The Structure of Psychological Well-Being — before PERMA

Torbogen_Kirche_kleinWhen talking about the “grand design” of psychological wellbeing these days, most people (at least implicitly) refer to Seligman’s PERMA framework, comprised of the building blocks: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. You might also find people who add another letter for vitality, resulting in PERMA-V.

Of course, Seligman’s outline wasn’t the first attempt at developing a “theory of everything” with regard to psychological well-being.

Between 15 to 20 years before the introduction of the PERMA framework, researchers Carol Ryff and Corey Keyes presented a data-driven model that is comprised of 6 dimensions (here’s the link to one of the original papers: The structure of psychological well-being revisited): self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth.

Quite obviously, there’s a lot of overlap between the two frameworks, but also subtle differences.

To me, one very interesting feature of the Ryff/Keyes model is the idea that well-being is a higher-order entity. They were able to show statistically there’s a kind of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”-effect in the data. The idea is that psychological well-being exists as a single factor on the meta-level, where the whole has more meaning than the parts – kind of like looking at a house creates more meaning than looking at bricks, a door, and windows separately.

Here are the six factors of the Ryff/Keyes model in the original words of the researchers:

Self-Acceptance

High scorer: possesses a positive attitude toward the self; acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects ofself, including good and bad qualities; feels positive about past life.

Low scorer: feels dissatisfied with self, is disappointed with what has occurred in past life, is troubled about certain personal qualities, wishes to be different than what he or she is.

Positive Relations With Others

High scorer: has warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; understands give and take of human relationships.

Low scorer: has few close, trusting relationships with others; finds it difficult to be warm, open, and concerned about others; is isolated and frustrated in interpersonal relationships; not willing to make compromises to sustain important ties with others. 

Autonomy

High scorer: is self-determining and independent, able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways, regulates behavior from within, evaluates self by personal standards.

Low scorer: is concerned about the expectations and evaluations of others, relies on judgments of others to make important decisions, conforms to social pressures to think and act in certain ways.

Environmental Mastery

High scorer: has a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment, controls complex array of external activities, makes effective use of surrounding opportunities, able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values.

Low scorer, has difficulty managing everyday affairs, feels unable to change or improve surrounding context, is unaware of surrounding opportunities, lacks sense of control over external world.

Purpose in Life

High scorer: has goals in life and a sense of directedness, feels there is meaning to present and past life, holds beliefs that give life purpose, has aims and objectives for living.

Low scorer: lacks a sense of meaning in life; has few goals or aims, lacks sense of direction; does not see purpose in past life; has no outlooks or beliefs that give life meaning.

Personal Growth

High scorer: has a feeling of continued development, sees self as growing and expanding, is open to new experiences, has sense of realizing his or her potential, sees improvement in self and behavior over time, is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness.

Low scorer: has a sense of personal stagnation, lacks sense of improvement or expansion over time, feels bored and uninterested with life, feels unable to develop new attitudes or behaviors.

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