The Link Between Self-Reliance and Well-Being

The Link Between Self-Reliance and Well-Being

via The Atlantic by Arthur C Brooks

The 2021 academy award for Best Picture—covering the prior year, when many of us were stuck at home—was awarded, ironically, to Nomadland, a film about a woman who has no permanent home. The movie follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a 60-something widow who lives in her van, working itinerantly and resisting invitations to settle down with family or friends. Many critics interpreted Nomadland as an “indictment of America”; an article in this magazine lauded its treatment of “the wreckage of American promise.”

My reaction to the movie, however, was different. In Fern, I saw not merely the victim of a broken culture and economy, but also a version of the fabled “rugged individualist”: the cowboy; the pioneer; the immigrant. She insists on self-reliance, lives by her wits without self-pity, and sees the welfare of others as a kind of prison.

This is an American ideal, or perhaps a cliché. Some see it as not just a character type, but rather a source of deep life satisfaction. Ralph Waldo Emerson best articulated this view in his 1841 essay, “Self-Reliance.” “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” he wrote. “Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”

An excess of individualism can obviously lead one to become an isolated loner or act with great selfishness. But we reject Emerson’s panegyric to our detriment. Done right, individualism has tremendous benefits for our senses of competence, effectiveness, and life direction.

Scholars have described individualism in three dimensions: a belief in one’s responsibility for one’s actions; a belief in one’s uniqueness; and a tendency to set and strive for one’s personal goals. Just as some people are more individualistic than others (you can test your own tendencies here using a simpler paradigm), countries vary in the level of individualism in their cultures. In one multination study using a measure commonly cited in academic research, the United States and the United Kingdom were found to have the most individualistic cultures, followed by Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada. The least individualistic countries assessed were Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

As a general rule, researchers find that individualism in a country strongly predicts the average level of well-being, even when correcting for life expectancy, access to food and water, and other variables. Scholars offer two main explanations. The first is that in individualistic cultures, people spend time and effort pursuing personal happiness over honor and social obligations. This view assumes that working for happiness ultimately leads to greater well-being, which the research supports. Some researchers have even argued that positive psychology, which is based on the belief that your happiness is important, worthy of study, and at least partly under your control, is at the core of an individualistic worldview…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE