manner, I would like to discuss some ways in which we can live fully.

Over the past couple of decades, there has been increasing focus on positive psychology in both the popular media and the scientific literature. Prior to this time, the predominant focus has been on what is aberrant or deficient, and how to ameliorate problems or dysfunction (i.e., a psychopathology orientation). Indeed, my own research has focused on cognitive vulnerability to depression and how depression can be effectively treated and prevented.

In this article, I deviate from the "comfort zone" of my own research to highlight some key concepts related to understanding what makes life fulfilling and meaningful. Specifically, I review lessons from research in the areas of happiness, passion, humour, thinking with evidence, self-compassion, being present-focused, taking risks, and interpersonal connectedness. Throughout this article, I highlight how Canadian psychological science has contributed in important ways to helping us to live more fully.

Before embarking on this review, I would like to mention a few caveats: (a) This is not my area of expertise, (b) I do not always practice living fully (although I am more deliberate about doing it now than I have ever been), and (c) I will not be able to capture all of what Canadian psychological science has contributed to living fully. Just take, as one example, the recipients of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) Donald O. Hebb Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology as a Science, and the substantial contributions they have made on so many broad areas that have helped us to understand human behaviour and functioning (see Table 1). From understanding and treating problems with anxiety, depression, and insomnia to investigating psychopathy, bullying, and antisocial behaviour; from the management of pain to child abuse; from understanding passion to dealing with discrimination; from elucidating basic biological and cognitive processes to metacognition and perception; from the study of pediatric pain to memory, psycholinguistics, and neuropsychology.

So why, you might ask, did I focus my presidential address on living fully? Well, there were a few reasons. One was somewhat personal: For the past 24 years, throughout graduate school and then in my academic career, I have focused on cognitive vulnerability to depression and how we can understand and modify underlying core beliefs and cognitive structures. Fortunately, I have never personally experienced a depressive episode. However, I will disclose that I do not think I have, until recently, fully lived either. Do not get me wrong, I have enjoyed my life. However, there are elements of my life in which I compartmentalized over the years and did not live as deliberately or fully as I could have. Over the past couple of years, I made a number of life changes that have fundamentally altered my perspective and well-being. I thought that I would elucidate some of the key elements because I believe that we could all benefit by living more deliberately. Second, an interest in living fully is not that far removed from what contributes to a life of misery. …

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