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Helping People Find Fulfillment

Heidi Wayment: PhD

Professor of Psychology

2000 BA in Anthropology

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Heidi Wayment wants to help people get over themselves. As a professor of psychology and former chair of the psychology department at Northern Arizona University, Wayment is a leader in understanding how people can get past the negatives of egocentric behavior in the search for happiness. A leader in the field of positive psychology, Wayment is bringing a rigorous new level of academic research to the field. That topic was the focus of her recent book Transcending Self-Interest: Psychological Explorations of the Quiet Ego. And, she says, her research could have profound implications in helping people to improve the quality of their lives.

"Most religions talk about how true fulfillment comes from transcending self—this is one of the most ancient ideas around—but research psychologists had not really taken it up in a systematic way until fairly recently" says Wayment.

In the classroom, Wayment applies her research in positive psychology by encouraging her students to think about fulfillment, and understanding that happiness requires more than just diverting attention from the self. According to Wayment, students need to see ways in which they can get there. A key part of this, she says, begins with a basic idea: knowing what you're good at.

"Everyone is good at something," she says. "Everyone can spend time developing something and the development of those skills is so important. It is also so important for understanding how humans can help each other in the long term. Our society has changed so much and I feel very compelled to encourage people to take the time to do something creative."

"Creating is so good for you and it is so sad how little time students spend doing something with their own two hands compared with the amount of time they spend online, chatting, or texting," says Wayment. "It is not that social networking is bad in and of itself, but it can take time away from these other endeavors that students could be doing. They may not be developing themselves to the point that they think they can. What is so ironic is they are engaging in that behavior for self-enhancing reasons, but it often is a very short-term high. It is an interesting dilemma for this generation."

Before earning her graduate degrees in psychology, Wayment was a pioneer of a different sort, having played professional basketball with top European teams, on both U.S. and German national teams, as well as in the first professional women's league in the U.S. for the WBL New Orleans' Pride. Athletics served as a creative outlet for Wayment. And, she says, immersing oneself in a creative endeavor like athletics, cooking, or art is something that is important for students—both to help them grow but also to help them improve the community.

This philosophy will also be a part of the new class Wayment is co-teaching called Conservation Psychology: Psychology for a Sustainable Future. The conservational psychology class aims to get students thinking about climate change and how dealing with it requires a mental change of focus. And, Wayment says, taking a psychology-based approach to fighting climate change is a much-needed innovation.

"Everyone talks about climate change, global warming, and temperature. They talk about all these issues and then they are asked to make small everyday changes, like using compact florescent light bulbs," says Wayment. "Psychology is rarely in the discussion about climate change and what to do about it. So we are thrilled to be part of the curriculum in sustainability at NAU. The world is changing and people have to learn to cope with whatever they have."

Much of Wayment's earlier research focused on coping with negative life events, and she feels that psychological research has much to offer about how individuals can successfully cope with the repercussions of climate change.

"I think it is important for us as educators to teach people how to learn and how to tie that learning back to the real world," she says. "I'm excited because I think this class is going to not only help students understand the impact of what is happening, but where [students] fit into that picture, and how this crisis is an opportunity for a new way of living and looking at the world. "