At TrendsActive we are very invested in the debate of what exactly makes for a good life. Since we advise brands on how to impact people, it only makes sense for us to closely follow what it is that defines well-being for people. For the longest time science focused on two dimensions; happiness and meaning. Simply put, happiness is defined by pleasure, comfort and stability (hedonic), while meaning is defined by purpose, significance and coherence (eudaimonic). However, in a study published in the journal of the American Psychological Association this year, a new dimension was added to the discussion: psychological richness.
The article describes psychological richness as a life defined by variety, interestingness and perspective change. The facilitators of such a psychologically rich life are hypothesised by the authors to be curiosity, spontaneity and energy. Even though the idea of psychological richness is related to a happy and meaningful life, it was tested and confirmed as a third distinct dimension of a good life.
So what kind of activities typically contribute to a psychologically rich life? The authors name some examples like studying abroad, divorce, or even small things like short trips or escape rooms. “Unlike happiness, our conception of richness allows for moments of discomfort and unpleasant emotion,” the researchers write.
In a previous study by the same authors they questioned what kind of life people would prefer for themselves (happy, meaningful or rich life). Even though happy and meaningful lives were more popular, the amount of people opting for a rich life was significant. Across nine countries, participants preferring a rich life ranged from 6.7% in Singapore, up to 16.8% in Germany.
There does not appear to be one typical life that is considered ‘the best’ for everyone. As demonstrated in the questionnaire, most people choose a happy life, yet there are plenty of people that rather prefer a different kind of life. The authors raise three possible explanations as of why people desire different types of lives. Firstly, this could be based on individual differences and values; personal dispositions and values guide different kinds of people to desire different kinds of lives. The other two explanations take into account the life people are already living. A next explanation regards the so called compensatory approach, where people desire what they lack. Let’s say, somebody living in unstable economic and political conditions might seek stability and a happy life, whereas somebody living in safe and stable conditions might lack a sense of adventure and rather prefer a psychologically rich life etc. The third explanation is rather the opposite, an approach of self-justification; people desire what they already have. Both as a way of validating their own lives and as a result of selection (people that prefer a happy life are more likely to seek out a happy life).
Especially the second explanation is interesting from a Western point of view. Some of the most developed and relatively stable countries (Germany, Norway, Portugal) score the lowest preference for a happy life in the survey. A possible explanation could be that some key elements of a happy life, for example comfort and security, are seemingly so ingrained in Western societies, that people long for things they perceive to be missing, like meaning or richness. Whether that is the case will depend on further research.
At TrendsActive we are always closely monitoring developments in the discussion of what a good life entails. We will keep you up to date on any significant changes. Oh and by the way, if you want to find out how you’re scoring on the psychological richness scale, you can take the test here.
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