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Subjective Well-Being

Sense Of Control

A third class of explanations for the paradox of SWB focuses on one’s sense of control. Having a sense of control over one’s life circumstances is a strong predictor of SWB (DeNeve and Cooper). Older people can exert control over their world either by selectively investing their resources and time to pursue their goals (selective primary control) or by minimizing the negative effects of losses (compensatory secondary control) (Schulz and Heckhausen). Older adults can increase their SWB by engaging in activities that promote either selective primary control or compensatory secondary control. Selective primary control can be enhanced by engaging in age-appropriate developmental tasks (e.g., developing a leisure repertoire). An example of a compensatory secondary control strategy is to discount the importance of activities that must be forsaken.

To age ‘‘well,’’ it is important for people to be happy and satisfied with their lives (Baltes and Baltes). Perhaps part of the reason why wisdom is related to SWB is that older people have learned that happiness often eludes those who strive to obtain it directly. Instead, happiness is best obtained as a by-product of striving to obtain other goals that are within reach, enjoyable, and supported by trustworthy others (McGregor and Little).



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BRANDTSTÄDTER, J., and GREVE, W. ‘‘The Aging Self: Stabilizing and Protective Processes.’’ Developmental Review 14, no. 1 (1994): 52–80.

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DENEVE, K. M., and COOPER, H. ‘‘The Happy Personality: A Meta-analysis of 137 Personality Traits and Subjective Well-Being.’’ Psychological Bulletin 124, no. 2 (1998): 197–229.

DIENER, E.; SUH, E. M.; LUCAS, R. E.; and SMITH, H. L. ‘‘Subjective Well-being: Three Decades of Progress.’’ Psychological Bulletin 125, no. 2(1999): 276–302.

FILIPP, S. H. ‘‘Motivation and Emotion.’’ In Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 4th ed. Edited by J. E. Birren and K. W. Schaie. San Diego: Academic Press, 1996. Pages 218–235.

HECKHAUSEN, J., and BRIM, O. G. ‘‘Perceived Problems for Self and Others: Self-Protection by Social Downgrading Throughout Adulthood.’’ Psychology and Aging 12, no. 4 (1997): 610–619.

MCGREGOR, I., and LITTLE, B. R. ‘‘Personal Projects, Happiness, and Meaning: On Doing Well and Being Yourself.’’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74, no. 2 (1998): 494–512.

OKUN, M. A., and STOCK, W. A. ‘‘Correlates and Components of Subjective Well-being Among the Elderly.’’ Journal of Applied Gerontology 6, no. 1 (1987): 95–112.

SCHULZ, R., and HECKHAUSEN, J. ‘‘A Life-Span Model of Successful Aging.’’ American Psychologist 51, no. 7 (1996): 702–714.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Subjective Well-Being - Self-protective Strategies, Personality And Emotion Regulation, Sense Of Control