David Ludden, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College. He received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Iowa, and is the author of The Psychology of Language: An Integrated Approach. Dr. Ludden’s research interests focus on the role that language plays in human psychology—from perception to persuasion, from attention to attitudes, from motor skills to mental states. Much of his writing focuses on how our social world both shapes and is shaped by the language we speak. However, he also considers himself a generalist and is fascinated by all aspects of the study of human experience.
What do I do best?
I see myself first and foremost as a scholar and teacher. I’m devoted to lifelong learning, and I try to spark that same passion in those I interact with. I’m curious about the world in general—I read widely, and I listen to experts in other fields when they talk about what they know. As a teacher, I see myself not as a source of knowledge but rather as a facilitator of learning, encouraging my students to seek new knowledge for the sheer pleasure of it. When possible, I organize my classes as discussions, and even in lecture format, there’s plenty of give and take between me and my students. I also freely admit when I don’t know the answer to a question. “Would someone look that up?” I’ll ask. When a student comes back with the answer, I encourage further discussion about the topic so that the fact we’ve just learned together gets woven into the fabric of the subject we’re studying.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I have a lot of determination to achieve my goals. I work even when I don’t feel like it. And once I’ve pushed myself into doing whatever needs to get done, I often find I feel better and I’m glad I got started. The sense of accomplishment I get later in the day when I had to push myself to get going is a real mood-booster. Of course, the key is to find work that’s meaningful to you. Or perhaps it’s better to say that it’s important to find meaning in whatever work you have to do. When you get absorbed in work that you do well and is full of meaning, you enter into what psychologists call a “flow” state. Then, all the petty problems of life seem less troublesome, because you see them in their proper perspective.
What are my aspirations?
My aspiration in life is to continue to grow as an ethical person. I don’t always do or say the right things, and I don’t always make the right decisions. But I am getting better over time. I like to think in terms of Maslow’s concept of self-actualization. Self-actualizing person aren’t perfect. They make mistakes as they go through life, but they learn from those mistakes. They also adopt good models of behavior that they observe in others they admire and respect. For me, self-actualization is both a personal and a professional goal. Whatever role I’m currently playing—husband, father, teacher, or colleague—I still want to act in a manner that not only leads to my own personal growth but also helps other people grow as well.
My Biggest Success?
Perhaps my greatest accomplishment to date is the publication of my first book, The Psychology of Language. In doing the research for that book, I feel I have gained true expertise in my discipline, psycholinguistics. Now I’m working on my second book, A History of Psychology. In the process, I am acquiring depth and breadth in my knowledge of psychology more generally, especially in terms of how the various theories relate to and interact with each other. I guess the best way to become an expert in a subject is to write a book about it.
My Most Challenging Moment?
I have had a number of challenging moments in my life, but these involve decisions that are too personal to share. However, what I can say about any of these is that they each involved a dilemma between doing what felt right in the moment versus doing what I knew (or should have known) to be best in the long term both for myself and for other people. I will admit that I have not always chosen wisely or ethically, and I have suffered the consequences as a result. But I have also learned from the poor choices I made, and I use that painfully gained knowledge to help me make better decisions when I’m faced with new challenges.
My motto in life is: “It’s not about me.” This motto helps me to overcome egocentric thinking and to see the broader context in which I live my life. When a driver cuts me off in traffic, or a person is rude to me, or my boss criticizes me unfairly, I remind myself: “It’s not about me.” Other people aren’t out to ruin my day—they’re simply dealing with their own problems. So there’s no reason to get upset by other people’s bad behavior. But the motto also guides me in my endeavor toward self-actualization. Research clearly shows that the more you focus on gratifying your own wants and desires, the less happy you are. Ironically, the more we pursue happiness, the more elusive it becomes. Instead, we’re happiest when we lead a life in service to others. And so my motto—“It’s not about me”—reminds me that if I want to be happy in life, I have to focus on building good relationships with other people rather than seeking self-gratification.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
I get my inspiration from two ancient philosophers whose thinking is just as relevant today as it was millennia ago. My first role model is the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who told us: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Many people bumble through life totally unaware of what they’re doing or the consequences of their actions. But the only way to live a meaningful life is to be aware in the moment and with an eye toward the future. You need to understand your own drives and motivations, and achieving this requires a lot of introspection and a willingness to consider the feedback others give you without becoming defensive. It means you stop thinking about yourself and others in terms of how things “should be” and instead you understand and accept yourself and others as they truly are. My other role model is the Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, who taught us that we aren’t free agents in the world, but rather that we live within a complex web of social relationships. These relationships define who we are—mother or father, wife or husband, teacher or student. Also, the only way to live a meaningful life is by cultivating these relationships. Again, we come back to the understanding that we can only be happy when we live our lives in service to others rather than gratifying our own desires.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I have spent much of my adult life living in Asia or interacting with Asian communities here in the United States. I lived and worked in Japan for eight years as a young adult, and my wife is Chinese, so I visit China often. My personality has been greatly shaped by this long-term exposure to Asian culture, and I have tried to adopt what I see as the best aspects of Eastern thought into my own thinking. No culture is perfect, and each has its unique worldview. But when you spend extensive times in other countries interacting with the local people, you learn to be more flexible in your expectations for how the world works and how other people behave. You also become aware of your own hidden assumptions that you would not know about if you spent your entire life in a single culture. So again we come back to the issue of self-awareness, that is to say, living an examined life.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I’m not much attached to objects. I can hop on a plane with a backpack of clothes and a laptop computer, and I can live quite happily wherever I end up. It seems, though, that I just answered the question in the previous sentence. I have become quite dependent on having a laptop computer. I do all of my reading and writing on it, and it’s such a wonderful tool for communicating with others. I’m very happy to be living in the 21st century with all of its amazing technology, but I’m not attached to any particular product. I don’t need the latest smart phone or tablet—just a reasonably up-to-date device is all I need to achieve my goals.
My Current Passions?
I have two interrelated passions in life, teaching and writing. For me, teaching is such a fulfilling career because of the significant impact I can have on the lives of other people. It is, after all, in giving to others that we make our own lives meaningful. I also enjoy writing for similar reasons. I would like to believe that what I write has a positive effect on my readers.