Is happiness being who you want to be or wanting to be who you are?

I recently spent ten days at Texas Tech University, where I subjected the faculty of the psychology department to a round of video blog posts.

As the third part of a four-part series (and a follow-up to last week’s post), I asked Associate Professor Erin Hardin:

Is happiness being who you want to be or wanting to be who you are?

A theme that is emerging in the series (see part 1 and part 2) is the idea that happiness is keeping one’s wants and desires in check. I recognize that the  idea may not be welcome in this go-getting world that rewards achievement, but as a formula for a well-balanced and happy life, reasonable expectations seem to be a factor.

The paper is still  being written, but here is the abstract:

Well-being has long been thought to result from having the traits one wants. However, in light of Rabbi Hyman Schachtel’s (1954) contention that, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have” (p. 37), well-being may also result from wanting the traits one already has. We propose that wanting the traits one already has, which we term actual self-regard, represents a distinct source of self-discrepancies that accounts for unique variance in well-being.  In two studies we measured ideal-self actualization with a conventional measure of ideal self-discrepancies and actual-self regard by asking participants to describe traits they possess and indicate the extent to which they want those traits. Ideal-self actualization and actual-self regard were only modestly correlated and both accounted for unique variance in well-being and distress. These results highlight the consequences of actual-self regard, a previously unexamined source of self-discrepancies, for self-affirmation processes and client-centered psychotherapy.