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DEMOGRAPHIC AND INTRAPERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS OF WELL-BEING IN A SAMPLE OF ROMANIAN ADULTS

Vol XI, No. 2, 2011 Comments (0)

Éva KÁLLAY & Gabriel VONAS

Babes -Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

 

Abstract

Attaining well-being (WB) may be a serious goal in life. In the same time, characteristics of well-being may be indices of how well a person can live his/her life. The major aim of the present paper is to evince the main characteristics of well being in a sample of Romanian adults. We have found that both certain demographic variables (age, gender, education, residence) and intrapersonal characteristics (conscious cognitive emotion regulation strategies) may have an impact on WB. These findings may be useful in outlining guidelines for interventions that target the enhancement of quality of life and well-being.

 

Keywords: hedonic well-being, eudaimonic well-being, depression, cognitive emotion regulation strategies
Introduction

 

Presently, adult life is forced to face an increasing number of challenges (Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 2006). Continuity and stability, characteristic to the past, have been replaced by continuous changes in the domains of social, cultural, technological and political life. These changes have infused the realm of personal life, too. Thus, one of the major problems humans face at the moment is how to adapt and adjust to this discontinuity efficiently, how to attain and maintain optimal functioning. “Those who do not master adaptation are likely to find themselves trapped into obsolescence as the world continues to change around them” (Bateson, 1989, as cited in Goodman et al., 2006, p. 3).

Massive changes in life conditions, in the structure of work-life, impending financial insecurity, shifts in basic value systems, numerous daily hassles, highly stressful encounters may all have a profound impact on the individual’s overall capacity to adapt efficiently. Depending on the interplay between intra- and extra-individual (contextual) factors, successful adaptation leads to flourishing (optimal functioning) (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005), while unsuccessful adaptation to languishing (emptiness and stagnation, elevated levels of negative emotions, low levels of positive emotions, Keyes, 2008), and severe maladaptation to physical and psychological disorders (Levenson, 2005).

Unfortunately, the number of persons who cannot keep up with these rapid changes, successfully adapt and lead an optimally functional life is constantly increasing. This tendency is most strikingly reflected by the alarming growth in the percentage of those who develop clinically diagnosable mental disorders (European Commission, 2005).

It would be reasonable to believe that the number of people who are seriously affected by the inability to adapt, but who do not develop clinically diagnosable disorders and manifest overt symptomatology is also increasing. Persons with sub-syndromal symptomatology may not be eligible to a clinical diagnosis and specialized treatment, but may still function inefficiently, at lower than optimal levels. These forms of malfunctioning may have serious costs, affecting the person’s physical, psychological, professional functioning, interpersonal relationships, the ability to maintain an optimal work-life balance, positive health, etc.

In these constantly changing life conditions the question of what constitutes a ‘well-lived life’ becomes an intriguing issue. The definition of the characteristics of “a good life” will further on orient not only personal perceptions (including back- and forward temporal comparisons) on how to lead one’s life, but also the development of governmental, educational, parenting, practices, i.e., the promotion of wellness (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

Optimal human functioning and the characteristics of a ‘good life’ have most thoroughly been investigated within the domain of well-being, treated through two major traditions: hedonic (associated with satisfaction, happiness, and the experience of positive emotions), and eudaimonic (attainment of human potential) well-being. The hedonic approach, originating in ancient Greek philosophy (esp. Aristippus of Cyrene, who proclaimed that pleasure should be the ultimate and supreme human endeavor) equates well-being with the human tendency to seek pleasure and happiness, simultaneously avoiding pain and suffering (Kahneman, Diener, & Schwartz, 1999). Recent approaches consider that hedonic well-being should not be equated only with physical pleasure – happiness may be elicited from the attainment of different goals and outcomes in different life domains (Diener, Sapyta, & Suh, 1998).

The eudaimonic view considers that well-being transcends mere happiness, and consists in the actualization of human potential (Waterman, 1993). Aristotle for instance, disdained hedonic happiness, considering it a “vulgar ideal” (Ryan & Deci, 2001, p. 145). In his assumption, the key of real happiness is represented by one’s ability to act (live) in accordance with one’s daimon (one’s true self). According to the central message of eudaimonia, “If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us” (Aristotle, 1925, p. 263).

These two approaches depict the difference between valence and function: while hedonism promotes action in order to fulfill the human need for pleasure (positive emotional and physiological states), eudaimonism underscores that some states and outcomes, irregardless if positive, are detrimental in the promotion of authentic well-being. Briefly put, subjective perception of happiness “cannot be equated with well-being” (Ryan & Deci, 2001, p. 146). This distinction highlights the importance of the function each action and state purports: namely, weather it promotes adaptation, or is dysfunctional, by hindering it.

Recent psychological research regarding well-being mostly subscribes to one of the above-mentioned approaches. Diener’s research team repeatedly underscored the crucial importance of hedonism, of subjective perception of happiness in the concept of well-being (Diener, Sapyta, & Suh, 1998). Within hedonic psychology (Diener & Lucas, 1999), subjective well-being is conceptualized in a double temporal frame: satisfaction with life is the judgmental, ongoing assessement, while happiness (the presence of positive mood and absence of negative mood) is the emotional reflection of immediate experiences (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002).

At the present time SWB has been studies within different niches, as: (i) the result of cognitive processes (e.g., evaluation and attribution – Tversky & Griffin, 1991), (ii) components of emotional experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991), (iii) goal-related behavior (Emmons, 1996), (iv) proximal and distal effects of life events (Shmotkin & Lomranz, 1998).

On the other hand, Ryff and Singer’s research established a tendency heavily tilted towards the eudaimonic approach (e.g., 1998, 2000, 2008). These authors clearly differentiate between subjective well-being (SWB) and psychological well-being (PWB). In their conception, psychological well-being is a multidimensional construct, encompassing six specific dimensions: (i) self-acceptance, (ii) positive relations with others, (iii) autonomy, (iv) environmental mastery, (v) purpose in life, and (vi) personal growth (Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Ryff, 1989).

 

Self-acceptance. The non-judgmental acceptance of one’s self together with one’s past has been considered as one of the central aspects of mental health, self-actualization, optimal functioning, and maturity.

Positive relations with others. The ability to maintain warm, affectionate relationships with others has repeatedly been found to be both related to superior positive functioning, as well as a protective factor in adversity. Individuals able to love, feel empathy towards others, develop and maintain profound friendships, etc. proved to be able to attain much easier their potential.

Autonomy. This component of well-being refers to one’s ability to function independently of other’s approval, to regulate emotions and behavior from within, establishing personal standards and evaluating oneself towards this standard. Simultaneously, fully functional individuals detach themselves from collective norms, anguishes, standards, etc., that may harmfully limit optimal functioning.

Environmental mastery consists of the individual’s capacity to create an ‘outside world’, an external environment that would enhance his/her functioning and adaptation, and “take advantage of environmental opportunities” (Ryff, 1989, p. 1071).

Purpose in life. Finding meaning in and for one’s life has repeatedly been found to be associated with better mental functioning (Skrabski, Kopp, Rozsa, Rethelyi, & Rahe, 2005; Wong & Fry, 1998). Thus, finding or attributing a direction to one’s life would facilitate intentionality and the establishment of proximal and distal goals, thus sustaining a creative and productive life. This in turn would contribute to the maintenance of mental and physical health.

Personal growth is the dimension that is closest to Aristotle’s eudaimonic approach to well-being. The human need to attain and realize one’s potential is a central aspect of personal development. “Optimal psychological functioning requires not only that one […] continue to develop one’s potential, to grow and expand as a person” (Ryff, 1989, p. 1071). The perception of life as a continuous process of change and adaptation to challenges, as opportunities through which one may enhance, and less as a fixed, stable situation seems to be a critical aspect of well-being.

 

The conceptual differences between the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches, developed in antiquity, have continued to influence cotemporary research as well. The different approaches and definitions of a well-lived life not only led to heated debates, but have also bifurcated research agendas regarding the causes, the dynamics and the consequences of well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2001). Those emphasizing the importance of subjective perception of happiness direct their research mostly in the direction of positive emotions (e.g., their role played in well-being, the investigation of factors inducing interidividual differences in the experiencing of positive emotions and affective states, etc.). Research based on the eudaimonic philosophy strives to identify the elements that sustain one’s striving to fulfill his/her true potential (Ryff, 1995).

Ryan and Deci’s (2000) approach, the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) combines the previously mentioned two research directions. According to SDT, the attainment of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (basic psychological needs) are pivotal conditions for the maintenance of intrinsic motivation (and psychological growth), integrity, life satisfaction and psychological health, vitality and self-congruence (for more see Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan & Fredrick, 1997). In this approach well-being transcends the simple fulfillment of desires, and is represented by optimal functioning. However, unlike Ryff and Singer’s approach, SDT autonomy, competence and positive relationships are prerequisites, and not sub-dimensions of well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

More recent investigations consider well-being as being a composite, multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing both elements of the hedonic (happiness) and eudaimonic (attaining personal potential) approaches (see e.g., King & Napa, 1998; McGregor & Little, 1998). In other words, SWB and PWB are “related but distinct aspects of positive psychological functioning” (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002, p. 1009).

Although research in these domains investigates different aspects of what constitutes a good life, the major questions refer to the identification of factors of which well-being depends on, as well as the effects of well-being on different outcomes, as health for instance. Next, we will briefly discuss the most important variables that have been found to influence well-being.

 

Demographic variables associated with happiness and well-being

 

Age

From the point of view of life-course development, the relationship between happiness, well-being and age has been found to be extremely intriguing. Even if common sense associates youth with happiness and satisfaction with life, research has proved that even if positive emotional states indeed tend to decrease with age, levels of negative affect show no significant fluctuations in time (Diener & Lucas, 2000). Regarding the eudaimonic approach, research has revealed different age-profiles in different sub-dimensions of the PWB (Ryff & Singer, 2008; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Ryff, 1989). For instance, younger adults seem to be more interested in developing self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and competence. On the other hand, older adults are more concentrated on developing abilities needed to cope positively with change. While the development and maintenance of positive relations with others and self-acceptance presented no significant differences across age groups (young, middle-aged, and old adults), the other dimensions of PWB did. Young adults presented an increased tendency for personal growth compared to older adults, while middle-aged persons more autonomy than both the other two groups. On the other hand, compared to young adults, both middle-aged and old adults presented more mastery (Ryff, 1991).

 

Wealth

Regarding money, common sense usually adopts two, apparently contradictory positions. Some consider that financial status is strongly and positively related to well-being, namely that rich people are happier than those living in precarious financial conditions. Others incline to think that “money does not bring happiness”. The truth, according to psychological research, seems to be somewhere in between. Regarding SWB and wealth, research has evinced that people living in countries with higher economic status are happier than the representatives of poorer nations (Diener & Biswas-Diener, as cited in Ryan & Deci, 2001). Several studies have found that between-nations, Gross National Product per capita presents a .50 positive correlation with life satisfaction (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995; Diener, Sandvik, Seidlitz, & Diener, 1993). However, these strong positive correlations cannot exclusively be attributed to better financial status; financially more powerful countries have further attributes that may indirectly enhance well-being (Diener et al., 1999).

On the other hand, within economically powerful nations, further increases in national wealth present no modification in SWB (Ryan & Deci, 2001; Diener et al., 1993). In rich nations, wealthy people are only little more happier than poorer people (e.g., Diener et al., 1999). An interesting finding though was related to the desire of getting richer. Irregardless of current financial status, those who covet more money and wealth seem to be unhappier.

From the eudaimonic point of view, people who favor material realizations in the detriment of personal growth, positive relations with others, etc., would experience lower well-being (Kasser & Ryan, 1996; 1993). This approach does by no means suggest that money would not be necessary for survival. It only underscores that increases in wealth beyond the poverty level (fulfilled basic financial needs) do not significantly increase well-being. However, trying to attain personal potential and fulfillment would seriously contribute to the enhancement of well-being. Cross cultural comparisons (Diener, Lucas, & Oishi, 2002; Schmuck, Kasser, & Ryan, 2000) evinced that focus on material goals has been found to lower PWB both in wealthy (USA, Germany, etc.) as well as poor countries (India, Russia, etc.). Moreover, studies also revealed that the tendency to fulfill intrinsic goals has a stronger positive impact on well-being than the attempt to enhance financial status (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

Summing up, excessive preoccupation with the acquisition of financial goods does not seem to predict increases in either happiness or well-being. Money is necessary for maintaining a decent life, but attributing excessive importance to economic development, and striving to gain money exceeding a certain threshold, may have a negative impact on eudaimonic well-being.

 

Educational level

Education has been found to be strongly positively related especially to PWB (Ryff & Singer, 2008). Strongest associations have been found between personal growth, purpose in life, and education. Results show that young adults with lower levels of education seem to have low SWB and PSW (Keyes et al., 2002).

 

 


Intrapersonal variables associated with happiness and well-being

 

Personality

Research has allotted significant effort for identifying the characteristics of those who are most likely to live a happy life and constantly experience high levels of well-being. Massive research sustains that personality is a reliable predictor of SWB (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). Thus, several studies have found strong associations between different personality traits and well-being. For instance, extraversion and agreeableness are positively associated with happiness and SWB, while neuroticism shows negative correlation (e.g., Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002; Diener et al., 1999; DeNeve & Cooper, 1998).

Personality was found to be strongly related to eudaimonic well-being (PWB) as well. For instance, Schmutte and Ryff (1997) found that neuroticism, conscientiousness and extraversion are serious predictors of self-acceptance, purpose in life, and environmental mastery. On the other hand, extraversion and openness to experience proved to be strong predictors of personal growth, while agreeableness predicts positive relations with others. The discussion of underlying mechanisms explaining the way in which personality traits affect SWB and PWB exceed the purpose of this synthesis (more information on this topic may be found in e.g., Keyes et al., 2002; Ryan & Deci, 2001).

 

The ability to frequently experience positive emotions

One of the hallmarks of optimal human functioning refers to the ratio between positive and negative emotions experienced. In normal, everyday conditions, the maintenance of continuous, high-level performances (i.e., flourishing) requires an optimal ratio between positive and negative emotions amounting to 2.9:1 (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). This ratio varies depending on the nature of life conditions: in stressful situations of medium intensity, and highly stressful situations usually negative emotions are the dominant affective states. However, the capacity to simultaneously experience both positive and negative emotions, even amidst adversity seems to be one of the crucial elements of adaptation (for more see, Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, & Cacioppo, 2003).

Frequently experienced positive emotions have been found to be associated with superior mental and physical health (e.g., fewer symptoms of psychopathology: depression, hypochondriasis, schizophrenia, etc. e.g., Chang & Farrehi, 2001; better immune functioning; also, happy people are less likely to report a history of substance abuse, see Bogner, Corrigan, Mysiw, Clinchot, & Fugate, 2001), superior cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovative problem solving (Aspinwal, 2001); adaptive coping (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004), development of strong social relationships (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994), work-life balance efficiency (superior performances and productivity, better collaboration with colleagues and clients, lower absenteeism, turnover, job burnout, retaliatory behaviors, likelihood to pursue higher education; Donovan, 2000; Thorensen et al., 2003).

Recent research has evinced that in most cases, people who cannot attain optimal functioning do not necessarily experience intense, debilitating negative emotions, but are unable to activate positive ones (Fredrickson, 2001; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). In such cases, reducing negative emotions would lead only to temporary relief (feeling better). However, developing skills and strengths, which would activate an up-ward spiral of positive emotions might promote getting better. Assisting people to acquire skills would help them develop a set of resources by which they would be able to adapt efficiently to future challenges and threats on their own and attain optimal functioning in the long run. In the same time, in these cases, the development of strengths is much easier, more cost effective and has better and longer results than the reduction of negative affects. Being happy not only feels good, but it is also associated with (and often precedes) successful outcomes in all life domains (Lyubomirsky & Della Porta, 2010).

Recent research has shown that a person’s ability to frequently experience positive emotions and feel happy, depends on three major factors: (i) a genetically based set point (50% – which cannot be significantly affected by external influences or control), (ii) life circumstances (10% – changes do not lead to long-lasting positive effects), and (iii) intentional activities and practices (40%) (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005). Obviously, the intentional activities and practices offer the best domain in which lastingly increased well-being can be attained.

 

Emotion regulation strategies

Emotions play a crucial role in human life: they do not only inform about the person’s overall functioning, but also are necessary elements which confer ‘flavor’ to the human existence (Denollet, Nyklíček, & Vingerhoets, 2008). Beyond their role played in the survival of human evolution, emotions are strongly involved in all kinds of adaptation (Bechara, Damasio, & Damasio, 2000). An appropriately balanced emotional life may sustain optimal human functioning. Emotions may not only be categorized based on their valance (positive or negative), but more efficiently on their function – if they lead to successful adaptation we speak about functional emotions, and dysfunctional emotions when they lead to maladaptation. This categorization of emotions brings into question the issue of emotional experience (what the person experiences), and the regulation of the emotional experience in a way that would promote (or not) adaptation – i.e., emotion regulation. Unfortunately, one of the critical problems the general population faces is that people try to reduce negative emotions and induce positive ones without taking into consideration their context-dependent adaptive nature (i.e., functional or dysfunctional).

Resuming, the optimal balance between adaptive positive and adaptive negative emotions is associated with indicators of superior mental, physical health, positive social relationships, healthy behaviors, lower levels of stress, lower accident and suicide rates, adaptive coping, etc. (Wedekind, Moller, & Scholz, 2006.). One of the difficulties is represented by the fact that people who cannot reach optimal functioning (i. e., flourishing) are not easily identified, and even if they know that their do not function at their best, they do not know how to efficiently solve such problems. Even if their disfunctionality is not clinically significant, they may considerably benefit from interventions that intend to optimize their life (e.g., counseling, coaching).

Summing up, we may say that SWB and PWB address different features of what it means to be and live well (Keyes et al., 2002). While SWB examines global evaluations of positive affect and quality of life, PWB examines perceived thriving vis-à-vis the existential challenges of life (pursuing of meaningful goals, growing and developing as a person, establish quality ties with others). On the other hand, just as positive affect is not the opposite of negative affect (Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, & Cacioppo, 2003), well-being is not the absence of mental illness (Ryan & Deci, 2001, p. 142). Since people live in objectively defined environments, it is their subjectively defined worlds that they respond to. Consequently, SWB is a relevant index of people’s life quality (Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976).

Recent data, published by the Romanian Research Institute of Quality of Life, based on a nationally representative sample (ICCV, 2010) evinced a serious decline in the well-being and the deterioration of the quality of several life domains in Romanian adults. Our study has two major objectives. Firstly, we would like to delineate a well-being profile on the demographic categories of age, gender, education, and residence. Secondly, we would like to investigate the relationships between depression, cognitive emotion regulation strategies, and well-being.

 

Method

 

Participants

The present study was conducted in spring 2010, and included 959 participants from the general population (624 female and 335 male), living in 6 counties in Romania. Ages ranged from 24 to 65 (mean age for female participants 39.90, SD = 8.95; mean age for male participants 40.48 with SD = 9.09). Before completing the questionnaires, all participants have given their verbal consent to participate in the study. 703 of the participants reside in urban and 252 in rural areas. Levels of education varied from elementary school to superior education. All participants included in this study were employed at the time of assessment, and none of them suffered from any form of severe or debilitating illness. After agreeing to voluntarily participate at the study, participants were assessed individually in a single session which lasted approximately 60 minutes.

 

Measures

Depression was measured with the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI, Beck et al., 1979). The BDI is a 21-item, multiple-choice format inventory, designed to measure the presence of depression in adults and adolescents. Each of the 21 items assesses a symptom or attitude specific to depression, inquiring its somatic, cognitive and behavioral aspects. By its assessments, single scores are produced, which indicate the intensity of the depressive episode. Scores ranging from 0 to 9, represent normal levels of depression. Scores situated between 10 and 18 represent mild to moderate depression; values between 19 and 29 represent moderate to severe depression, while scores above the value of 30 represent severe depression.  Internal consistency indices of the BDI are usually above .90.

Emotion regulation strategies were measured by the Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ) (Garnefski, Kraaij, & Spinhoven, 2002). The CERQ is a self-report questionnaire designed to measure cognitive coping strategies, assessing what people think after confronting specific negative events, or to assess the way people generally react after confronting negative events. The scale is comprised of nine sub-scales: self-blame, acceptance, rumination, positive refocusing, refocus on planning, positive reappraisal, putting into perspective, catastrophizing, other-blame, each subscale containing four items. Subjects have to indicate on a five-point scale (almost never – to – almost always) the frequency they use the specific cognitive strategy. The internal consistency of the original subscales for adult population ranges from .75 to .86.

Psychological well-being was measured by the 84-item scale developed by Ryff (1989). This scale has 6, 14-item subscales measuring the basic components of eudaimonic well-being: self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth. Items are assessed along a 6-point scale, 1 = total agreement, and 6 = total disagreement. The psychometric properties of the Romanian translation are satisfactory. On each sub-scale high scores mean high WB, while low scores mean low levels of psychological well-being. Cronbach’s α indices for the Romanian translation of this scale are:

 

 

Subscale α Subscale α
Self-acceptance .88 Environmental mastery .85
Positive relations with others .84 Purpose in life .81
Autonomy .80 Personal growth .82

 

 

Results

 

The presentation of demographic variable-dependent trends in WB is a habitual inquiry in the literature (see for e.g., Ryff, 1989; Diener et al., 1999). Consequently, in the first phase of our investigation, we will present age and gender dependent variations in WB. Thus, we divided our participants into two major age groups: in group 1 were included adults with ages ranging between 24 and 39 years, while in group 2 adults aged 40 to 65. Figures 1, 2, and Table 1 present trends in WB, depending on age and gender.

Our results show different patterns in WB for male and female participants, depending on age. Thus, it seems that in the case of male participants, with the exception of Positive Relations with Others, there is a slight increase in WB with age. In other words, male participants over 40 years of age seem to have higher levels of well-being on the other five subscales measuring WB. However, none of these differences between male participants proved to be significant.

 

Figure 1. Variations with age in WB among male participants

Figure 1. Variations with age in WB among male participants

In the case of female participants, WB seems to degrease with age (see Figure 2), except Autonomy, which presents similar levels in both groups.

Figure 2. Variations with age in WB among female participants

Figure 2. Variations with age in WB among female participants

In the case of female participants, significant differences were found in Personal Growth (t=4.13, p<.00, Cohen’s d=.45), Positive Relations with Others (t=2.27, p<.05, Cohen’s d=.25), and Self-Acceptance (t=2.35, p=.01, Cohen’s d=.26), however, effect sizes except Personal Growth are small.

 

 

Table 1. Differences in WB between age-groups in male and female participants

 

WB scales

N/age groups

Mean

St.dev.

t

Sig.

Cohen’s d

Female Personal Growth 1 = 3222 = 279

65.22

61.54

11.38

10.25

4.13

.00

.45

Positive Relationswith others 1 = 3222 = 279

63.95

61.87

11.62

10.74

2.27

.02

.25

Self acceptance 1 = 3222 = 279

63.17

60.70

13.77

11.62

2.35

.01

.26

 

Considering age groups, our investigation has not found significant differences between male and female participants in the age range of 24-39 years. Nevertheless, in the age category of 40+ we have found that male participants have significantly higher levels of WB than female participants on several subscales (see Table 2), although effect sizes for all differences are small.

 

 

Table 2. Differences in WB between male and female participants in the age group of 40+

 

WB scales

N/

gender

Mean

St.dev.

t

Sig.

Cohen’s d

40+ Autonomy m =156f = 279

62.60

60.06

10.08

10.63

2.48

.01

0.23

Environmental mastery m =156f = 279

63.59

61.07

11.78

10.43

2.30

.02

0.22

Personal Growth m =156f = 279

64.16

61.54

11.01

10.25

2.48

.01

0.23

Purpose in life m =156f = 279

63.34

61.03

11.05

10.05

2.22

.02

0.21

Self acceptance m =156f = 279

63.60

60.70

11.49

11.62

2.51

.01

0.24

 

 

Variations in well-being depending on levels of education and gender are presented in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3. Variations in WB depending on levels of education among male participants

Figure 3. Variations in WB depending on levels of education among male participants

Even if significant differences were found in Personal Growth among male participants with different levels of education (F[2,322] = 4.39 at p<.01), the effect size of these differences is very small (partial η2 = .02)

Figure 4. Variations in WB depending on levels of education among female participants

Figure 4. Variations in WB depending on levels of education among female participants

The situation is similar among female participants. There is a tendency in well-being to increase with education (see Table 3).

Table 3. Differences in Well-Being between different levels of education among female participants

 

WB scales

N/age groups

Mean

St.dev.

F

Sig.

Partial η2

Female Autonomy 1 = 672 = 2203 = 314

57.64

58.86

61.42

9.44

11.06

11.37

5.26

.00                   .01
EnvironmentalMastery 1 = 672 = 2203 = 314

57.85

59.96

62.96

9.27

11.21

11.39

8.33

.00                   .02
Personal Growth 1 = 672 = 2203 = 314

56.94

61.31

66.46

9.04

10.84

10.58

30.14

.00

           .09

Positive Relations withOthers 1 = 672 = 2203 = 314

59.16

61.61

64.76

9.81

11.06

11.38

9.67

.00

           .03

Purpose in life 1 = 672 = 2203 = 314

57.19

59.76

63.77

9.75

11.17

10.54

15.39

.00                   .04
Self acceptance 1 = 672 = 2203 = 314

56.58

59.78

64.76

11.27

12.47

12.82

17.30

.00

          .05

The Bonferroni correction revealed significant differences, however, effects sizes are small (values of partial η2 varying between .01 and .05), with the exception of Personal Growth, where the effect size of the differences is medium (partial η2 = .09) (values of partial η2 were referred to the values established by Cohen, 1988).

Regarding differences in WB depending on residence (rural or urban), which would presume differences based on cultural and social specificities, our inquiry has found significant differences only in Autonomy (t = 2.42, at p <.05, Cohen’s d = 0.15) and Personal Growth (t = 2.58, at p <.01, Cohen’s d = 0.17), namely, those individuals who reside in urban area report significantly higher levels of Autonomy and Personal Growth than those living in rural areas. However, as seen, the effect sizes of these differences are very small.

Literature has repeatedly reiterated the fact that depression seriously affects well being. In order to illustrate the same effects depression has on WB in the present Romanian sample, we decided to divide our participants in two groups, based on their results on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). In the first group were included those who obtained scores above 18 (meaning moderate and severe symptoms of depression), and in the second group those who scored below 18 (meaning normal and mild symptoms of depression). Our results are presented in Table 4.

 

Table 4. Differences in Well-Being depending on levels of depression

 

WB scales

N/age groups

Mean

St.dev.

t

Sig.

Cohen’s d

Autonomy

1 = 107

2 = 819

54.10

61.74

11.58

10.62

-6.91

.00

.45

EnvironmentalMastery

1 = 107

2 = 819

50.22

63.41

9.40

10.72

-12.12

.00

.79

Personal Growth

1 = 107

2 = 819

56.57

64.53

10.30

10.70

-7.27

.00

.47

Positive Relations withOthers

1 = 107

2 = 819

52.90

64.15

10.48

10.75

-10.20

.00

.67

Purpose in life

1 = 107

2 = 819

50.01

63.42

9.56

10.05

-13.04

.00

.85

Self acceptance

1 = 107

2 = 819

47.55

64.46

10.04

11.23

-14.81

.00

.97

 

As seen in Table 3, there are significant differences in all domains of WB depending on levels of depression. Participants with moderate and severe depression report significantly lower levels of WB, these differences attaining medium and large effect sizes.

As we have delineated in the theoretical part of this investigation, the habitual use of specific emotion regulation strategies are associated with different domains of WB. Our investigation has evinced specific patterns of correlation between the subscales of WB and cognitive emotion regulation strategies (see Table 5).

 

Table 5. Correlations between emotion regulation strategies, WB, and depression

 

WB

CERQ

Autonomy

Env.

Mastery

Personal Growth

Positive Relations

Purpose in life

Self accept.

BDI

Self-blame

-.14**

-.14**

-.02

-.12**

-.12**

-.21**

.38**

Acceptance

-.04

-.05

.33

-.00

-.03

-.04

.20**

Rumination

-.13**

-.11**

-.00

-.07*

-.08*

-.13**

.30**

Positive refocusing

.11**

.17**

13**

.13**

.13**

.19**

.00

Refocus on planning

.20**

.28**

.32**

.22**

.32**

.27**

-.04

Positive reappraisal

.22**

.34**

.39**

.29**

.35**

.35**

-.09**

Putting into perspective

.06*

.12**

.17**

.16**

.13**

.13**

.01

Catastrophizing

-.39**

-.37**

-.37**

-.39**

-.38**

-.42**

.47**

Other blame

-.24**

-.27**

-.28**

-.30**

-.29**

-.29**

.36**

BDI

-.31**

-.47**

-.33**

-.42**

-.47**

-.52**

1

Note: *p < .01, ** p < .00

 

As Table 5 suggests, all other emotion regulation strategies are significantly correlated with the subdimensions of WB, except Acceptance. Self-blame, Rumination, Catastrophizing, and Other Blame are all negatively associated with WB, while adaptive emotion regulation strategies as Positive Refocusing, Refocus on Planning, Positive Reappraisal, and Putting into Perspective present a positive correlation pattern.

 

Discussion and conclusions

 

One of the major purposes of this paper was to investigate patterns of WB in Romanian adults, and evince the most relevant demographic and intrapersonal variables related to WB. As can be seen that gender, age, and education may influence one’s perception of personal independence, capacity to exert reasonable control over the proximal environment, feelings of continuous personal development, ability to maintain functional and trusting relationships with others, find meaning for one’s life, in past and future, and maintain a positive attitude towards one’s own person. Our results show that in case of the male participants, the older generation (40+) presents higher levels of WB than younger males. Even if the difference between absolute values is small, the results still reflect a pattern which cannot be found in the case of female participants. The WB of females above 40 years of age is significantly lower than that of the younger generation’s. The lack of differences in WB among younger male and female participants (24-39) may reflect a homogenization in the types of events people are presently exposed to, the more active participation of women in work-life, more access to intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, internalization of similar value-systems, etc. These results may also reflect that the older generation maintains more consistently traditional role attributions based on gender differences.

Regarding education, our results are consistent with the trends presented in the mainstream literature, where education may be a significant contributor to WB. Both in male and female participants, education, the access to information, etc. may contribute to the attainment of higher levels of WB. Based on our results one can see that the area of WB that is most affected by education is Personal Growth and Self-Acceptance. It seems that education and the social position attained through it might be an important factor that facilitates personal development, offers the possibility to attain one’s potential, improve one’s self and behavior in time, etc. Further on, these factors may also enhance one’s self-acceptance.

Further on we have seen that residence has a very little effect on only two dimensions of WB – Autonomy and Personal Growth. It appears that urban environment offers more possibilities for personal development, and also enhances the ability to withstand social pressure, and not conform to traditional behavioral and emotional prescriptions specific to rural areas.

Even if we have observed these variations in WB depending on demographic variables, most of these factors are to certain degree beyond the possibility of volitional intervention (age, gender). Although one could decide to dedicate more time to education (we have seen that those who have higher levels of education also present higher levels of WB), or change residence (move from rural areas to an urban environment which possesses more means through which one may attain higher levels of WB) drastic enhancements in WB are less likely to occur.

Further on we investigated the relationship between depressive symptoms, emotion regulation strategies, and WB. We have seen that all dimensions of WB are seriously affected in those participants whose depressive symptomatology exceeds moderate levels. On the other hand, we have found relatively strong positive correlations between Self-Blame, Rumination, Catastrophizing, and Other Blame. Similarly, a strong, negative association pattern exists between depressive symptoms and all the dimensions of WB. Interestingly, the only conscious cognitive emotion regulation strategy that presents no correlation pattern with any dimension of WB is Acceptance. This strategy is also positively associated with depression, which may suggest that even if the person accepts the situation, its occurrence still continues to have a negative impact on the person’s affective states. These relations highlight again the importance of emotion regulation strategies in both the development of mental health problems, as well as the reduction of well-being. The importance of the identification of this association becomes even more important considering that contrary to demographic variables, emotion regulation strategies may be successfully changed, so that to enhance the possibility of adaptation.

These association patterns may assist professionals in the development of prevention and intervention programs that target the enhancement of well-being in both the general population, as well as individuals already experiencing high levels of depression.

Unfortunately, being a cross-sectional assessment study, we cannot establish a causal pathway among variables. We can only develop further suppositions regarding the multidimensional relationships between variables, which will more thoroughly be tested in future studies.

Acknowledgement

This paper was supported by the Grant CNCSIS-Ideas No. 2440 from the National University Research Council of Romania, awarded to prof. Mircea Miclea.

 

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Éva KÁLLAY * & Gabriel VONAS

Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

 

Abstract

Attaining well-being (WB) may be a serious goal in life. In the same time, characteristics of well-being may be indices of how well a person can live his/her life. The major aim of the present paper is to evince the main characteristics of well being in a sample of Romanian adults. We have found that both certain demographic variables (age, gender, education, residence) and intrapersonal characteristics (conscious cognitive emotion regulation strategies) may have an impact on WB. These findings may be useful in outlining guidelines for interventions that target the enhancement of quality of life and well-being.

Keywords:hedonic well-being, eudaimonic well-being, depression, cognitive emotion regulation strategies

 


Introduction

 

Presently, adult life is forced to face an increasing number of challenges (Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 2006). Continuity and stability, characteristic to the past, have been replaced by continuous changes in the domains of social, cultural, technological and political life. These changes have infused the realm of personal life, too. Thus, one of the major problems humans face at the moment is how to adapt and adjust to this discontinuity efficiently, how to attain and maintain optimal functioning. “Those who do not master adaptation are likely to find themselves trapped into obsolescence as the world continues to change around them” (Bateson, 1989, as cited in Goodman et al., 2006, p. 3).

Massive changes in life conditions, in the structure of work-life, impending financial insecurity, shifts in basic value systems, numerous daily hassles, highly stressful encounters may all have a profound impact on the individual’s overall capacity to adapt efficiently. Depending on the interplay between intra- and extra-individual (contextual) factors, successful adaptation leads to flourishing (optimal functioning) (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005), while unsuccessful adaptation to languishing (emptiness and stagnation, elevated levels of negative emotions, low levels of positive emotions, Keyes, 2008), and severe maladaptation to physical and psychological disorders (Levenson, 2005).

Unfortunately, the number of persons who cannot keep up with these rapid changes, successfully adapt and lead an optimally functional life is constantly increasing. This tendency is most strikingly reflected by the alarming growth in the percentage of those who develop clinically diagnosable mental disorders (European Commission, 2005).

It would be reasonable to believe that the number of people who are seriously affected by the inability to adapt, but who do not develop clinically diagnosable disorders and manifest overt symptomatology is also increasing. Persons with sub-syndromal symptomatology may not be eligible to a clinical diagnosis and specialized treatment, but may still function inefficiently, at lower than optimal levels. These forms of malfunctioning may have serious costs, affecting the person’s physical, psychological, professional functioning, interpersonal relationships, the ability to maintain an optimal work-life balance, positive health, etc.

In these constantly changing life conditions the question of what constitutes a ‘well-lived life’ becomes an intriguing issue. The definition of the characteristics of “a good life” will further on orient not only personal perceptions (including back- and forward temporal comparisons) on how to lead one’s life, but also the development of governmental, educational, parenting, practices, i.e., the promotion of wellness (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

Optimal human functioning and the characteristics of a ‘good life’ have most thoroughly been investigated within the domain of well-being, treated through two major traditions: hedonic (associated with satisfaction, happiness, and the experience of positive emotions), and eudaimonic (attainment of human potential) well-being. The hedonic approach, originating in ancient Greek philosophy (esp. Aristippus of Cyrene, who proclaimed that pleasure should be the ultimate and supreme human endeavor) equates well-being with the human tendency to seek pleasure and happiness, simultaneously avoiding pain and suffering (Kahneman, Diener, & Schwartz, 1999). Recent approaches consider that hedonic well-being should not be equated only with physical pleasure – happiness may be elicited from the attainment of different goals and outcomes in different life domains (Diener, Sapyta, & Suh, 1998). 

The eudaimonic view considers that well-being transcends mere happiness, and consists in the actualization of human potential (Waterman, 1993). Aristotle for instance, disdained hedonic happiness, considering it a “vulgar ideal” (Ryan & Deci, 2001, p. 145). In his assumption, the key of real happiness is represented by one’s ability to act (live) in accordance with one’s daimon (one’s true self). According to the central message of eudaimonia, “If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us” (Aristotle, 1925, p. 263).

These two approaches depict the difference between valence and function: while hedonism promotes action in order to fulfill the human need for pleasure (positive emotional and physiological states), eudaimonism underscores that some states and outcomes, irregardless if positive, are detrimental in the promotion of authentic well-being. Briefly put, subjective perception of happiness “cannot be equated with well-being” (Ryan & Deci, 2001, p. 146). This distinction highlights the importance of the function each action and state purports: namely, weather it promotes adaptation, or is dysfunctional, by hindering it.

Recent psychological research regarding well-being mostly subscribes to one of the above-mentioned approaches. Diener’s research team repeatedly underscored the crucial importance of hedonism, of subjective perception of happiness in the concept of well-being (Diener, Sapyta, & Suh, 1998). Within hedonic psychology (Diener & Lucas, 1999), subjective well-being is conceptualized in a double temporal frame: satisfaction with life is the judgmental, ongoing assessement, while happiness (the presence of positive mood and absence of negative mood) is the emotional reflection of immediate experiences (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002).

At the present time SWB has been studies within different niches, as: (i) the result of cognitive processes (e.g., evaluation and attribution – Tversky & Griffin, 1991), (ii) components of emotional experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991), (iii) goal-related behavior (Emmons, 1996), (iv) proximal and distal effects of life events (Shmotkin & Lomranz, 1998).

On the other hand, Ryff and Singer’s research established a tendency heavily tilted towards the eudaimonic approach (e.g., 1998, 2000, 2008). These authors clearly differentiate between subjective well-being (SWB) and psychological well-being (PWB). In their conception, psychological well-being is a multidimensional construct, encompassing six specific dimensions: (i) self-acceptance, (ii) positive relations with others, (iii) autonomy, (iv) environmental mastery, (v) purpose in life, and (vi) personal growth (Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Ryff, 1989).

 

Self-acceptance. The non-judgmental acceptance of one’s self together with one’s past has been considered as one of the central aspects of mental health, self-actualization, optimal functioning, and maturity.

Positive relations with others. The ability to maintain warm, affectionate relationships with others has repeatedly been found to be both related to superior positive functioning, as well as a protective factor in adversity. Individuals able to love, feel empathy towards others, develop and maintain profound friendships, etc. proved to be able to attain much easier their potential.

Autonomy. This component of well-being refers to one’s ability to function independently of other’s approval, to regulate emotions and behavior from within, establishing personal standards and evaluating oneself towards this standard. Simultaneously, fully functional individuals detach themselves from collective norms, anguishes, standards, etc., that may harmfully limit optimal functioning.

Environmental mastery consists of the individual’s capacity to create an ‘outside world’, an external environment that would enhance his/her functioning and adaptation, and “take advantage of environmental opportunities” (Ryff, 1989, p. 1071).

Purpose in life. Finding meaning in and for one’s life has repeatedly been found to be associated with better mental functioning (Skrabski, Kopp, Rozsa, Rethelyi, & Rahe, 2005; Wong & Fry, 1998). Thus, finding or attributing a direction to one’s life would facilitate intentionality and the establishment of proximal and distal goals, thus sustaining a creative and productive life. This in turn would contribute to the maintenance of mental and physical health. 

Personal growth is the dimension that is closest to Aristotle’s eudaimonic approach to well-being. The human need to attain and realize one’s potential is a central aspect of personal development. “Optimal psychological functioning requires not only that one […] continue to develop one’s potential, to grow and expand as a person” (Ryff, 1989, p. 1071). The perception of life as a continuous process of change and adaptation to challenges, as opportunities through which one may enhance, and less as a fixed, stable situation seems to be a critical aspect of well-being.

 

The conceptual differences between the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches, developed in antiquity, have continued to influence cotemporary research as well. The different approaches and definitions of a well-lived life not only led to heated debates, but have also bifurcated research agendas regarding the causes, the dynamics and the consequences of well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2001). Those emphasizing the importance of subjective perception of happiness direct their research mostly in the direction of positive emotions (e.g., their role played in well-being, the investigation of factors inducing interidividual differences in the experiencing of positive emotions and affective states, etc.). Research based on the eudaimonic philosophy strives to identify the elements that sustain one’s striving to fulfill his/her true potential (Ryff, 1995).

Ryan and Deci’s (2000) approach, the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) combines the previously mentioned two research directions. According to SDT, the attainment of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (basic psychological needs) are pivotal conditions for the maintenance of intrinsic motivation (and psychological growth), integrity, life satisfaction and psychological health, vitality and self-congruence (for more see Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan & Fredrick, 1997). In this approach well-being transcends the simple fulfillment of desires, and is represented by optimal functioning. However, unlike Ryff and Singer’s approach, SDT autonomy, competence and positive relationships are prerequisites, and not sub-dimensions of well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

More recent investigations consider well-being as being a composite, multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing both elements of the hedonic (happiness) and eudaimonic (attaining personal potential) approaches (see e.g., King & Napa, 1998; McGregor & Little, 1998). In other words, SWB and PWB are “related but distinct aspects of positive psychological functioning” (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002, p. 1009).

Although research in these domains investigates different aspects of what constitutes a good life, the major questions refer to the identification of factors of which well-being depends on, as well as the effects of well-being on different outcomes, as health for instance. Next, we will briefly discuss the most important variables that have been found to influence well-being.

 

Demographic variables associated with happiness and well-being

 

Age

From the point of view of life-course development, the relationship between happiness, well-being and age has been found to be extremely intriguing. Even if common sense associates youth with happiness and satisfaction with life, research has proved that even if positive emotional states indeed tend to decrease with age, levels of negative affect show no significant fluctuations in time (Diener & Lucas, 2000). Regarding the eudaimonic approach, research has revealed different age-profiles in different sub-dimensions of the PWB (Ryff & Singer, 2008; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Ryff, 1989). For instance, younger adults seem to be more interested in developing self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and competence. On the other hand, older adults are more concentrated on developing abilities needed to cope positively with change. While the development and maintenance of positive relations with others and self-acceptance presented no significant differences across age groups (young, middle-aged, and old adults), the other dimensions of PWB did. Young adults presented an increased tendency for personal growth compared to older adults, while middle-aged persons more autonomy than both the other two groups. On the other hand, compared to young adults, both middle-aged and old adults presented more mastery (Ryff, 1991).

 

Wealth

Regarding money, common sense usually adopts two, apparently contradictory positions. Some consider that financial status is strongly and positively related to well-being, namely that rich people are happier than those living in precarious financial conditions. Others incline to think that “money does not bring happiness”. The truth, according to psychological research, seems to be somewhere in between. Regarding SWB and wealth, research has evinced that people living in countries with higher economic status are happier than the representatives of poorer nations (Diener & Biswas-Diener, as cited in Ryan & Deci, 2001). Several studies have found that between-nations, Gross National Product per capita presents a .50 positive correlation with life satisfaction (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995; Diener, Sandvik, Seidlitz, & Diener, 1993). However, these strong positive correlations cannot exclusively be attributed to better financial status; financially more powerful countries have further attributes that may indirectly enhance well-being (Diener et al., 1999).

On the other hand, within economically powerful nations, further increases in national wealth present no modification in SWB (Ryan & Deci, 2001; Diener et al., 1993). In rich nations, wealthy people are only little more happier than poorer people (e.g., Diener et al., 1999). An interesting finding though was related to the desire of getting richer. Irregardless of current financial status, those who covet more money and wealth seem to be unhappier. 

            From the eudaimonic point of view, people who favor material realizations in the detriment of personal growth, positive relations with others, etc., would experience lower well-being (Kasser & Ryan, 1996; 1993). This approach does by no means suggest that money would not be necessary for survival. It only underscores that increases in wealth beyond the poverty level (fulfilled basic financial needs) do not significantly increase well-being. However, trying to attain personal potential and fulfillment would seriously contribute to the enhancement of well-being. Cross cultural comparisons (Diener, Lucas, & Oishi, 2002; Schmuck, Kasser, & Ryan, 2000) evinced that focus on material goals has been found to lower PWB both in wealthy (USA, Germany, etc.) as well as poor countries (India, Russia, etc.). Moreover, studies also revealed that the tendency to fulfill intrinsic goals has a stronger positive impact on well-being than the attempt to enhance financial status (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

            Summing up, excessive preoccupation with the acquisition of financial goods does not seem to predict increases in either happiness or well-being. Money is necessary for maintaining a decent life, but attributing excessive importance to economic development, and striving to gain money exceeding a certain threshold, may have a negative impact on eudaimonic well-being.

 

Educational level

Education has been found to be strongly positively related especially to PWB (Ryff & Singer, 2008). Strongest associations have been found between personal growth, purpose in life, and education. Results show that young adults with lower levels of education seem to have low SWB and PSW (Keyes et al., 2002).

 

 


Intrapersonal variables associated with happiness and well-being

 

Personality

Research has allotted significant effort for identifying the characteristics of those who are most likely to live a happy life and constantly experience high levels of well-being. Massive research sustains that personality is a reliable predictor of SWB (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). Thus, several studies have found strong associations between different personality traits and well-being. For instance, extraversion and agreeableness are positively associated with happiness and SWB, while neuroticism shows negative correlation (e.g., Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002; Diener et al., 1999; DeNeve & Cooper, 1998).

            Personality was found to be strongly related to eudaimonic well-being (PWB) as well. For instance, Schmutte and Ryff (1997) found that neuroticism, conscientiousness and extraversion are serious predictors of self-acceptance, purpose in life, and environmental mastery. On the other hand, extraversion and openness to experience proved to be strong predictors of personal growth, while agreeableness predicts positive relations with others. The discussion of underlying mechanisms explaining the way in which personality traits affect SWB and PWB exceed the purpose of this synthesis (more information on this topic may be found in e.g., Keyes et al., 2002; Ryan & Deci, 2001).

 

The ability to frequently experience positive emotions

One of the hallmarks of optimal human functioning refers to the ratio between positive and negative emotions experienced. In normal, everyday conditions, the maintenance of continuous, high-level performances (i.e., flourishing) requires an optimal ratio between positive and negative emotions amounting to 2.9:1 (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). This ratio varies depending on the nature of life conditions: in stressful situations of medium intensity, and highly stressful situations usually negative emotions are the dominant affective states. However, the capacity to simultaneously experience both positive and negative emotions, even amidst adversity seems to be one of the crucial elements of adaptation (for more see, Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, & Cacioppo, 2003).

Frequently experienced positive emotions have been found to be associated with superior mental and physical health (e.g., fewer symptoms of psychopathology: depression, hypochondriasis, schizophrenia, etc. e.g., Chang & Farrehi, 2001; better immune functioning; also, happy people are less likely to report a history of substance abuse, see Bogner, Corrigan, Mysiw, Clinchot, & Fugate, 2001), superior cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovative problem solving (Aspinwal, 2001); adaptive coping (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004), development of strong social relationships (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994), work-life balance efficiency (superior performances and productivity, better collaboration with colleagues and clients, lower absenteeism, turnover, job burnout, retaliatory behaviors, likelihood to pursue higher education; Donovan, 2000; Thorensen et al., 2003).

Recent research has evinced that in most cases, people who cannot attain optimal functioning do not necessarily experience intense, debilitating negative emotions, but are unable to activate positive ones (Fredrickson, 2001; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). In such cases, reducing negative emotions would lead only to temporary relief (feeling better). However, developing skills and strengths, which would activate an up-ward spiral of positive emotions might promote getting better. Assisting people to acquire skills would help them develop a set of resources by which they would be able to adapt efficiently to future challenges and threats on their own and attain optimal functioning in the long run. In the same time, in these cases, the development of strengths is much easier, more cost effective and has better and longer results than the reduction of negative affects. Being happy not only feels good, but it is also associated with (and often precedes) successful outcomes in all life domains (Lyubomirsky & Della Porta, 2010).

Recent research has shown that a person’s ability to frequently experience positive emotions and feel happy, depends on three major factors: (i) a genetically based set point (50% – which cannot be significantly affected by external influences or control), (ii) life circumstances (10% – changes do not lead to long-lasting positive effects), and (iii) intentional activities and practices (40%) (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005). Obviously, the intentional activities and practices offer the best domain in which lastingly increased well-being can be attained.

 

Emotion regulation strategies

Emotions play a crucial role in human life: they do not only inform about the person’s overall functioning, but also are necessary elements which confer ‘flavor’ to the human existence (Denollet, Nyklíček, & Vingerhoets, 2008). Beyond their role played in the survival of human evolution, emotions are strongly involved in all kinds of adaptation (Bechara, Damasio, & Damasio, 2000). An appropriately balanced emotional life may sustain optimal human functioning. Emotions may not only be categorized based on their valance (positive or negative), but more efficiently on their function – if they lead to successful adaptation we speak about functional emotions, and dysfunctional emotions when they lead to maladaptation. This categorization of emotions brings into question the issue of emotional experience (what the person experiences), and the regulation of the emotional experience in a way that would promote (or not) adaptation – i.e., emotion regulation. Unfortunately, one of the critical problems the general population faces is that people try to reduce negative emotions and induce positive ones without taking into consideration their context-dependent adaptive nature (i.e., functional or dysfunctional).

            Resuming, the optimal balance between adaptive positive and adaptive negative emotions is associated with indicators of superior mental, physical health, positive social relationships, healthy behaviors, lower levels of stress, lower accident and suicide rates, adaptive coping, etc. (Wedekind, Moller, & Scholz, 2006.). One of the difficulties is represented by the fact that people who cannot reach optimal functioning (i. e., flourishing) are not easily identified, and even if they know that their do not function at their best, they do not know how to efficiently solve such problems. Even if their disfunctionality is not clinically significant, they may considerably benefit from interventions that intend to optimize their life (e.g., counseling, coaching).

Summing up, we may say that SWB and PWB address different features of what it means to be and live well (Keyes et al., 2002). While SWB examines global evaluations of positive affect and quality of life, PWB examines perceived thriving vis-à-vis the existential challenges of life (pursuing of meaningful goals, growing and developing as a person, establish quality ties with others). On the other hand, just as positive affect is not the opposite of negative affect (Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, & Cacioppo, 2003), well-being is not the absence of mental illness (Ryan & Deci, 2001, p. 142). Since people live in objectively defined environments, it is their subjectively defined worlds that they respond to. Consequently, SWB is a relevant index of people’s life quality (Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976).

Recent data, published by the Romanian Research Institute of Quality of Life, based on a nationally representative sample (ICCV, 2010) evinced a serious decline in the well-being and the deterioration of the quality of several life domains in Romanian adults. Our study has two major objectives. Firstly, we would like to delineate a well-being profile on the demographic categories of age, gender, education, and residence. Secondly, we would like to investigate the relationships between depression, cognitive emotion regulation strategies, and well-being.

 

Method

 

Participants

The present study was conducted in spring 2010, and included 959 participants from the general population (624 female and 335 male), living in 6 counties in Romania. Ages ranged from 24 to 65 (mean age for female participants 39.90, SD = 8.95; mean age for male participants 40.48 with SD = 9.09). Before completing the questionnaires, all participants have given their verbal consent to participate in the study. 703 of the participants reside in urban and 252 in rural areas.Levels of education varied from elementary school to superior education. All participants included in this study were employed at the time of assessment, and none of them suffered from any form of severe or debilitating illness. After agreeing to voluntarily participate at the study, participants were assessed individually in a single session which lasted approximately 60 minutes.

 

Measures

Depression was measured with the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI, Beck et al., 1979). The BDI is a 21-item, multiple-choice format inventory, designed to measure the presence of depression in adults and adolescents. Each of the 21 items assesses a symptom or attitude specific to depression, inquiring its somatic, cognitive and behavioral aspects. By its assessments, single scores are produced, which indicate the intensity of the depressive episode. Scores ranging from 0 to 9, represent normal levels of depression. Scores situated between 10 and 18 represent mild to moderate depression; values between 19 and 29 represent moderate to severe depression, while scores above the value of 30 represent severe depression.  Internal consistency indices of the BDI are usually above .90.

Emotion regulation strategies were measured by the Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ) (Garnefski, Kraaij, & Spinhoven, 2002). The CERQ is a self-report questionnaire designed to measure cognitive coping strategies, assessing what people think after confronting specific negative events, or to assess the way people generally react after confronting negative events. The scale is comprised of nine sub-scales: self-blame, acceptance, rumination, positive refocusing, refocus on planning, positive reappraisal, putting into perspective, catastrophizing, other-blame, each subscale containing four items. Subjects have to indicate on a five-point scale (almost never – to – almost always) the frequency they use the specific cognitive strategy. The internal consistency of the original subscales for adult population ranges from .75 to .86.

Psychological well-being was measured by the 84-item scale developed by Ryff (1989). This scale has 6, 14-item subscales measuring the basic components of eudaimonic well-being: self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth. Items are assessed along a 6-point scale, 1 = total agreement, and 6 = total disagreement. The psychometric properties of the Romanian translation are satisfactory. On each sub-scale high scores mean high WB, while low scores mean low levels of psychological well-being. Cronbach’s α indices for the Romanian translation of this scale are:

 

 

Subscale

α

Subscale

α

Self-acceptance

.88

Environmental mastery

.85

Positive relations with others

.84

Purpose in life

.81

Autonomy

.80

Personal growth

.82

 

 

Results

 

The presentation of demographic variable-dependent trends in WB is a habitual inquiry in the literature (see for e.g., Ryff, 1989; Diener et al., 1999). Consequently, in the first phase of our investigation, we will present age and gender dependent variations in WB. Thus, we divided our participants into two major age groups: in group 1 were included adults with ages ranging between 24 and 39 years, while in group 2 adults aged 40 to 65. Figures 1, 2, and Table 1 present trends in WB, depending on age and gender.

Our results show different patterns in WB for male and female participants, depending on age. Thus, it seems that in the case of male participants, with the exception of Positive Relations with Others, there is a slight increase in WB with age. In other words, male participants over 40 years of age seem to have higher levels of well-being on the other five subscales measuring WB. However, none of these differences between male participants proved to be significant.

 

 


* Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to:

E-mail: evakallay@psychology.ro 

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