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A qualitative exploration of individual differences in wellbeing for highly sensitive individuals

Author

Listed:
  • Becky A. Black

    (The University of Melbourne)

  • Margaret L. Kern

    (The University of Melbourne)

Abstract

Cultures explicitly and implicitly create and reinforce social norms and expectations, which impact upon how individuals make sense of and experience their place within that culture. Numerous studies find substantial differences across a range of behavioral and cognitive indices between what have been called “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD)” societies and non-WEIRD cultures. Indeed, lay conceptions and social norms around wellbeing tend to emphasize social outgoingness and high-arousal positive emotions, with introversion and negative emotion looked down upon or even pathologized. However, this extravert-centric conception of wellbeing does not fit many individuals who live within WEIRD societies, and studies find that this mismatch can have detrimental effects on their wellbeing. There is a need to better understand how wellbeing is created and experienced by the large number of people for whom wellbeing manifests in alternative ways. This study investigated one such manifestation—the personality trait of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS)—qualitatively investigating how sensitive individuals experience and cultivate wellbeing within a WEIRD society. Twelve adults participated in semi-structured interviews. Findings suggest that highly sensitive individuals perceive that wellbeing arises from harmony across multiple dimensions. Interviewees emphasized the value of low-intensity positive emotion, self-awareness, self-acceptance, positive social relationships balanced by times of solitude, connecting with nature, contemplative practices, emotional self-regulation, practicing self-compassion, having a sense of meaning, and hope/optimism. Barriers of wellbeing included physical health issues and challenges with saying no to others. This study provides a rich idiographic representation of SPS wellbeing, highlighting diverse pathways, which can lead to wellbeing for individuals for whom wellbeing manifests in ways that contradict the broader social narratives in which they reside.

Suggested Citation

  • Becky A. Black & Margaret L. Kern, 2020. "A qualitative exploration of individual differences in wellbeing for highly sensitive individuals," Palgrave Communications, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 6(1), pages 1-11, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:palcom:v:6:y:2020:i:1:d:10.1057_s41599-020-0482-8
    DOI: 10.1057/s41599-020-0482-8
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    References listed on IDEAS

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