A significant feature of the human condition is that it is not at all clear how to live life, yet something must be tried. Some of the efforts add to successful, satisfying lives, while others lead to dead ends, frustrated hopes, and wasted resources. My fascination with this feature of the human condition has led me to the study of self-regulation: what people do, try to do, and are able to do to improve the quality of their lives.
What are people trying to do?
In this line of research, I typically ask subjects what goals they are pursuing and how they think about them, and then examine how these goals show up in their daily life and cause them to act or feel certain ways. Subjects carry Palm Pilots with them for two weeks and describe what is going on around them and in their own heads every few hours.
Fleeson, W., Malanos, A., & Achille, N. (2002). An intra-individual, process approach to the relationship between extraversion and positive affect: Is acting extraverted as “good” as being extraverted? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1409-1422.
What works to create high quality of life?
One important starting question is whether it is one’s circumstances or what one makes of them that is important for a high quality life. I try to determine the relative importance of objective circumstances (e.g., income, status, health) and of internal psychological factors (e.g., personality, subjective evaluation of objective circumstances) in predicting life quality.
- Fleeson, W. (2004). The quality of American life at the turn of the century. In O.G. Brim, C.D. Ryff, & R.C. Kessler (Eds.), How healthy are we?: A national study of well-being at midlife (pp. 252-272). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press
How variable is personality?
The power of internal psychological factors in producing life quality suggests changing internal psychological factors may be the most productive way to improve life quality. However, because change can be seen as the opposite of stability, and stability can be seen as necessary for identity or even for the existence of personality, change and stability are in perpetual tension. As a result, I turned towards investigating the potential for, and the causes and the consequences of, personality change, both in the long-term and in the short-term. Thus, my work in this direction is relevant to basic questions of personality psychology: What is identity? Can personality change? Does personality exist?
- Fleeson, W. (2001). Towards a structure- and process-integrated view of personality: Traits as density distributions of states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 1011-1027.
- Fleeson, W. (2004). Moving personality beyond the person-situation debate: The challenge and the opportunity of within-person variability. Current Directions, 13, 83-87.