May 31, 2022

Our Well-being Is Affected by Have-To’s and Want-To’s, New Study Says

SATISFACTION GUARANTEED?: It all depends on the amount of choice in our lives, says a new study. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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What’s the biggest key to satisfaction and happiness? Everyone has a different answer to that question, but for doctoral student Atsushi Kukita (MA, Psychology, 2014), it boils down to one word: autonomy.

“Simply put, autonomy is the sense of wanting to take action instead of being coerced to do so,” Kukita told Forbes in a recent article about a new study that he co-authored and published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. “I believe that the sense of autonomy is something we intuitively value in society.”

What Kukita and his co-researchers looked at in their study was the impact of choice on one’s sense of happiness. They found that the kind of activity one engages in—whether it’s going to the store or cooking a meal, for example—matters less to happiness than whether or not one is choosing or being made to do it.

The study suggests that the difference between activities that described as “have to’s” and “want to’s” can have a considerable impact on our daily well-being. (Anyone stuck in a job they don’t like should understand this dilemma.)

DBOS doctoral student Atsushi Kukita

But the answer, Kukita cautions, isn’t to find a way to cut ourselves loose of all “have to” activities in our lives. That isn’t possible for many people, especially when it involves a job that is paying the bills. Instead, the new study suggests how changing one’s mindset is important. When we take the roles and responsibilities that are imposed on us by a job or relationship and try to find compelling reasons for doing them, the balance shifts more positively in our favor.

“There will always be things that I feel I have to do. But that is okay,” Kukita explained. “I would not pretend that I purely want to do it. Admitting the have-to as is, I would try to see if I would feel that I want to do it as well.”

Well-being In Times of Global Crisis

While public health scientists have pursued different ways to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, a team of CGU researchers have looked at the accompanying declines in mental health that have affected people around the globe.

Access to effective vaccines is a major worldwide concern, but so is accessibility to interventions that can help people maintain their psychological well-being during a period of extreme stress. These interventions, known as positive psychology interventions (PPI), are the focus of a recent study led by Distinguished University Professor & Executive Director of the Claremont Evaluation Center Stewart I. Donaldson.

Donaldson was joined in this work by CGU Positive Psychology and Evaluation doctoral students Victoria Cabrera and Jaclyn Gaffaney. They synthesized and evaluated the findings from 25 meta-analyses and 42 review papers based on more than 100,000 participants of randomized controlled experiments to generate well-being.

RESEARCHERS (from left): Doctoral students Victoria Cabrera, Jaclyn Gaffaney, and University Professor Stewart Donaldson

The findings in their recently published article “Following the Science to Generate Well-Being: Using the Highest-Quality Experimental Evidence to Design Interventions” in Frontiers in Psychology (December, 2021) illustrate that PPIs have the potential to generate well-being even during a global pandemic.

Four exemplar PPIs—which are tested, produce medium/large positive effects on well-being, and could be implemented during a crisis to diverse and underserved populations, which especially need them—are presented and discussed in their article.

The goal of their article is to suggest that future programs to promote well-being and prevent adverse effects from a major crisis can be designed using this rigorous causal evidence.