Scholars on Aging Series: Early Studies on
the Psychology of Aging
So far my excursion into the psychology of aging as it relates to
older adults has introduced me to several interesting scholars who
have been writing about how we can continue to progress toward
higher and more widespread levels of human flourishing.
As defined by the National League of Nursing:
Human flourishing is an effort to achieve self-actualization and
fulfillment within the context of a larger community of individuals,
each with the right to pursue his or her own such efforts. It
encompasses the uniqueness, dignity, diversity, freedom,
happiness, and holistic well-being of the individual within the
larger family, community, and population. Achieving human
flourishing is a life-long existential journey . . .
A small sampling of scholarly standouts, in alpha order, has thus far
emerged, some of whom are psychotherapists: Roy Baumeister,
Gene Cohen, Viktor Frankl, James Hillman, William James, Carl Jung,
Thomas Moore, Carol Ryff, Martin Seligman, and a good number of
Oftentimes, as I look through the psychology of aging stuff,
elements of philosophy and spirituality come strongly into play,
such as all the relatively new research on Eudaimonic Well-Being
(EWB) and Hedonic Well-Being (HWB), which take many clues from
the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. This is not surprising
given that the etymology of the word psychology means study of
I feel that finding some sort of life-balance grounding with both
EWB and HWB characteristics could be the best and simplest model
for achieving increased and more widespread levels of human
Here are two short definitions:
EWB is about becoming your authentic self and doing something
intrinsically motivating for the greater good over time throughout
HWB takes into account those at-the-moment pleasurable
experiences that feel great and wonderful but are ultimately
fleeting in the end.
EWB and HWB form only one tributary of a long and winding
psychology stream that meanders and changes course quite
frequently. Baumeister and Cohen, for instance, are the positive
psychology guys; Frankl is about logotherapy; Jung, Hillman and
Moore are the depth psychologists.
Regarding EWB, I allude again to Carol Ryff’s six factors (see them
here) and define them as I (a novice) see them, which may not
match up with Ryff’s imprint, who is the expert from decades of
research she has conducted on psychological well-being.
In a March 2017 article, she once again presented her six
components/core dimensions of well-being. She refers to these in
numerous other articles published in a variety of academic journals
over the past 30 years. In this article, she calls them out as being
enthusiastically accepted and frequently cited by the scientific
community since 1989, when she first developed them. This is
something she likes to point out quite frequently in the numerous
papers she has authored. The six are autonomy, environmental
mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in
life, and self-acceptance.
Here’s my personal explanation of the six core dimensions of well-
Autonomy (Do Your Thing) – You honor and pursue your
authentic self, which you are entitled to no matter how you
behave, look, or feel, as long as you are not hurting or
disturbing another human being. You are the master of your
Environmental mastery (Live Where You Want) – You live where
you want, when you want, or you continue to work toward
moving to a place that is best suited to your liking and within
Personal growth (Always Learn) – You stay curious and are open
to learning over your entire life.
Positive relations with others (Be Nice) – You practice tolerance
and peace. You operate under the notion that you do not know
the outlines and contours of another person’s travails and you
thus respect and do not judge others. You are capable of love.
Purpose in life (Your Raison D’etre) – This is a biggie, and it’s not
so easy to find. Many of us find it in our family life, but it’s
typically more than that. It’s where you put your efforts toward
something larger than yourself.
Self-acceptance (Love Yourself) – You accept your abilities and
your liabilities, don’t beat yourself up, and keep going back to
number one, being your autonomous self.
All six are EWD-oriented. HWD would be a by-product.
In an article published in 2014, Ryff surrounded her six components
around six thematic areas, one of which I will briefly address here:
“development and aging.” Here Ryff pointed to numerous studies
targeting characteristics that enhance EWD as you grow old. Three
that stood out for me, among others not mentioned here, include
the practice of extracting autobiographical memories, changing and
maintaining realistic goals, and feeling younger but not wanting to
For what it’s worth, as a personal example, I have found these three
to be extremely helpful as I navigate through my early old age
phase of life. For example, due to the prevalence of remembrance-
thinking that occurs more frequently now, I decided to engage in
writing my memoir and have a solid 20,000 words so far. By taking a
closer review of my past life, I have been reminded that, yes, I have
achieved some significant milestones and conquered some intense
challenges. I’ve made a dent in the universe, albeit a very small one.
But at least I have made a dent, and I can continue to make a dent
by thinking about and strategizing new goals more congruent to the
realities of my aging self. Engaging more frequently in memories
has also made me recall how I don’t miss all those trying times
when my decision-making processes lacked wisdom that blossomed
as I grew older.
The 7th Core Dimension
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to add one item to the list of core
dimensions: thinking deeply, which may not be a strong contributor
to HWD but certainly applies to EWD.
Thinking deeply (Know Thyself) – It could be a sub-category for #3,
personal growth, but I think it deserves its own singular spot as a
core dimension for well-being. I’m a strong advocate for living a
more contemplative life as I age, which is not for everyone. I feel
that the constant push in our Western society to continue working
well into our seventies and eighties, as opposed to kicking back
more frequently, is not healthy. Old age, in my opinion, should allow
us to place work second or third to such things as walking in nature,
artistic-oriented pursuits, enjoying family, partaking in sensibly
chosen socially engaging activities, seeking more fun, lifelong
learning, and figuring out how to help others less fortunate than
you when you can, and simply thinking about the meaning of life as
it relates to yourself.
There’s a lot more in the psychology literature that offers theories
on how we can achieve high levels of EWD and HWD. All of them
have valid points and different terminology and definitions. Some
seem to be lacking and others are overbearing and banal. These
seven here, in my mind, when taken as a whole, are the most
comprehensive I have thus far found.
“It's important to
ask yourself, How
am I useful to
others? What do
people want from
me? That may very
well reveal what
you are here for.”
- James Hillman