5. Autonomy

"Autonomy is the feeling that activities and goals are a result of personal choices and also match intrinsic interests, values and aspirations."

One of the more known theories in which the concept autonomy plays a major role is the theory of self-determination. This theory states that people, from any other culture, share three psychological needs. We universally distinguish the need for kinship, the need for competence and the need for autonomy. While the first two needs trigger little discussion, the need for autonomy encounters more controversy. This can be explained by the fact that autonomy is more difficult to grasp and is easily confused with individualism or independency. To avoid confusion, and to be able to fill in the universal need for autonomy, it is essential that the definition is crystal clear. A person is autonomous when his or her willingly displayed behaviour is actually perceived as being in line with the person’s authentic interests, values and aspirations. Autonomy is the opposite of ‘heteronomy’, where a person’s willingly or unwillingly displayed behaviour is at odds with personal interests, values or aspirations. This distinction is important when we consider working on autonomy as an element to increase the level of well-being of an individual. To ensure that somebody, for instance a child, works on a task autonomously has less influence on the child’s well-being if that task does not match his or her personal interests, values and aspirations. You probably recognise the above in your professional environment. Imagine being given an assignment by your boss that you consider totally useless, but you are allowed to complete it autonomously. Chances are that your level of well-being does not increase, as opposed to a task that you do consider valuable. In short, only with a correct interpretation of the concept of autonomy we can achieve positive effects on motivation, on results and on well-being of individuals.

Surely, there is no doubt about the importance of autonomy both in educating children as in managing employees. Focusing on youngsters’ need for autonomy leads to higher commitment in scholar activities of adolescents.

Valuing autonomy from a very early age is also important in the current information era. This can be done very simply by letting children experiment with IT and their competencies to work with technology.

But the importance of autonomy does not stop when the school bell rings. When parents and coaches show commitment to support young athletes in their autonomy, for instance by listening to their concerns and offering the possibility to make personal choices, this leads to more well-being and better results of the athletes. Focusing on more autonomy at work also leads to better results. Research shows that autonomy at work increases employee dedication to contribute to a safer work environment. Having autonomy at work is directly linked to a more pro-active and solution oriented attitude of employees.

Finally, research on ‘role breadth self-efficacy’, or more specifically a person’s perceived possibility to better execute a range of activities than specified in the technical requirements, is a plea for more autonomy. And if that does not work out, experiencing autonomy for jobseekers can lead to finding a new job faster because they are more motivated and more efficient in their search.

In summary, we can state that autonomy as described above is not only an important factor in reaching more well-being. Autonomy also offers part of the answer to the search for more positive focus, creativity and pro-activity, which we all need at home and at work these days.

6. Positive relations with others

"Positive relations with others start by pursuing, forming and maintaining sustainable relations characterised by caring about the well-being of others, reciprocity, regularity and experiencing them as enjoyable."

Having a good relation often sounds like a cliché but that is not the case. Having positive relations contributes to having a good health and helps us to better cope with stress. Not having a positive partner relation can significantly relate to several mental disorders. A recent meta study shows that survival chances of people with good relations, based on an analysis of 308849 individuals over a period of 7,5 years, are 50% higher compared to people who have no or unsatisfying relationships. This research argues in favour of adding relationships to the list of vital factors like exercise and healthy food.

Positive relations and caring about others can lead to better school results or to innovation at work. Trusting others, linked to reciprocity and regularity or frequency, contribute to developing social capital at work. But even the requirement to experience a relationship as enjoyable is underpinned. Humour turns out to be an important factor that helps creating or recognising a corporate culture. A meta-analysis shows that humour leads to more productivity, a greater sense of solidarity between colleagues and employees building more seniority at an organisation. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a direct link between having a greater sense of humour and more personal, healthy work habits. The fact that a scientific magazine called ‘Humor’ exists, bringing together different disciplines, giving humour the place it deserves, does inspire happiness however.

Aiming at increasing empathic capacity, increasing our possibility to create a climate of trust, daring to emphasise fun or in short, creating positive relationships, is an important final aspect for personal well-being and positive focus.