When we think of mental well-being, we often use it synonymously with happiness. This idea quite intrigued Carol Ryff and she came up with one brilliant model of psychological well-being which makes us think beyond just being happy.
20 years or so back, we were hardly concerned about our psychological well-being. Today, we are putting it across on the same platform as physical well-being.
Professor Carol Ryff had started experimenting with happiness and its elements to discover the true meaning of being mentally healthy even before the subject gained momentum. She became the creator of one of the most systematic, scientifically authentic and empirically stringent models of psychological well-being.
Ryff made two significant considerations while creating her model.
Firstly, her theory of psychological well-being should be scientifically valid, reliable and empirically testable.
Secondly, her model will not merely be restricted to biological or medical descriptions of well-being. Rather it will also include the philosophical intimation about the true meaning of a happy life.
She took inspiration from diverse research and theories of well-being by eminent philosophers like John Stuart Mill and Aristotle to psychologists like Carl Jung to Abraham Maslow. A thorough study of these guiding theories provided her the ground to build her new model. This makes Ryff’s model distinct from other models of psychological well-being which were created earlier.
This model is different from past models in a very important way. Ryff has created a multidimensional approach to well-being. The focus is not solely on being happy, satisfied and creating positive emotions. It includes all aspects of well-being.
According to this model, a satisfactory life is not about always being optimistic, positive and enthusiastic. The true meaning of life is not about being happy, but in living a fulfilling life.
Carol Ryff’s work is subtly rooted in the works of Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics sparked the fundamental question about human existence:
How should one live? Aristotle wasn’t trying to discern the nature of well-being. He wanted to find out a better way to live life. Aristotle was quite amused by the idea that happiness was not the end-all and be-all of a fulfilling life.
He had a genuinely concerning question in mind, “What is the highest of all goods achievable by human action?’’
He goes on to answer the question saying, “Both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it (the highest of all goods achievable by action) is happiness, and identify living well and faring well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think, it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honor’’ (Aristotle/Ross, 1925)
He believed that the highest human good was in ‘‘activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if there be more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete.’’ What he understood of virtue was clearly intelligible from this excerpt he wrote about virtue.
‘‘Both fear and confidence and appetite and anger and pity and in general pleasure and pain may be felt both too much and too little, and in both cases not well; but to feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue.’’
What can be easily understood is one very important feature of virtue, which aims at reaching what we call is intermediate.
Aristotle was of the idea that happiness is not the destination to our journey towards good. He wasn’t concerned about the ‘subjective state of being happy’. The bigger picture he wanted to portray was that of one’s ultimate journey towards the highest good, which one could reach with self-realization.
Our main task is to discover ourselves and be aware of who we are. How one would explore oneself depends on their individual disposition, personality, and other factors. This journey is a unique one for all.