Paul Pearsall, Ph.D.
interview by Steve Kayser
Kayser (S): When The Beethoven Factor manuscript was finished,
what unexpected obstacles arose that almost derailed it? How did you
Dr. Paul Pearsall, Ph.D. (Dr. P): I think the ideas and
regarding survival and even resilience over adversity are so dominant
in the literature that the idea of “Stress Induced Growth” (SIG) and
adversity inspired creativity, beyond mere bouncing back, were a little
difficult for many people to accept.
I knew, however, that someone would be aware of the newly emerging
field called "positive psychology" and its emphasis on what's best and
bravest about us rather than what's worst and how to fix it.
I kept searching until I found a publisher with integrity and what we
Hawaiians call "good mana" or energy. I found one in Hampton Roads.
S: What did you think and/or feel when an editor told you that you were
a "difficult author” because you were likely to die before you could
promote your book?
Dr. P: I've long ago
learned the P's of dealing with bad news and toxic
people. I don't take criticism or adversity Personally, and do not view
setbacks in one area of my life as Pervasive to all other areas, and
most of all, I know that that nothing is Permanent.
I thought the editor was right that I am "difficult." My Hawaiian name
is "Ka`ikena," meaning "person charged with sharing the vision," and
I've learned that: You can’t help create light without at least a
S: What is the Beethoven Factor?
Dr. P: The Beethoven
Factor is "SIG, Stress Induced Growth.”
Like the composer, there are persons for whom adversity is a stimulus
for personal growth and creativity. Also like Beethoven, they aren't
Like all of us, they are flawed beings, but something within and about
them allows them to construe their lives with an upward psychological
trajectory even when things seem at their worst. They are not just
naive blind optimists. They are "benefit finders" who can discover
growth where many others see only disaster.
“Life has meaning only in the struggle. Triumph or defeat
is in the
hands of the Gods. So let us celebrate the struggle!”
- Swahili Warrior Song
S: You use Beethoven as the epitome of a “Thriver.” Could you explain?
Dr. P: Beethoven was a
brilliantly creative person. Even pending death,
total deafness, and often deep despair didn't prevent him from
composing the "Ode to Joy" when we might expect him instead to compose
the "Ode to Misery."
“Life begins on the other side of despair”
–Jean Paul Sartre
Dr. P: He was a member of
what I call the CIA, Crisis Inspired
Awakened. He did what thrivers do and particularly in his later string
quartets which broke entirely new ground in classical composition.
“When written in Chinese, the word ''crisis'' is composed
two characters -
one represents danger, the other represents
- John F. Kennedy
S: In your book you speak about “five reactions to life's challenges.”
What are they?
Dr. P: When adversity
strikes, we can kindle, meaning make matters
worse for ourselves by self-pity and anger, or, we can become victims
stuck in a "poor me" mode.
We can become survivors, but that wastes a lot of creative energy.
That’s why I never call myself a cancer "survivor." We can bounce back
to recovery and keep on going on, ever on the brink of relapses, or we
can be resilient and get back to where we were before our adversity or
The Beethoven Factor is about thriving, when we actually manage to
flourish not only in spite of but also because of your crisis.
Five Reactions to Life’s Challenges … Choose Wisely
1. Kindling – Make matters
worse. React like kindling wood
added to fire.
2. Suffering – Poor me.
3. Surviving – Pretty essential,
but don’t you want more?
4. Resilience – Bouncing back to
where you were before.
5. Thriving – Flourishing not
only in spite of the crisis,
but because of it.
S: Are there certain questions one could ask to see if an individual is
thriving … or trying to?
Dr. P: In the book, I
have a checklist. The more items you check in the
checklist, the more likely it is you’re honing your talent for
thriving. Some of the questions would include.
1. Do you feel more alive today than yesterday?
2. Do people seem to be made happier by your presence?
3. Are you laughing hard every day?
4. Are you in love with life?
5. Have you been made stronger by adversity?
6. Do you often feel overwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty of
S: What’s your definition of thriving?
Dr. P: “The emergence of
a new creative spirit through and because of
the darkest times, a spirit that guides us to the Beethoven Factor so
we too, can creatively conduct our daily life as an ode to joy.”
S: How do you find meaning in misery? In your book, you speak of a man
called Izzie. How he found meaning in misery. Izzie is 86 years old, in
robust health, vibrantly alive, happy as all get-out, and has a
devilish twinkle in his eye.
Izzie has also, in his life …
· Watched his sister and parents be dragged away in the middle
of the night
Watched his sister be raped
Watched as Nazi soldiers shot and killed his family … he ran
away with eyes closed and fingers in his ears
Was tortured, starved to skin and bones
Slept for more than a year in human waste with the haunting,
agonizing cries of his fellow prisoners
Izzie should be dead. Izzie should be crazy.
How could he find meaning in that misery? Any joy in life?
Dr. P: Izzie and the
other thrivers I studied not only maintained, but
also enhanced their personal hardiness, natural happiness, capacity for
healing, and unrelenting hope.
All of us have these innate thriving skills, but we are often too busy
surviving or languishing to be aware of and mobilize them. Too often we
are not fully awake and alive until something goes terribly wrong.
Dr. P: Yes, languishing.
The eighth deadly sin is "languishing." It was
originally listed as one of the deadly sins until Pope Gregory removed
it from the list, but it still robs our life of its energy and joy.
Languishing in my research turned out to be the silent epidemic of
mistaking a busy and intense life for a meaningful and full one.
Thrivers never accede
to acedia [spiritual torpor and apathy;
They grow in hardiness,
happiness, healing, and hope.
Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., is the author of over 200 professional articles
and 15 international bestselling books, including The Beethoven Factor,
Miracle in Maui, and The Heart’s Code. He’s a licensed clinical
neuropsychologist and one of the most requested speakers in the world.
He is also a frequent consultant to national television including
“Dateline,” “20/20,” and CNN.
Excerpted from interview
by Steve Kayser
See Paul Pearsall titles at upper right >
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