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Abstract

I review a social ecological model of human development that stimulates reconsideration of some traditional views in personality and motivational psychology. I propose that the quality of lives is contingent upon the sustainable pursuit of core personal projects. Project pursuit may occasionally require the suspension of biogenic fixed traits and the adoption of ‘free traits’, and I review some preliminary research on this recent topic. Free traits are culturally scripted patterns of conduct that are strategically crafted to advance projects about which a person cares deeply. Biogenic introverts, for example, may act as extraverts in order to advance projects requiring expressions of enthusiastic assertiveness. This may not only enhance well-being by promoting successful project pursuit but may also compromise well-being because of challenges to the autonomic nervous system. The costs of free-traited behavior can be mitigated by the provision and use of restorative resources. When viewed through this perspective seeming inconsistencies and paradoxes of daily life become less puzzling as well as more intriguing. By tracing these themes through the lives of a hypothetical couple, George and Elizabeth, I hope to provide a stimulant to theory, research, and applications that can both explain and enhance the quality of lives.