Competence, Self-Esteem Keys to Happiness
By Charnicia E. Huggins
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Fame and fortune might be appealing, but new study findings suggest that they do little to fulfill one's psychological needs. Competence and autonomy, on the other hand, are essential in the pursuit of happiness, researchers say.
"People aren't very satisfied by money, luxury, popularity, and influence, even when they get them,'' study author Dr. Kennon M. Sheldon, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, told Reuters Health.
"What really does it for people is engagement in self-chosen or personally meaningful activities (autonomy), in which they are reasonably effective or skillful (competence), and which also permit them to connect with or contribute to others (relatedness).''
In two separate studies, Sheldon and his colleagues tried to find the basis of happiness by asking groups of students to describe the "single most personally satisfying event'' they experienced during the previous month and week.
One of the studies included a comparison between a group of American students and a group of students from South Korea.
Study results, published in the February issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, show that the students consistently identified self-esteem, relatedness, autonomy, and competence as the top four elements key to satisfying experiences.
The South Korean students ordered the qualities differently, being more likely than the American students to place relatedness at the top of their list of psychological needs.
Certain needs may be "universal to humans in general, but the relative salience that people place on them depends on the extent to which their cultures encourage and support those needs,'' Sheldon and his team explain.
In a third study, Sheldon's group asked students to identify their most unsatisfying event experienced during a semester. One example of an unsatisfying event was a student who "broke up with a girlfriend of 2 years, 8 months.''
Similar to the results of the first two studies, the students responded with descriptions of events that did not meet their self-esteem, relatedness, autonomy, and competence needs, the report indicates.
In all three of the studies students rated money or luxury as least important to achieving personal satisfaction--ie. happiness, the authors note.
"People KNOW that money and notoriety aren't 'it,''' Sheldon said. "That's why we all recognize it when we hear it, why it seems to make so much sense.''
"But we forget,'' he said. "We forget to check in with ourselves, to feel what's really important, what's right, what's real (a capacity we all have).''
To help individuals prioritize their psychological needs, Sheldon offers the following advice:
"Step back and ask yourself ''how am I feeling, is what I'm doing meaningful to me, right now?''
"If the answer is 'no,' make changes,'' he suggested.