This wonderful book was written to implement a great idea: to present recently developed knowledge in psychology ranging from big five to accommodation to environment, and use this psychological knowledge as tool to advice on how to achieve high levels of wellbeing.
ONE: First Blushes and Second Thoughts
This chapter is about how people think about themselves and others, what psychologist call “personal constructs”. It starts with a story of obnoxious man in restaurant and goes on to look at spectator’s approach of assigning psychological features to this unknown man. From this example it goes to notion of “frozen relationships” something like familiar face that one regularly meet in elevator, but has no intention to communicate with. The “personal constructs” define to the large degree individual’s attitude to self and to other people. Author presents example of a person who build his personality around one-dimensional construct as a military person and consequently fell apart after being rejected by ROTC.
Another interesting point here is a suggested division of people into things specialist and persons specialist, the first one looking at materialistic presentations of the person including fMRI and other tools and another one looking at psychological presentation extracted via conversations and questionnaires. At the end of chapter author reviews a case of personality evaluation with conclusion about “importance of having sufficient degrees of freedom in our comprehension of creatures – including ourselves”. This is achieved by looking at people through prism of two distinctive characteristics: fixed stable traits that are typical to what we are and free traits that we can use to override our stable traits in order to achieve some objectives.
TWO: Stable Traits and Well-Being: Set Like Plaster?
Here author reviews and critics Myers Briggs Types Indicator (MBTI) and discusses Big Five Personality Inventory (TIPI) in details for each characteristic:
- Consciousness: Structure, Chaos, and All That Jazz
- Agreeableness: The Promise and Problems of Being Pleasant
- Neuroticism: Sensitivity and Sensibility
- Openness to Experience: Receptivity vs. Resistance
- Extraversion: Arousal and Affect
THREE Free Traits: On Acting Out of Character
This chapter is about human ability to accommodate to situation regardless of how much it fit for fixed personality traits. The actual behavior depends on three motivational sources:
- Biogenic sources that arise from genetic make up of the person
- Sociogenic Sources that arise from process of socialization and depend on culture. As example author uses extraversion as specifically American cultural trait versus introversion typical for Asian cultures.
- Idiogenic Sources: Personal Projects and Free Traits.
The last one is typical when Personal projects require use of traits that are not typical for a person such as when deeply introverted person has to do public speaking. Everybody does it on regular basis by using free traits, but they have psychological costs and negative impact on health. Author reviews dynamics of this process and suggests technics that could decrease negative impact of acting out of character such as Restorative Niches where person can relax by going to natural way of acting.
FOUR: Mutable Selves: Personality and Situations
This is about personal propensity for situational accommodation. It is measured by self-monitoring (SM) scale. People with high SM concerned with how others see them and therefore are driven by situation, while people with Low SM mainly concerned with self-perception and therefore are driven by their own values. Mark Snyder created this self-monitoring scale. The chapter reviews specifics of behavior of HSM vs. LSM people and situation when one or another set of features provides advantage. However author differentiate SM from Big Five as non-fixed feature, it is rather personal trend, with person moving relatively easy between LSM and HSM depending on severity of stakes in a situation.
FIVE: Control, Agency, and the Shape of a Life
This chapter is about person’s internal or external orientation. Internals believe that their life outcome depend mainly on their effort, while externals believe in primacy of circumstances. These are mainly flexible traits so author reviews it in relation to a bunch of parameters and situations such as:
- Resistance to Social Influence
- Risk Taking
- Linking Ends to Means
- Delay of Gratification
- Stress Control and Buttons (hooked or not)
- Anxiety from loosing control
- Adaptive Illusions and Strategic Spin
SIX: Hale and Hardy: Personality and Health
This is about link between personalities type. It reviews Holmes-Rahe scale of stressful live changes and how they inflict health. Turned out that stressful events have very different impact on different people, with individuals high on 3C: Control, Commitment, and Challenge as core aspects of their personality being stress resistant. Another example are type A super active personalities who are highly vulnerable to coronary disease, actually posing thread not only to themselves, but also to surrounding people. For these type A people even high 3C paradoxically can both enhance and endanger their health when they overcommit themselves, or try control uncontrollable, or take challenge that is not possible to meet.
Finally author provides very brief review of work of Aaron Antonovsky who came up with notion of salutogenic process when object of medical research is not illness, but condition of health. He found that health if connected with person’s Sense of Coherence (SOC), defined as “the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring, though dynamic feeling of confidence that one’s environment is predictable and that things will work out as well as reasonably can be expected”.
SEVEN: Personality and Creativity: The Myth of the Solo Hero
This chapter looks at link between personality and creativity using materials from the Institute for Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR). This research was conducted based on two groups of architects one identified as highly creative and another one with similar professional characteristics, but not considered highly creative by peers. The results were:
- Highly creative were not considerably more intelligent than control group
- They had more freedom in early development and their families moved often bringing to their lives change in environment and experience of accommodation
- Their interests were matching interests of professionals with high level of non-trivial information processing jobs like lawyers, authors, or musicians, but differentiated from professionals with trivial information processing requirements like bankers or police.
- They were more likely Introverts per MBTI, be more Perceiving rather than Judging, significantly more Intuitive. Finally Thinking was more typical for people creative in science than in arts, with creative architects divided 50-50.
Very interesting was approach to complexity with preference to complexity at the beginning of creative project and preference for simplicity at the completion phase. Author also reviews relation between creativity and eccentricity, psychopathology, and wellbeing.
EIGHT: Where Are You? Personality in Place
This chapter is about link between personalities and places. It starts with description of debates between deconstructionist architect and architect supporter of small preindustrial towns as ideal communal living. From here it goes to discussion of design of living spaces and cities and how one person’s utopia could be another person’s dystopia and presents Environmental Response Inventory (ERI), which scores on 8 different dispositions toward physical environment:
- Pastoralism (PA)
- Urbanism (UR)
- Environment Adaptation (EA)
- Stimulus Seeking (SS)
- Environmental Trust (ET)
- Antiquarianism (AN)
- Need for Privacy (NP)
- Mechanical Orientation (MO)
This follows by quite sketchy analysis of suitability of different locations in USA for different types of Big 5 personalities. Final part of the chapter discusses different attitudes to Cyberia, meaning Social Media of Twitter, Facebook, and such.
NINE: Personal Projects: The Happiness of Pursuit
This chapter is about Personal Projects, the notion that includes practically everything that individual is doing intentionally. The bottom line of this discussion: Personal project are very important because they give meaning to the live and it is highly connected to the wellbeing of the person.
TEN Self-Reflections: The Art of Well-Being
The final chapter kind of links everything together in some semblance of formula for the Art of Wellbeing. It includes:
- Sustainable Pursuit of Core Projects
- Continuing Revisiting of Personal Constructs to assure they are not getting on the way of wellbeing
- Context Monitoring: Scanning, Seeking, and Shaping Our Environments
- Self-Reflections: Reconciling and Revitalizing
It ends with a beautiful metaphor of live as a dance when partners know each other to the slightest detail because these partners are: Me, Myself, and US.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that it is a great collection of psychological knowledge and, more important, demonstration of application of this knowledge to the process of self-discovery. I found it very consistent with what I learned not only from books, but also from real live experiences, which pretty much confirming validity of the knowledge presented in this book.