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Independent self-construal, self-reflection, and self-rumination: A path model for predicting happiness

Independent self-construal, self-reflection, and self-rumination: A path model for predicting happiness

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05/09/2014

 
Independent self-construal, self-reflection, and self-rumination: A pathmodel for predicting happiness
IRINA ELLIOTT
1
& SUZANNE COKER 
2
1
Queensland Police Service, Central Region Office, Rockhampton, and 
2
Central Queensland University, School of Psychology and Sociology, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
Abstract
A construal theory of happiness emphasises the mediating impact of cognitive and motivational processes on the individual’sperceptions of their happiness. This study investigated a path model with the two cognitive variables, self-reflection and self-rumination as mediating factors between an independent self-construal and subjective happiness. One hundred and twenty three participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure subjective happiness, independent self-construal, self-reflection, and self-rumination. Individuals’ propensity to self-reflect and self-ruminate was not found to be affected by anindependent self-construal. A higher independent self-construal was associated with greater happiness. The results alsoindicated that self-reflection has the potential to both increase and decrease (when mediated by self-rumination) subjectivehappiness. This study suggests that although meaningful self-reflection may be beneficial for individuals who do not enjoy high levels of happiness, the perils of self-reflection are that it may trigger self-rumination which has detrimentalconsequences for happiness.
The pursuit of happiness is inherent to humanexistence. Recently, research on happiness has beenrevitalised by the emergence of positive psychology with its focus on the resilience of human nature(Sheldon & King, 2001). The general consensus isthat although to some degree objective situationalfactors (such as income, health, age, and maritalstatus) influence people’s perceptions of their happi-ness, ultimately, happiness is a subjective phenom-enon, with subjective feelings, thoughts, perceptions,and evaluations of the situation even more importantthan the situation itself (Argyle, 2001; Diener, Suh,Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Heller, Watson, & Ilies, 2004;Myers, 2000).
 A construal theory of happiness
The subjective perspective on happiness is reflectedin one of the recent developments in research onhappiness, a construal theory. According to aconstrual theory, happiness is determined by whatpeople make of their experiences; that is, the way they construe and interpret the world around them(Lyubomirsky, 2001). In this respect, a construaltheory of happiness emphasises the role of hedoni-cally relevant cognitive and motivational processes asmediating the effects of person and situation factorson the perception of happiness.Hedonically relevant cognitive and motivationalprocesses (e.g., social comparison, dissonancereduction, self-reflection, and self-rumination) arethose which lead to hedonic consequences; that is,they have the potential to either promote orundermine a positive view of the self. For example,the positive association between self-rumination(dwelling on the negative in relation to the self)and depressed mood is a well-documented phe-nomenon (Nolen-Hoeksema, McBride, & Larson,1997; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1993; Nolen-Hoeksema, Parker, & Larson, 1994). From theperspective of a construal theory, self-ruminationmay be detrimental to happiness as focusing on thenegative in relation to the self may detract from apositive view of the self, which, in turn, maundermine the individual’s perceptions of theirhappiness.
Correspondence: Irina Elliott, Queensland Police Service, Central Region Office, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia.E-mail: Elliott.Irina@police.qld.gov.au
 Australian Journal of Psychology 
, Vol. 60, No. 3, December 2008, pp. 127–134.
ISSN 0004-9530 print/ISSN 1742-9536 online
ª
The Australian Psychological Society LtdPublished by Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/00049530701447368
 
Similarly, happy individuals have been found to beless prone to engage in self-reflection, or to think about and analyse one’s thoughts, feelings, andoutcomes of their actions (Lyubomirsky, 2001).Moreover, in experimental studies involving indivi-duals who display extremely high or extremely lowlevels of happiness, Lyubomirsky and Ross (1999)demonstrated that when happy people were inducedto self-reflect, their behaviour matched the behaviourof unhappy individuals, whereas when unhappy individuals were prevented from engaging in self-reflection, their behaviour matched the behaviour of happy people. This suggests that similar to thehedonic consequences of self-rumination mentionedabove, the hedonic consequences of self-reflectionmay be detrimental to the individual’s perceptions of their happiness.The question raised in this study is whichpersonality characteristics may predispose people toself-reflect or self-ruminate. The answer to thisquestion may reside in differences between indivi-duals in terms of how they see themselves (indepen-dent from others or connected to others). Thesedifferences are referred to as the distinction betweenindependent and interdependent self-construals(Markus & Kitayama, 1991).
Independent versus interdependent self-construals
According to Markus and Kitayama (1991), thosewith an independent self-construal define themselvesin terms of internal attributes such as traits, abilities,values, and preferences. In contrast, those with aninterdependent self-construal define themselves interms of their relationships with others. Markus andKitayama argued that differences between indepen-dent and interdependent self-concepts lead to differ-ent consequences for a number of cognitive andmotivational processes. Subsequent research not only supported this assumption (Choi, Nisbett, &Norenzayan, 1999; Kurman, 2002; Poasa,Mallinckrodt, & Suzuki, 2000) but also indicated thatthese differences in cognitive and motivationalprocesses may be related to subjective well-being(Cross, Gore, & Morris, 2003; Kwan & Bond, 1997).This suggests that the distinction between inde-pendent and interdependent self-construals can be asource of individual differences in cognitive andmotivational processes, which, in turn, may influenceindividual differences in happiness. From the per-spective of a construal theory, the mediating impactof cognitive and motivational processes on happinessis related to the hedonic consequences of theseprocesses for the individual’s self-esteem.In this respect, the present study was designed toinvestigate the negative hedonic consequences asso-ciated with the two cognitive variables, self-reflectionand self-rumination as mediating factors between anindependent self-construal and happiness. Anotheraim of this study was to assess the direct and indirectinfluences of self-reflection on subjective happiness.For these purposes a path model as presented inFigure 1 was constructed.
Path model and hypotheses
Markus and Kitayama (1991) argued that althoughindependent and interdependent self-construals arepredominant in individualistic and collectivisticcultures, respectively, individuals within a givensociety can be less or more independent or inter-dependent. (The distinction between individualisticand collectivistic societies refers to the extent towhich the value of the individual takes precedenceover, or is sacrificed to the needs of others.)Moreover, Hackman, Ellis, Johnson, and Staley (1999) demonstrated that independent and inter-dependent self-construal orientations are two sepa-rate constructs and suggested that the predictivecapacities of these two variables should be investi-gated separately.Markus and Kitayama (1991) argued that for thosewith an independent self-construal knowledge aboutthe self is more important and elaborated thanknowledge about the other; one’s internal abilities,feelings, and thoughts are therefore highly accessiblein memory. Moreover, for those with an independentself-construal, in comparison to those with aninterdependent self-construal, self-esteem is basedon internal attributes, which facilitates motivation toobtain more self-knowledge. This suggests thatindividuals with a highly developed independentself-construal may be more prone to focus onthemselves when reflecting on their life. For exam-ple, in Batson, Fultz, Schoenrade, and Paduano’s(1987) study, the shift in perception of pro-socialbehaviour as less altruistic as a result of self-reflectionwas greater for individuals who emphasised theimportance of self-knowledge over relationships withothers. Therefore, a higher level of an independentself-construal as an individual variable may lead togreater self-reflection.Markus and Kitayama (1991) point outthat although people with both self-construals are
Figure 1. Path model predicting subjective happiness
128
I. Elliott & S. Coker 
 
motivated to maintain a positive view of the self, they employ different strategies to do so. For those withan independent construal a positive view of the self involves seeking information that enhances internalattributes as their self-esteem is based on an ability toexpress inner qualities. In contrast, having self-attributes that are more positive should be lesscentral to the interdependent self, as the self-esteemof those with the interdependent self is based on theability to fit in and to maintain harmony in relation-ships with others. This suggests that individuals witha highly developed independent self-construal will bemotivated to avoid dwelling on the negative inrelation to the self. Therefore, a higher level of anindependent self-construal as an individual variablemay lead to less self-rumination.The role of the self-attentive process (the propen-sity to attend to one’s thoughts and feelings) inpsychological well-being appears to be controversialin research literature (Trapnell & Campbell, 1999).On the one hand, studies indicate that the self-attentive process promotes greater self-awarenessand more accurate self-knowledge (Hixon & Swann,1993), which is considered essential for psychologi-cal growth. On the other hand, the self-attentiveprocess has been found to be associated with greaterlevels of depression, anxiety, and neuroticism(Joireman, 2004). Trapnell and Campbell (1999)labelled these contradictory findings as the ‘‘self-absorption paradox’’ (p. 286). According to Trapnelland Campbell, the self-absorption paradox canbe resolved by attributing negative and positiveoutcomes of the self-attentive process to twoindependent factors within the self-attentive process,rumination and reflection, respectively.Attributing clear-cut positive outcomes to self-reflection, however, contradicts the findings of experimental studies on happiness mentioned above.In addition, Batson et al. (1987) demonstrated thatself-reflection can undermine altruistic behaviour.Moreover, the clear-cut independence of reflectiveand ruminative processes appears to be questionableconsidering that in a number of experimental studiesconnecting rumination and psychological well-being,self-rumination was induced through generic self-reflection (e.g., Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema,1993). In a similar vein, a study reported by Nolen-Hoeksema et al. (1997) suggests a possible causallink between self-reflection, self-rumination, andpsychological well-being, with self-reflection leadingto self-rumination over time and as a result to greaterdepressed mood. Therefore, greater self-reflectionmay be associated with greater self-rumination.Thus, based on the distinction between inde-pendent and interdependent self-construals andprevious research associating self-reflection and self-rumination with subjective happiness and well-being,it was hypothesised that: (a) a higher independentself-construal would be associated with greater self-reflection and less self-rumination, (b) greaterself-reflection would be associated with greater self-rumination and less happiness, and (c) greater self-rumination would lead to less happiness.
Method
Participants
Participants were 123 residents of Rockhampton inCentral Queensland (female,
n
¼
87; male,
n
¼
34;missing,
n
¼
2). Participants ranged in age from 18– 82 years (
 M 
¼
38.50,
SD
¼
15.31). Table I presentsthe age group, education level attained, maritalstatus, and income level of the participants.
 MaterialsThe Subjective Happiness Scale
(SHS; Lyubomirsky &Lepper, 1999) assesses the extent to which indivi-duals consider themselves happy and consists of fouritems with 7-point Likert type response formats.
Table I. Demographic data of participantsDemographic variable %
n Age
1824 years 24.4 302544 years 35.0 434564 years 35.8 4465 years and over 3.3 4Missing 1.6 2
Gender 
Males 27.7 34Females 70.7 87Missing 1.6 2
Education
Primary school 2.4 312 years secondary school 5.7 73–4 years secondary school 22.8 285–6 years secondary school 19.5 24Technical/trade 13.0 16Tertiary 34.1 42Missing 2.4 3
 Marital status
Single 32.5 40Married 39.0 48De facto 8.1 10Separated 4.9 6Divorced 13.8 17Widowed 1.6 2
Income(per year)
Less than $10,000 22.0 27$10,001$20,000 19.5 24$20,001$30,000 15.4 19$30,001$40,000 15.4 19$40,001$50,000 4.1 5$50,001$60,000 4.9 6More than $60,000 17.9 22Missing 0.8 1
Self-construal and happiness
129

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