To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science asked authors of the 30 most-cited articles across all APS journals to contribute an essay about their research. 23 did. One who did was Carol Ryff (University of Wisconsin-Madison) whose work on well-being has been impetus to over 750 studies worldwide. Three of her studies (two with colleagues) have been cited by other researchers over 20,000 times.
Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia is the philosophical inspiration for Ryff’s model. I discussed eudaimonia in one of my first blogs six years ago: “While the definitions vary somewhat, most come down to a distinction between hedonic or pleasure-based well-being and eudaemonic or meaningful, purposive well-being.” Happiness is pleasure-based. Eudaimonia is about knowing yourself and becoming what you can be.
So what is Ryff’s model? Well-being has six components:
- Purpose in life: “being meaningfully engaged”
- Personal growth: realizing one’s potential
- Self-acceptance: “experiencing positive self-regard”
- Positive relations: “being connected to others”
- Autonomy: self-determining, independent
- Environmental mastery: “being capable”, competent
Ryff’s Psychological Well-Being Scale (PWB) has been subject to numerous psychometric studies, translated into other languages worldwide, and used in many research studies. While psychometricians may debate some of the finer points of scale construction (some overlap among components), the scale has high reliability and has lead to meaningful research across disciplines, especially health studies. In the workplace Ryff noted well-being studies related to “whether one was engaged in paid or unpaid work, the degree to which work was stressful, and how work life enhanced or undermined family life.”
1. I was not familiar with Ryff’s model until now. However, I am familiar with the components of the model and I have been writing about them for years directly and indirectly. Here are a few examples:
- Purpose in life - Purpose & Life Themes, On Purpose and Longevity, Christensen, Frankl, & Rychlak
- Personal growth – Maximizing Human Potential, Living a Meaningful Life, Carli Lloyd
- Self-acceptance – Self-compassion, Self-compassion Revisited
- Positive relations – Compassion & the Leader, Value of Chit-Chat
- Autonomy – Authenticity & Autonomy, Autonomy & Burnout
- Environmental mastery – Job Crafting, Letterman & Person-Job Match, Anita Emoff
2. Ryff listed several psychologists as “theoretical underpinnings” of the model, including Abraham Maslow. Having read Maslow extensively, I can relate Maslow to much of the model. His hierarchy of relative prepotency (the need hierarchy) is about growth. The higher the well-being, the more higher level needs are satisfied. Ryff’s model fits into the positive psychology/management movement as well as humanistic psychology/management.
3. So where are the practical applications? Well-being is probably related to workplace engagement. According to Gallup, only about one third of employees are actively engaged in the workplace. Over half are “not engaged” with the rest “actively disengaged.” A well-being metric might be useful in assessing psychological health of an organization, or parts thereof. Most importantly, self-assessment and understanding one’s own well-being through reflection could potentially help anyone but especially those who lead, those who set the example.
Ryff, C. (2018). Well-being with soul: science in pursuit of human potential. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 242-248.
Image, "Aristotle", by Nick Thompson. Image slightly reduced from the original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/pelegrino/6884873348 Used with permission: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2018. All rights reserved.
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