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4 Reasons Self-Realization is the Key to Unlocking Your Best Life

  • March 24, 2023

Woman in a forest displaying self-realization

The reality is, life can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get caught up in the constant pressure of who you should be and what you should do. But amidst all the noise, there’s a powerful concept that can help you find clarity and direction—it’s called self-realization.

To get into the essence of it, Jon Butcher , co-founder of Lifebook and co-trainer of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Online Quest, encourages you to ask yourself, “ What kind of a life do you want to live, and what kind of a person gets a life like that? ”

It’s like taking off a pair of dirty glasses and seeing the world in a new light. And it’s with this clarity of who you are and what you want that you can live a more fulfilling life.

What Is Self-Realization?

“Realization” is when one is fully aware of something. And in the case of “self-realization,” it’s when you’re tapped into your authentic self as well as your purpose in life.

Think of Neo from The Matrix . He comes into self-awareness as he lets go of his limiting beliefs and realizes his unique “gift” to stand up against the machines.

But this concept isn’t just for the movies. It can be found in both eastern and western philosophies. 

In eastern religions, self-realization is deeply woven into their belief systems. In Hinduism, for example, the concept is viewed as the knowledge of one’s true self that goes beyond illusions and material things. And in Buddhism, it’s an awakening to true reality.

The self-realization definition in western philosophy, on the other hand, is all about:

  • Reaching one’s full potential,
  • Cultivating your self-identity and purpose, and
  • Contributing to the greater good of mankind and society.

While they’re not the same thing, both philosophies have the same goal in mind when it comes to self-realization. And that goal is a peaceful, fulfilled life—a life of virtue and abundance.

Self-realization vs. self-actualization

Self-realization and self-actualization are concepts that often get mixed up. Let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison of their differences.

It goes without saying, both concepts are essential for personal growth and fulfillment. However, while self-actualization can help with external factors for a wonderful life, it first takes a good look inward with self-realization to truly achieve it.

As Jon says, “ The life you get is going to be the result of the choices you make and the actions you take. ”

Examples of Self-Realization in Life

Self-realization is about rising above your limiting beliefs and going through the stages of personal transformation . Here are a few examples of it in life:

  • With career. You may have felt pressured to pursue a certain career path because of societal expectations of family pressure. However, you realize that your true passion lies elsewhere, and you decide to make a change. For example, Vishen , the founder of Mindvalley, was always taught that his career choices were to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer (fun fact: he decided to study engineering). He, as you may already know, decided to teach meditation and founded Mindvalley.
  • With relationships. You may have experienced being in an unhealthy relationship. But you realize you deserve better and choose to, instead, focus on your own well-being. This is what Katherine Woodward Thomas , the author of best-selling Conscious Uncoupling and trainer of the Mindvalley Quest with the same name, went through in her previous relationship. She and her husband amicably split up but practiced the intention of being kind and generous toward each other.
  • With well-being. You may have learned that material wealth equals happiness, leaving you wondering, “ What should I do with my life? ” But with reflection and understanding, you realize that true happiness comes from meaningful relationships and experiences. Take Jon Butcher , for instance. Before he founded Lifebook with his wife, Missy, he was struggling with anxiety and stress, to the point where he couldn’t leave his own house. They both weren’t happy with the way their life was going, so they decided “ to live a life that was uniquely [theirs]. ”

Self-realization is essentially a journey of self-discovery. Every stop offers you a new perspective and a chance to appreciate all that is around you. 

Jon and Missy Butcher, trainers of Mindvalley's Lifebook Online Quest

Why Is Self-Realization Important?

It comes as no surprise that those who’re connected to their inner selves and the world around them are more resilient. In fact, one study looking at how this concept helps in the face of adversity found that those who were more aware of their true selves showed “ better health profiles .”

What’s more, it has a huge impact on all twelve areas of life, which are defined in Lifebook created by Jon and Missy. Here are a few benefits that it offers:

1. Higher confidence and self-esteem

Self-realization is about making connections on a deep, meaningful level—both with your inner self and with the world around you. It’s like unplugging yourself from “the matrix” and seeing the world for what it truly is.

This connection allows you to rise above your worries, fears, and feelings of unworthiness. And just like Neo, it allows you to be the best you can be.

2. A sharper focus

Self-realization aligns your actions with your deepest values and ideals. This heightened awareness can help you create impactful goal statements , which you can pursue with more drive and focus. 

There’s also the ability to identify and remove toxic influences from your life, which then frees up space for positive experiences and relationships. It’s like having a laser-sharp focus on what truly matters to you and having the confidence and determination to make it happen.

Think of it like Neo after he learns to see beyond the illusion—he becomes unstoppable. And so can you.

3. Not being controlled by emotions

Fear, anxiety, and loneliness are just a few emotions that can hold you back. But when you reach a state of self-realization, you aren’t at their mercy.

This concept teaches you how to observe, face, and overcome thoughts and feelings as they arise. And as a result, you learn how to control your emotions better. 

4. Acceptance

As someone who’s self-realized, you become more open and accepting. You allow yourself to communicate freely and authentically, not only to yourself but also to those around you.

There’s no “ one size fits all ,” as Jon always says. However, when you allow yourself to embrace openness and realness, you build deeper, more meaningful relationships.

12 Ways to Develop Self-Realization

Developing self-realization is a crucial part of living a fulfilled and meaningful life. By understanding your true self and purpose, you can achieve a higher level of self-awareness and great potential.

Here are twelve ways you can tap into your authenticity, with insights taken from Jon in Mindvalley’s Lifebook Online Quest.

1. Take care of your health

The Butchers are advocates of taking care of physical health. In fact, it’s the foundational aspect of their Lifebook program. 

“ When you understand the relationship that exists between your health and your life, ” Jon explains, “ it leaves you with a choice to make regarding your actions. ” 

That means, what you choose to do in the moment can impact your life now or in the future.   For example, if you choose to eat sugary foods every day, you know you’ll have short-term satisfaction. However, in the long run, it’ll have a not-so-great effect on your body.

What you can do: Eat mindfully, drink enough water, exercise regularly, and get deep sleep—these are all important to maintain physical health. Not only that but when your actions are done consciously, you’ll realize the things that are good for your body and the things that aren’t.

2. Be aware of your thoughts

The incredible thing about the mind is that your thoughts can shape your reality . The way you think about yourself and the world around you can have a profound impact on your experiences and outcomes. 

“ Thinking is the foundation of achieving your extraordinary life, ” says Jon. “ The life you get is going to be the result of the choices you make and the actions you take. ”

What you can do: Journaling allows for self-reflection, helping you to process the events you experience. Additionally, it helps you work through past traumas and gain insight to move forward.

Just remember: negative or limiting beliefs can hold you back from achieving your potential. Positive and empowering ones, on the other hand, can help you reach new heights of success and fulfillment.

3. Embrace your emotions

Emotions are a natural part of the human experience. However, we’re often taught to suppress and ignore them (especially negative ones) rather than acknowledge and accept them.

As Jon says, “ Emotions are body wisdom. ” It can provide valuable information about yourself and your needs. You can use this information to make more conscious and informed decisions.

What you can do: Mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing or kundalini awakening , can help you become more aware of your emotions. 

After all, embracing your emotions is a journey that takes time and practice. So be patient and compassionate with yourself as you strive to better understand and accept them.

4. Build good character

“ The process of building a good character can be thought of as stamping your values onto yourself ,” says Jon. He further explains that the quality of your character is “ determined by how deeply engraved your values are onto your sense of self. ”

What you can do: To define the person you want to be and create the life you desire, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you do the things you know you should do?
  • Do you take care of your duties and responsibilities?
  • Can you be counted on to make good decisions from a moral perspective?

Additionally, seek feedback from others. It’ll give you an objective view of your strengths and weaknesses, and provide you with the opportunity to embrace those qualities or improve on them.

5. Cultivate a spiritual practice

Spirituality is often seen as a path towards self-realization. It involves a connection to something greater than yourself, whether that is a higher power, the universe, or a collective consciousness. 

“ Spirituality is a deeply personal experience ,” Jon explains. “ It goes directly to who and what you are at the deepest possible level, and what you believe about why you’re here .”

It’s not something someone can tell you. Rather, it’s up to you to discover what spirituality means to you.

What you can do: Meditation is one of the more powerful tools for achieving self-realization. And doing it regularly can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, which can help you gain insight into your absolute authenticity.

6. Work on your love relationships

What’s the connection between love relationships and self-realization? A few things, actually:

  • When you develop a positive relationship with yourself , you start to accept and love yourself for who you are. This self-love can lead to greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of your values and goals.
  • When it comes to positive relationships with others , you can learn a lot about yourself by how you interact with them. For example, you can gain awareness of how you communicate, what triggers you emotionally, and patterns in your relationships.

This level of awareness can help you identify areas where you may need to grow and develop, leading to personal growth and self-realization.

What you can do: Research shows that practicing compassion is not only good for your health, but it’s good for the world. When you’re able to understand and share the feelings of others, it can help build deeper connections and create a more supportive environment.

“ The natural state of things is to disorganize and decay, ” says Jon. “ And that will happen to your love relationship if you don’t consciously put energy back into the system. ”

7. Define what kind of parent you want to be

If you’re a parent, you understand the pure joy having children can be. But self-realization isn’t only important for children; it’s also essential for parents.

As they grow, they depend on you for food, clothing, and shelter, according to Jon. What’s more, they also look to you for guidance on what’s important, like values, morals, and a sense of life. 

And because you’re responsible and accountable for little humans, your experience as a parent can be a catalyst for personal growth and development.

What you can do: Connecting with other parents can help you gain perspective on your own experiences and beliefs. Consider joining a support group, seeking out a mentor, or getting a certified life coach to help you through your parenting journey.

8. Nurture your social life

“ Creating quality experiences for yourself and the people you love is one of the best things in life, ” says Jon. And with good reason.

In social situations, you’re more than likely to encounter different beliefs, values, and opinions. This can challenge your own assumptions and lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of yourself.

What’s more, it provides the opportunity to learn how to express yourself more effectively, listen actively, and collaborate with others. 

What you can do: One of the key factors in building relationships is being open to new connections. Attend events, like the ones at Mindvalley, to find a community that shares the same interests as you. 

9. Build financial wellness

Let’s face it, money has the power to make every aspect of your life better. It can give you greater freedom and flexibility to pursue your goals and aspirations.

However, it doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to it; rather, you can learn to work with it. When you’re able to manage your finances responsibly, you develop greater self-control and learn to prioritize your money goals over short-term impulses.

What you can do: Managing your finances often requires being aware of what your values and priorities are. As part of the Lifebook process, Jon encourages you to clear your limiting beliefs around money and set those financial goals for where you want to be.

10. Discover a career path that fulfills you

Careers are such a big part of our lives; we spend a big chunk of our days at work. The reality is, though, that we’re not taught to find a career path we love. Instead, we’re encouraged to join the rat race.

So it comes as no surprise that the number of people quitting is high. As a matter of fact, in November 2021 alone, a record 4.5 millio n Americans left their jobs . 

As much as we don’t like to admit it, our careers are important. And pursuing one that aligns with our values and interests can help us develop a sense of purpose and direction in life.

What you can do: “ If you’re connected to what you love (if you know what that is), you might start to look for ways to do it ,” Jon explains. So reflect on your interests and passions, identify your values, assess your skills and strengths, research potential career paths, and network with professionals. And when that’s all said and done, you may just find what you’re looking for.

11. Enhance your quality of life

According to Jon, you’re not going to be able to contribute to the people around you if your life is a mess. However, when you focus on improving all aspects of your life, it’ll ultimately lead to its enhancement. 

It’ll provide you with a sense of purpose and meaning. In turn, that can help you develop a stronger sense of self and personal identity.

What you can do: Jon advises you to integrate your quality of life into your financial plan. Why? “ A lot of this ,” he says, “ is going to come down to your ability to be able to afford the things and experiences you want. ”

12. Create a clear life vision

Your life vision is a roadmap to identify and pursue your most meaningful goals and aspirations that are aligned with your core values and passions. So it’s important to create a really clear and compelling one.

If you need inspiration, you can get it from self-realization quotes. They can provide valuable insights, wisdom, and perspective. Here are a few to get you going:

  • “ Nothing can make you as happy as living a mission-oriented life. ” ― Vishen , founder of Mindvalley
  • “ The quest for wholeness can never begin on the external level. It is always an inside job. ” ― Dr. Shefali Tsabary , clinical psychologist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest
  • “ Too many people never get what they desire in their life because they never actually claim what they want; they never actually get clear on what they’re asking for so in some ways we have to teach ourselves to dream again. ” ― Regan Hillyer , manifestation teacher and trainer of Mindvalley’s The Art of Manifesting Quest

What you can do: Jon suggests asking yourself this question: If you were able to execute the 11 points above and really make your life vision a reality, what would that look like for you five years from now?

Put the law of assumption to work and assume your life vision is fulfilled. Visualize it and meditate on it. Embrace what it would feel like and send your intentions that way.

Mindvalley member writing in their journal

Awaken Your True Self

Self-realization is a step towards awakening your true self and living your best life. As Morpheus said in The Matrix , “ I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. ”

That’s exactly what Mindvalley’s FREE Lifebook Online Masterclass with Jon and Missy Butcher is all about. Here’s what you’ll be in for:

  • Identify what you truly want in the 12 areas of your life
  • Discover what your unique purpose is
  • Gain the clarity you need if you’re going through a major transition (e.g., divorce, career change, personal loss, and so on)

Lifebook gives you the tools, insights, and support you need to walk through the door of self-realization and unlock your full potential.

As Jon says, “ This world needs more self-responsible people making the world a better place by making themselves better .” And you have the opportunity to do just that.

Welcome in.

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Self Awareness — Self-Realization Is In Every Moment


The Real Meaning of Self-realization

  • Categories: Mindfulness Self Awareness

About this sample


Words: 932 |

Published: Feb 12, 2019

Words: 932 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

Works Cited:

  • Alter, S. (2018). Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked. Penguin Books.
  • Beltramini, R. F., & Pitts, R. E. (2017). Millennials’ social media usage, narcissism, and loneliness. In T. M. Harrison & T. D. Schmaltz (Eds.), Digital marketing strategies for fashion and luxury brands (pp. 77-92). IGI Global.
  • Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (2005). The impact of new media on intercultural communication in a global context. In K. Popovic (Ed.), Global communication and culture (pp. 109-122). University of West Indies Press.
  • Gross, E. F., Juvonen, J., & Gable, S. L. (2002). Internet use and well-being in adolescence. Journal of Social Issues, 58(1), 75-90.
  • Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. Vintage Books.
  • Pew Research Center. (2019). Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations. Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends.
  • Rosen, L. D. (2017). The distracted mind: Ancient brains in a high-tech world. MIT Press.
  • Sussman, S., Sussman, A. N., & Sussman, R. (2017). Considering the definition of addiction. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 944.
  • Twenge, J. M. (2017). iGen: Why today's super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy--and completely unprepared for adulthood. Atria Books.
  • Wang, Q. (2013). Virtual connections, real support: A literature review on the relationship between Internet use and loneliness among older adults. Ageing International, 38(4), 561-576.

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Self Realization and Meaning Making in the Face of Adversity: A Eudaimonic Approach to Human Resilience

Carol d. ryff.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

This article considers a eudaimonic approach to psychological well-being built on the integration of developmental, existential and humanistic formulations as well as distant writings of Aristotle. Eudaimonia emphasizes meaning-making, self realization and growth, quality connections to others, self-knowledge, managing life, and marching to one's own drummer. These qualities may be of particular importance in the confrontation with significant life challenges. Prior formulations of resilience are reviewed to underscore the unique features of a eudaimonic approach. Empirical findings on meaning making and self realization are then reviewed to document the capacity of some to maintain high well-being in the face of socioeconomic inequality, the challenges of aging, and in dealing with specific challenges (child abuse, cancer, loss of spouse). Moreover, those who sustain or deepen their well-being as they deal with adversity, show better health profiles, thereby underscoring broader benefits of eudaimonia. How meaning is made and personal capacities realized in the confrontation with challenge is revealed by narrative accounts. Thus, the latter half of the article illustrates human resilience in action via the personal stories of three individuals (Mark Mathabane, Ben Mattlin, Victor Frankl) who endured unimaginable hardship, but prevailed and grew in the face of it. The essential roles of strong social ties and the capacity to derive meaning and realize personal growth in grappling with adversity are unmistakable in all three cases.

The topic of human resilience has been extensively investigated and multiple conceptions have been put forth. Although the importance of social relationships has been repeatedly stressed in prior conceptions of resilience, these formulations have given limited attention to essential activities of meaning making and self realization in the confrontation with life adversity. This article puts forth a perspective of human resilience derived from a eudaimonic approach human well-being, which is rooted in development, existential, and humanistic approaches. The first section below provides a brief look at prior formulations of human resilience, as they bring into high relief the unique features of a eudaimonic approach, particularly its emphasis meaning making and self realization. Translating these conceptual ideas to empirically tractable questions is critical for scientific advancement. Thus, the next section summarizes diverse empirical findings showing that many individuals are capable of maintaining, or regaining high eudaimonic well-being vis-à-vis various life challenges. In addition, this research underscores a further theme, namely, the health benefits linked with eudiamonia in contexts of adversity. These include dealing with social inequalities, the difficulties that accompany aging, and targeted life challenges (child abuse, cancer, loss of spouse). The latter half of this article focuses on case examples of resilience, using actual lives and personal narratives. These accounts bring to life the remarkable capacities some have shown in finding meaning in situations of dramatic adversity as well as in using their hardship to fuel realization of personal capacities. Collectively, the three illustrations deepen appreciation of Nietzsche's (1889) observation, “From life's school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Varieties of Resilience

Initial studies and subsequent elaborations.

Early studies of resilience focused on children living under adverse conditions. Rutter (1987) found that many children of mentally ill parents did not themselves become mentally ill, or exhibit maladaptive behaviors. He construed resilience as positive adaptations to stress and adversity ( Rutter, 1990 ). Similarly, Garmezy studied children of schizophrenic mothers ( Garmezy, 1974 ; Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990 ) and children of poor families living ( Garmezy, 1991 ; Garmezy, Masten, & Tellegen, 1984 ), some of whom were judged by teachers and peers to be competent and without behavior problems. Werner, another early resilience researcher, followed a cohort of children born into poverty and troubled family environments, about a third of whom grew up to be competent, confident, caring adults ( Werner, 1995 ; Werner & Smith, 1977 , 1992 ). Her conception of resilience emphasized sustained competence under stress.

Later studies elaborated meanings of resilience in childhood and adolescence ( Luthar, 1991 ; Masten, 1989 , 1991 ) and gave increased attention to a personality configuration of resilience ( Robins, John, Caspi, Moffitt & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1996 ). Klohnen (1996) framed resilience in adulthood as a personality profile that allows individuals to adaptively encounter and shape their life circumstances. Staudinger, Marsiske, & Baltes (1995) emphasized reserve capacity and continued growth as components of resilience in old age. Along the way, distinctions between resilience as recovery versus resilience as thriving gained attention ( Carver, 1998 ; Epel, McEwen, & Ickovics, 1998 ). Resources thought to facilitate resilience were delineated and found to include positive emotions ( Lyubormirsky & Della Porta, 2010 ; Ong, Fuller-Rowell, & Bonanno, 2010 ), personal intelligence ( Mayer & Faber, 2010 ), self-complexity ( Rafaeli & Hiller, 2010 ), religion and faith ( Pargament & Cummings, 2010 ), and social support ( Helgeson & Lopez, 2010 ). Such qualities paralleled the protective resources identified in the early studies of resilient children, such as high IQ, social support, personality characteristics, family cohesion and warmth, and positive self-concepts.

Recent formulations have underscored ecological models of resilience, which emphasize children's social worlds from proximal influences of caregivers to more distal influences of neighborhoods ( Ungar, 2013 ). Luthar (2006) has also emphasized protective and vulnerability factors within the child, the family, and the community. The first formal handbook on resilience ( Reich, Zautra, & Hall, 2010 ) further expanded the topic to include ethnic and cultural conceptions of resilience, while acknowledging the longstanding debate over how to best define resilience ( Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000 ). The editors concluded that resilience is best formulated as the successful adaptation to adversity, which includes recovery (how people bounce back from challenge) and sustainability (the capacity to continue forward in the face of adversity).

Taken together, this prior literature offers a useful vantage point from which to distil the uniqueness of eudaimonic approach to resilience. Most notably missing in above formulations is the essential importance of meaning making – that is, finding, and frequently creating, meaning in one's confrontation with significant life challenge. Such actions represent higher order human capacities for transforming pain or loss into sources of insight and deepened understanding of self and others. Also missing from many accounts of human resilience are the ways in which adversity is exploited to facilitate personal growth. Growth in the aftermath of trauma, crisis, or suffering has been elaborated in other literatures ( Park, 1998 ; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995 ; Tedeschi, Park, & Calhoun, 1998 ), but the framing of such growth is different from the realization of personal capacities and talents emphasized in the eudiamonic approach described below.

Eudaimonia and Human Resilience

Eudaimonia is a term traceable to Aristotle's Nichomacean Ethics (translated by Ross, 1925 ), written in 350 B.C. to describe the highest of all human goods (see Ryff & Singer, 2006 ). He argued that the highest of human goods was not about satisfying appetites or finding pleasure, but instead, was about “activity of the soul in accordance with virtue” (Aristotle/Ross, 1925, p.11). Aristotle's conception of virtue underscored the importance of finding balance (that which is intermediate) in all modes of conduct, thereby avoiding extremes, such as between undue humility and excess vanity, or between being a boor and a buffoon. In addition, virtue involved finding and actively striving to achieve the best that is within us. Thus, eudaimonia was a form of self-realization, played out individually, each according to personal dispositions and talents. David Norton's Personal Destinies (1976) distilled Aristotle's ethical doctrine as the obligation each person has to know and live in truth with his or her daimon (a kind of spirit given to all at birth), thereby progressively actualizing innate possibilities. Eudaimonia thus translates to meaningful living conditioned on self-truth and self-responsibility; hence, the essence of the two great Greek imperatives: to know thyself and to become what you are.

Although Aristotle's thinking is bedrock for understanding eudaimonia, numerous later perspectives contributed conceptual guides (see Ryff, 1985 , 1989 )for the model of psychological well-being described herein. Some came from early formulations of human growth and development ( Bühler, 1935 ; Bühler & Massarik, 1968 ; Erikson, 1959 ; Neugarten, 1968 , 1973 ), which articulated the developmental tasks and challenges that individuals confront at different life stages. In addition, ideas from existential and humanistic psychology ( Allport, 1961 ; Frankl & Lasch, 1959/1992 ; Maslow, l968, Rogers, 1962 ) were used to distil the importance of finding meaning and purpose in a life that is sometimes horrific. Formulations from clinical psychology that attempted to define mental health in positive terms ( Jahoda, 1958 ; Jung, 1933 ) rather than as the absence of dysfunction were helpful in delineating key components of well-being. Finally, utilitarian philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill (1893/1989) , offered valuable reminders that happiness itself is not the ultimate end, but rather is a byproduct of a well-lived life. Bertrand Russell (1930/1958) , in turn, reminded that happiness is something that requires work and hard work; further, in his view, it follows mostly from zest (active interest and engagement in life) and affection (meaningful bonds of love with others).

The central challenge in working with this rich array of ideas was to integrate them into a coherent whole. Many perspectives emphasized similar themes and these points of convergence became the basis for six core dimensions of psychological well-being with conceptual underpinnings from the above literatures. Self-acceptance , reflects the Greek imperative to know ourselves, although positive self-regard was also emphasized as a central feature of mental health (Jahoda), a characteristic of self-actualization (Maslow), optimal functioning (Rogers), and maturity (Allport) as well as part of self-development (Erikson, Neugarten) and individuation (Jung), which included knowing one's dark side (the shadow). Positive relations with others reflects the formulation of the interpersonal realm as a central feature of a well-lived life (Aristotle), a key component of mental health (Jahoda), the empathy and affection that embodies self-actualization (Maslow), warm relating to others as a key criterion of maturity (Allport), and Erikson's stages of intimacy (achieving close union with others) and generativity (caring about and guiding others). Both Mill and Russell wrote at length about the central importance of friendship and love in finding happiness. Personal growth comes closest to Aristotle's eudaimonia, given its explicit emphasis on realization of each individual's potential. This part of well-being involves a continual process of developing. Self-actualization (Maslow) was centrally concerned with realizing one's personal potential and the fully functioning person (Rogers) involved continually becoming rather than achieving a fixed state. Life-span theories (Bühler, Erikson, Neugarten, Jung) also gave explicit emphasis to the confronting of new challenges at different life periods.

Purpose in life drew heavily on existential perspectives, especially Frankl's search for meaning in the face of life's travails. Creating meaning and direction is also fundamental to the challenge of living authentically ( Sartre, 1956 ). Less tuned to darkness, Russell's emphasis on zest involved an actively engaged and reflective stance toward life. Mental health explicitly included having beliefs that give one a sense of purpose and meaning. Maturity (Allport) also involved a comprehension of life's purpose. Developmental formulations, in turn referred to changing purposes or goals, such as being productive in midlife, while turning inward toward emotional integration in later life. Environmental mastery is closely aligned with a key characteristic of mental health (Jahoda), namely the capacity to choose or create a living environment suitable to one's needs. Life-span developmental theories (Neugarten) emphasized the ability to control and manipulate complex environments, especially in midlife as well as to act on and change the surrounding context. Maturity (Allport) involved the capacity to extend oneself into significant spheres of endeavor. Thus, active participation in and mastery of one's surrounding environment are key elements of well-being. Finally, autonomy invokes qualities such as self-determination, independence, and the regulation of behavior from within. Self-actualizers (Maslow), for example, showed an internal locus of evaluation and a resistance to enculturation. The fully functioning person (Rogers) did not look to others for approval but evaluates oneself by personal standards. Individuation (Jung) involved a deliverance from convention in which one no longer subscribes to the collective beliefs and fears of the masses. Life-span developmentalists (Erikson, Neugarten, Jung) described turning inward in the later years, when one gained a freedom of the norms governing everyday life. Autonomy is thus a notably Western aspect of well-being.

How these dimensions of psychological well-being relate to resilience needs clarification. A first point is that the separate components serve as useful tools for gauging the upside of how individuals fare in their struggle with adversity or challenge. Some individuals, as detailed in the next section, show a capacity to maintain high eudaimonic well-being, even though they are confronted with difficult life challenges. Thus, akin to early formulations of resilience as adaptive functioning in the face of hardship, the components of eudaimonic well-being delineate the scope and nature of how one is functioning in the face of challenge. Two aspects, purpose in life and positive relations with others, are the focus of this special issue, but the others are included as well to underscore the multiplicity of strengths humans exhibit in their life journeys.

Second, the eudaimonic approach to resilience asserts that well-being is sometimes honed and nurtured via active engagement with adversity. Personal growth, which involves the capacity to realize one's talent and potential, often involves encounters with obstacles, failure and disappointment. Such experiences require finding inner strengths and resources of renewal. While personal capacities may be deepened, self-knowledge may also be expanded, including paradoxically, awareness of one's limitations and vulnerabilities. Similarly, positive relations with others may be enriched in encounters with life difficulties, be they the struggles of aging parents, or the difficulties of growing children. Indeed, interpersonal flourishing in most lives is about the complex mix of positive and negative emotions, which comprise our most significant human ties. Purpose in life, as articulated by Frankl, is fundamentally about meaning-making in the face of trauma. Thus, across the six dimensions, a key point is that eudaimonic well-being is often forged in the crucible of adversity. The next section distils empirical evidence that some individuals are able to maintain, or regain, their eudaimonic wellbeing in the face of adversity and further underscores the health benefits, which accompany a meaning-making, growth-oriented outlook on life.

Empirical Examples of Resilience and Their Relevance for Health

Resilience demands a focus on hardship or adversity; i.e., some kind of life challenge. Many of the examples described below are taken from a national study of U.S. adults known as MIDUS (Midlife in the U.S.). They revolve around three kinds of encounters with the negative: socioeconomic inequalities, challenges of aging, and targeted life stressors. The examples were selected to showcase recent findings from a national study of U.S. adults as well as other new longitudinal findings. Most studies included utilize eudaimonic measures of well-being as in their formulation of protective resources.

Challenges of Inequality

It has become well-established that low socioeconomic status (SES), measured in terms of income, occupational status, or educational attainment, increases risk for poor health ( Adler & Steward, 2010 ). However, not all economically or educationally disadvantaged individuals succumb to this grim prediction, and increased interest is given to those who defy the SES gradient in health. A study by Morozink, Friedman, Coe, and Ryff (2010) first showed that educational status is associated with a marker of inflammation known as IL-6 (Interluekin -6), which is a precursor to multiple disease outcomes (cardiovascular disease, rheumatological disease, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis). As hypothesized, those who were educationally disadvantaged showed higher levels of this biological risk factor, on average . However, there was variability in the eudiamonic well-being among those with only a high school education or less, such that some showed high levels of purpose in life, environmental mastery, self-acceptance, and positive relations with others, despite their low educational status. Importantly, high well-being moderated the effect of educational standing on IL-6. That is, among those dealing with limited educational attainment, those with higher levels of eudaimonic well-being did not show elevated levels of inflammation compared to their low education peers. Such findings suggest that well-being may serve as a buffer against the adverse effects of low SES on inflammatory risk.

A related MIDUS study focused on the experience of socioeconomic adversity in early life, which is known to predict poorer health in adulthood ( Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Chen, & Matthews, 2010 ). Illustrating resilience, Miller, Lachman, Chen et al., (2011) showed that many individuals, despite growing up in impoverished environments, do not exhibit health problems in midlife, assessed in terms of metabolic syndrome (a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors, including central adiposity, high fasting glucose, high blood pressure, and dysregulated lipids). They found that middle aged individuals who grew up in low socioeconomic environments did not have higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome if they had received high maternal nurturance in childhood . A related study ( Chen, Miller, Lachman, Gruenewald, & Seeman, 2012 ) found that adults from low childhood SES environments who engaged in various cognitive and emotional strategies (“shift and persist”) in response to life stressors also did not exhibit elevated allostatic load, a composite of multiple physiological markers reflecting wear and tear of different biological systems.

Earlier findings from MIDUS also documented the psychological strengths evident among some who had only a high school education ( Markus, Ryff, Curhan, & Palmersheim, 2004 ). Open-ended interviews revealed unique personal profiles among these educationally disadvantaged who nonetheless had high eudaimonic well-being: above all, they were interpersonally oriented – that is, concerned about caring for others and upholding their responsibilities to others. A further study focused on majority/minority status comparisons ( Ryff, Keyes, & Hughes, 2003 ), and found that minority status predicted higher psychological well-being (multiple dimensions) than majority status (after adjusting for age, gender, educational attainment). These unexpected effects were even more pronounced when perceived discrimination was controlled. Such findings suggested that the challenges of minority life in the U.S. seemed to hone psychological strengths, such as life purpose and personal growth.

In sum, the MIDUS study provides evidence of resilience in the face of social inequalities (see Ryff et al., 2012 for further examples). Among educationally or economically disadvantaged individuals, some have high profiles of eudaimonic well-being as well as other cognitive and emotional resources. Increasingly, evidence shows that these factors are protective buffers against risk of poor health, measured in terms of regulation of diverse physiological systems.

Challenges of Aging

For most individuals, the process of growing old poses notable challenges. Normal biological aging (of cells, tissues, organs) is often accompanied by increased risk of multiple diseases (type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease) ( Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011 ) as well as increased chronic conditions (e.g., hypertension, arthritis, dysregulated lipids). Second, some aspects of psychological well-being (especially purpose in life and personal growth) have shown sharply downward trajectories from midlife to old age ( Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002 ; Ryff, 1989 ; Ryff & Keyes, 1995 ; Springer, Prudrovska & Hauser, 2011 ). Nonetheless, there is considerable variability surrounding average patterns of psychological decline. Some older persons do not fit the average profile; indeed, they show levels of physical and mental health comparable to younger age groups. Further, even when significant health changes occur, many older persons consider themselves to be aging well ( McLaughlin, Connell, Heeringa, Li, & Roberts, 2010 ).

With data from MIDUS, Friedman and Ryff (2012) showed that having multiple chronic conditions (co-morbidity) was common among older members of the sample. Increased chronic conditions were accompanied by higher levels of inflammatory markers, such as IL-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP), thus illustrating the pernicious spiral (each influences the other) that exists between health problems and inflammation. Even so, among older adults who reported higher levels of purpose in life and positive relations with significant others, higher chronic conditions were not linked to elevated inflammation. Thus, high life engagement appeared to serve as a protective resource, thereby reducing the risk of future disability and mortality for these individuals. A related study from MIDUS ( Cotter & Lachman, 2010 ) found that physical health decline with aging was significantly reduced among those with positive profiles on three protective factors (control beliefs, social support, physical exercise).

Other investigations from MIDUS have shown that volunteering and making charitable donations has positive effects on psychological well-being among those age 55 and above, possibly attributable to the sense of self-efficacy, altruism, or the desire to do good deeds. Similarly, Greenfield and Marks (2004) found that formal volunteering was associated with more positive affect among older adults; volunteering also mitigated against declines in purpose in life linked with loss of major social roles. Greenfield (2009) found that greater felt obligation to help close others also protected against depressive symptoms as well as declining personal growth and self-acceptance. Finally, Seeman et al. (2011) linked social contact and support to cognitive abilities and found that those with greater contact and support had higher executive function and better episodic memory, whereas decline in social measures was associated with negative cognitive profiles, especially among younger adults.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-based epidemiological study, has generated similar positive findings. A first investigation found that those with higher levels of purpose in life at baseline were less likely to die seven years later ( Boyle, Barnes, Buchman, & Bennett, 2009 ), net of numerous confounds (depressive symptoms, chronic conditions, income). A second study showed that higher in purpose in life at baseline was protective against mild cognitive impairment as well as Alzheimer's disease seven years later, net of confounds. Most recently, purpose in life was found to modify the association between Alzheimer's disease pathology in the brain (assessed from post-mortem analyses) and cognitive function prior to death ( Boyle, Buchman, Wilson, Yu, Schneider, & Bennett, 2012 ). Taken together, findings from the Rush Memory and Aging Project underscore important benefits for cognitive function among older adults with high purpose in life, including the maintenance of such abilities even when organic pathology is evident in the brain.

In sum, the preceding findings converge to show that although many persons succumb to physical and mental health decline as they age, others do not. Importantly, among those who are able to maintain high eudaimonia (e.g., active, engaged, purposeful, socially related living), risk of physical decline and cognitive deterioration are substantially reduced. Aging, in short, is an arena of dramatic individual differences, wherein those who maintain high well-being reveal notable benefits, not only in terms of their subjective experience, but also with regard to their health and functional capacities.

Targeted Life Challenges

A third category of adversity examines how individuals far in dealing with three targeted life challenges: early life abuse, adult cancer, and loss of spouse. All examples are again from the MIDUS national study of U.S. adults.

Pitzer and Fingerman (2010) investigated the adult physical and mental health consequents of severe physical abuse during childhood. Three types of psychosocial resources (emotional support, instrumental support, personal control) were also examined. Findings showed that the effects of child abuse on adult physical health and negative affect were less severe for individuals with a greater sense of agency over their lives. Greenfield and Marks (2010) linked physical and psychological abuse in childhood to psychological distress in adulthood, and further examined one's sense of community as a moderator of these effects. As predicted, high community support was protective against high distress among those who experienced abuse in childhood.

Two studies from MIDUS have considered resilience in the context of cancer. Costanzo, Ryff, and Singer (2009) examined the psychological, social, emotional and spiritual adjustment of individuals with a cancer diagnosis and compared them to a demographically-matched comparison group of individuals without a major-illness diagnosis. Findings indicated that although depressive symptoms worsened over time among cancer survivors compared to matched controls, cancer survivors were resilient in other ways. That is, their cross-time changes in mood, psychological well-being, social well-being, and spirituality over time were similar to those observed for individuals not dealing with the challenge of cancer. Further evidence suggested that older adults were better able to deal with the challenge of a serious illness than younger cancer survivors. Prudrovska (2010) , in turn, examined changes in personal growth over time among cancer survivors and a non-cancer comparison group. Although personal growth declined in the longitudinal sample overall, such decline was not evident in young adults with cancer compared to same-aged adults without cancer. For the oldest members of the sample, however, those with cancer showed accelerated decline in personal growth compared to the no-cancer comparison group.

Resilience has been examined in the context of spousal loss. Ong et al. (2010) compared a sample of bereaved individuals who lost a spouse between Wave I and II of MIDUS to a demographically matched comparison group of continuously married individuals. Spousal loss was linked with decreasing positive emotions over time, but the effect was moderated by positive reappraisal. Those who lost a spouse and who had higher positive reappraisal profiles had less decrease in positive emotions following their loss. They also examined whether loss of spouse might be less detrimental among those who had had strained marital relationships. As predicted, those with more troubled spousal relationships at baseline were less adversely influenced by subsequent spousal loss. More recently, Ong, Fuller-Rowell, Bonanno, and Almeida (2011) found that spousal loss predicted subsequent diurnal cortisol dysregulation, with these effects partially explained by changes in positive emotion. Such findings were consistent with the theoretical framework linking emotional resilience to physical health.

In sum, the preceding studies describe multiple varieties of resilience in the face of differing life challenges. Several also document the health benefits of maintaining high well-being in such contexts. Those who were able to find meaning, experience personal growth, and enjoy good social relationships as they negotiated losses or hardship thus seemed to benefit, not only phenomenologically, but also with regard to maintaining well-regulated biological systems. These scientific findings are contrasted with case examples of resilience in the next section. The objective is to provide an inside picture on how meaning is made and human capacities are realized in the confrontation with significant adversity. The rich autobiographical accounts of resilience underscore the essential role of strong social ties as negative experience is transformed into powerful insights that fuel personal growth. Above all, the examples are intended to show how human resilience comes to be.

Bringing Human Resilience to Life with Narrative Accounts

Three lives are examined to probe inside stories of human resilience. The first is about Mark Mathabane who grew up in extreme poverty during the apartheid era in South Africa. The second is about the life of Ben Mattlin who was born with a congenital disease that was severely and progressively disabling. He nonetheless became a leader in the disability rights movement in the U.S. The third is the archetypal example of resilience, Victor Frankl, whose multiple years in Nazi concentration camps is a soaring tale meaning making and growth under the most horrific of conditions. Together, the three narratives offer breathtaking examples of how one prevails in the face of adversity.

Resilience in South Africa

Mark Mathabane's childhood adversity was chronicled in his book, Kaffir Boy ( 1986 ). The term Kaffir, Arabic in origin, is used disparagingly to refer to blacks; it is the equivalent of nigger . The eldest of seven children, his story begins with the observation that “In South Africa there is a saying that to be black is to be at the end of the line when anything of significance is to be had” (p.4). His father was a laborer earning $10 a month, when work could be found. A terrifying part of his childhood memories were the late-night police raids, in which he was left to care for his younger siblings, while his parents had to escape, lest they be arrested for not having identification passes in order. These raids created constant uncertainty, and children were frequently brutalized for trying to hide or protect their parents. Repeated humiliation was central to the trauma of apartheid, which watched in his father's confrontation with police. Not a smiling man, his father forced a smile on his face. “It was a begging smile, a passive acceptance of the policeman's authority. After smiling, my father dropped his eyes to the floor. He seemed uncharacteristically powerless and contrite, a far cry from the tough, resolute and absolute ruler of the house I knew him to be, the father whose words were law” (p.22). These raids haunted Mathabane in daily life and in his dreams – “I would often wake up dreaming in the middle of the night, claiming that the police were after me with dogs and flashlights, trying to shoot me down” (p.28).

The father's arrests and absences created still worse difficulties – wages for food and rent were lost. This meant days of nothing to eat and constant threats from the landlord about eviction from their dingy shack. The malnutrition led to illnesses, which could not be treated because there was there was no money for the clinic. In desperation, Mark, his siblings, and mother dug for food at the garbage dump, searching for diseased chickens and rejected eggs from the nearby factory. At one hopeless moment, his grandmother paid the rent for another week and brought them bread, sugar, and mealie meal. Granny gave his mother money to take two younger siblings to the clinic.

Despite the deprivation, significant strengths were present. Although their world included no storybooks or nursery rhymes, Mathabane recalled his mother's stories serving as a kind of library, “a golden fountain of knowledge where we children learned about right and wrong, about good and evil” (p.79). Her mesmerizing tales and hypnotic voice left them transfixed, such that they wanted the stories never to end, imploring her to tell another. Thus, under the strain of inadequate food and shelter, numerous pregnancies, a husband who could not find work and descended into drinking and gambling, Mathabane's mother maintained her own personal strengths and her sense of hope in her children's future. She had an unwavering commitment to their education, even when it meant beatings from her husband. “I want you to go to school, because I believe that an education is the key you need to open up a new world and a new life for yourself, a world and life different from either your father's or mine. Education will open doors where none seem to exist. It'll make people talk to you, listen to you, and help you; people who otherwise wouldn't bother. It will make you soar, like a bird lifting up into the endless blue sky, and leave poverty, hunger and suffering behind” (pp.133-134).

School became critical for Mathabane, not only for learning, but to protect him from joining youth gangs roaming the filthy streets of Alexandra in search of food and adventure. Many were lured into lives of prostitution and crime; as a consequence, many ended up in penitentiaries or in the grave. Again, Mark's mother played a critical role – when he began skipping school to return to the gangs, she intervened and sanctioned a severe beating delivered by the principal and male teachers. He spent an entire week bedridden, unable to sit up or sleep. “For the rest of my primary school years I seldom, if ever, cut school for any reason. Even when I was gravely ill, I would crawl to school, and the teachers would send me back home” (p.261).

School provided an important source of success, in a context wherein failure and hopelessness were everywhere. When he finished number one in his class, both mother and grandmother were thrilled, happy, and proud. Still, the constant exposure to crime, violence, and even murder, took a toll. At one point, weary from hunger and beatings, Mathabane attempted suicide. Somehow his courage, fanatical will to survive and dream of a bright future deserted him. Again, the remarkable mother intervened, first reminding him how much he would be missed by his siblings, but also that she would miss him more than anyone else. “I too would want die if you were to die. You're the only hope I have. I love you very much.” (p.169). Her words provided him with a great insight that he carried for years afterward – when troubles seemed too much, he would remember how much it helps to have someone loving and understanding, to share in one's dark periods. Importantly, he saw the meaning that could follow – “life takes its true meaning in proportion to one's daily battles with suffering” (p.170).

Along the way, Granny, a gardener for wealthy white people, exposed her grandson to the outside world, first bringing comic books from the family for whom she worked, and then taking Mark into this world. His first exposures to white school children with blazers, shiny black shoes and a red-brick school house with flowerbeds, athletic fields, and swings left him stunned. Following the same-aged son from his grandmother's employers, he could not believe the luxuries (toys, bicycles, pinball machines, electric trains, shelves and shelves of books), while his people lived in abject poverty. Of course, he wondered why white people had everything and black people had nothing. He could not read so the white son announced that he was retarded, like other Kaffirs, because they had smaller brains. This comment, paradoxically, fueled a driving passion to learn to express his thoughts and feelings effectively in English. “The remark….had so wounded my ego that I vowed, whatever the cost, I would master English, I would not rest until I could read, write and speak it just like any white man, if not better. Finally I had something to aspire to.” (p.192).

Mathabane's ultimate passport to freedom came not only from his excellence in school, but from his tennis skills, for which he won scholarships that brought him onto contact with Arthur Ashe, a source of inspiration: “I marveled at how proudly he walked. I had never seen a black man walk that proudly among whites” (p.236). Ashe revealed to him the truth about the need to rise above one's own suffering, to conquer one's fears. He received more help and support from his unofficial sponsor who gave to him and his family out of the goodness of heart, without a trace of condescension.

Tennis was his route to college and international travel, where his opportunities were used to the fullest. Eventually he wrote his own remarkable story, which put the lives of apartheid before the rest of the world. Mathabane thus became a voice for the suffering of many leading wretched lives. His account revealed what deplorable conditions do to people and their essential humanity. Thousands of migrant workers forced to live hundreds of miles from their families were part of the tale. Many existed under such stress and had absorbed so much emotional pain, they became the walking dead – they were physically alive, but death had come for their minds and souls.

For those interested in human resilience, Kaffir Boy depicts how a child confronted with relentless adversity, involving violation of basic of human needs and persistent feedback that he had no status in a strictly hierarchical world, became a scholar, talented athlete, and powerful spokesman about the horrors of apartheid. That he had strong social support from his mother and grandmother was an unmistakable strength. Both women were powerful and pivotal social resources, each contributing importantly to building his character, while also to creating opportunities for him. Inside Mathabane, however, were great personal resources as well, such as the capacity to extract meaning from his ordeal, including the appreciation of the good that can follow from suffering as well as his powerful drive to speak other languages and make the most of his talents. His commitment to his own becoming was pivotal.

Resilience vis-à-vis Congenital Disease

Ben Mattlin's book, Miracle Boy Grows Up ( 2012 ), tells the tale of a child born with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease for which he was not expected to survive childhood. He lived, but experienced numerous medical horrors and endured relentless pain and frequent humiliation. None of it, however, defeated him. From the beginning, his mother told him there was nothing he could not do, and it seems he believed her. She encouraged him to speak up, ask for what he needed, and remember that people aren't mind readers. Her message, revealing an impact on his life that was dramatic, was “light a candle instead of cursing the darkness” (p.6).

Mattlin's first diagnosis was amyotonia, a term describing lack of muscle tone. When people asked him what was wrong, he eschewed such technical terms and simply said, “I can't walk, I was born this way” (p.3). The answer was simple and sufficient. At age 4, the doctors prescribed a battery of physical treatments, involving braces that locked him into a statue-straight posture. He described it as equivalent of foot-binding in ancient Japan. Fortunately, the methods were rescinded after determining they had no value. His commentary: “In nearly every other aspect I'm a healthy and happy kid. Yet every time I catch a cold I'm at high risk for pneumonia. I can't cough with sufficient force to clear mucus from my lungs. Regardless, from an early age I refuse to think of myself as fragile. Sure, I'm floppy and I do bump my head a lot, but I always bounce back. I'm tough, resilient. I'm a survivor. The labors of my disability strengthen my character” (p. 3).

Ben's parents, ahead of their time, refused to let their son be segregated. They sent him to private school in New York because they knew separate was not equal, and they wanted the best education for him. He added, “they're also snobs” (p.15). As the only wheel-chair student, he became a pioneer of sorts. Still, he was painfully aware of basic differences, like the fact that other seven year olds could dress themselves, while he still had to rely on his parents for everything, including going to the bathroom. Spontaneity was a forbidden luxury, and impulsivity was drained out of him. Then there were accidents, like falling out of the wheelchair, as others tried to maneuver it down the school steps.

One summer and fall during his teenage years, he went through a series of operations related to spinal fusion, which involved attaching pieces of metal to his pretzel-like spine. The surgery took multiple months and was followed by a lengthy period at a convalescent facility. From the outset, his amazing outlook: “It's enough to make an ordinary teenager crumble, perhaps, but not me. This is my big battle, the travail I must endure to achieve stature, literally. I'm Ben-Hur facing the Roman galley ship. If he can row for three years, I can lie in an institutional bed for six months. In characteristic fashion, macho fantasies come to my rescue” (p.49). Again, his mother was masterful, with encouragement that he scribble his fears and expectations into a notebook. So doing launched his lifelong commitment to journal keeping.

Beyond disability problems, Mattlin had to deal with the difficulty of his parents' divorce and his father's remarriage, and later with his mother's ovarian cancer, from which she ultimately died during his college years. These were complex challenges for someone dealing with major disability, well before the country acknowledged and addressed the needs, and potential, of disabled persons. Nonetheless, Mattlin continued working his way through the fundamental paradoxes of his life, such as the fact that to achieve greater independence, he had to rely on hired assistance from others – something he framed as “dependent autonomy.” In retrospect, he saw his challenges in managing various assistants who helped him through college and beyond as what enabled him to grow up.

Mattlin was one of the first students in a wheelchair to attend Harvard, where he was confronted with the lack of wheelchair access throughout the campus, which in turn, translated to housing problems. Then there were intractable deans and being buffeted by revolving attendants, plus difficulties manipulating books, feeling impatient and overwhelmed by the coursework, and craving ballast, which for him meant wanting a girlfriend and experiences usual for young adult things like losing his virginity. In the middle of this whirlwind of challenges, Mattlin's mother succumbed to cancer, which added a major personal loss and grief to his woes.

Nonetheless, he graduated from Harvard, and during one summer visit with his father's family, he met the nanny of his half-brother, a woman who would become his life partner. They begin living together when he is 20. After graduation, they drove cross-country together, around the time that disability prejudice was becoming a public issue, illustrated by Marlee Matlin's acceptance of an Oscar for her role in Children of a Lesser God, which portrayed the challenges of being deaf. Mattlin followed these events and participated in disability rights groups, as he and his partner settled into life on the west coast. He confronted numerous challenges of finding a job, but eventually became a freelance journalist and commentator.

When Ben was 26 and his partner was 29, they married. The following year, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Mattlin's life thus paralleled the growth of the disability rights movement, for which he became an ever more prominent spokesman, given his careful observations about the difficulties confronted by the disabled and the need for more wide-ranging responses, combined with his invaluable wit. Quoting from Woody Allen (New York Times, Oct. 16, 2011), he noted, “life is a tragedy filled with suffering and despair and yet some people do manage to avoid jury duty.” Such musing provided entrée to the next set of challenges he faced.

Medical tests and his own observations revealed progression of the atrophy . “In other words, the opposite of progress. Worsening.” (p.133). Absorbing the information required that he realign his life around weakening hands. His guiding mantra was “plan ahead, mourn the losses, and move on” (p.136). He accepted that it was easier for his wife to feed him dinner; it saved time and effort. He allowed someone else has to brush his hair. There were still deeper losses, related to his wife's comment that she missed his touch, his gentle caresses. This was all the more poignant as she was not one to express sorrow or disappointment or need. In his words, this woman is “a coper. She muddles through. She'd sooner ask what I want to do—and derive pleasure from doing that – than express a desire of her own. So I'm pleased she's being frank, but still her words sting.” (p.137). He realizes he is hurt and scared. And yet, “…. even as the upwardly mobile, Harvard-educated man is evaporating – replaced by the severely disabled cripple – somehow I can't give up. You mourn and move on. It's a different direction but not a dead end. I'll have to adapt” (p.137).

Mattlin continues to write and do editorial work, and his wife works as well. But not ones to be limited by their circumstance, they decide to have children. That wish takes them several years through the dark maze of infertility. Finally pregnancy is achieved, and their daughter, Paula (named after his mother) is born. How does this disabled man parent? Beautifully it seems. Although he can't change diapers, or bathe, or feed his daughter, he can make up silly songs and games and tell stories. This he does with great enthusiasm, though realizing that many of his stories have a character with a deficit in the eyes of their peer group. By the end of the story, everyone learns not to reject or discount those who seem to be different.

More health challenges occur and again, they weather through. No longer in crisis mode, the family grows, a second child is born. One evening while telling a bedtime story, his thumb slips off his wheelchair controller. Despite multiple efforts by Paula to return the thumb to its place, it become clear he has lost strength in his primary digit. Now over the age of 40, progressive deterioration of SMA sets in. “You'd think I'd be used to it by now. And that thought alone gives me comfort, actually. Just when I can't take any more…. Any more weaknesses, any more limitations, any more atrophy….I realize that I can and I will. Because I always have. I always do. I have no choice.” (p.165).

His work for financial magazines dries up and money is tight. Somehow he is invited to submit a short essay to National Public Radio, and people respond immediately to his inspirational story, his optimism, and his perspective. Requests for reprints pour in and more writing for NPR ensues. He keeps pitching ideas that they accept. At some point, he is encouraged to think about something longer, beyond a 400 word essay. Other columns follow from major newspapers. Ultimately, Mattlin decides to write his memoire, despite other hospitalizations along the way.

Last page of the book is stunning. His daughters have become teenagers that amaze him daily with their intelligence, talent, beauty, and height. He is aware that progress in their lives can be derailed at any moment by another medical emergency, or any number of other disasters, but these he construes merely as interruptions. He has always been able to bounce back, although he notes that both he and his wife are growing older, more fragile. “Yet whatever happens, I know we're a good team. Deep in my osteoporotic bones and atrophied muscles, I feel we were designed for each other. We keep planning, mourning what's lost, celebrating what's gained, and then going on. That's just the way our lives are. Try not to be too jealous.” (p.194). Ben Mattlin's story, from beginning to end, is a paean to human resilience.

Resilience vis-à-vis Utter Hopelessness

Victor Frankl endured three years in Nazi concentration camps. His book about it, Man's Search for Meaning , was written after his release over a period of 9 days and published in 1945. It became a bestseller. When the 1992 edition appeared, the book had seen 100 printings in English plus publication in 21 other languages. The English editions alone had sold more than 3 million copies. Writing a preface to the 1992 publication, Frankl observed that the fame of the book was not a statement about his accomplishments, but rather an expression of the misery of our time and the need to find meaning in the face of it – “it must be a question that burns under their fingernails” (p.11).

His goal in writing the book had been to convey, by way of a concrete example, that life holds meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable. He divided his recollections into three parts: the period after admission, the longest period when life in the camps became an entrenched routine, and the period following release and liberation. The first realization, which none could grasp upon their arrival, was that everything was to be taken away. Frankl begged to keep a roll of paper in his coat, the manuscript of a book he described to the guard as his life's work. The guard laughed and then bellowed at him. Like everyone else, the only thing he could keep was his bare body. This introduction was followed by a kind of curiosity phase, in which the new arrivals looked around and took the place in, as if their minds could somehow be detached from their surroundings. Then followed a sense of surprise as they watched themselves endure the unimaginable – finding that they could carry on even though they were unable to clean their teeth or their bodies, had insufficient food, and were subjected to brutal work.

The deeper essence of the book emerged in the second phase, when the prisoners began living an apathy that was a kind of emotional death. Frankl noticed they became less traumatized by the torture of others; eyes were no longer averted. Instead, they watched the suffering of others and were unmoved by it. Feelings were blunted, with the insensibility becoming a kind of protective shell – “A corpse stares at him with glazed eyes and he continues sipping his soup.” (p.34). Hunger and lack of sleep contributed to the apathy and irritability. “Reality dimmed, and all efforts and all emotions were centered on one task: preserving one's own life and that of the other fellow” (p.40).

Physical beatings were omnipresent. As a psychiatrist, Frankl recognized that some guards among them were true sadists. Still, what caused the greatest pain in these beatings was, in his view, less the physical than the insult the beatings implied. He recalled moments when even the most hardened prisoners had their indignation aroused during a beating; it was the personal insult rather than excruciating pain that fueled such a response.

Despite so much negativity, he began seeing that some experienced a deepened spiritual life. “Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less” (p.47). His own inward journey became a discovery of hidden resources. One early morning on the way to the work site, they stumbled along in the darkness over big stones and through puddles while the icy wind blew around them. Someone said, “If our wives could see us now.” This comment brought to mind his wife, as the stars were fading and the light of morning was emerging. “My mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth…. that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire” (pp.48-49). For Frankl, the deeper realization, however, was that nothing could touch the strength of his love and the image of his beloved. Instead, he felt her there with him, he was able to “stretch out my hand and grasp hers” (p.52).

This intensification of his inner life helped him to find refuge from the emptiness, desolation, and spiritual poverty of his existence. It allowed him to escape into the past. “In my mind, I took bus rides, unlocked the front door of my apartment, answered my telephone, switched on the electric lights. Our thoughts often centered on such details, and these thoughts could move one to tears” (p.40). In addition, he began appreciating the meager pleasures of camp life, such as having time to delouse before going to bed, feeling thankful there was no air raid alarm or loss of electric lights. If done properly, the sleep to follow would be much better. This was a kind of negative happiness, something he recalled Schopenhauer had written about as the freedom from suffering.

His insights grew and began to encompass reflections on human liberty and spiritual freedom, which he saw as ultimately about how one responds to the situation life presents. “The experiences of camp life showed that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress” (p.74). They could remember, for example, those who passed through the huts, giving comfort to others, giving away their last piece of bread. “….everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances” (p.75). Here he recalled Dovstoyevski, who claimed the only thing he dreaded was to be unworthy of his own suffering. For Frankl, spiritual freedom, which could not be taken away, was what made the life there “meaningful and purposeful” (p.76). Barren of everything, high moral behavior was still possible through the attitude one held toward one's existence – “His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden” (p.86).

These observations allowed him to sometimes shift from the daily focus about survival to another place. “I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp” (p.82). This remarkable thought sequence revealed that Frankl had not lost his faith in the future. More striking, his imagining of the future was that he would use his experience to enrich his work as a psychiatrist – this is what actually happened, his envisioned future came true.

Other observations revealed his insights about mind/body interactions – anticipating what would later be called psychoneuroimmunology. Frankl, as a physician trained in psychiatry, saw the linkage between hope and life or death. In 1944, in the week before Christmas and New Years, the death rate in the camp went up beyond all previous expectation. Many he believed had lived in hope that they would be liberated by this time. Instead, they lost their courage and were overcome with disappointment, which had a dangerous influence on their powers of resistance. “Those who know how close the connection is between the state of the mind of a man – his courage and hope, or lack of them – and the state of immunity in his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have deadly effect. The ultimate cause of my friend's death was that the expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his body's resistance against the latent typhus infection” (p.84).

Following their release, Frankl observed that they were not mad with joy, indeed, they could not experience it. They came upon a meadow full of flowers, for example, but had no feelings about them. There was only a spark of joy when they saw a tail of multicolored feathers. “We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly” (p.95). Indeed, they were not looking for happiness; it had not sustained them, or given them courage and meaning during their ordeal. Those came from the suffering. Others found that no one awaited them, even the person whose memory had most sustained them. These losses also had to be endured.

For many, he believed the day came when they looked back on their experience and could not understand how it had all been endured. In Frankl's case, the trauma was used to develop logotherpay, which is a kind of psychological intervention designed to help individuals find meaning in their lives (logos is Greek for meaning). Given the Freudian emphasis at the time, he challenged the preoccupation with conflicts between drives and instincts and argued that neuroses emerge from existential problems, from challenges in living in a sometimes senseless world. He was also critical of theories of homeostasis, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him” (p.110).

Frankl's enormous gift and immense legacy was to help all who followed see something that had never before been so perfectly articulated – when confronted with a hopeless situation, what matters most is to transform it into something with meaning. We can always determine our stance toward hopelessness: “It is not freedom from conditions, but is the freedom to take a stand toward the conditions” (p.132). He closed his memoir this: “As a professor in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully away of the extent to which man is subject to biological, psychological, and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps – concentration camps that is – and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable” (p.132). He had found the ultimate high ground in understanding human resilience.

This article has emphasized the importance of meaning making and self realization as people deal with the trials and tribulations life delivers to them. Using a formulation of eudaimonic well-being as guide, numerous empirical examples of resilience were reviewed. These dealt with finding purpose and meaning, experiencing personal growth, and having close personal ties with others in dealing with social inequalities, the challenges of aging, and specific life challenges, such as child abuse, cancer, and widowhood. An important message of these examples is that health benefits appear to follow for those who find and sustain well-being, despite the existential challenges of living.

The latter half of the article distilled life narratives from three heroic exemplars of resilience. The point of these case examples is to showcase in the actual context of major life challenges how it is done – that is, how experiences are interpreted and meanings are made as one endures dramatic adversity. Their insights reveal the force of human motivation to prevail over hardship as well as powerful paradoxes about the human condition – namely, the unimagined insights and gains that can follow from encounters with the worst life can deliver. These revelations, in turn, bring clarity and direction to realization of personal capacities. Consistent with the theme of this special issue, an overarching message is that social relationships, past and present, are an undeniable thread throughout human tales of resilience.

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Tiny Buddha

“Your outlook on life is a direct reflection on how much you like yourself.” ~ Lululemon

“My existence on this earth is pointless.”

That thought crossed my mind every night before I fell asleep.

It had been several months since I graduated from high school and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. My future plans were falling to pieces, and everyone around me kept telling me that I needed to start accomplishing things that I had not yet accomplished.

I was not where I thought I should be in life. Everyone had expectations that I hadn’t met. I became too focused on becoming a version of myself that everyone else wanted, and I constantly compared myself to other people who had already taken the dive into the next chapter of their life.

I was relentlessly questioned and judged for my slower progression in life, which convinced me that no one supported me or believed in me. I wondered why I even bothered to exist if I was getting nowhere and disappointing everyone. I began to blame everyone but myself for the state of misery I had fallen into.

My self-esteem began to suffer as the months went by. I felt inferior to everyone and it made me hate myself. I still did not know what I wanted to do with my life—and I was starting to not even care.

But several months and hundreds of needless self insults later, I decided to block out the negativity , both from myself and other people. I silenced the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough and asked myself what would really make me happy.

I’ve always been very creative and expressive. I used to sing, act, and dance when I was younger. But my favorite thing has always been writing.

Some of the happiest moments in my life came from opportunities to express myself or put my heart and soul out for everyone to see. Every path I tried to take always led me back to writing.

I got to a point where I realized that I was only trying to pursue other paths because I thought that’s what other people would accept. I was afraid that if I let my imagination soar to all the different possibilities, people would tear me down or tell me to be “realistic.”

The bottom line is that I became paralyzed with this fear of not being accepted. I was afraid to be different or go my own way and pursue what truly made me happy. I put myself in a box.

One day, I decided that enough was enough. I spent an entire year of my life trying to be “realistic” and conform to the expectations of other people. I realized that you can’t please everyone anyway, so trying will definitely not lead to contentment.

Real happiness comes from being content with and proud of yourself .

I finally decided that I was going to devote my time to learning about writing and working on my writing skills. I am happy with that decision and I feel better about myself because I made it for me.

I have learned a few things about choosing the right path for yourself, focusing on what will make you happy. If you’ve been struggling to make that choice, I recommend:

Drop your worries.

Worry puts a burden on your mind, body, and spirit. They can keep you up all night if you let them. Find comfort in the fact that everything happens for a reason and everything will fall into place at the right time.

During my period of low self-esteem and extreme uncertainty, I relentlessly questioned every aspect of my life. I would go to bed frustrated and upset as I told myself I wasn’t good enough, and that I wished I was like everyone else my age.

By constantly bashing yourself and worrying about every single thing that happens to you, you’re missing out on happiness that you could’ve had all along.

Do not try to please or impress anyone but yourself.

The need to impress, please, and compare ourselves to other people all the time is one of the most common causes of self-loathing. As long as you’re trying to please other people and live up to their expectations, you will not be pleasing yourself.

What I’ve learned is that happiness does not come from pleasing other people. Happiness comes from feeling content with your own life and goals.

Embrace your unique qualities and talents.

Everyone is different. Figure out what you’re good at and what sets you apart from everyone else. Your mission is to create a reason for being here.

Believe in your path.

When you start to figure out what you want in life, there will be obstacles. Do not let anyone or anything discourage you from continuing on. Believe in yourself and believe in your decisions.

Stay positive and keep moving forward.

Take your time.

Life does not come with a rulebook or deadlines for accomplishing certain things. I used to always think that I needed to be at the same level as everyone else my age. Life is not a race or a contest.

Have faith in the fact that you are exactly where you need to be at this very moment in time and as long as you’re content, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re not where you need to be. You be the judge of what you want to change in your life and then do it for you .

Surround yourself with positivity.

Try to limit the amount of time you spend with people who nay-say, judge, or ridicule. Choose to completely surround yourself with positive, inspiring influences. You will feel much happier and better about yourself if you do.

Make a list of sayings or quotes that make you feel encouraged or inspired and keep it where you can see it each day. Try putting the list under your pillow or on your refrigerator door.

The most important thing to remember is that you are worth it, you can go another day, and you can be happy. Life will not throw you anything you cannot handle or overcome.

Once you start to accept and love yourself and your desired path, the smoke will clear and you will breathe easy again. Be kind to yourself and life will be a whole lot brighter.

Photo by QuinnDombrowsky

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About Madison Sonnier

Madison is a writer of feelings and lover of animals, music, nature and creativity. You can follow her blog at and buy her first eBook through Amazon . She loves making new friends, so be sure to say hi if you like what you see!

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self realization essay brainly

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Myself Realization

Humans are complex beings in a variety of ways. I often wonder what the reason is behind people's behavior and way of thinking rather than what I believe is the reason. Initially, when I heard the word psychology, I associated it with psychiatrists, therapy, as well as mind-reading. My perspective of psychiatrists were people who can read your mind because they knew what you're going to say, what you are thinking, and can even explain the reason behind your behavior without you having to tell them. However, as I explored the subject further, I realized that it's not about mind-reading or being psychic. I learned that psychology is not limited to psychiatrists or therapy. It is a broad subject that deals with a variety of issues that explains the complexities of human behavior. Thus, the question remains: in what ways did I apply psychology for the betterment of life?

If there was one person in the world that I knew better than anyone else, shouldn’t that person be myself? As I studied psychology, I realized that I know every single thought, action, and feelings I’ve had over the years yet never truly understood the reasons behind them. This led to the realization that I never acquired full knowledge and understanding of myself. In simpler terms, I lacked self-awareness. Upon knowing this, I aimed to learn more about myself and acquired a better understanding of my personality and behavior. I made use of introspection wherein I took note of my weakness and allow improvement of these areas. For instance, I used to dread my lack of organization skills in any part of my life. However, I learned to effectively control my behavior and direct myself towards decisions that are beneficial to me. I’ve noticed an improvement in my time management skills and I learned ways to motivate myself during times that I turn to procrastination. As it turns out, I managed to accomplish the 4 main goals of psychology: describe, understand, predict, and control. Through observation, I increased my awareness of the situation, therefore, gaining a better understanding of my behavior. With this awareness, I knew what made me felt lazy, sad, unmotivated, and so on. Knowing these, I could take hold of the situation and manage these emotions effectively to increase my productivity.

However, learning psychology did not only benefit me but others around me. My relationships grew stronger and healthier because of my ability of understanding situations and resolving conflict. These relationships included those with my family, friends, as well as people in my school and workplace. It enhanced my leadership skills through critical thinking and knowledge of what causes behavior. By observing people’s actions and the reasons behind these actions, I could adjust the situations and distribute the workload appropriately to the members of my team. This led to success because I assigned members to work that I knew they could accomplish without any difficulties at all.

Having applied my learnings to various aspects of my life enhanced my understanding, appreciation, and interest in psychology. I have developed a better understanding of myself and those around me. This understanding proved to be useful for better relationships and in enhancing the environment in the school setting as well as in the workplace. This skill enables me to assess, understand, and control situations in a different way than I would have done before my exploration of the subject. Admittedly, it has been a journey of self-improvement and the betterment of life. However, this is only a small part of my journey. I am aware there is more to learn and I aim to open my mind to the knowledge that awaits me.

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Book cover

  • © 2018

The Realizations of the Self

  • Andrea Altobrando 0 ,
  • Takuya Niikawa 1 ,
  • Richard Stone 2

China University of Political Science and Law, Beijing, China

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Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, France

Hokkaido university, sapporo, japan.

Offers the first modern, academic treatment of the topic of self-realization.

Written from the perspective of various intellectual traditions.

Outlines the practical and ethical consequences that derive from an understanding of the terms self and self-realization.

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9 Citations

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  • Table of contents

About this book

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Table of contents (15 chapters)

Front matter, introduction.

  • Andrea Altobrando, Takuya Niikawa, Richard Stone

Understanding the Self

Is there a true self.

  • Akiko Frischhut

Non-contextual Self: Husserl and Nishida on the Primal Mode of the Self

  • Shigeru Taguchi

Habits and the Diachronic Structure of the Self

  • Michael G. Butler, Shaun Gallagher

Is Our Self Temporal? From the Temporal Features of the Brain’s Neural Activity to Self-Continuity and Personal Identity

  • Georg Northoff

Self-Realization of the Economic Agent

  • Gilles Campagnolo

Intermezzo—Speaking of Oneself

The unstoried life.

  • Galen Strawson

Muddling Through: An Episodic Conversation on Self, Narrativity, Transience, and Other Pleasantries

  • Galen Strawson, Andrea Altobrando

Fulfilling the Self

Stoic happiness as self-activity.

  • Tomohiko Kondo

Realizing Oneself by Realizing What One Really Wants to Do

  • Yudai Suzuki

Three Liberal Conceptions of Self-Realization: Creativity, Authenticity and Flourishing

  • Lidia de Tienda Palop

Rights and Persons

  • Pierfrancesco Biasetti

Achieving a Self-Satisfied Intimate Life Through Computer Technologies?

  • Nicola Liberati

Nishida Kitarō, Takahashi Satomi and the Schelerian Philosophy of Love

  • Ching-Yuen Cheung

Self-Realization as Self-Abandonment

Richard Stone

Back Matter

Recent discussions of self-realization have devolved into unscientific theories of self-help. However, this vague and often misused concept is connected to many important individual and social problems. As long as its meaning remains unclear, it can be abused for social, political, and commercial malpractices. To combat this issue, this book shares perspectives from scholars of various philosophical traditions. Each chapter takes new steps in asking what the meaning of self-realization is–both in terms of what it means to understand who or what one is, and also in terms of how one can, or should, fulfilll oneself. The conceptual elucidations achieved from both theoretical and practical perspectives allow for a more mature awareness of how to deal with discourses on self-realization and, in any case, can help to demystify the subject.

  • Carl Menger
  • Martha Nussbaum
  • Christine Korsgaard
  • Harry Frankfurt

“This book shares perspectives from scholars of various philosophical traditions. Each chapter takes new steps in asking what the meaning of self-realization is–both in terms of what it means to understand who or what one is, and also in terms of how one can, or should, fulfill oneself.” (Spotlight,, Issue 47, January, 2019)

“This book offers an updated and stimulating exploration of one of the most interesting topics at the intersection of philosophy and psychology: that of the realization of the self. It certainly is a very important reading for all scholars interested in this issue”. (Mario De Caro, Università Roma Tre, Italy, and Tufts University, USA)

Andrea Altobrando

Takuya Niikawa

Andrea Altobrando is Professor of Western Philosophy at China University of Political Science and Law.

Takuya Niikawa is a post-doc JSPS Research Fellow at Institute Jean Nicaud, France.

Richard Stone is a PhD-candidate at Hokkaido University, Japan.

Book Title : The Realizations of the Self

Editors : Andrea Altobrando, Takuya Niikawa, Richard Stone


Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan Cham

eBook Packages : Religion and Philosophy , Philosophy and Religion (R0)

Copyright Information : Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Hardcover ISBN : 978-3-319-94699-3 Published: 22 September 2018

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-030-06902-5 Published: 03 January 2019

eBook ISBN : 978-3-319-94700-6 Published: 11 September 2018

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : IX, 292

Number of Illustrations : 2 b/w illustrations

Topics : Philosophy of Man , Self and Identity , Social Anthropology

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  • College essay

How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples

Published on September 21, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.

An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability. Your essay shouldn’t just be a resume of your experiences; colleges are looking for a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

To write about your achievements and qualities without sounding arrogant, use specific stories to illustrate them. You can also write about challenges you’ve faced or mistakes you’ve made to show vulnerability and personal growth.

Table of contents

Start with self-reflection, how to write about challenges and mistakes, how to write about your achievements and qualities, how to write about a cliché experience, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

Before you start writing, spend some time reflecting to identify your values and qualities. You should do a comprehensive brainstorming session, but here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What are the top five things you are thankful for?
  • What has inspired your hobbies or future goals?
  • What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?

As you self-reflect, consider how your values and goals reflect your prospective university’s program and culture, and brainstorm stories that demonstrate the fit between the two.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Writing about difficult experiences can be an effective way to show authenticity and create an emotional connection to the reader, but choose carefully which details to share, and aim to demonstrate how the experience helped you learn and grow.

Be vulnerable

It’s not necessary to have a tragic story or a huge confession. But you should openly share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences to evoke an emotional response from the reader. Even a cliché or mundane topic can be made interesting with honest reflection. This honesty is a preface to self-reflection and insight in the essay’s conclusion.

Don’t overshare

With difficult topics, you shouldn’t focus too much on negative aspects. Instead, use your challenging circumstances as a brief introduction to how you responded positively.

Share what you have learned

It’s okay to include your failure or mistakes in your essay if you include a lesson learned. After telling a descriptive, honest story, you should explain what you learned and how you applied it to your life.

While it’s good to sell your strengths, you also don’t want to come across as arrogant. Instead of just stating your extracurricular activities, achievements, or personal qualities, aim to discreetly incorporate them into your story.

Brag indirectly

Mention your extracurricular activities or awards in passing, not outright, to avoid sounding like you’re bragging from a resume.

Use stories to prove your qualities

Even if you don’t have any impressive academic achievements or extracurriculars, you can still demonstrate your academic or personal character. But you should use personal examples to provide proof. In other words, show evidence of your character instead of just telling.

Many high school students write about common topics such as sports, volunteer work, or their family. Your essay topic doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, but do try to include unexpected personal details and your authentic voice to make your essay stand out .

To find an original angle, try these techniques:

  • Focus on a specific moment, and describe the scene using your five senses.
  • Mention objects that have special significance to you.
  • Instead of following a common story arc, include a surprising twist or insight.

Your unique voice can shed new perspective on a common human experience while also revealing your personality. When read out loud, the essay should sound like you are talking.

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


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  • Ms, mrs, miss
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  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

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First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Courault, K. (2023, May 31). How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved November 13, 2023, from

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Kirsten Courault

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Say we look at a wall. We can think it is a wall and many other things about it. But beyond these thoughts, is it a wall? Nothing at all and yet everything. This reality is a whole experience—without thought, our awareness sees reality as one stream of consciousness, where things simply are without further explanation and the need for further explanation.

But this is only talk if we cannot achieve the state of thoughtless awareness. Without being in a state of awareness without thought, reality will continue to be clouded with our mental intervention.

The easiest way to get into the state of thoughtless awareness is through the process of self realization. To realize the self means to realize reality. As mentioned before, reality is a seamless whole, which is one. That one is the self, hiding behind mental intervention, the identification with a separate self (the body), and emotions.

What follows is the process of self realization, developed by the great spiritual teacher, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi . It requires only yourself and a willingness to achieve self realization.

Self Realization Process

Sit comfortably. Place your hands on your lap with your palms up. Repeat each phrase in quotation marks, until you feel peaceful and ready to move on.

1. Take a few slow, deep breaths. This will help you to relax and meditate better.

2. The following steps will help you calm your thoughts. For best results, do them slowly:

  • Put your right hand on your lower left side, just above your hip and quietly say, either out loud or to yourself, “I want to experience pure knowledge.”
  • Move your right hand up along your side until it is just below the rib cage and say, “I am my own teacher.”
  • Place your right hand on your heart and say, “I am not this body, these thoughts, or these emotions. I simply am.”
  • Move your right hand to your left shoulder, where it meets the neck, and say, “I do not condemn myself.”
  • Next, put your right hand across your forehead, lower your head slightly, and say, “I forgive everyone, including myself.”
  • Lastly, put your right hand on the top of your head, the center of your palm making firm contact, and rotate it slowly in a clockwise direction, as if a face of a clock is laying on your head. While doing this, say, “Let me experience the state of meditation.”

3. Raise your right hand about six inches over your head, palm down. Slowly move your hand up and down until you feel an energy, possibly a warm or cool breeze, coming out of the top of your head and/or on the palm of your hand. If you do not feel it or are uncertain that it is, simply sit and observe what you are feeling inside.

4. Sit quietly for approximately 5-10 minutes. Without trying, without effort, notice the mental silence—how your thoughts have calmed. If a thought does pop into your head, let it rise and fall away.

5. At the end of your meditation, slowly open your eyes and repeat Step 3.

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The Weekender

Reflections during a pandemic: A personal essay

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We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

Pamela Hasbun

SEPTEMBER 18, 2020

S ometimes, the concept of growing close to something can be anxiety-inducing, whether that be getting close to your crush, close to a deadline or close to the end of an important part of your life. For me, the fear of closeness has always been directed toward myself. When my teachers used to tell me to self-reflect on paper in high school, I always thought about it as another assignment. All I had to do was choose a couple of traits of myself that I had noticed and pick them apart. Later, though, the act of self-reflection became something that I would run away from. Or at least it used to be.

Self-reflection was what I would do at night when I’d toss and turn because I said the wrong thing five months ago or I still hadn’t found a way to fit in with the right crowd at school. Self-reflection was me beating myself up for being a person I never even wanted to be.

I always joke about the fact that I peaked in middle school, and I think it’s because that was the only time I was ever my authentic self. When college started, I found myself obsessing over what others were thinking about me, never truly stopping to wonder if that’s who I truly wanted to be. I know, depressing right?

So imagine my surprise and frustration when I had a moment of realization during a pandemic. Lots of things happened to a lot of people in the last couple of months. There was a point when I thought we would go hungry or that I would lose both my parents, and I can’t begin to imagine what others must have gone through as well. However, if you could ask the person I was in March if she believed that she would grow as a person as a result of the quarantine, she would have laughed in your face and locked herself in her room.

I guess what I’m saying is, I never thought I had a problem. I graduated high school, got into a good school and was alive. That’s all that mattered. Yeah, I got heart palpitations every now and then and yes, I ghosted my therapist last semester, but again, I was alive. 

But as I spent more time with myself away from other people aside from my family, I started to do the thing that had always scared me the most: self-reflect. More specifically, I got to know myself. 

I realized that I had forgotten what made me, me. I had gotten so obsessed with pleasing others and fitting in that I neglected my own self. As long as people’s perception of me was positive, I was doing something right.

When I was in Berkeley, I was around so many amazing people that it was hard to see how amazing I was too. I found myself wanting to be like everybody else but myself.

I’ll always be forever blessed to say that I attended UC Berkeley, but I honestly think distancing myself from there for a while was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I was in Berkeley, I was around so many amazing people that it was hard to see how amazing I was too. I found myself wanting to be like everybody else but myself. I wanted to look like them, act like them, achieve things like they had. Because somehow I had gotten it into my head that I could never be like that on my own. I couldn’t speak my mind with my friends because I was scared they would dump me from the group, and I was too afraid to express myself anywhere else for the same reason.

But the more I got to know myself, the more I realized self-reflecting wasn’t so bad after all. The idea of getting close to our own selves can be so intimidating that we don’t try to do it. I always thought self-reflection involved criticism and harsh evaluation. But I came to find that self-reflection could be anything I wanted it to be as long as I was looking back at myself and learning from my mistakes.

If I ever said the wrong thing in a group chat, for example, my previous way of self-reflecting would have been to think about all of the things that went wrong in the conversation. Surely my friends would hate me now and were obviously talking behind my back. However, I stopped having those thoughts and tried to think about why I even thought I said the wrong thing. Was I really the problem? Or was it my friends? Was I holding back because I was scared that my real self would not be accepted into the group? Instead of beating myself up over a so-called mistake, I started asking myself why I found it to be one in the first place.

And by then, I would usually realize I was overreacting and had nothing to worry about. If my friends didn’t want to accept me for who I was, then they were never really my friends and I would be better off without them. But I had to get over my self-criticism in order to face this reality.

I had to get to the bottom of who I was without victimizing myself. People always say self-care is important, but I never imagined that self-reflection could be a form of care, too. And I definitely never imagined having a period of self-growth and getting so close to my true self during a pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I miss going out with friends and being a student, but this quarantine has allowed me to become closer to the person I had never bothered to look after. Myself. And if that’s the silver lining I tell my kids about when I’m older and 2020 has become just a horrible memory, then I guess that’s all that matters.

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What is Self-Transcendence? Definition and 6 Examples (+PDF)

What is Self-Transcendence? Definition and 6 Examples (+PDF)

However, if you’re like me, you never had a good grasp on exactly what it meant.

You might have a hazy idea of “transcending” being akin to “rising above” and think of the concept as rising above oneself, but you don’t really know what it is beyond that.

If this describes you as well as it described me, you’ve come to the right place! In this piece, we will define self-transcendence, look at its components and characteristics, think of some examples, and explore how it can be achieved.

Interested? Read on!

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free . These creative, science-based exercises will help you learn more about your values, motivations, and goals and will give you the tools to inspire a sense of meaning in the lives of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains

What is the meaning of self-transcendence, self-transcendence in psychology, self-transcendence in nursing, self-transcendence and spirituality, 6 examples of self-transcendence, how to achieve self-transcendence, measuring self-transcendence, 9 quotes on self-transcendence, a take-home message, frequently asked questions.

Although people may view self-transcendence in ways that vary based on their own values , the general idea behind it is the same. Self-transcendence is, at its core, about transcending (or rising above) the self and relating to that which is greater than the self. In simpler terms, it is the realization that you are one small part of a greater whole, and acting accordingly.

That which is greater than the self can be a range of things: human beings in general, nature, the universe, divine power, etc. It doesn’t matter what the greater thing is, only that there is something greater than the self.

Self-Transcendence and Spirituality

However, it has not been completely ignored. Researchers who are interested in human development, spirituality , and positive behavior traits are quite familiar with the concept and have incorporated it into their work. In particular, those associated with Maslow’s work on human needs will be well-acquainted with it.

Abraham Maslow on Self-Transcendence and Needs

For many years, self-actualization dominated Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs. For a quick refresher, here is the hierarchy as it was:

Self-actualization is at the top, with esteem below it, then love/belonging, then safety, and physiological needs at the bottom. This indicates that physiological needs are vital for survival and that they must be sated before one can move up towards actualization and fulfillment. In his early work, Maslow considered self-actualization the pinnacle of human development and the highest human need: the realization of one’s full potential.

Self-actualization is indeed a lofty (and worthy) goal of development and should not be cast aside in favor of the shiny new need, but self-transcendence is truly the “next level” of development; it is other-focused instead of self-focused and concerns higher goals than those which are self-serving.

Maslow describes the importance of transcendence thusly:

“Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos”

(Maslow, 1971, p. 269).

According to Maslow, self-transcendence brings the individual what he termed “peak experiences” in which they transcend their own personal concerns and see from a higher perspective. These experiences often bring strong positive emotions like joy, peace, and a well-developed sense of awareness (Messerly, 2017).

Someone who is highly self-transcendent may also experience “plateau experiences” in which they consistently maintain or enter a state of serenity and higher perspective (Messerly, 2017).

Maslow’s addition of self-transcendence to the pyramid is not always noted in the literature when his theory is cited, but it has managed to make its way through the research community nonetheless. It has been considered quite frequently in many research threads but is perhaps most prominent in the nursing research community.

We explore this further in The Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass© .

According to Linley (2008), strengths can be seen in activities in which you feel like the “real you” – fully engaged, alive, and immersed in the moment.

How can you or your client be a strength spotter? The exercise “You at Your Best” is designed to use a storytelling method to increase awareness of and identify your individual strengths. This tool can be used individually, in a one-on-one session, or in group settings to introduce new members to one another.

As an observational technique, it is also extremely beneficial for your wellbeing, as it allows you or your client to savor this unique memory of your best self. As a result, assessing personal strengths enables you to take a step toward the best future version of yourself (Whitworth et al., 1998).

Remember, this exercise is not an attempt to impress others, deliver a great performance or “improve the imperfect self”. It is about personal growth by creating a meaningful moment for you or your client.

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Self-transcendence is a particularly important topic in nursing. Nursing is one of the few occupations that demands two simultaneous perspectives: a close, detail-oriented perspective on the here and now, and a broader, more holistic and optimistic perspective.

It is also a unique context for self-transcendence, in that it is something that is possible, desirable, and achievable in a team context for both the patient and the nurse. It can act as both encouragement and inspiration for the patient to achieve wellness, and as motivation and purpose for the nurse is acting as a caregiver .

Indeed, research has shown it to do just that; nurses who have achieved high levels of self-transcendence are more engaged, dedicated, and absorbed in their work than those with low self-transcendence (Palmer, Quinn Griffin, Reed, & Fitzpatrick, 2010). Further, interactions between nurses and patients can facilitate self-transcendence in patients, improving their health and their global well-being (Haugan, 2013).

This focus on self-transcendence in nursing came about when nurse and researcher Pamela Reed outlined her theory on the subject.

Pamela Reed’s Self Transcendence Theory

Reed (1991) defines self-transcendence as “expansion of self-conceptual boundaries multidimensionally: inwardly (e.g., through introspective experiences), outwardly (e.g., by reaching out to others), and temporally (whereby past and future are integrated into the present).” She later added another type of expansion: transpersonal expansion, in which the individual connects “with dimensions beyond the typically discernible world” (Reed, 2003).

According to Reed’s theory, people can be considered open systems (as opposed to closed systems, which do not take in new information and are not open to change) whose only obstacle between themselves and self-transcendence is the boundary they impose upon themselves.

Humans need some conceptual boundaries, of course, but the expansion of these boundaries outward to include more of the environment, more human beings, etc., puts people in a state of greater connectedness with their environment and encourages a sense of “wholeness” they may not otherwise have (Reed, 1991).

This state of expanded consciousness is what Reed calls a developmental imperative; like Viktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow, Reed’s theory posits that self-transcendence is a natural and desired developmental stage, which people must reach in order to be fulfilled and to have a sense of purpose (Reed, 2003).

Three important concepts form the core of Reed’s theory, including self-transcendence; the other two concepts are:

  • Vulnerability : the awareness of one’s own mortality that develops with age, health issues, and crises.
  • Wellbeing : the sense of being healthy, whole, and generally fulfilled and satisfied with one’s state.

These three concepts are vital pieces of the three major hypotheses of Reed’s theory:

  • Older adults (especially those nearing the end of their life) will generally have higher self-transcendence than younger people (note: this has been supported by research, e.g., Ellermann & Reed, 2001).
  • Conceptual boundaries can fluctuate, and will likely affect well-being when they do.
  • The relationship between vulnerability, self-transcendence, and well-being is modified and facilitated by a person’s own traits and characteristics and the environment in which they are situated (Reed, 1991).

This theory has mostly been accepted by the nursing community, and research has shown that self-transcendence plays an integral role in healing and in dignified acceptance of the end of life.

One of the major ways in which self-transcendence can impact end-of-life experience is through spirituality.

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It is easy to see how self-transcendence and spirituality are connected—one of the inherent qualities of self-transcendence is the expansion of one’s consciousness beyond the self, to something higher.

That “something higher” is often divine or spiritual in nature. Many achieve self-transcendence through their faith in God, while others may achieve it through recognition of some system of spirituality or idea of the soul.

This faith or spirituality can help individuals find the meaning that will fulfill them and propel them to transcendence. Research has even shown that in elderly patients, the caregiver’s own spirituality had a positive impact on the patient’s well-being (Kim, Reed, Hayward, Kang, & Koenig, 2011).

According to Viktor Frankl, transcendence is rooted in our spirituality, and spirituality is the part of humanity that separates us from all other species. One cannot become a fully actualized and “whole” person with reaching self-transcendence, and that requires the individual to come to a satisfactory conclusion about their place in the higher order of things (Wong, 2016).

Although today’s researchers generally don’t adhere to the idea that spirituality is a must to reach self-transcendence, it is certainly a significant aspect of transcendence for many, and it can vary across a broad spectrum of beliefs.

The quintessential example of self-transcendence is undoubtedly Viktor Frankl’s experience in the concentration camps of World War II.

Despite his great personal suffering (and frequently having few or none of the hierarchy needs met)—or perhaps because of it—Frankl found a higher purpose in his life. He was able to put his own needs and interests aside and see the big picture and how he fits into it.

Many prisoners in the camps succumbed to despair and dehumanization, losing their fight for life, liberty, and a sense of self; however, some in the camps actually seemed to retain or even further develop their sense of self and find or reaffirm their life’s purpose. These rare individuals are another case study in self-transcendence.

Of course, one does not need to undergo prolonged suffering to reach self-transcendence; according to Maslow, it can be reached by anyone.

It’s hard to pinpoint other examples of self-transcendence, but its four characteristics will ensure that you know it when you see it:

  • A shift in focus from the self to others – this shift from selfishness and egoism to consideration of the needs of others is a marker of self-transcendence and is the most salient and important feature.
  • A shift in values – those who have achieved self-transcendence no longer find themselves driven by extrinsic motivation, or external rewards and demands, but by intrinsic motivation (the reward for an activity is the activity itself).
  • An increase in moral concern – self-transcendence brings with it a more intensive focus on doing what is right.
  • Emotions of elevation – these experiences of higher-order emotions can be triggered by all three of the characteristics described above; the emotions include awe, ecstasy, amazement, feeling uplifted, feeling elevated, etc. (Wong, 2017).

If you know anyone who is constantly working to meet the needs of less fortunate others, who is driven not by money or rewards but by an internal drive and is always concerned with doing the right thing, you likely have an example of self-transcendence right in front of you!

For more information on self-transcendence, check out Dr. Paul Wong’s presentation at the Conference on Life and Death Education here .

If you want to achieve self-transcendence for yourself, there are ways to go about it. It’s not an easy path, as it represents the highest heights of human development, beyond even Maslow’s rarely achieved self-actualization.

However, there are a few things you can do to propel your development and reach toward self-transcendence:

  • Discover what puts you into “theta” (the quiet and peaceful state just between asleep and awake) and harness it to enter the inspirational and expanded state more often.
  • Practice meditation , whether through the stereotypical sitting on a cushion with crossed legs or through mindful activities (mindful listening, mindful walking, mindful eating , etc.).
  • Make time to get creative, and allow it to lead to inspiration, new experiences, and self-transcendence.
  • Keep a journal , even if you’re not a strong writer—especially if you’re not a strong writer. Put your thoughts and feelings onto paper to separate yourself from them.
  • Get out of the house and go where you are closest to nature; allow yourself to “commune” with nature, finding inspiration, healing, and perhaps a sense of transcendence through nature.
  • Engage in “shadow work”—make time to reflect and dive into your deepest, darkest parts. It’s vital to acknowledge and address that which is worst in us as well as that which is best in us.
  • Practice excellence—in whatever you do, wherever you go, whoever you’re within your day-to-day life. It doesn’t really matter what it is (as long as it’s not harmful to anyone), all that matters is that you’re doing what you do well (Eckl, 2017).

Further, author Stephanie Flood proposes five creative ways to achieve self-transcendence inspired by Buddhism:

  • Explore basic meditation techniques —even if you’re an experienced meditator!
  • Empower yourself with knowledge and wisdom to build your awareness.
  • Don’t be afraid of the journey—spiritually or physically—to find insight.
  • Find your own spiritual techniques that bring you closer to your higher purpose and your ideal self.
  • Raise your vibrations (i.e., live in a positive and transcendence-conducive environment)

Although these tips can help, the most important factor in achieving self-transcendence is simply an awareness and openness to the idea. When we open ourselves up to the good in life, we cannot help but be changed by the experience. Keep your mind and your heart open to self-transcendence, and you will have taken the first and most vital step to achieving it.

measuring Self-Transcendence

Self-transcendence is another one of those tricky constructs to measure, but there are ways to do it.

It can be measured indirectly (through increasing spirituality, intrinsic motivation, and connectedness with something greater) or directly through a scale. Two such scales are presented below.

Self-Transcendence Scale

The Self-Transcendence Scale (STS) was developed by Pamela Reed in 1986. It consists of 15 items adapted from the Developmental Resources of Later Adulthood (DRLA) scale. This scale is one-dimensional, considering only a comprehensive sense of self-transcendence, and measures this construct by questioning the respondent on several characteristics of a mature life.

The items are rated for how well they describe the respondent on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 4 (very much), with a score of 1 indicating the lowest possible level of self-transcendence and 4 indicating the greatest possible level of self-transcendence. Sample items include:

  • Being involved with other people or my community when possible.
  • Adjusting well to changes in my physical abilities.
  • Able to move beyond things that once seemed so important.
  • Letting others help me when I may need it.

This scale has proven to be adequately valid and reliable and is a good choice for researchers interested in measuring self-transcendence (Haugan, Rannestad, Garåsen, Hammervold, & Espnes, 2011; Reed, 1986).

Cloninger’s Self-Transcendence Scale

This scale is nestled within Cloninger’s more broad assessment, the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI; 1993). It is a part of the Character portion of the TCI, which measures “self-concepts and individual differences in goals and values, which influence voluntary choices, intentions, and the meaning and salience of what is experienced in life” (Cloninger, 2015).

Specifically, the self-transcendence scale measures “the extent to which individuals conceive themselves as integral parts of the universe as a whole” (Cloninger, 2015). Those with high self-transcendence are thought to be more spiritual, unpretentious, humble, and fulfilled than those who are low in self-transcendence.

Given the Self-Transcendence Scale by Cloninger is actually one of seven subscales from his larger TCI scale, you have to request this larger scale using this form .

The quotes below come from a wide range of sources, from authors and laymen to philosophers and gurus, but they all manage to capture the essence of self-transcendence:

“What would happen if you gave yourself permission to do something you’ve never done before? There’s only one way to find out.”

Gina Greenlee

“I do not have any set goal; my goal is self-transcendence. I always try to transcend myself. I do not compete with the rest of the world. I compete only with myself, and I try to become a better human being. This is my ultimate goal.”

Sri Chinmoy

“Only to the extent that someone is living out this self transcendence of human existence, is he truly human or does he become his true self. He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self-s actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.”

Viktor Frankl

“Awe is the emotion of self-transcendence.”

Jonathan Haidt

“The bond that attaches us to the life outside ourselves is the same bond that holds us to our own life.”

William Barrett

“I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man.”

Anton Chekhov

“It is essential to our health and happiness that we dedicate ourselves to some kind of mission or purpose that transcends the mundane hustle and bustle of daily living.”

Oli Anderson

“Our present conscious self and our shadow must learn how to coexist. The first step to attaining personal transcendence commences when the conscious mind and the unconscious mind square off and battle for preeminence. A person who achieves self-realization understands the interworking of both their conscious mind and the unconscious mind and integrates their unique dichotomy into their sense of a self.”

Kilroy J. Oldster

“Self-transcendence gives us joy in boundless measure. When we transcend ourselves, we do not compete with others. We do not compete with the rest of the world, but at every moment we compete with ourselves. We compete only with our previous achievements. And each time we surpass our previous achievements, we get joy.”

Hopefully, you walk away from this piece with a better understanding of self-transcendence, its subcomponents, and how to work towards your own self-transcendence.

If you have just one takeaway from this piece, let it be that self-transcendence is not a lofty and unreachable goal; it is within the grasp of each of us if we put in the time and effort required to get to know ourselves, fulfill our potential, and turn our focus outside of ourselves and towards others.

What are your thoughts on self-transcendence? Is it touchy-feely new age baloney, or an important stage of development with a rich history? How do you think self-transcendence can be reached? Let us know in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading, and happy transcending!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free .

According to research (Levasseur, McDougall, & St-Pierre, 2018), there are three main kinds of self-transcendence:

  • Transpersonal – a sense of connection to something beyond oneself, such as nature and spirituality.
  • Altruistic – a focus on the wellbeing of others and a desire to help and serve others.
  • Intellectual – a desire to explore and understand complex ideas and concepts that go beyond one’s immediate experience.

Self-actualization is the process of realizing one’s full potential and achieving personal growth, while self-transcendence involves a sense of connection to something greater than oneself.

Both concepts are related to personal development and wellbeing, but self-transcendence emphasizes the importance of moving beyond the self and connecting with a broader sense of meaning and purpose (Jawer, 2006).

Four types of transcendence can include (Solomon, 2002):

  • Existential – transcending the limitations of individual existence and finding meaning in life.
  • Aesthetic – experiencing beauty and being moved by art, music, nature, or other aesthetically pleasing stimuli.
  • Moral – transcending selfish interests and finding meaning in serving others or contributing to something larger than oneself.
  • Religious – connecting to a higher power or divine entity and seeking to understand the ultimate nature of reality.
  • Cloninger, R. (2015). What is the temperament and character inventory? The Center for Well-Being. Retrieved from
  • Eckl, C. L. (2017). 7 ways to enhance self-transcendence. Step into the Light of your own True Being. Retrieved from
  • Ellermann, C. R., & Reed, P. G. (2001). Self-transcendence and depression in middle-age adults. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 23, 698-713.
  • Flood, S. (n.d.). 5 creative ways to achieving your own transcendence. Soulspot. Retrieved from
  • Haugan, G. (2013). Nurse-patient interaction is a resource for hope, meaning in life and self-transcendence in nursing home patients. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 28 , 74-88.
  • Haugan, G., Rannestad, T., Garåsen, H., Hammervold, R., & Espnes, G. A. (2011). The Self-Transcendence Scale: An investigation of the factor structure among nursing home patients. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 30, 147-159.
  • Jawer, M. A. (2006). Self-actualization and transcendence: A comparative analysis of two modes of being. Journal of Humanistic Psychology , 46(2), 203-224
  • Kim, S., Reed, P. G., Hayward, R. D., Kang, Y., & Koenig, H. G. (2011). Spirituality and psychological well-being: Testing a theory of family interdependence among family caregivers and their elders. Research in Nursing & Health, 34, 103-115.
  • Kim, Y., & Seidlitz, L. (2019). Self-transcendence and well-being: A meta-analysis. Personality and Individual Differences , 138, 129-137.
  • Levasseur, O., McDougall, J., & St-Pierre, M. (2018). Self-transcendence: Conceptualization and measurement. Aging & Mental Health , 22(10), 1299-1306.
  • Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A+: Realizing strengths in yourself and others . CAPP Press.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. New York, NY, US: Arkana/Penguin Books.
  • Messerly, J. G. (2017). Summary of Maslow on self-transcendence. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Retrieved from
  • Palmer, B., Quinn Griffin, M. T., Reed, P., & Fitzpatrick, J. J. (2010). Self-transcendence and work engagement in acute care staff registered nurses. Critical Care Nursing Quarterly, 33 , 138-147.
  • Reed, P. G. (1986). The developmental conceptual framework: Nursing reformulations and applications for family theory. In A. Whall (Ed.), Family therapy theory for nursing: Four approaches (pp. 69-92). New York, NY, US: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Reed, P. (1991). Toward a nursing theory of self transcendence: Deductive reformulation using developmental theories. Advances in Nursing Science, 13, 64-77.
  • Reed, P. (2003). A nursing theory of self-transcendence. (pp. 145-166). In M.J.Smith & P. Liehr (Eds.), Middle range theory for advanced practice nursing. New York, NY, US: Springer.
  • Solomon, R. C. (2002). Spirituality for the skeptic: The thoughtful love of life . Oxford University Press
  • Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., & Sandahl, P. (1998). Co-active coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life . Davies-Black Publishing.
  • Wong, P. T. P. (2016). Meaning-seeking, self-transcendence, and well-being. In A. Batthyany (Ed.), Logotherapy and existential analysis: Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute (Vol. 1; pp. 311-322). Cham, CH: Springer.
  • Wong, P. T. P. (2017). From Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy to the four defining characteristics of self-transcendence. Retrieved from

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What our readers think.

Harish Shukul

After having read the article I realised that it was like an enlightenment which I have been living through rather unconsciously.The article has reinforced many of my beliefs.It is believed that ignorance is at the root of our problems hence it’s my time tested mantra what we can live without holds the key to our real happiness.


I believe that I have experienced transcendence only once in my younger years; it was at a concert by a group of teachers from an arts college, specifically a piano trio by the Swiss composer, Andreae. I have long felt that the strong emotions experienced by many pop music fans are akin to those experienced by devotees of art (“classical” in the broad, inclusive sense) music. I think it possible to enjoy music or theater of any type without either catharsis or transcendence, but that they may occasionally happen serendipitously. In my dotage a love for my son with a personality disorder has allowed more frequent episodes of getting outside myself for moments of bliss.

Mr Smith

Due to work related discrimination ongoing for decades, proven through many internal investigations, i seem to have reached a state of perpetual transcendence. It started in 2012, one year after a formal complaint was filed by my union n my behalf. The complaint then continued and the ill treatment towards me increased. Management stole personal belongings trying to trigger a violent reaction, to force me out of work. Meditation and eckhart tolle allowed me to stay present. The complaint was resolved in 2021, my transcendence was about that time period or earlier. Hard to choose specificially, during the decades i studied all world religions seeking answers to my situation. The book of job guided me. As did buddhism. The christian bible and other faiths. I came to the realization that all major faiths, not religions per se, were guideposts, all leading to the same destination. Realization that we are the creator, observing our own creation. No beginning, no end, no birth, no death, only transformation to a new experience of creation yet again, with fresh eyes, blinded to our true identity. Blinded by choice, to play the game of life anew, experiencing all of creation, good, bad, ugly and beautiful. For to know in advance the game we play, would ruin the game itself. All the world is a stage, and we are merely players. Recently events have led people to me, who inquire about life, religion, and my thoughts on matters. It appears that the self transcendence has been noticed and has changed my life immensely. I worked for the federal government for 33 years, in hindsight more of a prison of abuse due to my neuro divergent thinking from aspergers. As a Blessing this form of autism blinded me to their social forms of harassment, thinking everyone is good and kind. My weakness became my greatest strength, amassing 30k of pages of supporting documents between myself, the union and the employer staff relations. I never rose above the clerk level, even with a university degree.

Mr Jones

The transcendence was intermittent monthly, then weekly, then daily from 2012-2021 , becoming permanent in 2021. Imho. Perhaps it may fade again. Time will tell.

Dr Michael J R Marsh

I had a transcendental experience in 1973 when 38 years old, following an intense period of prolonged stress. It was a terrifying yet uplifting experience where I thought my sanity was in jeopardy. The inner feelings of awe, joy and ecstacy enabled me to overcome those negative feelings of depression brought about by my personal experiences. Over the next few years I researched the available psychological and religious literature and came to the conclusion that the “call by God” was analgous to the transcendental psychological experience that freed the mind from any illusions, delusions and negative attitudes developed during our formative years. In this I could relate to Prof. Carl G Jung’s psychological between 1913 and 1917. For me the concept of God is the higher function of the human mind retained and released from the ascending reticulo-limbic brain stem (subconscious) under special circumstances that subsequently impacts on our consciousness. It is a cognitive/emotive skill that is not well developed in all humans and takes specialised education and training during our formative years to a tertiary level, just like any other professional career, such as mathematics or science. In human history there are occasional individuals who have attained this state of mind in a serendipitous manner when their psyche has been freed from the control the ego has over their cognitive processes and they have access to original ideas, thoughts and processes (not indoctrinated). It is patently obvious to me it is a higher internal function of the mind and not some hidden force from the cosmos. Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad had this experience but Hitler was captive to his own ego and imagination.

Abel Munoz

I, too, had a similar experience. It felt like for a few precious seconds, the background chatter that is our cognitive process was stalled, and I had a chance to perceive what is beyond that. It was an ecstatic connection with the universe as a whole. I felt like I was a drop of water in a vast ocean. I was indistinguishable from the ocean. I felt accepted and loved by the universe. For a while I took it to be a connection to God. I had been an agnostic up to that point. But, then I began to think that it was just an illusion, brought upon by a sort of “short circuit” of my brain. And then I ran into theories that put forth a physiological explanation for the “illusion” of transcendence. Recently, as I’ve gotten older, I have decided that it didn’t matter what the source of the perception was. What is important is what I perceived. Thank you, Dr., for sharing. It brings me some comfort to know that there are others out there who have experienced the same thing.

Charles Nelson

I am not a clinician or researcher, but I am searching. I’ve begun considering the purpose of life, which until recently I viewed as a useless exercise. Quite frankly, being a good ‘Human’ is not my goal any longer.

The things that humans do…

To me ants have a better organizational, communal and familial society than humans ever will. Every member of their society is educated, trained, housed, fed and lives a purpose filled life. It is integral to their existence.

Which is why I was led here, in my twilight years, I want to be ‘Better Than Human’.

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A Reflection About Myself and My Personality

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