Engaged Living

What do you think of when you read the word “value”…”worth”, “importance” or “significance”?  Perhaps “ethics”, “principles” or “ideals”?  It can be said that our ethics, principles, and ideals are what give our lives worth, importance and significance.  Pursuing endeavors that support our values make life more fulfilling and sometimes also make some of life’s trials and tribulations more tolerable (McKay, Wood & Brantley, 2010). 

Research within the realm of positive psychology is looking at a relatively new construct, Engaged Living -which is defined as having a passion to help others and be completely immersed in activities.  It involves social integration and absorption.  Studies (e.g., Froh et al, 2010) have indicated that youth high in engaged living tend to be more grateful, hopeful, happier, and prosocial.  They also report higher levels of life satisfaction, positive affect, higher levels of self-esteem, and better grades.  Those with high levels of engaged living also tend to be less depressed, envious, antisocial and delinquent.  Those with high levels of engaged living tend to endorse statements such as, “I want to make the world a better place,” and, “when doing things I enjoy I get lost in it.”  They value engagement and contributing to their community.  By pursuing such activities, they add fulfillment to their lives. 

But the concept of engaged living is not reserved only for youth.  Research among adults also indicates that those who are committed to intrinsically motivating social values (e.g., doing this makes my life more meaningful) exhibit greater life satisfaction and positive affect.  Those committed to extrinsically motivating values (e.g., doing this will result in social or financial reward or not doing this will result in social or financial losses) are more likely to exhibit negative affect (Ferssizidis et al, 2010). 

So how do we use this knowledge about values-based or engaged living to reap the benefits and make life more fulfilling?  How do we use this knowledge to make some of the things we must do more tolerable?  It comes down to how we think about things and if we think of our life activities as consistent with our values. 

Do you value family?  Maintaining relationships with family members, regardless of how difficult they may be at times, conforms to your values and may be viewed as tolerable and intrinsically motivated. 

Do you value education?  Taking time to engage in learning events and studying can be absorbing and intrinsically motivating.  Refraining from some leisure activities to study and do well academically is more easily tolerated. 

Do you value work?  Spending time engaged in work related activities is satisfying and validating, regardless of the financial compensation.

Do you value spirituality and religion?  Engaging in work for or rituals of your faith will be rewarding. 

Are romantic relationships important to you?  Investing time and attention to finding or maintaining a relationship is seen as a worthwhile endeavor.

Do you value being a contributing member of your community?  Community service activities will be fulfilling and engaging. 
How can we assess our values?  There are some research scales available but for learning about ourselves, they may not be necessary.  We can be less structured in a self-assessment and ponder questions such as:  I would be at my best if I could…?  In my interactions with others, I want to experience…?   I want to be remembered for…?  When we can view what you do through these lenses, we become socially integrated and absorbed. 

Ferssizidis, P., Adams, L. M., Kashdan, T. B., Plummer, C., Mishra, A., & Ciarrochi, J. (2010). Motivation for and commitment to social values: The roles of age and gender.  Motivation and Emotion,  34(4), 354-362.
Froh, J. J., Kashdan, T. B., Yurkewicz, C., Fan, J., Allen, J., & Glowacki, J. (2010). The benefits of passion and absorption in activities: Engaged living in adolescents and its role in psychological well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology5(4), 311-332.
McKay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. New Harbinger Publications.

Sheryl L. Pierre, PhD

Sheryl L. Pierre is a licensed psychologist who helps clients build skills and strategies to enhance their self-confidence, effectively manage their emotions and behavior, and thrive.