The attempt to understand human thought and behaviour is a rather new discipline and over the last 100 years or so, there has been a massive debate over which perspective to take. My first Psychology lecture provided a brief overview of the different perspectives and I must say it left me rather inspired. For a long time, I have pondered whether we have control over how we act – is it nature or nurture? Can we control and improve ourselves, or are we merely a symptom of our environment? The different perspectives in psychology shed light on these questions and learning about them helped me to come to my own conclusions. A brief overview of the main perspectives is shown below. Hopefully, they will help you too.
This perspective suggests that behaviour is the result of an interplay between thoughts, feelings and wishes and that conscious and unconscious forces interact to control our thoughts and behaviours. Some mental events are unconscious and when mental processes are in conflict, we experience anxiety.
This theory focuses on behaviour as a result of environmental stimuli and learning. It disregards the role of internal states, such as feelings, in understanding the behaviours of humans and animals. The general principle is that stimuli becomes associated through conditioning: positive and negative reinforcement teach us how to behave.
Behaviour cannot be understood without understanding our development. Theorists in this area seek to understand how we acquire, store and process information throughout our lifespan. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) introduced the first Cognitive Theory, and a lot of our current understanding of development stems from his findings. His suggestion was that children actively construct new understandings of the world based on their experiences and that this is the basis of human behaviour.
Behaviour as a result of evolution: our behaviours evolved because they helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. This perspective focuses on the behaviours that are biologically determined such as the impulse to eat and sexual desire.
This perspective emphasises the uniqueness of the individual and supports the idea that people are motivated by growth and reaching their full potential. Theorist, Abraham Maslow, believed that people are innately good and will strive to realise their goals and ambitions.
There is no right perspective to take when it comes to psychology. When explored, they all have value and offer evidence-based answers to all my questions. However, I strongly believe that no one perspective can fully answer any question and that an interplay of all the theories is the only way we can formulate an understanding of the complexity of the human race.
With this in mind, the Humanistic Perspective is the one that caught my attention. It seemed to me like this was the only one that actually allowed for control. It established the very principle that I have sought to instil in my own life: happiness. Abraham Maslow and other humanist theorists took an optimistic view of human nature. They recognised the role of personal growth in the happiness of individuals – they recognised the role of self-actualisation.
Self-actualisation is fulfilling your individual potential. It is a drive that is present in every individual and it revolves around making your best self a reality. Abraham Maslow described it as the requirement of becoming what we ‘can’ be. He stated, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” I found that the humanistic theory offered me some hope. It offered me the opportunity for self-improvement and for some power over where my life is going and the way in which I wanted my life to play out. It corresponded with a book I had been reading at the time, ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin, which taught me an abundance of ways I could enhance my life and appreciate what I already had.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
‘The Happiness Project,’ literally changed my perspective on life, and I don’t say this lightly. I am sure the messages in that book will come up in more and more of my blog posts due to just how much it touched me. One key message I found was the significance of expanding your self-definition. You need to constantly challenge yourself and acquire new skills. You need to put more eggs in your basket, so when one is cracked you have others to rely on. This really hit home for me when I reflected on tearing my ACL. I had always considered touch football my primary talent, the one thing I had going for me. So, once it was taken away I felt lost. The main component of identity had vanished. This was not the case, however it took me too long to realise this. It is now, in hindsight, that I can say I am so glad it happened. It allowed me to explore other aspects of my personality and other interests and expand myself. It helped me to begin my journey of self-growth and actualisation.
“We are happy when we are growing.”
William Butler Yeats
The significance of growth to individual happiness is often overlooked and I feel like this is a major downfall amongst our global community. Humans have this desire to constantly be moving onward and upward. We tend to be goal driven and unhappy with stagnancy or mediocrity. Yet, we consistently settle for stagnation despite it being pivotal to our unhappiness. Why is this?
This quote illustrates my stance on the issue. People can’t be what they can’t see. This can be found in many social issues such as representation in media and family success and support, however I think self-esteem is a tremendous factor in determining our level of growth. If we are unable to see ourselves being successful or reaching our goals, why would we strive for them? It all comes back to my worldview: you are your everything. We have so much agency over our lives and often, this goes unnoticed. We can control our perceptions and our emotions. We can lead a happy life in the midst of adversity. Of course, I have lived an extremely privileged life, and the fact that I was settling for unhappiness despite this, alarmed me. And so, I begin this journey: the journey to self-actualisation. The journey to appreciation, happiness, acceptance and being the best I can be.