If Mick Jagger had waited until now to croon about his miserable life, he would have learned that the connection he feels with his Rolling Stones bandmates is more satisfying than sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. A new study suggests that, in addition to togetherness, self-esteem and a feeling of competence make people happy.
Many theories describe people's most basic social and psychological needs, but debate rages over whether they are truly universal. To identify the most important psychological needs and pit them against each other, a team of researchers led by psychologist Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri, Columbia, first combed through a dozen philosophies and psychological theories--such as the "self-determination theory of motivation" and the "win friends and influence people" theory--to come up with a list of 10. The researchers then surveyed 700 students at the University of Missouri and another 200 at Hanyang University in South Korea. The students were asked to think of recent satisfying or unsatisfying events and rank which psychological needs were most relevant.
Poring over the surveys, the psychologists found that, for North American students, satisfying events were most likely to fulfill the need for self-esteem, or a sense of worthiness. Other high-ranking needs included feeling competent, feeling close to others, and feeling they weren't being manipulated. Korean students selected the same four important needs, although they ranked connectedness to other people first, the team reports in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Material needs, meanwhile, weren't ranked as particularly relevant to satisfying events--although the researchers admit that the study participants were likely to be well-off.
The low rank of hedonism surprises psychologist Edward Deci of the University of Rochester in New York. But he praises the studies as a "meaningful step" toward assessing "fundamental aspects of human nature." The results suggest these fundamental psychological needs are universal, Deci says.