Lifespan Development: Cultural norms or personal needs?
Which one would you choose to visualize your life? They may seem quite similar and yet be very different. Both go along nine stages of a lifespan but in different directions and different coloring.
- Kindergarten, school
- Having children
- Building/buying a house
- Career/Personal development
Do you experience different timing, sequences, or different qualities of life stages? Or do you even have different ones than what is socially customary? Maybe there’s indeed a need to rethink the concept of conventional lifespan development. There will still be falling in love, having children, and many other aspects (not to forget spiritual ones). But because today many young people worry about their life ahead, adults struggle with seeing meaning in it, elderly living in apathy long after they’ve stopped to lead a functional one, and then regret or denial on the death bed. Shouldn’t life be more joyful? Without giving prescriptive answers, the following considerations from lifespan psychology may provide some additional perspectives.
When and how one progresses with what personal development step varies a lot between cultures. Even within a particular culture, if not suppressed completely, different life paths can be observed as well. However, the vast majority within a culture chooses to conform with an established “norm.” But do these norms meet the personal desires of a human being, and do they take individual developmental needs into account?
Developmental neurobiological processes are more influential in early life stages (i.e., childhood), but cultural and social learning effects increase at later life stages.
Individuals in Eastern cultures relate in a more interdependent way than a more individualistic Western understanding of the self. At the same time, though, it was found that even in the East, the desire for some autonomous identity is a universally inherent human feature. Similarly, Parental over-control frustrates children both in the US and China.
19th and 20th century Western and Eastern artists were analyzed, and it was found that Eastern artists tend to arrive at their artistic peak achievement later in life, reflecting the Eastern tradition to emphasize the process to excellence rather than the more Western focus on originality and delivery.
Low self-esteem is linked to depression and reduced subjective well-being. Still, on the other side, heightened self-esteem risks degenerating to narcissism and the need to be better than others, which results in separateness. Instead of such a discriminatory pathway to self-worth, Eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism’s mindfulness practices that promote self-compassion instead, are hopefully more and more (re-)discovered.
Mainly, lifespan development focuses on behavioral and material aspects, while it still discards concepts of expanded consciousness such as the already decades-old self-actualization theory. Also, statistical analysis prevails, and more qualitative research might help understand individuals’ life journeys better and add to a more person-centric and contextual perspective in studying lifespan development.
Economically developed regions, sometimes referred to as Western countries, make up only 20 percent of the world population, while developing economies’ population is even disproportionately continuing to grow. At the same time, economic development in the Non-Western, often collectivist societies is likely to dramatically influence the outcome of related cultures. Therefore, psychology needs to focus more on where the big changes and populations are to understand human development.
To further integrate all relevant aspects of human development, a closer collaboration between life-course sociology and life span psychology seems to be a further promising aspiration. Like the emergence of culture and art marked a new era of Homo sapiens some ten thousand years ago, maybe breakthroughs in understanding human lifespan development related to culture may define the next evolutionary steps of humanity.
I am convinced that more answers lie in how people manage to develop independently of the good opinion of others. In the past, critical thinkers were persecuted and hanged; today, these are considered heroic philosophers. Is it still worthwhile to stand up for something against the resistance of the mainstream? Surely. I believe that this is precisely one of life’s goals: to express one’s ideas, create, and put service to something bigger above one’s own desires.
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