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Well-Doing: Personal Projects and the Social Ecology of Flourishing

Part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life book series (IHQL)

Abstract

Has research by psychologists truly advanced our understanding of human flourishing and the quality of lives? Some philosophers (e.g. Nussbaum, J Leg Stud 37(52):S81–S113, 2008)) are sceptical and believe that the models and methods of psychology obscure or ignore those features of lives constitutive of flourishing. I engage this debate by calling for a reformulation of how we study the quality of lives by focusing upon well-doing or felicitous action. Well-doing comprises the sustainable pursuit of core projects in our lives. A social ecological model of project pursuit is presented in which the stable and dynamic features of individuals and the contexts of their daily lives are highlighted. Research on the social ecology of well-doing provides a thickly textured and granular level of analysis of how people craft their lives. It opens up a research agenda in which philosophers and psychologists can find congenial intellectual company and common purpose.

Keywords

  • Happiness
  • Well-being
  • Eudaimonia
  • Personal projects

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Fig. 19.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Like most psychological research our samples are largely WEIRD (i.e. white, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) (see Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan (2010) although that is gradually changing in our own research program.

  2. 2.

    Social ecological models examine the systems of influences that are conducive to human well-being broadly conceived. Those influences involve physical, social, economic and historical factors that help shape lives. See also Bronfenbrenner (1979), Oishi and Graham (2010).

  3. 3.

    Consider the personal project “ try to be more outgoing. “ Why might this be depressing for some and salutary for others? Who initiated the project seems pivotal. If it is pursued because one’s socially gregarious spouse insists on it, the course of that project may be demanding, and potentially depressogenic. If it originates with the project pursuer herself it is more likely to be construed as a self-exploratory adventure.

  4. 4.

    Examples of dimensions defining these factors are: Meaning (value congruency, self-identity,), Structure (control, time-adequacy), Community (e.g. visibility, others’ support), Efficacy (progress, outcome likelihood) and Stress (difficulty, stress).

  5. 5.

    Take a famous example proposed by John Rawls. He asks if the project of “counting blades of grass” outside the Widener Library at Harvard can be regarded as meaningful or worthwhile. Although the example is meant to underscore that some life pursuits are not intrinsically meaningful, from a psychological perspective this might be approached rather differently. There is a big difference in the merit of the grass project if it is being pursued by a despondent, addicted and suicidal street kid or if by an eccentric professor emeritus who wants to experience an example made famous by John Rawls. I must confess that I spent 14 min of my life doing exactly this and I was neither despondent, addicted, suicidal nor a kid at that time. I may have been eccentric, however.

  6. 6.

    Interestingly, the dimension of ambivalence loaded on the negative affect factor but not on positive. Also, at the dimension level, challenge is linked to both meaning and stress, suggesting that challenging projects are more aligned with the kind of effortful pursuit associated with some views of eudaimonic well-being.

  7. 7.

    It should be noted, however, that many of the women in these organizations were in the job for a shorter period of time than their male counterparts. It is possible that the gender effect may actually be more a “newcomer” effect, where forming social connections is part of the process of learning the ropes in a new institutional setting (Phillips, Little & Goodine, 1997).

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Little, B.R. (2016). Well-Doing: Personal Projects and the Social Ecology of Flourishing. In: Vittersø, J. (eds) Handbook of Eudaimonic Well-Being. International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42445-3_19

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