Studies on subjective well-being derive from two main
perspectives: hedonism and eudaimonism. The former emphasizes human
search for pleasure and satisfaction The latter stems from
Aristotle s concept of eudaimonia as the fulfilment of one s true
nature, that includes both self-actualization and commitment to
socially shared goals. The framework adopted in this book belongs
to the eudaimonic approach, and it is grounded in the scientific
tradition of bio-cultural studies.
Most researchers agree that humans are living systems equipped
with biological and cultural features. Theoretical approaches
however differ in their emphasis on the role and relevance of
biology and culture in influencing human behavior. In particular,
the impact of culture and social norms on individual behavior and
quality of life can hardly be overestimated. Day by day, people
acquire cultural information from their social contexts by means of
various forms of learning, and they subsequently replicate and
transmit it. These cultural constraints can be used as objective
indicators to evaluate quality of life and well-being, but they are
not sufficient to grasp the real life conditions of an individual.
This book introduces a third perspective in this debate: it
emphasizes the role of individuals as active agents in shaping
their cultural environment and in promoting both their own
development and culture complexity.
Each person within her culture has a more or less wide extent of
autonomy and freedom in facing challenges and in discovering
opportunities in daily activities, in interpreting life events and
in setting self-selected goals. Far from simply being recipients
and vehicles of cultural information, human beings actively take
part in the process of cultural transmission and change. A process
of psychological selection takes place at the individual level,
promoting the differential reproduction of cultural information
units. A great number of cross-cultural studies have been
conducted, in order to detect the basic criterion which guides this
process. Results show the paramount role played by the quality of
experience people associate with their daily activities and social
contexts. In particular, individuals preferentially select and
cultivate activities connected with optimal experience, or Flow, in
which individuals describe themselves as active and deeply involved
in the task at hand, excited and relaxed at the same time. In
optimal experience people perceive high challenges in the activity,
and adequate personal skills in facing them. They report
engagement, activation, enjoyment, and autonomy.
However, provided that individuals play a central role in the
process of cultural transmission and change, they should be
supported in finding in meaningful and socially relevant
challenges. From childhood, citizens should be exposed to
opportunities for engagement, enjoyment and optimal experiences in
socially useful activities. They should be taught to appreciate the
development potential embedded in agency and co-operation towards
community objectives. Intrinsic motivation and the autonomous
search for meanings and goals should be sustained. The individual
effort and ability to find a personalized way toward well-being and
complexity have to be primarily supported. At the social level, the
individual tendency to pursue self-selected goals and personal
wellbeing could be channelled to foster at the same time
co-operation and community empowerment.
In this historical period it is of paramount importance for
positive psychology to contextualize the study of individual
well-being within the broader perspective of social empowerment and
cultures cooperation. Following the long tradition initiated by
Aristotle with his studies on virtues and ethics, we strongly
believe in the human potential to match the pursuit of optimal
experiences and personal wellbeing with agency and the active
contribution to the empowerment of societies."
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