Engagement: A Source of Value, Quality of Life, or Both?

The difference between the two examples is the level at which engagement is defined: While the latter perspective defines engagement as a state that people are in while they are doing something (e.g., pursuing a goal, reading a book, solving a problem, or playing a tennis match), the former example describes what one may call an engaged life, which is quite a different thing, at least at the first glance. What exactly is an engaged life then? Isn’t it just a busy, hectic way of spending one’s time? Or does the diversity of activities one pursues on a regular basis also play a role? Again, there is no single answer, but as you will later see, all answers have something in common. For example, if one were to ask people on the street what engagement or being engaged means, one would be likely to find answers ranging from being involved, committed, willing to expend time and energy on things one values, a sense of caring, and taking responsibility for something. If one were to ask researchers in the domain of  positive psychology, on the other hand, they would explain that an engaged life refers to making use of one’s positive traits, including strengths of character (e.g., originality, integrity, or courage) and talents, which in turn leads to higher engagement, absorption, and flow in life, and thus adds to subjective well-being (Duckworth, Steen, & Seligman, 2005). Similarly, Cantor and Anderson (1999) believe that vigorous participation in personally involving daily life activities increases effective funtioning and subjective wellbeing. Speaking to the diversity aspect of engagement, the expression “engaged lifestyle” has also been used to describe an active involvement in various domains of life, including mental, social, and physical activities, which acts as a buffer against  cognitive decline as people are getting older (Bosma, van Boxtel, Ponds, Jelicic, Houx, Metsemakers, & Jolles, 2002). So engagement not only makes you like your job more (provided you consider it to be at least a little bit positive), but also makes people happier and smarter in old age? This is a compelling conjecture supported by preliminary evidence, but it requires some further thought and empirical testing. Remember, all the findings are based on a slightly different definition of engagement! However, what all of them have in common is a sense of involvement in current activities or in what life has to provide.

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