Cognitive Behavioral And Social Contributors To Emotional Wellbeing

If a trait perspective tells only part of the story of SWB, then what added elements are needed to complete, or at least expand, the tale? My reading of the SWB literature suggests that traits function along with, and partly through, a variety of cognitive, behavioral, and social variables—and that study of these additional determinants may promote a more comprehensive understanding of SWB under both normal and particularly stressful life conditions. Moreover, such variables are seen as largely mutable and open to self-directed and environment-facilitated change efforts. They, therefore, may be cast as acquirable skill sets, strategies, and resources that can inform interventions to help people recover their SWB in the aftermath of psychologically taxing experiences, such as cancer diagnosis, treatment, and its side effects.

4.1. Cognitive Variables

Three types of cognitive variables have received a good deal of focus in the well-being literature: (a) beliefs about personal control, (b) future outcome expectancies, and (c) goal mechanisms. Control beliefs involve people's convictions about the extent to which they can control important aspects of their lives. Future outcome expectancies refer to people's beliefs about the future conditions of their lives (e.g., anticipation that positive or negative events will occur). Goals may be defined as "consciously articulated, personally important objectives that individuals pursue in their daily lives"30(p'915); goals vary in content and salience from person to person.

Bandura's31 social cognitive theory can be used as a unifying conceptual framework to integrate study of these variables and to discern how they may function together. For example, within the context of this theory, control beliefs are exemplified by the construct of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, referring to personal beliefs about one's capability to perform particular behaviors or courses of action, has been posited to play important roles in the affective self-regulation process. Relevant research on self-efficacy supports the conclusion that "feeling competent and confident with respect to valued life goals is associated with enhanced well-being."7(p156) Self-efficacy at managing post-cancer challenges has been linked to emotional well-being in cancer survivors.29 In Bandura's31 theory, outcome expectations are beliefs about the positive and negative outcomes that are contingent upon one's actions (e.g., "if I do x, then y will happen"). Perception of positive outcome expectations has been found to relate to satisfaction within particular life domains.32

A good deal of research has examined the relation of goals to well-being, and many aspects of goals (e.g., simply having goals, goal importance, goal commitment, goal progress) have been studied. Findings indicate that the perception that one is making progress at meeting personal goals tends to be a very good predictor of well-being.7 However, the type of goal, and one's reasons for pursuing it, may affect the impact that a given goal has on well-being. Positive effects of goals on SWB appear to be maximized, for instance, when people pursue goals that are personally important to them,33 congruent with their personal values,34,35 self-determined and pursued for intrinsic reasons,36 focused on challenging yet realistic activities,37 and directed at approach rather than avoidance behaviors.38

4.2. Behavioral and Social Variables

A variety of behavioral variables have also been linked to SWB. For instance, Cantor and Sanderson39 cite the importance of behavioral involvement in personally valued activities. This involvement enables progress on personal goals, brings people into contact with others for mutual social gain, helps them to avoid rumination, provides mastery opportunities, and confers eudaimonic benefits (e.g., sense of purpose, personal identity). Participation in valued life tasks may be particularly beneficial at life transition points where role positions are in flux and questions about life purpose and meaning are salient40—which may well be relevant issues for the many cancer survivors who experience disruptions in their work, family, or social lives (Wolff, this volume). A variety of other behavioral (or cognitive-behavioral) variables and strategies have also been found relevant to SWB or psychological adjustment, such as problem-solving, coping methods (e.g., active, problem-focused strategies), and relationship-enhancing skills.41-44

Finally, research and theory also point to the important role of environmental supports, particularly social and relational resources, in maintaining and enhancing well-being.7 Social variables have taken many forms in the well-being literature, for instance, positive relations with others,45 social connectedness,46 and attachment.7 Social support has, in particular, been considered a key facilitator of well-being outcomes, promoting SWB under normative life conditions33 and alleviating negative affect associated with adverse life events.40 Social support provides a variety of specific benefits, such as material help, emotional support, companionship,47 and even positive physical outcomes (e.g., enhanced biological response to stress and neurotransmitter regulation48).

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