About this Research Topic
At a time when humanity is threatened by all kinds of existential crises, from climate change to nuclear war, from ideological polarization to a widening income gap, we need to develop a big-picture theoretical framework showing that happiness is not just for those living in peace and prosperity, but also for those struggling in dire poverty and war-ravaged countries like Ukraine, not just for the self, but also for others, not just for the present, but also for future generations. This broader approach towards wellbeing opens up new vistas for research and interventions.
The world of suffering has largely been ignored by well-being researchers because of the dominance of research on positive emotions. Our main thesis is that everyone wants happiness and to avoid pain, but until we can overcome or transform suffering, happiness will continue to elude us. Pain or suffering is an inescapable part of life. We need a new science of suffering to understand (a) different kinds of suffering such as necessary (e.g., personal growth) vs. unnecessary suffering (e.g., the evil or hell we inflict on each other); and (b) the different conditions under which suffering can hurt us or make us stronger.
In a digital age, the “enemy” is often invisible or pervasive; therefore, adaptation becomes more complex and challenging. Walter Cannon’s wisdom of the body and George Vaillant’s wisdom of the ego are no longer sufficient; we also need the wisdom of how to live and die well. Such wisdom can be considered existential intelligence, characterized by enlightened knowledge, a dialectical mindset, and transcendental values.
A general theory of well-being needs to cover the complete spectrum of psychological well-being, from mental illness to mental health. Such a theory is capable of integrating the bright and dark sides of life and providing road signs to achieving wholeness, inner peace, balance, and harmony – the cornerstones of wellbeing and flourishing in every season of life.
In view of the above, the new behavioral economics of happiness is no longer just about what will make one happy but is also concerned with how to meet our deepest yearnings for meaning, love, and connection with the Divine or Tao. It is also concerned with how to create a more compassionate world guided by the wisdom of the soul. Ultimately, what is personal is also universal, and vice versa, because at the deepest level, we are all interconnected parts of the whole.
Subtopics under this general theme could include:
1. Enlightened and experiential knowledge vs. factual and data-driven knowledge
2. The broaden-and-build vs. the narrow-and-deep way to happiness.
3. The double-edge of culture: as a source of happiness and a source of suffering
4. Self-transcendent positive emotions vs. self-transcendent negative emotions
5. Two kinds of well-being: The dream but shallow life vs. the struggling but deep life
6. Wisdom of the soul vs. wisdom of the ego
7. Existential intelligence vs. spiritual intelligence
8. Predictors of those who suffer from PTSD and those who benefit from PTSD
9. Wisdom and the new behavioral economics
10. The neuroscience of mature happiness in times of suffering (e.g., transcendence, contentment, peace, balance, harmony)
11. The pain-brain-cultural model of general wellbeing
Keywords: Suffering, Self-transcendence, Negative emotions, Contemplation, Psychological Well-being
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.