Lifestyle is an often overlooked but crucial part of psychological health. The word was first introduced by Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler in his famous 1929 treatise, The Case of Miss R. with the slightly different emphasis of “the general disposition of a person as determined early in life”. In recent years, however, the focus has turned more towards specific lifestyles, which may include, but are not limited to, eating patterns, work/business schedules, levels of social interactivity and personal expressions of self-esteem and personality. Changing one’s lifestyle is not always easy, but it can be particularly difficult when changes occur for the first time.
Some researchers use the term lifestyle to describe a set of attitudes, values and behaviors that people adopt and repeatedly demonstrate throughout their lives, regardless of circumstance. Some examples of such “lifestyle patterns” include those that regard themselves as successful (think entrepreneur, salespersons), assertive (athletic, sportsman), or concerned (carnivalesque). Some other common lifestyles include traditional family forms (husband/wife, parents, children, and extended families), nuclear families (two adults sharing a home and related routines and life-styles), and so on. The variety of lifestyles and their characteristics across domains of study makes it difficult to offer blanket classifications, but some generalizations may be offered.
Max Weber, in his Theory of Culture and Leadership, stressed the need to align our concepts of value with those of reality. After all, if our values and life-styles were based on our understanding of the world around us, then how could they be dynamic or realistic, which are concepts from the human mind that have no place in the real world? Weber rejected the reduction of culture to mere materialism, viewing the concept of culture as a historically present reality and not something static, timeless, and ultimately irretrievable. Instead, he believed that culture had meaning and was determined by a combination of inherited traits, conscious decisions about interpersonal relationships, and the role of group institutions in determining the kind of life a person lived.
The idea of the self as the central locus of agency and meaning is central to Weber’s thought. Rather than seeing culture as a monolithic set of behaviors and attitudes that can be manipulated or shaped by the masses, Weber conceived the individual as the main driver of his own identity and path in life. Weber viewed himself and his fellow citizens as motivated by personal necessities rather than a quest for immortality or social recognition. In this way, Weber removed the prevailing cultural bias toward egoism and materialism from the analysis of the self. By doing so, Weber presented a new vision of the self as the main locus of agency and motive in both its social and private forms.
Theodor Adler is best known for his work on mass communication and advertising, especially television advertising. His major book, Management as Communicative Activity, is often called the bible of marketing studies. But Adler also spent considerable time studying the psychology of the individual. And in particular, he spent considerable time examining how and why people made choices in the work place.
When it comes to studying the self-made man, some researchers look at life-styles or lifestyles as sets of generic habits or orientations that can be studied as isolated units. These units, in theory, can then be separated out and studied individually. Such separation is important, because otherwise it can seem as though people have little to contribute to their social world-as distinct from other people-and that their social worlds are static or unchanging. In reality, however, all persons deal with aspects of their lives in similar ways and thus all live-styles share a common theoretical framework that is shaped by personal experiences and circumstances.
Here are a few examples of elements of one such framework. The four elements of stili di vita (the past, present, future and ideal) are rooted in an individual psychology of the modern person. The past, as the most immediate and yet distancing element, is the result of earlier historical experiences-good or bad. The present is determined by what the individual has been able to accomplish for himself and his family in the past and what he hopes to achieve for himself and his family in the future. The future consists of desires, the individual has for himself and for his career, material goods, social relationships and beliefs. The ideal life style is a desire to achieve the best of all these and to make life as enjoyable as possible for the greatest number of people.
Thus, studying the unique aspects of a person’s lifestyle-its past, present and future-is intimately connected to studying the individual’s psychology. Studying the past and the present in turn shape concepts of the future. These concepts themselves are shaped by the individual’s behavior in the present. These concepts and behavior form the basis of stile di vita. Estilo de Vida therefore becomes an indispensable tool for anyone interested in understanding his or her own unique psychology.