In our series on positive focus, we look at current insights into personal and social well-being. Last time the first two elements were discussed; the importance of self-acceptance and the setting of life goals. In this article, we go deeper into the ability to shape our environment as a prerequisite for a positive focus. The pursuit of development also contributes to this, and thus personal growth is also covered.
3. Environmental Mastery
Unlike other dimensions (eg personal growth), mastering our environment is more difficult. The word "mastery" conjures up associations with development and education. The well-known development psychologist Piaget considers cognitive development from a biological perspective. In intellectual growth and development, according to his theory, two important principles are at work: organizing and adapting. Organizing tends to integrate processes into coherent systems. It is, for example, about bringing together two initially separate actions, the first is looking at and the second is catching something in a system where you perform them simultaneously. Adapting is the tendency of someone to interact with his or her environment and to become a master of it. This happens by attempting to fit something new into an existing system, assimilating it, then finding a way to accommodate the new into the existing.
Despite the historical criticism of Piaget's theory, the importance of assimilation and accommodation is repeatedly demonstrated in studies on how people handle a changing environment. Expanding our "mastery" determines our well-being in the environment in which we live, both socially and economically. It is not surprising that someone's socioeconomic status contributes to a greater sense of mastery about his or her environment resulting in higher well-being. Logically, higher socioeconomic status increases one's actual control over his environment because greater financial resources effectively lead to more control of that environment. Consider, for example, the freedom of choice of a place of residence or the payment of medical care. Higher occupational status allows you to exercise greater control at work. A higher level of education can contribute to the development of better cognitive skills to deal with your environment. What is amazing, however, is that our evaluation of how we are in a socioeconomic way is not only a matter of fact but also of our perception. For example, a person with an objective high status can still feel that he has a low socioeconomic status. In this latter case, one's mastery over the environment is compromised. Conversely, we also see that people who feel that they score high on what they want to achieve socioeconomically, apart from the objective reality, also feel that they have more mastery about their environment. This leads us to the conclusion that self-acceptance is an important requirement for well-being. It also follows that objective parameters, such as low socioeconomic status, have no determinative value for feelings of satisfaction, pride or mastery.
Based on the above it is therefore important that, despite the difficulties in understanding, we include mastery of the environment in our approach to increasing our personal and professional well-being. This can be strengthened by ourselves and others to actively work on our environment with an open mind and personal responsibility. The incentive to increase awareness, especially in developing a flexible vision to enable us to organize and adjust this environment, is essential for better well-being. Consider drawing up a study plan together with your children or exchanging tips on time management with your colleagues. To do this the investment in personal growth, the next dimension, is essential.
4. Personal Growth
The importance of the pursuit of personal growth, as defined above, is derived from two theories that are widely spread today. One is the Hope Theory that was shaped by Snyder's work. The starting point of this approach is that human actions are targeted, hence the importance of goals discussed in the previous article in this series. After setting a (life) goal, it is clearly essential that people also consider themselves competent to pursue this. This is called “Pathway thinking”, showing the paths that lead to a specific destination. "Agency thinking", believing that you will find the way, perhaps via a different path, is also crucial. When people do not make progress in achieving goals, they experience negative emotions and reduced well-being. Research indicates that this is more often the case than not, particularly in the aspect of reduced well-being leading to lower progress. Making progress and investing in ways to make progress can increase, rather than be a consequence of, well-being!
The self-efficacy theory of Bandura adds another essential element: trust. People's trust in their ability to achieve desired results is the key determinant for their commitment and perseverance in pursuing these results. Confidence plays an important role in how people handle their professional and individual challenges. Research indicates that low self-confidence is a major cause of depression. People suffering from depression usually believe that they are less able than others to deal with the various challenges of life. Avoidance behavior against challenging situations is a direct consequence of a lack of confidence in their own abilities.
It is therefore very important that, as we strive for more well-being, we work on developing our competencies as well as our self-confidence. Allowing children to experiment or employees to make mistakes are steps in the right direction. That this demands effort, together with searching for new ways to see and discover, is beyond doubt. Therefore the next dimension, autonomy, is equally important. More about this in the next article.