Once upon a very long time, well-being scientists agreed that “the good life” was comprised of both a happy life and a meaningful life.
And then a few of those psychologists went off and did psilocybin or something, and came back from their trip with Revolutionary and Important Insights About Life (God I love it when they do that! Especially when their insights align with my own life philosophies!). Here’s what they came up with after mushrooms years of dedicated well-being research and studies and PhD-level thought leadership:
There is a new dimension to living a life worth living—a special kind of richness. Take the quiz to see how in-tune you are with the New and Improved Good Life!
What is this new kind of richness that researchers deem essential to the good life? A) The Time Rich Life (feeling like you have enough time to fit your discretionary/ leisure endeavors into your schedule) B) The Ultra Rich Life (net worth of $1 billion or more) C) The Fiber Rich Life (all the cabbage your gut can handle) D) The Psychologically Rich Life (a life where interesting experiences in which novelty and/or complexity are accompanied by profound perspective changes)
If you answered A, well, keep dreaming, Little Ms. Stargazer! You’ll have enough time to do all the things you long to do when you die.
If you answered B, we know you watched Succession. Should I get into it?
If you answered C, we can giggle in scatological amusement over in the corner together.
If you answered D, good for you! You did a great job of reading the title of this article before taking the quiz.
Notes on the good life and Psychological Richness
Need a quick refresher on well-being?
The happy life is about contentment, fun, pleasantness, comfort, and safety. This maps onto my notion of living wider with vitality.
The meaningful life is about purpose, a sense of meaning, connection, devotion, service, and sacrifice. This overlays my concept of living deeper with meaning.
Cross-pollinating these two dimensions together creates the hybrid known as the good life. But it’s not good enough . . . we need more.
Thepsychologically rich life is characterized by variety, novelty, and interest. We can have happy and meaningful lives but slip into autopilot week after week of the same routines. Spicing things up with a variety of curiosity-indulging and perspective-shifting experiences is just what the PhD’s ordered.
The good news is that you can be flat out broke and still psychologically rich. While this richness can’t be taken to the bank, it will yield something most of us clamor for: wisdom.
Here is what researchers eloquently have to say on this matter:
Individuals who have led a psychologically rich life presumably have done so via broad life experiences, in which they have encountered (and entertained) a variety of perspectives, and recognized life’s complexity. Accordingly, a psychologically rich life should be associated with holistic thinking styles and attributional complexity, which should in turn should give rise to wisdom. Thus, on their deathbed, a person who has led a happy life might say, “I had fun!” A person who has led a meaningful life might say, “I made a difference!” And a person who has led a psychologically rich life might say, “What a journey!”
When reading through the columns, what stood out to you? Where is your life centered as of late: more towards the happy, meaningful, or psychologically rich life? Or a combination of two or three? Or none?
Is there a dimension of the good life you’d like to bolster?
When forced to choose their “ideal life” out of the three dimensions in a multi-country study, “a non-trivial number of participants still selected [psychological richness] as their ideal life, ranging from 6.7 to 16.8% of the participants. These findings suggest that a psychologically rich life is one type of a good life and is actively favored even over a happy life or a meaningful life by a minority of individuals across a diverse set of cultures.”
In the US, 62.2% of us picked the happy life first, followed by 24.7% who selected the meaningful life. 13.2% of people in the US opted for the psychologically rich life as their number one pick.
Using fancy statistical footwork, researchers “found that roughly 28% of American adults desired a psychologically rich life, far higher than the number who reported desiring so explicitly.” A third of us unambiguously want more novelty and variety in our lives, and in my experience, the other two thirds of us ambiguously want it. Novelty and “newness” is a basic psychological need that most of us don’t know we need.
Okay, back to you. What does your ideal life look like?
On a 7-point scale (1 = not in the slightest; 7 = very much!), indicate the degree to which your ideal life is characterized by the following words:
“Full of surprise”
“Sense of purpose”
Items 1 – 5 were intended to capture characteristics of a happy life, items 6 – 10 a psychologically rich life, and items 11 – 15 a meaningful life.
What kind of life feels most ideal to you? If you are living like you mean it—and it ain’t broke—don’t fix it. On the other hand, if you are feeling a desire for more in life, this breakdown of well-being categories might provide a new way of seeing what’s missing. Joy? Relationships? Purpose? Spontaneity?
Regardless of what kind of life you’re leading, or long to lead, can I suggest a bit more novelty, variety, and interest? Even in the smallest ways—like altering your morning routine, eating a different kind of cuisine, walking instead of biking, taking a different route to work, trying a new kind of class. When psychologists get excited about a whole new galaxy of the good life, it’s worth getting curious about. Let’s try something new! (Maybe not mushrooms, though.)