Can Psychological Well-Being Be Learned?

Psychological well-being (PWB) is known to positively and negatively affect a person’s emotional state. Research has shown that individuals with low PWB are more vulnerable to symptoms of depression and anxiety that those with higher PWB. Conversely, high PWB is associated with many physical and mental health benefits, including increased immune system, better sleep patterns, lower blood pressure, and even longevity. Increased self-esteem, happiness, and decreased aggression are additional byproducts of high PWB. In older women, high PWB has been shown to lower inflammation, decrease risk for heart disease, and give them a greater sense of life purpose. However, it is unclear as to whether this obviously favorable trait is one that is inherited or one that can be taught. If individuals, who struggle with anxiety and depression, or even physical ailment, could increase their level of PWB through education and interventions, the clinical implications would be significant. In order to test this theory, A. Gigantesco of the Instituto Superiore Di Sanita in Rome, Italy, explored the genetic and environmental basis of PWB in 742 Italian twins.

Gigantesco administered a version of Ryff’s Scales of Psychological Well-Being (SPWB) to the participants and evaluated their levels of autonomy, life purpose, self-acceptance, mastery of their surroundings, personal development, and relationships with others. The study revealed that the majority of the twins reported the source of their PWB as genetic. With respect to environment, the twins reported that it was anywhere from 19% to 42% responsible for their well-being. Although these findings suggest that individuals are often predisposed to PWB, it also clearly demonstrates that PWB can be learned. Gigantesco realizes that the results of this study do not clarify whether only healthy individuals can prevent negative mood issues with PWB or if those struggling with mental health challenges can be taught how to develop PWB to decrease their symptoms. “Although the concern with enhancing PWB is relatively new, much has already been accomplished by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.” Gigantesco added, “There are strategies that they may integrate into their daily clinical practice for treating residual symptoms and preventing future relapse for formerly depressed patients.”

Gigantesco, A., Stazi, M. A., Alessandri, G., Medda, E., Tarolla, E., Fagnani, C. Psychological Well-being (PWB): A Natural Life Outlook? An Italian Twin Study on Heritability of PWB in Young Adults. Psychological Medicine 41.12 (2011): 2637-649. Print.

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  • Ginna


    February 23rd, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Why should this even be a question?
    People with high pwb are of course going to have higher self esteem and far fewer issues with depression.
    This should make sense even without a degree in science.

  • Keith Walton

    Keith Walton

    February 24th, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    Even a dog can be taught some tricks you know, but I just have this sneaking suspicion that most of the time psychological fitness is something that someone either naturally has or does not. There are just too many factors that cannot be overcome, and how one’s mental health is is one of those things. I think that you grow up in these homes and see how others deal with life and these are the things that you learn. This is how you then deal with your own issues. So psychological well being is something that is learned but from a very early age.

  • Joe


    February 27th, 2012 at 2:08 AM

    Psychological well being-everybody is different no doubt. What this also means is that different people will definitely have different levels of psychological wellbeing. It is an advantage for some people no doubt but for those who do not have this advantage,any way or method that can help them gain the same sounds like a great thing and one that needs to be looked into.

    If this does provide good results in long term research it would be a big boost to a lot of people.

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