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a feeling for Self formation
november 28, 2010



I can feel comfortable regarding “feeling as minding” as an elaboration of one theme mentioned in “feeling time”: “Growth of feeling is entwined with growth of our perceptibility, imagination, and purposes,” because I prevalently want to emplace an ambitious understanding of individuation within an ambitious prospecting of authentic happiness.

But prevailing interest in individuation is one of four kinds of interest that “feeling as minding” expresses. Firstly, I wanted to emphasize a guiding importance of attentive enactivity or purposeful action that experience serves. Secondly, I wanted to emphasize how emotion is normally entwined with valuing (valuing informs itself emotionally, as well as cognitively or interrelatedly), and that’s what feeling is: embodied appraisal of real relations in one’s day. Intuitional “feeling shows emotional response in the attending and self invested valuing of the moment.” So, thirdly, an intimacy of valuing and action is expressed as feeling; yet, what we prevalently want from action is fulfillment, not just satisfaction (or pleasure)—though, of course, there’s not much sense to be made of “fulfillment” that’s dissatisfying (but there’s frequently satisfaction which is not fulfilling). Fourthly, I want to orient all of that to one’s self interest in growing well, then living well generally. “Feeling (embodied valuing) belongs to the entirety of our growth, our individuation, such that learning to feel imaginatively and constructively is integral, I would argue, to a promising life’s later capability for repeated fulfillment....We want lives abundant with value, belonging fruitfully.” We want to become admirable persons who “constructively employ their feelings reliably, as a generative balance of cognitive valuing with emotional sensitivity which tends to be fulfilling.” “‘Happiness’ deserves to be understood in terms of fulfilling lives.”

So, I’m elaborately valuing growth of perceptibility, imagination, and purposiveness whose meaningful engagement may reliably enough lead to fulfillment.


Amazingly, most every standard definition of ‘positive’ does not pertain to what “positive psychology” has in mind for itself (in short: a neo-humanistic promotion of life-enhancing value). One gets a better sense of psychological positivity by looking at its preferred kindred values: what’s desirable for a well-lived life, what contributes to flourishing, etc. The most-relevant sense of ‘positive’ in M-W Unabridged is “5 a : marked by acceptance or approval: indicating agreement or affirmation b : affirming the presence of that sought or suspected to be present.” But that lamely helps. For positive psychology, what is now most “marked for approval or affirmation of what is sought” are holisms of increasing knowledge about potentials and values that belong to well-lived lives, especially relevant to preventive health care, educational professions, clinical services, and social policy.

I find the most relevant posit-ing in enactive purposiveness of the valuing life. I see positive psychology advocating for all of the human sciences a guiding salience of what we most value as human beings. In one’s fidelity to appealing enactivity, relative to one’s ownmost desires, potentials, values, and humanity, one endeavors to live well and to flourish. That’s what “positive” psychology is about, in a nutshell.


Accordingly (being appropriately “positive”), the conception of “positive emotion” cannot be validly related to action, if action is understood as “response tendency,” which the researchers on positive emotion in The Oxford Handbook (ref.3:15), representing a large body of research, do. (The “positive emotion” researchers are M. L. Cohn, at UCSF, and B.L. Fredrickson, at UNC, Chapel Hill. Hereon, I’ll refer to C&F.) The integral value of active living is missing from a sense of emotion that is related to action as “response tendency”; the humanistic positivity (valuing) is absent.

But it’s interesting to look at the real scope of one’s responsiveness, which shows nonattentive activity, as well as attentiveness. Response tendencies may express nonattentive intentions/purposes of the background Self (or depth/breadth of mind), always still developing “in terms of”articulable self understanding. (That link goes to a discussion of my distinction between Self [capped] and self, realization and actualization.) But positive psychology’s integral valuing of enowned intentions (reflecting a deliberate life of meaningful engagement) can’t be positively informed (in a pertinent, attentive sense of positivity) by survey and laboratory research that doesn’t distinguish nonattentive and attentive response.

Yet, the salient value of this kind of point is that developmental self realization involves much nonattentive (Self actualizing) activity: background, absorptive learning; nonattentive play of mental processes—desire, memory, etc.—which partially plays itself out through spontaneity. Individuation grows its values and purposes largely through nonattentive activity.

My focus on the enactive (attentive) purposiveness of the valuing life is not a reduction of Self to deliberate life; rather, I’m focally interested in seeing as much of Self actualization brought into deliberate life as possible, because articulation enhances growth of the background, nonattentive (“nonconscious”) development of Self. And a keynote of positive psychology is promotion of autonomy (which is about articulate self efficacy). Positive psychology is centrally (I would argue) an enhancive Project. (My possibly-confusing distinction between Self and self gets clearer relative to an excursion into philosophy of mind, but that’s another venture.)

Distinguishing modes of intention (non- vs. attentive, background vs. foreground; momentary vs. project-ive vs. selfidentical; etc.) within responsiveness is dependent on actual interaction with a person, paradigmatically in clinical work (and literary narrative). Paradoxically, nonattentive engagement can’t be validated by asking the actor about it, because (1) it was nonattentive; and (2) the efficacy of nonattentiveness is erased by making it attentive. An observer may see the difference easier than the actor; or the actor may see nonattended expression “reflected” in their free play of personification or appreciation.

Most of what’s nonattentive can be brought to attention (the actor welcomes recognition of the difference), either by reflectively noticing or having it mirrored by someone else, though some efficacy might be lost, as when being asked how one does something effortlessly may cause fumbling. Also, the creative efficacy of play can depend on being left to its own, yet-unarticulated designing.

What’s unattentive (what’s standardly called “unconscious”) is not the same as being nonattentive. What’s nonattentive can be brought to attention without negative feeling; what’s unattentive (or unconscious) expresses a vested interest in not being available to attention. Psychotherapy sessions sometimes involve speaking to a clinically-derived difference between ongoing attention and unattentive ongoingness, done in a way that the attentiveness of the client will find acceptable, such that a kind of double conversation can be happening in the session, talking allusively but overtly “only” to the sociable mask in order to reach the confused Self (which requires freedom of unacknowledged listening). Pubescent teens sometimes require such “letting be,” too (as may much older persons who didn’t finish some agenda). For example, vanity loves recognition, but not as vanity. (Voguing is about vanity being disarmingly vain in order to protect the vanity: “It’s not vanity, dear, it’s theater.” Indeed.) But I digress.

So, a pre-differentiating notion of behavioral response tendencies is proximally useful. But appreciation of the self-realizing emergence and growth of ownmost desire, purpose, and meaningful engagement belongs to articulate life.


An open play of attentive and nonattentive activity is vital to human development. What so endears us to a child’s play is its manifold displays of possibility that the child likely doesn’t yet recognize; s/he just is in the play. What is blooming, no one knows. (The following implicitly calls for much evidence-based elaboration, but here’s what decades of experience and evidence cause me to feel:)

Maturing imaginativeness, purpose, desire, etc. unwittingly needs to avoid adult reduction to what the child can understand (while the adult remains available to advance child-initiated articulation). Habitually insisting that a child articulate what s/he’s doing when it suits the adult (outside of school curriculum) or habitually insisting that the child should conform their understanding to adult interpretations (as to what they are doing) can be bad for child development. Play deserves to be what it is: something whose character is emerging and growing in its own way (which the child feels as belonging to who they are [becoming]).

Of course, child-centered adult play with the child’s possibilities (inasmuch as the child is in the mood for adult initiative) is vital for self expansion. But generally, I think, child development unwittingly calls for appreciating the open-endedness of itself. The primary locus of individuation (growing identification with desires, purposes, values) is happening nonattentively, through a background free play of mental growth. Though adult interpretation is great for increasing the domain of possibilities (and good for cognitive development), what’s accomplished in valuing attentiveness should be for a child’s enactive Self realization that is not primarily happening in terms of what’s apparent. Prospects of revelation in free play are why play is a magical window into creativity (and why play is a magical access for a child therapist).

The heart of individuation (Self actualization) is nonattentive through attentiveness—or better: unapparent attentiveness of Self (covert attention of background developing) through the apparent, overt attentiveness of self. The more overt attention a child gives to what s/he’s doing, the more that covert Self actualization expands its medium (just as Flow states are covertly enhanced as the engaging presence of what one’s overtly doing, not attention to the doing as such). Good Self development is not about lack of overt attention to something mattering in one’s time! Lack of overt attention causes less covert Self development, because background Self actualization happens through attentive self-realization. (There is much research available on how our minds live largely nonconsciously—which, again, is not, as such, about exclusive unconsciousness.)

So, positing by adults what a child’s attention is basically about can be inhibitive, while child-centered playing with possibilities is self expansive. Playing with possibility, imagining possibilities, discarding possibilities, mixing possibilities—this is the road to giving Self actualization opportunity to gain selfidentical (enowned) capability, value, purpose, and desire.

Engaged activity leads to (by simulating and practicing) enowned engagement, which is a capability vital for later commitment and fidelity. But finding “the” meaning of child engagement belongs to the engager (given adult resourcefulness readily at hand). Owning the freedom to say what’s valuable and meaningful (with abundant resources and adults nearby, as called for) is necessary for later in life owning the value of making meaning and sustaining engagements.


For the sake of understanding engaged meaningfulness, I think we should need to focus less on “positive emotion” and more on generative feeling, looking less to behaviorism (“response” and “resource”) and more to theory of action (purpose, intention, and capability). This is because motivation is basically a purposive phenomenon, not an emotional one. Feeling is self implicative (even Self implicative), and isolated emotion is not. “Positive” emotions constructively motivate (are generative) when they are part of self invested feeling.

C&F note that “[p]ast research has suggested that positive emotions are less distinct and more likely to co-occur with one another than negative emotions” because there are “dimensions” of co-occurance not shown with negative emotions: “...such as relatedness, moral judgment, and spiritual experience”(ref.3:14). This is because (I would argue) the emotions of generative feeling are, ideally, part of a self-formative holism of living, whereas negative emotion is not. (Negative emotion is ephemerally useful, relative to self-formative living.) It’s not just a curious empirical happenstance that positive emotions co-occur (tend to appeal to each other or cohere) and do so relative to highly-valuing aspects of living (self investment). Our mind naturally tends to draw good feeling into itself for a holistic interest in living one’s ownmost way (to my mind, expressing the implicit value of humanistic life, which is primordially Self-formative or wholly mindal).

It’s interesting that C&F refer to “what positive emotions are felt” (ibid.) rather than simply referring to what positive emotions there are. (They don’t thematize a difference between having emotional response and feeling.) They note the relativity of what’s felt to “personality, culture, and cognitive ability,” as a context for future research, but such appreciation is no part of their focus on emotion that doesn’t distinguish itself from feeling.

So, what feelings are generative? C&F provide ample example. But they don’t have any idea that what they rely upon is not basically emotion at all! It’s those complex stances of feeling that I alluded to, in “feeling as minding.” In particular, their examples of “positive emotion” are: optimism, compassion, joy, interest, contentment, love, amusement, gratitude, hope, pride, excitement, and sexual desire. What a mix of generative feeling! As apparently about mere emotion, love this: “Joy...creates the urge to play, whether physically, socially or intellectually” (15). “Interest creates the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process” (ibid). “[T]he exploration prompted by the positive emotion of interest creates knowledge and intellectual complexity...” (ibid). “...the savoring prompted by contentment produces self-insight and alters world views” (ibid). “Love—which we view as an amalgam of several positive emotions—creates urges to play with, learn about, and savor our loved ones” (ibid). For C&F, “positive emotion” becomes a placeholder for aspects of richly flourishing. Such laudable senses of generative feeling don’t arise from empirical research (i.e., their expansive formulations aren’t generalizations from specific research). They’re extrapolating desirously, in light of our shared cultural experience, best captured by literary art, not empirical research.


A keynote of growth or self expansiveness is, of course, confidence to explore. Attachment security in early childhood enables individuation of desire and contributes mightily to later ease of adult bonding (or “attachment security,” researchers misleadingly say) which is conducive to sustained generative feeling (e.g., hope and optimism; ref. 4: 408), which is good for body (e.g., immune system; ref.1, chs. 10, 15, 21, 48, 49, 61, 62) and soul (initiative, commitment, perseverance, etc.; ref.1 in toto).

The importance of this simple point—safety/security educes desire to grow (especially relative to the intrinsicness of curiosity)—might be emphasized well by making the simple point an “entire” (little) section here, which I do.

But the theme will flower: Well-being (an End for many voices in health care and normative clinical psychology) is potentially a mere baseline for a life that truly flourishes. Flourishing is possibly so much more than gaining and sustaining “well-being” (which I’m on the way to showing—a key motive for my entire “prospecting” project here). Many voices in positive psychology reach for merely a full comprehension of well-being. But some voices reach for more. Of course, I’m for more (and will be so in much detail).


The awful dichotomy of stimulus and response is a behaviorization of the difference between perception and purposeful action. Behavioral thinking continues in professions (even as it’s antedated within academic psychology), e.g., as cost-saving population management in human services via short-term, narrowly-purposed workshops proffering “cognitive-behavioral” tactics. Behavioral thinking doesn’t have to understand the perceiving activity of the “and” in stimulus and response loops, which happens to really be self invested feeling about what to do.

However, dyadic thinking is useful: the openness of perception and the closure of definite action—background of action and enactivity of action, givenness for enacting and the enacting. Thinking of feeling dyadically is useful, too: feeling of one’s background stance (undirected motivation to act) and feeling for taking an enactive stance—background stance and enactive stance.

Let me dramatize this difference between feeling The Given and feeling Enactive by dividing a catalog of positive feelings (mental stances) likewise, positive as Belonging, let’s say, and positive as Generativity.

feelings of Belonging (as background motivating, selfidentical stance): warm, comfortable, refreshed, glad, encouraged, respected, loved, confident, delighted, ebullient, exuberant, elated, ecstatic, joyful, inspired—all likely not yet to any particular purpose, but fueling...

Generative feelings (as enactive, purposive, orienting stance), whereby learning, constructiveness, relationship, and fulfillment “happen” through deliberate seeking: open, trusting, thankful, understanding, warm-hearted, considerate, sympathetic, affectionate, tender, playful, assertive, energetic, enthusiastic, honest, generous, magnanimous, empathetic, loving, courageous, compassionate, caring, committed, independent, appealing, cooperative, tolerant, humble, hopeful.


Positive psychology inherits a legacy of objectivism that’s related to empirical accessibility and evaluability of phenomena. A humanistic or literary mind might readily balk at the objectivism of the empirical mind. Yet, clarity about functionality is not a bad thing: Functionality is integral to efficacy and to any living self efficacy of actualized purposes. But objectivism tends to unduly abstract from the holism of meaningfully engaged living.

It’s common to think of one’s resourcefulness, but normally that’s a quite-rich notion of capability for purposive engagement. But C&F (typical perhaps of many psychologists) tend to label as “resources” aspects of life that are far more than that. They identify “physical resources” as physical wellness (18) and lack of illness symptoms (ibid). But regarding these embodied conditions of one’s life as resources feels eerie, as if the body is material employed by a person, rather than being integral to feeling life. We can assess physical wellness of someone, but have we thereby basically assessed some of their resources? To C&F, “psychological resources” include savoring positive experiences, hope/agency for achieving important goals, and mindfulness (ibid). Such materialization of feeling is a symptomatic result of misconceptualizing feeling relative to physiological assessability. “Social resources” include relationship closeness/quality (ibid). Yet, at heart, “being with you” is not instrumental to anything. To regard our relationship as a resource is to never be with you at all.

Altogether for C&F, there are “...personal resources, ranging from physical and social resources to intellectual and psychological resources” (15), and the degree of “personal resources” is proffered as a basis for self assessment of life satisfaction or fulfillment (18). Their good faith project is to make empirically accessible as much as they can, which requires a objectification of meaningful engagement. But this provides no insight into how well-being is a cohering of healthfulness, feelings, intimacies, etc. The risk of objectivist thinking is that it occludes understanding the efficacy of meaningful engagement through materialization of the latter relative to observable functions. The danger here is that it buys into mistaking extrinsic rewards for intrinsic rewards in motivation, i.e., making extrinsic what begins as intrinsic motivation, which is epidemic in consumerist society. I may be overreading C&F for the sake of a point, but the importance of intrinsic motivation for enowning one’s development, thus one’s promise, engagement, commitment, and prospects of long-term happiness, will be a keynote of later discussions.

As I mentioned in “feeling as minding,” Antonio Damasio provisionally defines feeling as “a state of altered cognitive resources and a deployment of certain mental scripts”(ref.28: 116). The key terms there are enactive, not functionalistic: “altered...deployment.” Regarding cognition as a resource is quite different from regarding values as a resource. We have knowledge due to what is; we have values, due to what we prefer. Knowing and valuing are distinct kinds of mentality. Also, acting is very usefully understood reflectively or analytically as deploying a mental script. Indeed, I’ll later dwell briefly with such an approach to psychotherapy, called “Schema Therapy.” Anyway, I haven’t yet dwelled online with Damasio’s new book (though I’ve read several key sections, and I like what I see), but I look forward to giving more detailed attention online to his ambitious approach to Self (I think) in nature.

With C&F, given their objectivist idiom, they still confuse (within their own terms) the important difference between “personal resource” as capability and as knowledge. To say that personal resources (altogether) are “accrued” through “acquisition” that “can be drawn on [as] needed” is an objectivist notion providing no hint of how capabilities and values are formed for, in their words, “enhanced success in the future.” Yes, we want enhanced success, but for what? Finding fulfillment through meaningful engagement is a long, enactive enowning of capability formation, value formation, and purposive self formation, expressing a richer (fully temporal) self-determination and individuation, not an atemporal objectivism of employing oneself for success.

That may seem unduly judgmental toward an article merely on positive emotion, but this is the upshot of their approach to positive psychology that cuts itself off from the generative, constructive character of feeling (i.e., the investment of feeling in intentional, purposive lives), which is especially important to emphasize, for the sake of a young field motivated by desire to understand how meaningfully engaged lives are. So, I’m a little strident.


It seems to me intuitively evident that someone may be very well-adapted and not especially curious or imaginative or aspiring. Yet, the human sciences (and derivative professions) are very much about merely bringing conditions up to well-adaptedness or “normal,” which is good as far as it goes, of course. (It’s greatly good that everyone not be ill or poor, and this is commonly as much idealization as society can afford).

But the conception of well-being there is likely adaptive, rather than truly individuational (or conducive to inquiry and creativity). C&F, for example, proffer an adaptive sense of childsplay (ibid.), even though they later proffer the value of individuation: “Childhood play...builds enduring intellectual resources by increasing levels of creativity... and fueling brain development...” (ref.3:15.21) That’s a useful observation (but what is a level of creativity?), yet also true that childhood play builds enduring creativity by increasing intellectual capability. Childhood play relates to increasing and enduring intellectual capability and creativity. But how?

Notwithstanding my skepticism toward C&F’s empirical work, I’ve focused somewhat on their article because they seek to address this question by researching positive emotion. Their work on positive emotion is for the sake of explicating the way that developmental learning enactively happens. So, in my roundabout way, I’m moving toward a focus on (questioning and prospecting) how developmental learning enactively happens, oriented to (if not by) C&F’s work.

In the long run, we need more inquiry and creativity in the world! It’s not a luxurious value in an overpopulated world facing a century of chaotic effects of global warming, societies facing cyclical recessions, organizations living with accelerating global competition, unmanageable health care costs, chronic unemployment, too much divorce, etc., etc. And, of course, there’s the intrinsic value of more art and more pure science, more cultural resourcefulness, and capability to appreciate whatever. The value of simply advocating for our humanity—call it love of enhancing humanity—deserves to reach into our understanding of education, all the way back into understanding prenatal conditions of potential and promise. This is not an endeavor of promoting adaptation.

I’ll represent this aspiring sentiment as a difference between an adaptive mind and an appropriative mind. C&F express a quandary about “positive emotion” that I’ll prospectively understand relative to this difference. They’re puzzled by the fact (empirical research results) that positive emotions may be satiating rather than motivational. On the one hand, “the beneficial effects of positive affect[, which leads to reduced] attention to detail and negative feedback, sometimes lead[s] to an over-reliance on heuristics or stereotypes....[but, on the other hand, may also make persons] more likely to incorporate challenging evidence...and carefully consider difficult problems” (16). “...[L]ittle has been done to reconcile these opposing interpretations” of positive emotion (ibid.) which “can enhance or hinder performance depending on the task and the context.” What they’re missing is the investment of selfidentity (or lack of investment) in aspirational valuing that feeling for things express. The adaptive mind tends to want satisfaction, rather than fulfillment. The former tends toward “vague, heuristic thinking,” while the latter tends toward “thorough, nondefensive exploration” (ibid). Development that is meaningfully engaged creates desire for more of this in gaining fulfillment. Development that is adaptive satisfies itself and waits for need to arise again (e.g., the well-socialized consumer).

We are born with curiosity that expresses our “innately” human interest in self expansion, empowering individuation, which I would extend into a theory of feeling for highly aspiring fulfillment (or polestar of idealism). But our gift from eonic nature often becomes pacified by mundane socialization. Desire which may extend us far beyond need is dissolved into satisfactions of adaptive need that become quietistic.

But feeling may be highly individuational inasmuch as desire-fulfillment prevails over need-satisfaction. Desire at best is drawn by imagination, aspiration, and idealization, altogether like a gravitational light whose appeal channels activity, serving as a positive “constraint,” like a gyroscopic force that keeps something on course. We deserve to understand as well as we can how things may go at best.

Beyond my designs here, I would argue (up the road) for a sense of fundamental learning (i.e., a conception of developmental fundamentality) as capability formation enabled by intrinsic appeals (imaginatively developing into aspirations and ideals). I would argue that development should be led by its ownmost forming polestar (an individual weaving of imagination, aspiration, audacity, etc.), for reasons “spoken” by eonic time as intrinsic appeals in our nature, as if our evolution gives us an ethic of the species in the calling of intrinsic appeals.

That’s a philosophical claim, of course. It’s easier to be satisfied with straightforward good sense: We grow relative to what we really (authentically) enjoy.





  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis