Self-determined Well-being Across Society

We can all think of people who seem determined to achieve something, be it determination to paint a portrait well, or merely to get to work on time. Whatever the task, some people seem to have a vigour for getting it done, and getting it done well. This is the basis of what is called “Self-determination Theory” by Ed Deci and Richard Ryan. 

In 2002, these researchers noted that:

‘…all individuals have natural, innate, and constructive tendencies to develop an ever more elaborated and unified sense of self’. 

Pages 7 and 8 of the same paper state the prevalent aspects to the theory. The developmental process at the core of Self-determination Theory is that humans have innate psychological needs. They specify that these three universal psychological needs are: ‘competence’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘relatedness’.

Competence is ‘feeling effective in one’s on-going interactions with the social environment and experiencing opportunities to exercise and express one’s capacities’. 

Autonomy  is ‘being the perceived origin or source of one’s own behaviour’.

Relatedness is ‘feeling connected to others, plus caring for, and being cared for, by those others; having a sense of belongingness, both with other individuals, and with one’s community’.

On reflection, we can probably all recognize these needs in ourselves.

Dan Pink, as a self-confessed lawyer (who also confesses to not being not very good at that profession) has, nonetheless created something of a niche for himself talking about motivation and success, including how these come from a sense of ‘mastery‘, ‘autonomy‘ and ‘purpose‘ – primarily, the same things that Deci and Ryan talk about.

As for well-being, there are two classifications for gaining it: hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic has a sense of ‘wildness’ about it, and it is fundamentally about us doing what makes us feel good. As such, it tends to be about short-term gratification. For a longer-term sense of well-being, eudaimonic well-being is favoured. But what is that? 

The prefix ‘eu’ means ‘good’ and the ‘daimon’ was originally a Greek concept that a spirit from the Gods entered a person and gave them the urge and the ability to do certain things, especially creative things. Well-being comes from contemplation and the generation of ideas. Studies of Greek bakers in the 1970s noted that they were not so enamoured with their work activity, but were proud and pleased with the unity of purpose that they all had. It bound them together as a community. By the 1990s, however, with automation rife, that unity of purpose and the sharing of activities had been lost. This will become ever more prevalent in the forthcoming years, many jobs disappearing altogether, mainly due to technology.

Hence, the examples given by Dan Pink (and other writers) of companies giving special days for employees to explore and create for themselves, workers merely having to give feedback on what they achieve each ‘free-day’, seems the way forward for heightening a sense of well-being. As such, it is important for workers and employers to encourage autonomy, mastery and to impart a clear sense of purpose, for then humanity will develop, along with a sense of well-being, across the whole of society. 


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