Dr. Carol D. Ryff, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, speaks with science writer Karen A. Frenkel about well-being in the United States and Japan, and different attitudes towards aging. She also compares Western and Eastern types of intervention to promote well-being.
Since 1995, Dr. Ryff and her Wisconsin team have been studying 7,000 individuals and examining factors that influence health and well-being from middle age through old age. The study is called MIDUS (Mid-Life in the U.S. National Study of Americans). Dr. Ryff is also involved in a parallel study in Japan known as MIDJA (Midlife in Japan). A reference list of works cited is included at the end of the post.
Dr. Ryff will be discussing “Varieties of Resilience in MIDUS” at the next FPR-UCLA conference on Culture, Mind, and Brain: Emerging Concepts, Methods, and Applications, which will take place at UCLA on 19–20 October 2012. Daniel will moderate the session “Stress and Resilience” in which Dr. Ryff will speak. Greg chairs the first session, “Why Culture, Mind and Brain?” and will also speak at the end of that session. Here is the full schedule for those interested in this exciting interdisciplinary conference.
Karen A. Frenkel (KAF): How did you get interested in well-being and aging?
Carol Ryff (CR): My interest in formulating psychological well-being is traceable to my distant interest in existential, humanistic, and developmental psychology, particularly formulations about people struggling to deal with challenges they confronted in life, finding ways to manage them, if not learn from them, and deepen their sense of life meaning.
KAF: Please describe what’s meant by well-being in our culture and in Japanese culture.
CR: The topic of well-being has proliferated recently in our culture, so that there are many definitions. I’ll put forth one, but it’s certainly not the only one. The model of psychological well-being I developed was based on the integration of theories from developmental, clinical, humanistic, and existential psychology.
Six key components of well-being seem to capture what it means to function positively. One is positive self-regard, what I call “self-acceptance.” Another is having high-quality relationships with other people – “positive relationships with others.” Another is having a sense of direction in your life – “purpose in life.” Another component is feeling that you’re making the most of your talents and potential, utilizing your capacities, which I refer to as “personal growth.” Feeling you can make choices for yourself and your life even if they go against conventional wisdom is referred to as “autonomy.” The last one is managing the demands and opportunities in your environment in ways that meet your needs and capacities. We call that “environmental mastery.”