Is Tranquility Right for Everyone?

by Scott Barry Kaufman, July 2, 2017 in Blog

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I have a very genuine question, something I’ve long wondered. Whenever I tell people that the feeling of complete inner peace and tranquility sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable, and that on average I actually prefer the state of inspiration / excitement / exploration, the immediate, well-meaning response is always “Give it patience, give it time”. To be clear: As someone who has taken meditation seriously for the past year and have benefited immensely from it in terms of quelling my anxiety, I appreciate the spirit of that answer very much. HOWEVER, in the interest of being slightly contrarian and broadening perspectives, isn’t it at least *theoretically possible* that there are individual differences in satisfaction with calmness as a state of being? I don’t know of any studies that have have looked at this issue directly, but isn’t it possible that different fundamental temperaments actually differ in the extent to which, on average, they enjoy feeling the state of excitement/inspiration vs. tranquility/calmness? I’m thinking from a reward sensitivity perspective. If that is true, then is it possibly condescending to tell certain temperaments that they just need to be patient and get comfortable with being a different way? I have never seen a really open and honest discussion about this, so I’m wondering what you all think about this. I am contemplating doing a study on individual differences in the striving for calmness / mental clarity. I reckon there are some temperaments that genuinely thrive more on high energy and urgency. With that said, when it comes to the emotion of anxiety, and the mental state of mental disorganization, I’m pretty sure everyone would like to improve those states, and meditation can be such a big help for that as a tool at certain times.


2 Responses to “Is Tranquility Right for Everyone?”

  1. James Duncan says:

    Hi Scott,
    I’m a lifelong “compulsive autodidact” and “polymath”. No tranquility here. Many different interests and two careers before I retired. My interests often involve a lot of sitting, which is not good. Meditation scenarios typically involve still more sitting. Don’t want to do that. Would wind up sitting all my waking hours. Not good. My motto is “semper factotal” (“always doing everything”)

    I slow things down by walking everywhere to the greatest extent possible. Not only “green” but is healthy. Have always been that way. All the clothing I wore at UC Berkeley in the 60s still fits perfectly. Only weigh about 3 lbs more today. I can go out dressed genuinely “in period” right out of my closet. Since my careers are gone, I have the luxury of only driving short distances several times a month. Pedometer says I walk 100-250 miles a month – more than I drive. When I was a junior in high school way back, I tried to see how long I could go without riding in a car. I lasted 4 months. I always saw the necessity of this moderation trick.

    Not a complete stick-in-the-mud. I frequently fly to Calgary, AB where I have great friends. Also Cold Springs, NV (north of Reno) where I have friends. Etc. Once I get to those places, I walk a lot. In NV there’s a 6700′ peak behind my friends’ place, and I always walk to the top every time I go there. I bought a fancy jacket for Calgary and go out for long periods even at below 0°F. No prob.

    I may be a worst case tranquility example. I was an accelerated student – by teacher nomination I skipped from kindergarten to second grade with no pre-school nor parental involvement. Was in first grade briefly and then suddenly in second grade a few days later. So you can see I’ve had a lifelong active, non-tranquil mind. I was smart enough to see the value of the walking as moderation. It works for me. Perhaps a real meditation program would be optimal. I have tried that and studied it enough to understand the value. However, I’ve done fine without it.

    That’s my story. Maybe you’ll find it useful. I’ve been interested in human development and gifted education and naturally find your highly accessible, informative writings of tremendous interest. You may see on my “arrowcatcher” YouTube page where I participate in and video record Dabrowski conferences.

    All the best, Jim

  2. Bryan McCarthy says:

    Dr. Kaufmann,

    Fascinating post, and I think it’s great that you’re trying to inaugurate a more candid discussion about the sometimes seeming unassailability of Mindfulness claims. A couple questions, though:

    First a bit of set-up: Some of the states you find preferable (and think others of certain personality types would find preferable) seem to map fairly unproblematically on to Big Five (OCEAN) traits/aspects, which I know figure into your reflection on matters like these. For example, ‘excitement’ sounds a lot like Trait: Extraversion / Aspect: Enthusiasm (I’ll abbreviate this: ‘Ee’) and ‘inspiration’ and ‘exploration’ both sound relatively coextensive with or at least contained within Openness to Experience / Openness (i.e. Oo). So here are my questions:

    1) Your intuition is that a study would show that some personality types would prefer inspiration / excitement / exploration to tranquility, but isn’t this actually NECESSARILY true, by definition? If what it means for someone to be high in Ee or Oo is to be in these states pretty frequently, then wouldn’t these personality types HAVE to prefer these states, as long as they prefer having their own personality to having another one?

    2) If it’s really true that certain personalities are going to prefer inspiration / excitement / exploration to tranquility BUT that, as you say here, ‘when it comes to the emotion of anxiety, and the mental state of mental disorganization, I’m pretty sure everyone would like to improve those states’, that would suggest that trait Neuroticism (which would seem to involve anxiety and mental disorganisation) is a universally undesirable trait while Ee and Oo are, for at least some, desirable. Is that right?

    3) You’ve grouped inspiration / excitement / exploration in one cluster, as if these were similar, interrelated, or at least correlated. But if I’m right in my OCEANifying of these words in the setup above, it would seem that Ee and Oo are being conflated or at least correlated here. Is that right? Do Ee and Oo correlate?

    4) Is tranquility or calmness a feature of low trait Neuroticism and, if so, is low Neuroticism negatively correlated with inspiration / excitement / exploration?

    I’d appreciate any insight into these questions.

    Thanks again for the post.

    Bryan

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