|A View of the Good Life|
Periodically Carl Rogers' work comes front and center in my journey. His book On Becoming a Person was a revelation. Among other chapters that helped me understand the impetus behind my journey was "A Therapist's View of the Good Life." Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 71)
A Positive Observation
If I attempt to capture in a few words what seems to me to be true of these people (who live the good life), I believe it will come out something like this:
The direction which constitutes the good life is that which is selected by the total organism, when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction. . . . The good life, from the point of view of my experience, is the process of movement in a direction which the human organism selects when it is inwardly free to move in any direction, and the general qualities of this selected direction appear to have a certain universality.
The Characteristics of the Process
Let me now try to specify what appear to be the characteristic qualities of this process of movement, as they crop up in person after person in therapy.
An Increasing Openness to Experience
In the first place, the process seems to involve an increasing openness to experience. This phrase has come to have more and more meaning for me. It is the polar opposite of defensiveness. Defensiveness I have described in the past as being the organism's response to experiences which are perceived or anticipated as threatening, as incongruent with the individual's existing picture of himself, or of himself in relationship to the world. . . .
Thus, one aspect of this process which I am naming "the good life" appears to be a movement away from the pole of defensiveness toward the pole of openness to experience. . . . He is free to live his feelings subjectively, as they exist in him, and also free to be aware of these feelings. He is more able fully to live the experiences of his organism rather than shutting them out of awareness.
Increasingly Existential Living
A second characteristic of the process which for me is the good life, is that it involves an increasing tendency to live fully in each moment. . . . such a person would realize that "What I will be in the next moment, and what I will do, grows out of that moment, and cannot be predicted in advance either by me or by others." . . .
One way of expressing the fluidity which is present in such existential living is to say that the self and personality emerge from experience, rather than experience being translated or twisted to fit preconceived self-structure. It means that one becomes a participant in and an observer of the ongoing process of organismic experience, rather than being in control of it. . . .
This tendency toward existential living . . . is the most essential quality of it (the good life). It involves discovering the structure of experience in the process of living the experience. . . . To open one's spirit to what is going on now, and to discover in that present process whatever structure it appears to have - this to me is one of the qualities of the good life, the mature life, . . .
An Increasing Trust in His Organism
In choosing what course of action to take in any situation, many people rely upon guiding principles, upon a code of action laid down by some group or institution, upon the judgment of others (from wife and friends to Emily Post), or upon the way they have behaved in some similar past situation.
Yet as I observe the clients whose experiences in living have taught me so much, I find that increasingly such individuals are able to trust their total organismic reaction to a new situation because they discover to an ever increasing degree that if they are open to their experience, doing what "feels right" proves to be a competent and trustworthy guide to behavior which is truly satisfying.
The Process of Functioning More Fully
I should like to draw together these three threads describing the process of the good life into a more coherent picture. It appears that the person who is psychologically free moves in the direction of becoming a more fully functioning person. . . .
He makes use of all of the information his nervous system can thus supply, using it in awareness, but recognizing that his total organism may be, and often is, wiser than his awareness. He is more able to permit his total organism to function freely in all its complexity in selecting, from the multitude of possibilities, that behavior which in this moment of time will be most generally and genuinely satisfying. . . .
Any view of what constitutes the good life carries with it many implications, and the view I have presented is no exception. I hope that these implications may be food for thought. . . .
A New Perspective on Freedom vs Determinism
This dilemma can be seen in a fresh perspective when we consider it in terms of the definition I have given of the fully functioning person. . . . He wills or chooses to follow the course of action which is the most economical vector in relationship to all the internal and external stimuli, because it is that behavior which will be most deeply satisfying. But this is the same course of action which from another vantage point may be said to be determined by all the factors in the existential situation.
Let us contrast this with the picture of the person who is defensively organized. He wills or chooses to follow a given course of action, but finds that he cannot behave in the fashion that he chooses. He is determined by the factors in the existential situation, but these factors include his defensiveness, his denial or distortion of some of the relevant data. Hence it is certain that his behavior will be less than fully satisfying. His behavior is determined, but he is not free to make an effective choice.
The fully functioning person, on the other hand, not only experiences but utilizes, the most absolute freedom when he spontaneously, freely, and voluntarily chooses and wills that which is also absolutely determined. . . .
Creativity as an Element of the Good Life
I believe it will be clear that a person who is involved in the directional process which I have termed "the good life" is a creative person. With his sensitive openness to his world, his trust of his own ability to form new relationships with his environment, he would be the type of person from whom creative products and creative living emerge. He would not necessarily be adjusted to his culture, and he would almost certainly not be a conformist. But at any time and in any culture he would live constructively, in as much harmony with his culture as a balanced satisfaction of needs demanded. . . .
Basic Trustworthiness of Human Nature
When we are able to free the individual from defensiveness, so that he is open to the wide range of his own needs, as well as the wide range of environmental and social demands, his reactions may be trusted to be positive, forward-moving, constructive. . . . As he becomes more fully himself, he will become more realistically socialized. . . . His total behavior . . . as he moves toward being open to all his experience, will be more balanced and realistic, behavior which is appropriate to the survival and enhancement of a highly social animal. . . .
The Greater Richness of Life
To be a part of this process means that one is involved in the frequently frightening and frequently satisfying experience of a more sensitive living, with greater range, greater variety, greater richness. It seems to me that clients who have moved significantly in therapy live more intimately with their feelings of pain, but also more vividly with their feelings of ecstasy; that anger is more clearly felt, but so also is love; that fear is an experience they know more deeply, but so is courage. And the reason they can thus live fully in a wider range is that they have this underlying confidence in themselves as trustworthy instruments for encountering life.