A person is a social decision maker who acts in a manner consistent with the subjective meaning of his or her lifestyle (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1959; Way, 1950). In a person's lifestyle, the goal is to belong to a social group or community. Gemeinshaftsgefuhl, or social interest, is the term Adler used to define the goal of belonging to a social group and describes the innate drive of a person to cooperate and contribute with others for the common good. Social interest includes factors such as helping, participating, respect, cooperating, empathy, contributing, and encouraging. It "becomes a mediating factor that provides for the reconciliation of the individual's internal, personal, subjective environment or frame of reference with the demands of the person's external, common, objective environment or surroundings" (Milliren et al., 2007, p. 137). Adler stressed that there is a balance of these factors in which a person can achieve goals in ways that also increase the welfare of others.
Milliren et al. (2007) explained Adler's social interest "in terms of three different aspects: of its being an aptitude or innate potentiality; of its being a set of abilities; and of its being a generalized attitude" (p. 137). First, the individual's innate aptitude influences the direction of striving toward social interest. Next, this innate aptitude must be developed into abilities, especially cooperating and contributing to others and the larger universe. Cooperating and contributing allow a person to become interconnected with others. Third, parents, guardians, and teachers should educate and cultivate social interest in children from an early age by giving tasks that help them to learn how to cooperate and contribute to the family or society. In addition to teaching children knowledge and skills, Adler suggested that parents and teachers should teach and role model how to be useful. Even young children can cooperate and contribute to the family through small tasks. Given opportunities to contribute within the family, Adler believed that children would then develop a level of social interest or sense of community with others.
Adler believed that if social interest is supported and developed, at the cognitive level a person will acknowledge the necessary interdependence with others and recognize that the welfare of all is important (Way, 1950). At the affective level, a person will be empathic and have a deep belonging to others. And, at the behavioral level, thoughts and feelings will be acted on, resulting in striving toward self-development as well as cooperating and contributing to others. Thus, a feeling of community will encompass a person's full development, resulting in experiences that are fulfilling and contributing to society.
The core of Adler's theory envisioned a person as capable of profound cooperation within society and striving for self-improvement, self-completion, and contribution to all. Thus, the concept of social interest is both personally fulfilling and beneficial to others (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1959). At the same time, social interest denotes a recognition and acceptance of the interconnectedness of all people in positive ways. Greater personal development increases the ability to connect positively with others, learn from others, and develop the self. Social interest is fundamental to the teachings of Adler, who taught that a sense of community is key to good mental health for a person. If a child learns the importance of cooperation, contribution, and community feeling, then he or she is more likely to continue to be mentally healthy throughout life. With a healthy foundation provided by family and society, a child is able to handle the life tasks of work, community, and love in a positive way. A discouraging family and unhealthy social setting create feelings of inferiority that can become exaggerated. The result is discouragement and an egocentric child who pursues a goal of imagined superiority and avoids the real social world.
Emotions and Feelings
Adler believed that goal orientation includes lifestyle goals as well as immediate goals. Emotions stir the drive to reach a goal. Adler viewed emotions in two types: conjunctive and disjunctive. Conjunctive emotions allow a person to stay connected by reacting with love, empathy, or joy. Disjunctive emotions create problems through reactions of anger, hate, or fear. Unity of lifestyle allows a person to choose emotions and achieve an immediate goal or lifestyle purpose. Goals are influenced by hereditary and social factors as well as emotions that evolve from the creative power and subjective perspectives of an individual. As noted by Milliren et al. (2007), "emotions are not something that control the individual; rather, the individual learns to use emotions to pursue goals" (pp. 141-142).