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.