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Dr. Alex Pattakos: The golden age of Greece is coming

08 September 2010 / 13:09:37  GRReporter
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Interview by Maria S. Topalova

I met Dr. Alex Pattakos in the elegant lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi hotel in the very historical center of Santa Fe. Colleagues from the local press have recommended him to me as the most eminent representative of Americans of Greek origin in the city. However, to limit the fame of Dr. Pattakos only to the capital of New Mexico will be neither fair nor true. The program one of the most prominent representatives of the theory of positive thinking and author of the Prisoners of Our Thoughts translated in 16 languages is too tense. Our meeting is possible within a short time span between his lecture in Vancouver, Canada and the numerous preparations for the launch of his latest project - OPA Day. Naturally, the first questions relate to Prisoners of Our Thoughts.

How did it happen to get involved in exactly this theory, research, and concept?

I have always been on a meaning quest in my own life. There was much of dichotomy in my family. My father was very domineering person in my life and I was very reactionary to him. We had a lot of struggle when I was growing up, because I was struggling with my name, my culture, with my father’s desire. He was telling me: “If you want to be a good American you have to have a certain profession and you have to do this” and I tried to choose my direction. When I was a teenager I was always fighting him. On the other hand, I have always been interested in mental health.. It always bothered me when people were depressed or sad because I didn’t understand why they would be. I have never felt like this. You get over it, you turn the page.

So, I got involved in the mental health system and I became a therapist. In the early years I worked in a mental house in the army, I worked in a mental house when I got out of the army. Then I became a journalist for a while and I got involved in politics. And I have always been interested in the meaning like why are people making decisions like these, why are people mental patients.

While I was in high school I read Viktor Frankl’s first book, called The Men’s Search for Meaning. I read it again when I was working in the mental health system later. I disagreed with Freud in some of the theories about the human behaviour. I studied out more psychology and I have always resonated with Frankl. I started to just develop that interest more and more. And I was always asking about the meaning of life. I started to communicate with Dr. Frankl, first by letter and then by e-mail. And then I went to Vienna to meet with him. And that was really going to build it. I wanted to take his idea of meaning. When you get people to connect meaningfully with others there is a spiritual compound. You know that if you have a real friend or a real partner in life. It is not just we have a contract, written down marriage license or an employment contract. If people have spiritual bond, spiritual connection it means you trust each other, you respect each other and so forth.

The more I got in Franle’s work the more I understood this. What is the meaning of politics? Why people don’t want to vote? They do not feel connected. Why are people upset in their family life or in health? This is about the others, the purpose and the attitude. And those three elements comprise the guidebook to meaning for life.

One of the main principles in your book is the freedom to choose our attitude to life and to its situations. Isn’t there a danger to look too optimistic to a situation which is not optimistic, to create illusions by thinking too positive for a difficult situation of life?

This book was inspired by a mentor that I had – psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who survived the holocaust. He survived an experience that none of us would ever want. And he used this notion of the freedom to choose our attitude as a way not to march in lies or make the situation he was experiencing in any way less important. He was in Auschwitz and he was wondering if he was going to live to the next moment. He didn’t look at his attitude in the sense that “Oh, isn’t this great, I’m getting tortured. And I’ve got a positive attitude exhibiting that I’m getting a good day today.” What he did was that he was able to use his choice of attitude: “I can do, I will survive the horrific things I am experiencing so that I will see my family again. I will get out.”

And what we found is that the choice of attitude means nothing more than to find and accept that the positive attitude is intrinsic; it is inside of you to keep you going. If we look at my family, many of its members were killed by the Nazis, they fought the Turks. I mean for hundreds of years because I’ve traced my family roots back to 1090 already. It was all for their attitude. They probably would have given up but the whole idea, for example, Nikos Kazanadzakis’ Freedom or Death, that’s an attitude notion, because you say “I will go for freedom, I’m going to have it this moment.”

And yes, the economy sucks. Yes, I’ve just lost my job. But what happens if you have a negative attitude? You become a victim. And this is so true in many other cultures. They are very much burdened by their attitude. That locks them in mental prison. That keeps them from finding their opportunities. So, in no way is the choice of attitude saying “I want to look to everything in rosy coloured glasses.” and say “Yes, the economic crisis is so wonderful, I love it, and I can’t wait so, please, cut my pension 50%.”

Tags: Alex PattakosPrisoners of Our ThoughtsMaria S. TopalovaInterview
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