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4 Life Goals, 4 Selves

I have blogged previously about the 4 major goals of life: Happiness (H), Success (S), Meaning (M) and Morality/Virtue (V). Each goal is important in itself and a healthy human being constantly balances all four goals for optimal outcome.

Some people group all of these major goals of life under the umbrella term of happiness, differentiating between say Hedonic happiness (H) from Eudiamonic happiness (V). I recently came across an excellent article by Paul Wong about Positive Psychology 2.0 (PP2.0) in which he adds Prudential happiness (S) and Chaironic (M?) happiness to the mix. To quote:

2. Prudential Happiness

Feelings of satisfaction that come primarily from living a fully engaged life. It often includes the “flow” and the intrinsic joy of doing something one does best and enjoys doing. It refers to a person’s doing well in what she is good at and what delights him without moral considerations (Haybron, 2000). It represents the active pathway to happiness, because it fills one’s life with activities and content as an antidote to boredom and inner void, and it also provides satisfaction for a job well done.

From the above, its clear that Hedonic happiness goal is mostly about reducing negative emotions and increasing positive emotions (the P of PERMA) while Prudential happiness is about increasing engagement/ accomplishments (E/A of PERMA). Similarly, while Eudiamonic happiness is about building up virtue via say close relationships (R of PERMA), while Chaironic happiness goal may be to increase meaning (M of PERMA).

Different permutations and combinations are possible. Subjective well-being (SWB) for eg. is the result of H (happiness as measured by +ve emotions) and S (Success as measured by life satisfaction); Paul Wong extends the construct of eudiomnia to include both Meaning (M) and Virtue (V). H is an affective component of well-being while life satisfaction (correlated with S) is an evaluative component.

Now consider the multiple selves that we are made up of. One framework that I had elaborated earlier extended the experiencing self- remembering self distinction of Kahneman here.

There I had posited that behind the unitary self lies a materialistic self, an experiencing self, a remembering self and a prospective self. Today I want to modify that model a bit and posit that the four selves are:

  1. Experiencing Self: the self associated with momentary moment-by-moment fleeting emotions and feelings. If the moment to moment feelings are of positive valence then one would be happy as per this self’s perspective. Neurally this is anchored in the ‘like’ system anchored in the endogenous opioid system. This self would anchor the H (happiness) life goal. This is used for perceiving the present.
  2. Remembering Self: the self associated with retrospective evaluations of ones experiences and relying on say memory of event. Here Kahneman conflates it with the narrative self, but there are important differences. Despite the reconstructive nature of past, this self reconstructs what happened to the subject rather than what the subject did. If the event is interpreted as being positive (say goal has been achieved) feelings of success and contentment happen. Neurally this is anchored in ‘want’ dopamine system as posited by Berrdige. This retrospective memory drives our many decisions and makes us want what we may not like. This self would anchor the S (success ) life goal. This is used for reconstructing the past.
  3. Prospective /Agentic Self: the self associated with goals, virtues and character strengths. One strives forward in an agentic fashion based on anticipatory images of future. Agency and Communion as basic social motives are both important and part of this moral agency stance. While the experiencing self is a more-or-less passive recipient of experiences, and which basks in the positive experiences when they happen; the agentic self as an actor which has imbibed habits of acting morally so as to feel good by doing good. This self anchors the Virtue (V) goal. This is used for imagining future.
  4. Narrative Self: the self associated with fitting the earlier selves into a coherent, integrated narrative or story so that we have a unified experience. The self is created by weaving a narrative around perceived present, reconstructed past and imagined future. Meaning making is important here and this self anchors the Meaning (M) goal. This differs from remembering self in as much as it narrates or interprets the active elements – oneself as the hero of ones story. While the agentic self may make some (intuitive) moral choices , the interpretive/ narrative self justifies and rationalizes it. This is very much apparent in the case of split brain patients which led to left-brain interpreter findings.

So my basic premise is that these four types of self are behind the four major types of striving or goals. As an aside, the Happiness (affective), Success (evaluative), Virtue (moral) and Meaning (cohenrnce) also align well with pathos (emotions), logos (reason), ethos (conscience) and mythos (plot) respectively as used in ancient Greece to persuade people. Hope you are persuaded by the above model:-)

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Posted by on December 23, 2018.

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Categories: happiness

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This blog is an effort of Sandeep Gautam (sandygautam on most social web services) to learn, and at the same time document his journey, and share his knowledge, of psychology and neurosciences, with like-minded folks – a rider is in place at this point: He used to be primarily a software professional (a computer science […]
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