How About Your Personal Projects?

The Cambridge Research professor Brian R. Little, author of “Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being” asks about our personal projects – how many we have and what they are.

Since the 1980s, Little has studied “trait psychology,” which looks at patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion, and he specifically peers through a lens of personal projects. For him these projects must have “personal saliency” – be significant for the individual. He finds people “typically report that they are pursuing about 15 personal projects at any one time.”

I read about Little’s book in connection with creativity, and was curious about his use of projects to define us. His book sometimes employs obscure (to me) words where simpler ones might do, but I reread and made notes to try to comprehend the chapter “Personal Projects: The Happiness of Pursuit.”

Little writes: “Personal projects are the things we are doing or planning on doing in our everyday lives. Personal projects can range from routine acts (e.g. ‘put out the cat’) to the overarching commitments of a lifetime (e.g. ‘liberate my people’). They may be solo pursuits or communal ventures, self-initiated or thrust upon us, deeply pleasurable or the bane of our existence. As our personal projects go, so does our sense of well-being.”

This might fall into the category of “duh” – that modern catch-all for the obvious (yes we do feel better when we get something done), but his ideas expand my list of core (really important to me) projects to include things I wouldn’t have thought of as projects. People differ in their reaction to the word “project,” but it’s interesting to think about what affects our sense of well-being.

My husband and I had a good time comparing lists when we went out to dinner the other night. Because Little devotes a chapter to personality and environmental preferences, I was curious about where my husband needed to live to support his core list. And, while making my list, I realized lists change over time, 10 years ago mine was very different.

The meaningful project and the easily done project have different effects – the latter alone is insufficient to assure well-being (too bad given how often I let the cat out), and meaningful projects tend to be complicated and harder to complete. Not surprisingly, Little says, “Well-being is enhanced when both efficacy and meaning are experienced within the same projects.”

Tangling with Little’s book is a project – but a rewarding one.

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7 thoughts on “How About Your Personal Projects?

  1. Projects – I’m definitely a project-oriented person. And I wonder if he talked about how someone like me acquired this kind of personality. Was it because I had to go to girl scouts and earn badges? Go to church and memorize psalms? Get praised when I wore my hand-sewn skirt to school? I know that part of the way a project enhances my life is the having of the to-do list in my head and the anticipation of the doing. Because as soon as I’m finished with one project I start to formulate the next. Thanks, as always, Katy, for introducing another thoughtful writer and topic.

  2. Ah yes, the list is long! And those more involved projects are always more rewarding—I always ask myself afterwards why I don’t do more of them!

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I have been thinking of this for some time now. I love a good project, and yet, do not always finish them. Some of my projects involve physical labor and definitely produce a feeling of well being. I have a couple of writing projects and, just this week, I have been recommitting to them both with a feeling of wanting to bring them to closure. I’m tempted to go to the library to find Little’s book, but since it does sound like a project in itself, I might need to make a little progress in the few I have before me that I know are awaiting completion. Wonderful activity for a pair to do together….every now and then, right?

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