Functioning fully is a dimension of well-being that deserves further amplification. The term well-being is often thought of as referring to the circumstances of one’s life, the state of things external to oneself. The point that needs to be made in this connection is that well-being also entails being active, ideally doing the most that one can, and, especially, doing the most good that one can. All aspects of one’s own well-being need to be pursued actively and to be shaped by one’s needs.
Functioning fully has much in common with self-realization as advocated by several philosophers including Aristotle, Karl Marx, and F. H. Bradley and with “self-actualization” as advocated by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. The term “functioning fully” is preferable because it does not draw attention to oneself as the agent. As the earlier remarks on this subject suggest (see page 13), preoccupation with oneself, even with one’s achievements, is unhealthy to the extent that goals are envisioned in terms of the doer rather than in terms of what is to be done.
Functioning fully is to be understood to mean functioning fully within the constraints of what is possible and what can be made to be possible. What is possible, or can be made possible, is certainly going to be different in different cultures and different societies. In all societies and cultures, doing good involves either helping to expand what is possible or helping to promote what is possible.
What is possible for an individual person is determined in part by that person’s genetic endowments. This includes the different aspects of intelligence, various special aptitudes and talents, probably other characteristics such as energy level, and perhaps factors related to sociability. Particularly during childhood and adolescence one’s height, weight, muscle coordination and athletic abilities are genetically determined to a large extent.
What is possible for an individual may also be affected by disabilities, injuries and state of health.
Groups can also be said to have a conception, gestation, and life in society and to be subject to analogous constraints.
For individuals and for groups we can say, then, that introspectively, functioning fully means fully expanding one’s abilities for doing good and making full use of those abilities, within the constraints just mentioned, throughout one’s life. Doing good consists of enabling and encouraging other individuals and groups to function fully in the same sense. This enablement involves helping to remove constraints and enlarging upon what is possible within society for the young, the mature, and future generations.
Functioning fully has two essential aspects. The first aspect is finding an appropriate and suitable niche, or series of niches, in which one can be productive. Finding a suitable niche at any stage in the life of a person or a group has become quite difficult in industrial society and promises to become even more difficult in post-industrial society. Ways of facilitating the search were discussed earlier (pages 55 ff). The second essential aspect consists of carrying out self-made plans for acquiring abilities and for using those abilities to contribute to the well-being and full functioning of others.