Real: The Context
Frameworks for Authenticity
Authenticity isn’t the easiest thing to define. Depending on the philosopher, psychologist or scholar you read, there are a number of definitions that have been developed to help us understand what it means to be authentic. Some focus on whether the traits you exhibit are consistent with those of the “true self” while others center on whether or not there exists a cohesive narrative that portrays an overall picture of the standards by which you strive to live.
Research indicates that the concept of “realness” is not just a synonym for authenticity, but is actually a distinct component of authenticity that historically has been obscured in the course of research. One study has defined realness as “the relatively stable tendency to act on the outside the way one feels on the inside, without regard for proximal personal or social consequences.” As part of this research featured in the “Journal of Research in Personality”, “there were nine studies, [showing] that realness is a) a core feature of individual differences in authenticity, b) generally adaptive but largely unrelated to agreeableness, c) highly stable, d) reliably observable in dyadic behavior, and e) predictive of responses to situations with potential for personal or social costs.”
Additional research into frameworks for authenticity have attempted to differentiate between authentic and inauthentic behavior, as well as further examine the alignment between the intrapersonal concept of authenticity vs. the interpersonal expression (realness) of that authenticity. Through a series of surveys, the researchers arrived at a series of 10 questions that predict authentic self-expression and 10 that are associated with inauthentic self-expression. Further studies were conducted to isolate verbal expressions of these behaviors while accounting for the concept of self-censorship which is distinct from inauthentic verbal expression.
Taking an alternative approach to understanding authenticity, researchers asked 103 undergraduates to describe experiences they deemed authentic or inauthentic, along with a vivid memory. After analyzing the results, five key themes emerged that can be used to categorize authentic behavior: relational authenticity, resisting external pressures, expression of true self, contentment, owning one's actions. Four key themes described inauthentic behavior: phoniness, suppression, self-denigration, and conformity.
These narrative based categories were then used to score a new set of experiences from a second study and compare the results to traditional self-reported trait-based surveys measuring authenticity. The researchers found that narrative studies and self-reported studies provided minor overlap in results, indicating two somewhat distinct measurements that help create a more holistic understanding of a person’s authenticity.
One additional approach to help explain this relationship lies in the creation of a lay theory referred to as “true-self-as-guide.” To quote the authors of this research, “This lay theory approach is rooted in the idea that most people internalize the belief that ‘true selves’ should guide behavior to live a fulfilling life.”
These themes of self-reflection and describing past experiences have been incorporated into some of the practices you’ll be completing this month!
Impact of Authenticity on Well-Being
In the wider literature, there is robust support for the relationship between authenticity and subjective wellbeing. Authenticity has been shown to lead to higher global self-esteem, life satisfaction, and has been negatively related to contingent self-esteem and negative affect.
Comparing the results of questionnaires differentiating authenticity to established questionnaires and studies on well-being indicated authentic expression is positively associated with many measurements of well-being, while inauthentic feelings can generally be associated with negative outcomes.3 Inauthentic expression is a bit more nuanced however. Internal feelings of inauthenticity have consistently resulted in poorer outcomes while inauthentic interpersonal expressions sometimes have no negative effect, likely due to situational factors impacting how we relate to one-another and how the way we express ourselves contributes to our ability to maintain relationships.
Authenticity & Social Media
Social media has opened up a wider world and allowed us to instantly connect with millions of people, but with the pressure to appear as the best version of yourself arises, it’s easy to project an idealized version of yourself. Research into this top has shown that when it comes to social media, projecting the authentic self tends to result in more positive subjective well-being in the moment and is correlated with greater life satisfaction.
Modern Philosophy, Psychology, & Science
Modern science and psychology have shown that moral values and principles play an important role in human well-being and happiness. Research in positive psychology has demonstrated the benefits of cultivating virtues such as gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion, which can lead to greater life satisfaction and resilience. Neuroscience has also shown that moral decision-making is closely linked to brain activity related to reward and punishment, suggesting that living a virtuous life may also have physiological benefits.
Modern philosophy offers a wide range of perspectives on the role of moral values and principles in achieving happiness and well-being. Some modern philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill, emphasize the importance of rational decision-making and the pursuit of the greater good for achieving moral excellence and happiness. Others, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, emphasize the importance of individual autonomy and the pursuit of personal meaning and fulfillment.
Axial Philosophies Overall
Axial Philosophies, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, and Stoicism, provided advice regarding moral values and principles and their impact on happiness and well-being. These philosophies emphasized the importance of cultivating virtues such as compassion, wisdom, and self-control, and living in harmony with oneself, others, and the natural world. They argued that by living a virtuous life and fulfilling one's duties and responsibilities, one could achieve inner peace, contentment, and a sense of purpose in life. For instance, Confucianism emphasized the importance of cultivating a strong moral character, while Buddhism stressed the importance of compassion and mindfulness, and Stoicism focused on developing resilience and acceptance of what is beyond one's control.
Confucianism & Daoism
Confucianism emphasizes the importance of cultivating moral values and principles, such as benevolence, righteousness, and propriety, in order to achieve happiness and well-being. Confucius believed that by living a virtuous life and fulfilling one's duties and responsibilities, one could attain inner peace, contentment, and a sense of purpose in life. Confucianism also emphasizes the importance of cultivating strong relationships with others and living in harmony with society. According to Confucius, the key to achieving a fulfilling life is to strive for personal excellence while fulfilling one's social obligations.
Daoism emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with the natural world and cultivating a sense of inner peace and tranquility. It encourages individuals to follow the "Dao," or the natural way, and avoid unnecessary actions or desires that disrupt the balance of nature. Daoism also emphasizes the importance of simplicity, humility, and non-action, or "wu wei," in order to achieve a state of flow and harmony with the universe. By living in accordance with the Dao and cultivating a sense of inner peace and contentment, individuals can achieve a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Hinduism & Buddhism
Hinduism emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life, based on the principles of dharma, karma, and ahimsa, in order to achieve happiness and well-being. Dharma refers to one's duty and responsibility towards oneself and society, while karma refers to the law of cause and effect, in which one's actions have consequences. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is a central principle of Hinduism, emphasizing the importance of compassion towards all living beings. By living in accordance with these principles, individuals can attain inner peace, contentment, and a sense of purpose in life.
Buddhism emphasizes the importance of cultivating moral values and principles, such as compassion, wisdom, and mindfulness, in order to achieve happiness and well-being. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path provide guidance for living a virtuous life and achieving inner peace and contentment. Buddhism also emphasizes the impermanence of all things and the importance of letting go of attachment and desire, in order to reduce suffering and attain enlightenment. By living in accordance with these principles, individuals can achieve a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in life.
Traditional Western Philosophy & Stoics
The Stoics believed in living a virtuous life based on reason, self-control, and the pursuit of moral excellence. They emphasized the importance of accepting what is beyond one's control and focusing on one's own actions and attitudes, rather than external circumstances. The Stoics believed that by living in accordance with nature and cultivating virtues such as courage, wisdom, and justice, one could achieve inner peace, contentment, and a sense of purpose in life.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam
Christianity emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life based on the principles of love, compassion, and forgiveness, in order to achieve happiness and well-being. Christians believe in the importance of following the teachings of Jesus Christ, who emphasized the importance of treating others with kindness and respect, and living a life of service to others. Christianity also emphasizes the importance of faith, hope, and charity, and the belief in an afterlife that rewards virtuous behavior.
Judaism also emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life based on the principles of justice, righteousness, and compassion, in order to achieve happiness and well-being. The Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Torah provide guidance for living a moral and ethical life, and emphasize the importance of treating others with respect and dignity. Judaism also emphasizes the importance of community and the value of helping others, particularly those who are less fortunate.
Islam emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life based on the principles of faith, compassion, and social responsibility, in order to achieve happiness and well-being. The teachings of the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad provide guidance for living a moral and ethical life, and emphasize the importance of treating others with respect and dignity. Islam also emphasizes the importance of community and the value of helping others, particularly those who are less fortunate.
For more info on how to live a more authentic life, check out the link below to a TED talk from Akuyoe Graham who has done amazing work with at-risk youth:
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