Personal Resources vs. External Challenges: The State of Well-Being in Times of Financial Crisis

Stress and wellbeing

Is happiness a journey or a destination? Perhaps it’s actually both. Or at least, this is what brand new research on well-being suggests. Such research found that processes (the road to well-being) and outcomes (the subjective feeling of well being) are in fact clearly distinct and influenced by our own personal predispositions. But understanding the ‘key’ to our well-being can be complex. For example, is it our inherent personal resources i.e. personality, belief system or emotional intelligence that ultimately dictate our experience of subjective bliss? Or, do the external circumstances i.e. our financial situation, social support or career state, that we find ourselves in also play a significant part? There is no doubting the importance that is placed on physical as well as psychological and emotional well-being in today’s society. But as is frequently the case, this ‘well-being’ is a multifaceted concept, unable to be achieved with a silver bullet type solution. This is particularly the case with a multitude of current issues facing our (UK’s) working population.

Despite decreasing unemployment, the turbulent economy continues to impact millions of lives. Further, the announcement by the Chancellor that austerity measures will extend until 2018 suggests that this will probably continue for the foreseeable future. And with the US threatening to fall off of the Fiscal Cliff, the rest of the world is left watching helplessly, as their economies will be hit hard by slowed global economic regeneration. Hence, the consequences of the last global financial crisis are not only taking their toll on the UK’s economic growth, but also its population’s well-being. Research by Sargent-Cox, Butterworth & Anstey (2011) showed a negative time-lagged impact on workers’ psychological well-being following the financial crisis of 2009-2010. More specifically, their research showed that older workers who are approaching retirement age, of which the UK/EU has a large (and growing) proportion (Ilmarinen, 2006), were particularly affected. Those that were impacted by the crisis showed poorer psychological functioning (anxiety and depression) after the financial crisis period. This time-lag in negative effects of economic stress on health outcomes paints a worrying well-being picture for an aging working population, who face considerable challenges ahead.

So despite these external challenges that seem to influence our well-being, it may be a relief to hear that we may have internal mechanisms which can help boost well-being. This comes in the form of Emotional Intelligence according to a piece of hot not-even-off-the-press-yet research by Bhullar, Schutte and Malouff (2013). They reconceptualised a sense of pleasure (hedonic function) and engagement (eudaimonic function) as well-being processes, distinct to well-being outcomes. These outcomes included all things good and great, ranging from a fulfillment factor (life satisfaction, positive emotions, psychological & social well-being, subjective physical health) and a dejection factor (the absence of anxiety, depression and stress). However, perhaps the most pertinent finding to come out of this research, was that trait Emotional Intelligence i.e. a disposition to perceive, understand, use and regulate emotion in oneself and others, mediated the relationship between the processes of well-being and the well-being outcomes.

So what does this mean? Essentially, more pleasure than pain (hedonic function) and a sense of purpose and engagement (self-actualisation or eudaimonic function) is associated with higher trait Emotional Intelligence, which in turn leads to destination well-being. Not only does this research highlight the importance of committing oneself to a personally meaningful endeavour (at work or outside of it) to maintain well-being, but also the role of emotional intelligence in facilitating positive emotions, while down-playing negative ones.

Whether you believe that happiness is the win, or just simply taking part – it is a state that we all strive for. This was perfectly illustrated by an example of an enthusiastic student who I recently had a great conversation with. She studied English at University because she loved the subject; it captured her imagination and fed her intrigue for art and culture. But yet, she faced a choice between purism and pragmatism when she unfortunately struggled to find a job. After a little nudge from her family, she pursued accountancy. She struggled to get out of bed every morning for the 6 months (her words, not mine) that she grudgingly took this course before she switched to something she found more engaging yet practical; management. Mum and Dad were happy. Plus her desire to learn about culture (organisational), people and the working world of work was satisfied. Needless to say, she is much happier and has regained a sense of purpose in what she is doing. Well-being seems to centre on this need for a sense of meaningfulness in life. This is particularly true for Generation Y individuals, who seem to value a sense of fulfilment more so than monetary rewards in their career choices, according to research from iOpener Ltd. This search for purpose, pride and value in what we choose to do, can have a profound effect on ourselves, if we really take the time to think about the choices we make in our home and work life.

These are issues which I’m sure will be touched upon in our next Psychometrics Forum event which will focus on well-being and stress management on February 13th 2013. We have confirmed Jessica Pryce-Jones, CEO of iOpener Ltd. and author of ‘Happiness at work’ and Anthony Phillips, who has developed a well-being profile and will be discussing it in relation to managing stress at work. Please visit our website page, news and events for more information on how to book.

Lastly, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the readers and followers of this Blog. In 6 short months, Fresh Perspectives on Psychometrics now has a readership of over 500, spanning 6 continents. Thank you for your support, interest and time. Please continue to read on and comment in 2013. Have a fantastic festive season, I hope it’s one where well-being and happiness are at a real high.

Blog posted by Raj Chopra, Trainee Occupational Psychologist.

References

Bhullar, N., Schutte, N.S. & Malouff, J.M. (2013): The Nature of Well-Being: The Roles of Hedonic and Eudaimonic Processes and Trait Emotional Intelligence, The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 147:1, 1-16.

Ilmarinen, J. (2006) The Ageing Workforce – Challenges for Occupational Health. Occupational Medicine, 56(6):361-364.

Sargent-Cox, K., Butterworth, P., Anstey, K.J (2011). The global financial crisis and psychological health in a sample of Australian older adults: A longitudinal study. Social Science & Medicine, 73, 1105-1112.

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