Thinking about your life: Healthy lessons from social cognition

There is hardly another branch of psychology that has made stronger contributions to the analysis of applied problems than social psychology. This is particularly obvious for the case of psychological aspects of health, which have been predominantly studied from a social-psychological vantage point. While critical live events were acknowledged as important determinants of health, their actual influence was found to depend on a variety of psychological variables. A similar state of affairs exists in the study of subjective well-being that has recently been praised as “positive psychology”. Although objective circumstances certainly influence people's sense of well-being, their impact is much weaker than one might expect. Instead, psychological mechanisms play an important role in how people feel about their lives. In this chapter we would like to show that social psychology, in this case cognitive social psychology, may contribute to a better understanding of the processes that cause people to think of themselves as happy or satisfied. Along the way, we will also offer some tangible advice on how you should (or should not) think about your life. The advice will be derived from our judgement model of subjective well-being that identifies and describes the mental mechanisms that contribute to judgements of happiness and satisfaction. These include the accessibility of information, the determinants of its use, the role of affect, and the different ways of thinking about one's past. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved) (from the chapter)