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Positive developmental psychology: A review of literature concerning well-being throughout the lifespan

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As positive psychology has matured as a discipline, sub-fields have emerged focusing on particular areas, including a number concentrating on specific life stages. These include positive parenting, positive education, positive youth development, and positive aging. However, until now, there has not been a systematic appreciation of these various developmental paradigms, nor an attempt to consider them as a whole. As such, the current paper introduces the overarching notion of positive developmental psychology, an umbrella term encompassing these intersecting developmental disciplines. The paper offers a narrative review of selected literature within these areas – highlighting key theoretical concepts, empirical studies and applied interventions – doing so through the prism of a multidimensional framework. Thus the paper provides a synthesis of the wealth of theory and research within positive developmental psychology, offering a much-needed overview of this burgeoning new field, and setting out a comprehensive research agenda for the years ahead.
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The Journal of Happiness & Well-Being, 2016, 4(2), 143-164
143
Positive developmental psychology: A review of literature concerning
well-being throughout the lifespan
Pozitif gelişimsel psikoloji: Yaşam boyu iyi oluşla ilgili literatür taraması
Tim Lomas
1
, Kate Hefferon
2
, Itai Ivtzan
3
Abstract
As positive psychology has matured as a discipline, sub-fields have emerged focusing on particular areas,
including a number concentrating on specific life stages. These include positive parenting, positive education,
positive youth development, and positive aging. However, until now, there has not been a systematic appreciation
of these various developmental paradigms, nor an attempt to consider them as a whole. As such, the current paper
introduces the overarching notion of positive developmental psychology, an umbrella term encompassing these
intersecting developmental disciplines. The paper offers a narrative review of selected literature within these areas
highlighting key theoretical concepts, empirical studies and applied interventions doing so through the prism
of a multidimensional framework. Thus the paper provides a synthesis of the wealth of theory and research within
positive developmental psychology, offering a much-needed overview of this burgeoning new field, and setting
out a comprehensive research agenda for the years ahead.
Keywords: Developmental psychology, positive parenting, positive education, positive youth development,
positive aging
Özet
Pozitif psikoloji geliştikçe, belirli yaşam evrelerinin de dahil olduğu, spesifik alanlara odaklanan alt dallar ortaya
çıkmıştır. Bunlar pozitif ebeveynlik, pozitif eğitim, pozitif gençlik gelişimi ve pozitif yaşlamayı kapsıyor. Fakat
şimdiye kadar bu gelişimsel paradigmalar sistematik bir şekilde gözden geçirilmedi ya da bütünüyle ele alınmadı.
Bu nedenle bu çalışma pozitif gelişimsel psikolojiyi kapsayıcı bir kavram ve bu kesişen gelişimsel disiplinleri
birleştiren bir çatı terim olarak ortaya koyuyor. Mevcut çalışma bu alanlardan seçilmiş olan literatürün anlatımsal
taramasını anahtar teorik kavramların, deneysel çalışmaların ve uygulanan müdahalelerin altını çizerek çok
boyutlu çerçeveden bakarak sunuyor. Böylelikle çalışma yeni gelişen bir alanın çok gerekli olan kısa gözden
geçirmesini, gelecek için kapsamlı bir araştırma ajandası ortaya koyarak pozitif gelişimsel psikoloji alanında
zengin teori ve araştırmaların sentezini sunuyor.
Anahtar Kelimeler: Gelişimsel psikoloji, pozitif ebeveynlik, pozitif eğitim, pozitif geçlik gelişimi, pozitif
yaşlanma
1
University of East London, Department of Psychology, Stratford Campus, London. E-mail: t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
2
University of East London, Department of Psychology, Stratford Campus, London
3
University of East London, Department of Psychology, Stratford Campus, London
Received: 20.06.2016 Accepted: 22.08.2016
© The Journal of Happiness & Well-Being (JHW)
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Introduction
As positive psychology has developed, sub-fields have emerged focusing on particular areas of
interest. Among these are disciplines concentrating upon specific life stages. There is a nascent
literature on positive parenting (Latham, 1994), which approaches children’s wellbeing by focusing on
the role of parents/caregivers. Positive education arguably the most prominent of these
developmental paradigms looks at flourishing in the context of school (Seligman et al., 2009). At a
slightly later age, we have ‘positive youth development’ (Larson, 2000), addressing the potentially
turbulent waters of adolescence and early adulthood. Finally, at the end of the existential journey, we
find ‘positive aging’ (Tornstam, 2005), which aims to add “more life to years, not just more years to
life” (Vaillant, 2004, p.561). We might group all these paradigms together under the overarching label
of ‘positive developmental psychology’ (PDP). Much of the empirical and theoretical work of concern
to PDP has been on-going for years, pre-dating the emergence of positive psychology itself;
nevertheless, PDP does offer a new conceptual and discursive space where literature focusing on the
wellbeing aspects of development can be systematically brought together.
The current paper, then, offers a narrative summary of PDP including key theories, studies, and
applied interventions drawing on the subfields elucidated above. To do this, the paper will explore
the various life stages through the prism of a multidimensional framework for conceptualizing
wellbeing, the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example) model (Lomas et al., 2015). In contrast
to most other multidimensional models such as Engel’s (1977) biopsychosocial medical paradigm
the LIFE model identifies four main ontological domains of the person. While acknowledging the
distinction between subjective ‘mind’ and objective ‘body/brain’ (as per Engel), it also separates the
collective ‘social’ dimension of Engel’s model into subjective (or ‘intersubjective) and objective (or
‘interobjective’). The former can be referred to as ‘culture,’ encompassing shared language and
worldviews, while the latter can be termed ‘society,’ and pertains to the material and structural
scaffolding of these networks (e.g., economic systems).
The LIFE model provides further nuance to our multidimensional understanding of the person,
and their wellbeing, by stratifying the four dimensions into five layers/levels. (The choice of five is
just a heuristic. One could stratify each dimension into fewer or more levels according to one’s
priorities. Thus, the model is just one ‘example’ of stratification, hence the name.) The mind is
differentiated into embodied sensations, emotions, cognitions, conscious awareness, and ‘awareness+’
(advanced states of consciousness). The body is deconstructed into biochemistry, neurons, neural
networks, the nervous system, and the body as a whole. Finally, culture and society are both stratified
using Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) ecological systems theory (into microsystems, mesosystems,
exosystems, macrosystems), plus an additional outer layer of the global environmental exosystem.
(See Lomas (2015) for a more detailed examination of this socio-cultural stratification, labelled as
‘Positive Social Psychology.’) The dimensions and levels of the LIFE model are shown in figure 1
below.
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Figure 1. The Layered Integrated Framework Example (LIFE) model
The LIFE model offers a meta-theoretical ‘map’ of the person, and their wellbeing. Each level
within each dimension encompasses the various ‘aspects’ of wellbeing, from the subjective (e.g.,
positive affect) to the objective (e.g., neurotransmitter levels) to the intersubjective (e.g., interpersonal
trust) to the interobjective (e.g., socioeconomic status). This model can be used to understand the ways
in which wellbeing is manifested and experienced across the lifespan. Thus, in this paper, the aim is to
introduce a synchronic element to the LIFE model, exploring it through the prism of a lifespan
perspective. This aim is in keeping with Bronfenbrenner’s systems theory (which helped form the
basis of the LIFE model), as a key aspect of his model was the ‘chronosystem,’ defined as ‘change or
consistency over time not only in the characteristics of the person but also of the environment in which
that person lives’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1994, p.1646).
In this paper, a chronosystem perspective will be applied to the LIFE model by considering the
four dimensions in turn (body, mind, then culture and society together), with each differentiated into
their five levels, exploring research and interventions aimed at promoting wellbeing at each of these
levels. For each level, there will be a sense of progression through the lifespan, focusing on five broad
phases: infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood, and aging. The relevant literature is so vast that rather
than provide a comprehensive summary of all relevant theories and research far beyond the scope of
any paper the paper will simply alight on indicative research in the respective areas to show the
scope of enquiry in PDP. Even then, just highlighting exemplars in this way, in order to cover all the
‘bases’ there are 75 different strands of research, given that there are four dimensions, each with five
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levels, each of which can be considered with respect to five life stages. As such, the paper merely
offers an illustrative birds-eye review, capturing the vast sweep of enquiry that constitutes PDP.
Body
We begin by considering the ‘objective’ dimension of the body, i.e. physiological functioning and
behaviour. This is differentiated into five levels biochemistry, neurons, neural networks, the nervous
system, and the body as a whole which are considered in turn.
Biochemistry
Although in one sense the entire body is a biochemical entity, biochemistry is used in the LIFE model
to refer to all subcellular components and processes, like DNA. Research here relates to what Narvaez
and Gleason (2013) refer to as ‘developmental optimization,’ which examines ‘the complex
interactions among genes, environment, critical periods, the timing, intensity, and duration of
experiences and their contexts’ in order to explore their ‘interrelationships and effects on the
functioning of brain and body systems.’ Beginning with the antenatal and perinatal phases, as the
baby’s wellbeing is ‘inextricably linked’ to the health of the mother (Darmstadt, Donnay, & Starrs,
2013, p.1), we find a wealth of recommendations for healthy antenatal practices. These include
suggestions around nutritional substances which impact upon the physiology of the mother, and
consequently upon the embryonic child (NHS, 2014a, 2014b). Nutrition is equally important post-
birth; for instance, breast milk contains active biological compounds that support the development of
the infant's immune system (Niers et al., 2007). Progressing through infancy and childhood, a notable
line of work has been on the biochemistry of maternal bonding, particularly the role of oxytocin (see
IsHak et al. (2011) for a review). As children move into adolescence, overall morbidity and mortality
increases by 200% in adolescence (compared to early school age), principally due to ‘difficulties in the
control of behaviour and emotion’ (Dahl, 2004, p.3). As such, it is relevant that there is a genetic
component to the extent to which adolescents are susceptible to parental influence vis-à-vis such
adaptive self-regulation (Belsky & Beaver, 2011). Moving into adulthood, work has explored the
genetic contribution to wellbeing, such as Lykken and Tellegen’s (1996) analysis, which suggested
around 4452% of the variance in subjective wellbeing is associated with genetic variation. Finally,
Gatz et al. (1992) found that the genetic contribution to emotional wellbeing appears to actually
increase into older age.
Neurons
The next emergent level in the LIFE model are neurons. Relevant work here falls generally within the
‘neural correlates of consciousness’ paradigm, which explores ‘neural systems and properties of those
systems’ (Fell, 2004, p.709), and more specifically, within the ‘neural correlates of wellbeing’ subfield
(Urry et al., 2004, p.376). In infancy, there is work around the factors supporting synaptogenesis, like
‘affectively laden attachment communications’ between mother and child, which drive an epigenetic
relational process of ‘experience-dependent maturation’ (Schore, 2013, pp.35-36). Into childhood,
research on neuroplasticity includes analyses of the impact of stress, which can increase the growth of
the amygdala, but hinder the development of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (Davidson &
McEwen, 2012). The brain continues to develop throughout adolescence, with peaks in grey matter
volume around age 11-12, reflecting dendritic overproduction, followed by selective pruning (Spear,
2000). Factors affecting this process include maternal responsiveness in childhood (Frye et al., 2010).
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Into adulthood, a prominent line of enquiry (which also pertains to all other ages) is the impact of
neurotransmitter levels upon wellbeing, such as serotonin (Ferguson, 2001) and endorphins (Boecker
et al., 2008). Finally, entering older age, a promising area of research is on activities, e.g., meditation,
that help prevent or slow age-related cortical thinning in areas of the brain associated with attention
and executive function (Lazar et al., 2005).
Neural networks
The next level is neural networks, which reflect the notion that mental states are produced by the
interaction of areas distributed throughout the brain (Fell, 2004). In infancy, the newborn’s
undifferentiated neural systems depend on environmental cues, such as responsiveness and synchrony
within the caregiver-infant dyad, to support the maturation of neural connections (Pickler et al., 2010).
Lines of enquiry includes analysis of mirror neuron system during mother-infant interaction (Lenzi et
al., 2009), or the way oxytocin exerts its bonding effects by modulating affiliation-related neural
networks (Bora et al., 2009). Still in childhood, Davidson’s (2000) linkage between wellbeing and left-
sided hemispheric asymmetry has been found at this age too (Light et al. 2009). Adolescence brings
further development of neural networks, including circuits pertaining to intentionality and perspective-
taking, which underpin social cognition and skills (Güroğlu et al., 2009). Other intriguing analyses
include functional neuroimaging studies of loci underpinning feelings of love (Beauregard et al.,
2009). Analyses of the impact of aging on neural networks include St. Jacques et al. (2010), who found
age-related differences in the functional connectivity of the amygdala with the rest of the brain, such as
greater connectivity with the anterior cingulate cortex in older adults, possibly reflecting greater
emotional regulation.
Nervous system
Encompassing neural networks is the broader nervous system. In infancy, relevant research includes
studies on the vagus nerve (which helps regulate the autonomic nervous system); for instance,
Doussard-Roosevelt et al. (1997) found that vagal activity predicted developmental outcomes in low
birthweight infants. Moreover, Feldman et al. (2010) found that maternal touch during a stressful task
helped increase infants’ vagal tone, and reduced cortisol levels. Into childhood, Bothe et al. (2014)
report the positive lasting impact of a school-based stress management course (involving biofeedback
training) on anxiety and heart-rate variability (an index of vagal activity). Other relevant analyses
include the beneficial effects of exercise on physiological measures such as blood pressure and
respiration across age ranges, including children (Murphy et al., 2009), adolescents (Rocchini et al.,
1988), adults (Mueller, 2007) and older adults (Turner et al., 2011).
The body
The final tier is the body ‘as a whole,’ which encompasses generic health-related factors and activities,
from nutrition to sleep. In infancy, eating behaviour may impact upon weight later in life, with
protective factors against future obesity including breastfeeding (Koletzko et al., 2009) and parenting
styles that help infants regulate food intake (Epstein, 1996). Moreover, childhood obesity may also
adversely impact aspects of psychological wellbeing, such as self-esteem; as such, interventions to
promote healthy eating in childhood have been found to enhance both physical and psychological
health (see De Bourdeaudhuij et al. (2011) for a review). Research has also highlighted the importance
of restorative sleep patterns to the wellbeing of infants and young children (Smaldone et al., 2007).
Moving into adolescence, emergent pressures that affect adolescents include differential sleep pattern
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needs (Boergers et al., 2014), and new barriers to exercise participation, such as alcohol use (Tappe et
al., 1989). Into adulthood, research on the toll that work takes on the body has generated
recommendations around healthy practices, such as regulations to limit excessive working hours
(Sparks et al., 2013). Finally, factors that promote healthy aging include refraining from smoking or
alcohol abuse, maintaining a healthy weight, and engaging in regular exercise, as well as non-physical
factors such as marriage and education (Vaillant, 2004). Here we also see interventions tailored for
older adults, such as including physical activity initiatives (see King et al. (1998) for a review).
Mind
The ‘subjective’ dimension of the mind refers to subjective experiences of wellbeing, and to
psychological skills that help to promote wellbeing. This is differentiated into five levels: embodiment,
emotions, cognition, consciousness and awareness+.
Embodiment
Embodiment refers to ‘the subjectivity of the lived body’ (Turner, 2001, p.253), and to the related
notion of body awareness, an ‘overall concept for experience and use of the body, representing body
consciousness, body management and deepened body experience’ (Roxendale, 1985, p.10). In infancy,
research on embodiment focuses on the importance of touch, particularly since in Piaget’s (1971)
theory of cognitive development, learning during the initial sensorimotor stage proceeds primarily
through exploratory tactile engagement with the world. The importance of parental touch at this stage
is illustrated by interventions, like moderate-pressure massage, which can help accelerate the cognitive
and emotional development of pre-term and low birth weight babies (Field et al., 2010). Into
childhood, there is work around the value of increasing children’s awareness and understanding of
their bodies, e.g., through yoga, which can be helpful for children with emotional and behavioural
issues who may be resistant to more cognitive interventions (Steiner et al., 2013). In adolescence,
different pressures relating to embodiment arise; for instance, girls in particular may face pressures to
adopt unrealistic standards of beauty that can lead to problematic relationships with one’s body; as
such, initiatives have been developed to help young people cultivate more adaptive embodied identities
(Yarnal et al., 2006). Into adulthood, activities enabling people to explore their embodiment in positive
ways include yoga (Rani & Rao, 1994) and Pilates (Latey, 2001). These continue to be relevant into
old age, although modifications may be needed to render these suitable; an effective intervention in
this regard is Tai Chi, which as well as being relatively gentle, is also helpful for maintaining balance,
which is particularly vital in older age (Wolfson et al., 1996).
Emotions
In this level, the focus is not so much on emotions as an outcome (which arguably applies to all of
PDP), but with emotional skills and processes that are conducive to wellbeing, such as emotional
regulation (Gross, 1999) and resilience (Werner, 1993). The development of emotional regulation
begins in infancy, with parental interaction taking a crucial role, particularly through actions such as
mirroring (Feldman et al., 1999). There is also a large literature on the development of resiliency in
childhood, much of which stems from Werner’s (1993) longitudinal work, in which the key factors
include a positive self-concept, a close bond with a caregiver, and a strong support network. We are
also seeing emergent interventions to promote resilience in childhood, which fall under the general
banner of social and emotional learning (SEL) programmes. Among the most prominent and
successful is the Penn Resilience Program (Gillham et al., 1990), although meta-analyses of its
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longitudinal effectiveness are inconclusive (Brunwasser et al., 2009). Overall though, SEL
programmes appear beneficial: a meta-analysis of 213 studies found these were generally successful in
reducing conduct and emotional issues (Durlak et al., 2010). Such initiatives continue to be important
in adolescence, although the challenges addressed often shift according to the needs of the age, such as
violence and substance abuse (Belfield et al., 2015). Into adulthood, there are initiatives to enhance
emotional skills in a work context, like Reivich et al.’s (2011) ‘Master Resilience Training,’ which has
been widely and successfully implemented in the U.S. military (Elbogen et al., 2014). Finally, factors
that enhance resiliency in older age include personal control/self-efficacy and a sense of meaning in
life (Lamond et al., 2008).
Cognition
In the LIFE model, cognition encompasses non-emotional mental functioning, from discursive
thoughts to perceptual processing. Here we can also situate constructs that pertain to ‘character’
(Lickona, 1996), such as morals (Kohlberg, 1981) and strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Pre-
birth, research aims to identify factors linked to the subsequent cognitive development of the infant,
such as the mother’s prenatal stress levels (Buitelaar et al., 2003); likewise, post-birth factors include
the quality of childcare (Burchinal et al., 1996). In childhood, we see initiatives designed to inculcate
cognitive qualities that are beneficial to wellbeing, such programmes in moral values, ethics and
citizenship education (Lickona, 1996). In adolescence, there is an emergent focus on skills relevant to
entering adulthood. For instance, in Oyserman et al.’s (2002) career-orientated intervention, students
contemplate their ideal ‘future selves,’ and are assisted to connect this to current educational
engagement. In adulthood, similar themes recur, again reconfigured to meet the demands of the life
stage. For instance, in the work arena, initiatives include facilitation of strengths, such as Page and
Vella-Brodrick’s (2013) Working for Wellness Program. There is also research stemming from
Erikson’s (1963) and Kohlberg’s (1981) work on psychosocial and moral development throughout the
lifespan. Into older age, retrospectively-focused interventions promote wellbeing by helping people to
develop meaningful life narratives, such as reminiscence therapies (Cook, 1998).
Consciousness
In the LIFE model, consciousness refers to awareness and attention. The development of awareness
and attention skills most prominently through practices like meditation can impact upon wellbeing
in multiple ways, such as the self-regulation of emotions (Gross, 1999). As such, there is a wealth of
meditation-based research, adapted for all stages of the lifespan. There are mindfulness-based
interventions (MBIs) for the antenatal period (Vieten & Astin, 2008), childbirth (Sale, 2008), and the
whole perinatal phase (Duncan & Bardacke, 2010), as well as Duncan et al.’s (2009) ‘mindful
parenting,’ which covers childhood more generally. There are likewise MBIs specifically tailored for
educational contexts (see Burnett (2011) for a review), and for adolescents, including vulnerable
subsets like at-risk youth (Himelstein et al., 2012). Into adulthood, there are dozens of MBIs, adapting
Kabat-Zinn’s (1982) prototypical mindfulness-based stress reduction course for both clinical and non-
clinical settings. Finally, mindfulness can help reduce burdens associated with aging, including
ameliorating age-related cognitive decline (Gard et al., 2014), and assisting pain management and
mobility (Morone et al., 2008).
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Awareness+
Finally, ‘awareness+’ features work suggesting that conscious awareness can be superseded by
‘higher’ states/levels of consciousness (cf. Maslow, 1972). It also includes literature on spiritual
experiences and practices, which are seen as conducive to wellbeing (Koenig, 2009). In infancy, some
attention has been paid to spiritual care in nursing, and to the possibility that infants may experience an
age-specific ‘spiritual developmental stage’ (Murphy et al., 2015, p.114). In children, spirituality is
operationalised in an age-specific way, for instance as reflecting the ‘spiritual essence of wonder,’ a
capacity which may be cultivated through make-believe play (Harris, 2014, p.12). Entering
adolescence, spirituality takes on additional beneficial attributes appropriate to that age, like an
association with health behaviours such as abstinence, partly because such spirituality is frequently
intertwined with participation in a religious tradition that contains proscriptions against such
behaviours (Delva et al., 2015). In adulthood, there is a large literature on spirituality, including as a
source of meaning, and a potent resource in coping with adversity (Wachholtz et al., 2007). It is also
argued that spiritual experiences constitute an existential and/or developmental zenith, as encapsulated
by Maslow’s (1972) notion of ‘peak experiences.’ Finally, since spirituality almost always involves
some type of ‘positive’ perspective on mortality (e.g., belief in an afterlife), it can be valuable in older
age, and is a predictor of resilience (Lamond et al., 2008).
Culture & Society
The collective dimensions of the LIFE model, culture and society, are both stratified using
Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) systems theory (microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem),
together with an outer tier of the ecosystem. As we proceed through the levels, bear in mind that all
initiatives and factors considered here have an intersubjective aspect (e.g., how the social dimension is
experienced) and an interobjective aspect (e.g., the non-personal scaffolding of this dimension).
Microsystems
The microsystem refers to the immediate social setting of the person, e.g., the family. Such settings
feature a range of relevant factors, from aesthetics to their level of comfort; above all though, of
overriding importance are relationships, arguably the most important contextual factor for wellbeing
(Helliwell & Putnam, 2004). In infancy, the quality of infant-parent relationships is vital for wellbeing
in multiple ways. As outlined above, mother-infant interactions impact upon most aspects of
emotional, cognitive and social development (Schore, 2013), and help establish secure attachments
which are not only beneficial in childhood, but predict wellbeing and development in later life too
(Mikulincer & Shaver, 2013). Moving into childhood, there is recognition of the impact of parenting
styles on wellbeing (Cameron & Maginn, 2011). School is also a key microsystem, with research
highlighting the importance of a positive ‘ethos’ in a school (Wells et al., 2003). Into adolescence, the
‘positive youth’ paradigm (Larson, 2000) highlights the importance of programmes aimed at the needs
of adolescents, such as helping them develop Lerner’s (2009) ‘5 Cs’ – competence, confidence,
connection, character, and caring through activities like volunteering (Johnson et al., 1998). Into
adulthood, aside from the family, the dominant microsystem is work. Here we see a vast literature on
the importance of good relationships, as reflected in Levering’s (1988) Great Place to Work initiative.
Finally, in older age, other microsystems assume prominence, such as residential homes, the quality of
which markedly impacts on wellbeing (Ballard et al., 2001). As such, there are efforts to encourage the
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design of these homes with quality of life in mind, facilitating factors that contribute to positive aging
like autonomy (Lamond et al., 2008).
Mesosystems
The mesosystem refers to the interaction between microsystems, recognising that people ‘exist in inter-
locking contexts’ which together affect functioning (Sheridan et al., 2004, p.7). In infancy, a key
mesosystem interaction for parents is work-life balance; there is consequently work on the value of
employers providing assistance with childcare (Brandon & Temple, 2007). Into childhood, it is
recognised that school-based interventions are more effective if they also engage with family life. For
instance, adapted the Penn Resilience Program for adults as an adjunct to the school-based programme;
this encouraged parents to develop/use resilience skills and to support their child’s use of these at
home. Likewise, Families and Schools Together a multifamily intervention in which families attend
the school to participate in joint activities with their children has been successful on a range of
wellbeing and developmental indices (McDonald et al., 2006). In adolescence, many development
programmes take a mesosystem approach, recognising the multiple contextual influences that affect
youth behaviour and wellbeing (Larson et al., 2004). This is particularly important with at-risk youth,
for whom community assets, like mentoring programmes, are especially vital (Smith, Faulk, et al.,
2013). Into adulthood, the importance of work-life balance for wellbeing has already been highlighted.
Finally, mesosystem consideration in older age include providing community resources to older adults
who are themselves caregivers (Simpson & Lawrence-Webb, 2009).
Exosystems
The exosystem is the wider ‘social structures’ that ‘impinge upon or encompass’ one’s microsystems
(Bronfenbrenner, 1977, p.515), and essentially refers to the community in which one lives/works.
Beginning in infancy, exosystem considerations include community provision of infant care
facilities/services (Baqui et al., 2008) and safe spaces for play and recreation (Farley et al., 2007).
Likewise, research shows the value of providing structured leisure, culture and exercise opportunities
for children and adolescents in the community, such as sports clubs (Fletcher et al., 2003). Entering
adulthood, there is a wide range of community-based initiatives to improve wellbeing, such as the
‘Well London’ project (Phillips et al., 2012). Then, for older adults, quality of life can be enhanced
through interventions such as community-based exercise programmes (Munro et al., 2004), and the
provision of good public services, such as transport and accessible facilities (Cramm et al., 2013).
Macrosystems
The macrosystem refers to ‘overarching institutional patterns’ at a national and international scale,
including ‘economic, social, educational, legal, and political systems’ of which the other levels are
‘concrete manifestations’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1977, p.515). With infancy, a macrosystem perspective is
evident in national/international policies pertaining to infant health and wellbeing, such as nutrition
guidance issued by the World Health Organization and UNICEF (2003). Moving into childhood and
adolescence, all manner of macrosystem analyses are possible. For instance, Embse and Hasson (2012)
highlight the detrimental impact of an intrusive culture of testing in schools, which is associated with
emotional issues like anxiety. Likewise, scholars have argued for systemic policy-level changes to
child-time-structure patterns, e.g., incorporating time for play into the school day (Ginsburg, 2007).
Into adulthood, macrosystemic analyses include assessment of the impact of socioeconomic status
upon wellbeing; for instance, men in the poorest 5th of the population are almost three times more
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likely to suffer a common mental disorder than men in the richest 5th (EHRC, 2011). As such, macro
level attempts to improve wellbeing include policy recommendations such as reducing societal
inequality through redistributive mechanisms like taxes (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Regarding older
age, macrosystemic considerations include the interaction of demographic changes (e.g., in the UK, the
number of people aged over 85 has increased by 30% from 2005 to 2014) and public spending cuts
(funding for care of the elderly in the UK has been reduced by 10% from 2010 to 2014), and
consequently the need for cost-effective ways of meeting the needs of an aging population (Abrahams
et al., 2014).
Ecosystems
Lastly, the LIFE model adds a final tier of the broader ecosystem, reflecting the idea that all other
levels are embedded within a still larger context of the biosphere. Existentially, human wellbeing is
recognised as dependent upon ‘environment wellbeing’ (Smith, Case, et al., 2013). As such, research
situated within this level concerns efforts to promote environmental wellbeing at the various stages of
the lifespan. In infancy, this includes efforts to develop environmentally-friendly childcare products
(Weisbrod & Van Hoof, 2012). In childhood, ‘environmental education’ aims to teach children the
importance of sustainable behaviour (Stevenson, 2007). Entering adolescence, relevant research
includes analysis of factors that enhance environmental behaviours, such as perceived self-efficacy
(Meinhold & Malkus, 2005), and pro-environmental modelling behaviour by parents (Grønhøj &
Thøgersen, 2012). Into adulthood, relevant initiatives include interventions that encourage engagement
with nature, such as gardening (Milligan et al., 2004); and the promotion of environmentally-friendly
behaviours like recycling (Hopper & Nielsen, 1991). Finally, into older age, scholars are incorporating
environmental concerns into research on healthy aging, including notions such as environmental
‘stewardship’ (Wright & Lund, 2000).
Conclusion
The paper has provided a brief tour of PDP, highlighting key theoretical and empirical work that
provides the substance of this new field. It has done so using a multidimensional meta-theoretical
framework, Lomas et al.’s (2015) LIFE model, which provides a conceptual space that allows one to
situate all relevant concepts and work within a particular field, in this case, wellbeing throughout the
lifespan. Such a framework is useful in that it enables one to fully appreciate the vast scope of relevant
literature. While it would be beyond the scope of any paper to outline all relevant research, one can at
least offer an overview of the terrain by highlighting indicative examples of relevant work. This means
not only taking into account the four key ontological dimensions of the person (mind, body, culture
and society), but aiming for an even more nuanced understanding by delineating different levels within
these. Thus, this paper has provided indicative research examples for each of the levels within each of
the domains, and moreover doing so for each of the broad life stages (infancy, childhood, youth,
adulthood, and older age), as encapsulated in Table 1 below.
The Journal of Happiness & Well-Being, 2016, 4(2), 143-164
153
Table 1. Table showing indicative research pertaining to life stages, differentiated according to the
dimensions and levels of the LIFE model
Phase
Domain
Level
Indicative research
Infancy
Body
Biochemistry
Role of breast milk in supporting the infant’s immune
system (Niers et al., 2007).
Neurons
Synaptogenesis influenced by maternal wellbeing (Schore,
2013)
Neural networks
Activation of mirror neuron system during mother-infant
interaction (Lenzi et al., 2009)
Nervous system
Vagal tone shaping through caregiver touch (Ruth Feldman
et al., 2010)
Body
The importance of nutrition for development (Niers et al.,
2007)
Mind
Embodiment
Touch interventions (e.g., massage) for pre-term and low
birth weight babies (Field et al., 2010).
Emotions
Learning emotional self-regulation through parental
interaction (R. Feldman et al., 1999)
Cognition
Quality of childcare impacts on cognitive development
(Burchinal et al., 1996)
Consciousness
Peri-natal mindfulness interventions (Duncan & Bardacke,
2010)
Awareness+
The role of spiritual care in infant nursing (M. M. Murphy
et al., 2015)
Culture/
Society
Microsystem
Positive parenting guidelines (Cameron & Maginn, 2011)
Mesosystem
Family provision in the workplace e.g., childcare
facilities (Brandon & Temple, 2007)
Exosystem
Health impact of provision of infant care facilities and
services in the community (Baqui et al., 2008)
Macrosystem
National/international policies around infant nutrition
(Organization & UNICEF., 2003)
Ecosystem
Development of environmentally-friendly childcare
products (Weisbrod & Van Hoof, 2012)
Childhood
Body
Biochemistry
Role of oxytocin in maternal bonding and child wellbeing
(IsHak et al., 2011)
Neurons
Analysis of stress on neural development and
neuroplasticity (Richard J. Davidson & McEwen, 2012)
Neural networks
link between wellbeing and left-sided hemispheric
asymmetry (Light et al., 2009)
Nervous system
Improvement of heart-rate variability in children through
biofeedback training (Bothe et al., 2014)
Body
Importance of restorative sleep patterns (Smaldone et al.,
2007).
Mind
Embodiment
Yoga for children with emotional and behavioural
problems (Steiner et al., 2013)
Emotions
Penn resilience programme (J. E. Gillham et al., 1990)
Cognition
School based ‘character education’ programmes (Lickona,
1996)
Consciousness
Mindfulness interventions for schoolchildren (Burnett,
2011)
Awareness+
Spirituality in children reflected in experiences of wonder
and imagination (Harris, 2014)
Culture/
Society
Microsystem
School-wide positive education culture-shifts, i.e.,
changing school ‘ethos’ (Wells et al., 2003)
Mesosystem
School-family initiatives e.g., Families and Schools
Together ((McDonald et al., 1997)
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154
Exosystem
Provision of safe spaces for play (Farley et al., 2007)
Macrosystem
Systemic time allowances for play in school (Ginsburg,
2007)
Ecosystem
Environmental/sustainability education in schools
(Stevenson, 2007)
Youth
Body
Biochemistry
Genetic influence on the impact of parenting on self-
regulation in adolescence (Belsky & Beaver, 2011)
Neurons
Cortical thickness in adolescence linked to supportive
parenting (Frye et al., 2010)
Neural networks
Development of networks pertaining to intentionality and
perspective-taking (Güroğlu et al., 2009)
Nervous system
Reduced blood relating to exercise (Rocchini et al., 1988)
Body
Altered sleep patterns in adolescence (Boergers et al.,
2014)
Mind
Embodiment
Promoting positive body image and embodiment in
adolescence (Yarnal et al., 2006)
Emotions
Life Skills Training for adolescents (Belfield et al., 2015)
Cognition
Career-based interventions relating to ‘ideal selves’
(Oyserman et al., 2002)
Consciousness
Mindfulness interventions for at-risk youth (Himelstein et
al., 2012)
Awareness+
Spirituality as protective factor for health (e.g., reduced
alcohol use) in adolescence (Delva et al., 2015)
Culture/
Society
Microsystem
Positive youth programmes (R. W. Larson, 2000)
Mesosystem
Impact of linkage to community resources on youth
wellbeing (E. P. Smith et al., 2013)
Exosystem
Positive impact of community youth development
programmes (R. M. Lerner et al., 2005)
Macrosystem
Negative impact of culture of testing (Embse & Hasson,
2012)
Ecosystem
Impact of family behaviour on adolescent attitudes to
environment (Grønhøj & Thøgersen, 2012)
Adulthood
Body
Biochemistry
Genetics may account for up to 50% of the variance of
wellbeing in adulthood (Lykken & Tellegen, 1996)
Neurons
Endorphin release related to exercise (Boecker et al., 2008)
Neural networks
Analysis of the functional neuroanatomy of love
(Beauregard et al., 2009)
Nervous system
Beneficial effects of exercise in on blood pressure and
respiration (Mueller, 2007)
Body
Regulations to limit excessive working hours (Sparks et al.,
2013)
Mind
Embodiment
Body awareness therapies/activities e.g., Pilates (Latey,
2001)
Emotions
Work-based emotional resilience initiatives (Reivich et al.,
2011)
Cognition
Workplace strengths-based programmes (Page & Vella-
Brodrick, 2013)
Consciousness
Generic mindfulness interventions for adults, e.g., MBSR
(Kabat-Zinn, 1982)
Awareness+
Spirituality as a source of meaning (Wachholtz et al.,
2007).
Culture/
Society
Microsystem
Importance of quality relationships at work (Levering,
1988)
Mesosystem
Promoting work-life balance (Brandon & Temple, 2007)
Exosystem
Community wellbeing interventions for adults (Phillips et
al., 2012)
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155
Macrosystem
Active labour market programs that aim towards full
employment (Coutts et al., 2014)
Ecosystem
Promotion of environmentally-friendly behaviours, e.g.,
recycling (Hopper & Nielsen, 1991)
Aging
Body
Biochemistry
Genetic contribution to emotional wellbeing appears to
increase in older age (Gatz et al., 1992)
Neurons
Prevention of age-related cortical thinning e.g., through
meditation (Lazar et al., 2005)
Neural networks
Improved amygdala connectivity with regions involved in
emotional regulation (St. Jacques et al., 2010)
Nervous system
Impact of positive emotions on hypertension in older adults
(Ostir et al., 2006)
Body
Physical activity initiatives for older adults (King et al.,
1998))
Mind
Embodiment
Tai-Chi programmes for older adults to enhance body
awareness (Wolfson et al., 1996)
Emotions
Personal control/self-efficacy enhance resiliency in later
life (Lamond et al., 2008).
Cognition
Reminiscence therapies/interventions (e.g., (Cook, 1998)
Consciousness
Mindfulness interventions for older adults (Morone et al.,
2008).
Awareness+
Spirituality as a predictor of wellbeing in older age (Jahan
& Khan, 2014)
Culture/
Society
Microsystem
Designing care homes with quality of life as a priority
(Ballard et al., 2001)
Mesosystem
Provision of community resources for older adults who are
caregivers (Simpson & Lawrence-Webb, 2009)
Exosystem
Community-based exercise programme for older adults
(Munro et al., 2004)
Macrosystem
Importance of national funding for care of older adults
(Abrahams et al., 2014)
Ecosystem
Incorporating environmental concerns into research on
healthy aging (Wright & Lund, 2000)
In summarising the literature in this way, the paper provides the outlines of a comprehensive
future research agenda. At a minimum, as set out in this paper (and the table), this agenda features 75
lines of enquiry, comprising 15 levels (three dimensions, each with five levels), over five different life
stages. Moreover, the framework allows for far more complexity than is contained in the paper and the
Table. For instance, while each of the 75 lines of enquiry outlined here featured just one or two
indicative pieces of research, there are of course many others that could be explored in that particular
realm. Furthermore, there is no reason to limit the number of lines of enquiry to 75. The choice of five
levels per dimension, and five broad life stages, is just a heuristic device. Each of the dimensions could
be stratified into many more levels, and it would likewise be possible to segment the lifespan into a
greater number of levels. Finally, arguably the key point about a multidimensional model is that its
different dimensions and levels are not compartmentalised, but intersect and interact. As such, it is
possible to analyse any given line of enquiry in terms of all the other lines of enquiry. Take, for
example, the PRP (Gillham et al., 1990), situated here in the subjective domain under the level of
‘emotion.’ While ostensibly about the development of emotional skills, the PRP could be analysed in
all manner of ways. In terms of the other layers of the subjective domain, participation may impact
upon embodiment, cognition, consciousness and awareness+. Taking a physiological perspective, one
might analyse participation in terms of biochemistry, neural activity, nervous system functioning, and
the body as a whole. One could also look at it as a socio-cultural phenomenon, exploring its impact on
the microsystem of the school and its mesosystemic impact on family life, or considering how it is
The Journal of Happiness & Well-Being, 2016, 4(2), 143-164
156
supported by exo and macrosystem contexts (e.g., local and national educational policy), and even
looking at how it affects participants’ attitudes towards the environment. As such, it is hoped that this
framework may not only provide a useful conceptual and discursive space for the consideration of
existing work, but can also promote a future research agenda aimed at furthering our understanding of
how to facilitate flourishing across the lifespan.
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... Notwithstanding the importance of the physical dimension of wellness on a young child's health and well-being, the concept of wellness for the whole child includes nurturing and strengthening all wellness dimensions. The physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual dimensions of wellness collectively influence the overall well-being or holistic health of young children (5,9,29). Because the key tenets of wellness interact synergistically to support holistic health, it is important to view the child as a whole, regardless of age, when modeling behaviors, making relationships, supporting development, providing guidance, and promoting well-being at home or in the community. ...
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... More recently, Lomas, Hefferen, andIvtzan (2015, 2016) have explored various life stages through the prism of a multidimensional framework for conceptualising well-being, the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example) model. This model offers a meta-theoretical "map" of the person, and their well-being, identifying four main ontological domains (each with several levels) of the person including: subjective "mind"; objective "body/brain"; "culture", which encompasses shared languages and worldviews; and "society", which pertains to the material and structural scaffolding of these networks such as economic systems (Lomas et al., 2016). Lomas et al. (2016) highlight research relating to each level in each domain. ...
... This model offers a meta-theoretical "map" of the person, and their well-being, identifying four main ontological domains (each with several levels) of the person including: subjective "mind"; objective "body/brain"; "culture", which encompasses shared languages and worldviews; and "society", which pertains to the material and structural scaffolding of these networks such as economic systems (Lomas et al., 2016). Lomas et al. (2016) highlight research relating to each level in each domain. In the "youth" phase, positioned in between the "childhood" phase and "adulthood" phase, "cortical thickness in adolescence linked to supportive parenting" is an example of the "neuron" level of the "body" domain, and "impact of linkage to community resources on youth well-being" is an example of the "mesosystem" level of the "culture/society" domain. ...
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Mann (1965) suggested over 30 years ago that ‘hours of work have long been recognized as having a marked effect on the way an individual and his family lives’. Research investigating the relationship between work hours and health, produced findings which raised concern about the impact of long work hours on an individual’s well-being. Buell & Breslow (1960), for example, found a higher incidence of coronary heart disease in men who worked over 48 hours per week.
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This chapter presents findings on the relationships between employment status, health, and wellbeing, focusing on the protective role of active labor market programs (ALMPs). Conceptual frameworks from work psychology and social epidemiology are used to understand how employment status and participation in ALMPs affect health and wellbeing. Economic insecurity and involuntary unemployment pose significant risks to health and wellbeing. It is found that participating in ALMPs helps improve resilience to the health risks of unemployment and increases the likelihood of job reintegration. ALMPs are most successful when programs combine personal development, as well as skills training and employment recovery. In the context of austerity policies, investment in ALMPs offers economic and social value through helping to protect public health while readying the economy for recovery.
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The field of cognitive psychology is in a state of empirical abundance, and experts now know more about mammalian brain function than ever before. In contrast, psychological problems such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, and depression are on the rise, as are medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. Why, in this era of unprecedented scientific self-knowledge, does there seem to be so much uncertainty about what humans need for optimal development? Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development asserts that human development is being misshaped by government policies, social practices, and public beliefs that fail to consider basic human needs. In this pioneering volume, scientists from a range of disciplines theorize that the rise of problems like depression and obesity is partially attributable to a disparity between the environments and conditions under which our mammalian brains currently develop and those in which the brains of our distant ancestors developed-and evolved to suit. These early environments and conditions have been named the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA. For example, healthy brain and emotional development depends to a significant extent on caregiver availability and quality of care, which is argued to be in decline by some experts; in addition, practices such as breastfeeding, cosleeping, and parental social support, which have waned in modern society, may be integral to healthy infant development. As the authors argue, without a more informed appreciation of the ideal conditions under which human brains develop and function, human beings will continue to struggle with maintaining mental and physical health, and psychological treatments will not be effective. Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development puts forth a logical, empirically based argument regarding human mammalian needs for optimal development, based on research from anthropology, neurobiology, animal science, and human development. The result is a unique exploration of evolutionary approaches to human behavior that will support the development of new policies, new attitudes toward health, and alterations in childcare practices that will better promote optimal human development.
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This chapter measures successful aging by assessing four facets of health-both physical health and psychosocial health, both subjective health and objective health. First, with the passage of time, progressively diminished physical reserves are an inevitable part of aging, but, of course, the rate at which these diminished reserves occur is variable. Second, physical health can involve experiencing the biological ravages of age without feeling sick. Third, age and social class are important. The mission of positive aging is to add more life to years, not just more years to life. Results of the Study of Adult Development show that much of a septuagenarian's positive aging or lack of it is determined by controllable factors established before the age of 50. Seven factors that predict positive aging are not being a smoker, adaptive coping style, absence of alcohol abuse, healthy weight, stable marriage, exercise, and more years of education.