Common sense tells us that it is better to be in control than to feel out of control, lost and chaotic. But is this really important for happiness? Considerable psychological research would suggest that it is. We have known for years that people who have many stressful life changes tend to get sick more often. But some who have the same life changes don't get sick. University of Chicago researchers, Kobassa and Maddi tried to find out why some stay well and others succumb to illness under the same difficult life conditions. They identified three personality traits of healthy persons--challenge, commitment and control. The hardy individuals viewed change as a challenge rather than a catastrophe, were deeply committed to other individuals, causes and groups, and had a sense of personal control over their life destiny.
People who control their life from within rather than merely responding to forces from without tend to achieve more in school, cope better with stress, and report more happiness. In addition to being satisfied with oneself, personal control has been one of the best predictors of well-being. The importance of personal control has been seen even in animals. An "executive monkey" who has control over whether he received shocks had less stress than another monkey who received exactly the same number of shocks but had no control over the shocks. Monkeys who receive inescapable shocks become helpless and depressed. It is not so much the shock itself that causes stress and depression, but the sense of control versus helplessness. Prisoners and concentration camp victims are traumatized by the total lack of control in these settings. Soldiers fighting in battle certainly suffer, but they at least exert some control over life and death issues.
A clever study by Judith Rodin at Yale University varied the amount of personal control given to nursing home residents. She was shocked to find so many of the residents to be listless, depressive, and without any sense of purpose. In the study, one group of residents were given a plant and told that the plant was for their pleasure and would be cared for by the staff. The other group was given the same type of plant and told that it was for their pleasure and they would have the responsibility to care for it. The group that had responsibility and control over caring for the plant lived longer and reported fewer physical complaints!
Personal control is not just actually being in control. It is also the perception of being in control and the belief that we can have an effect on things around us. Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura has devoted much of his career to studying "self-efficacy", the belief one has in their ability to produce desired outcomes. If you learn to believe in your power to achieve you will be able to cope better with stress, avoid depression, stop smoking cigarettes. If you have low self-efficacy, you are likely to be a victim of negative self-fulfilling prophecies.
So stay in charge--of yourself and of what you can realistically control around you.
You are active in the life of your community, not primarily to change it but more to appreciate and preserve the best of what has been achieved. Insofar as change is sought, it must be made slowly so that cultural achievements are not lost. You seek the good things in life, but in an orderly way that avoids excess. Indulgence, vulgarity, and even great enthusiasm and desire are avoided. You value clarity, restraint, balance, discipline, predictability, and control. Happiness is found in an active, socially involved life that is ordered through restraint intelligence, and moderation. Your motto might be "Nothing in excess, moderation in all things," and you follow the middle path of Apollo and Confucius.
Pathways: Reflective Development
You tend to seek privacy, time for yourself, self-sufficiency. Control over your life is sought through reflection, meditation, and self- knowledge. You are less interested in associating with social groups or attempting to control the external environment. Desires that are dependent on things outside yourself should be avoided. Happiness can be found only within the self, so your goal is to clarify your self-direction and refine your inner world. Your motto might be, "Be yourself" and "It's all in the mind." Your main intellectual ancestors would be Buddha and Emerson.