Consider the Psychologically Rich Life

March 28, 2022

Cavan Bonner

What makes a good life? Scholars have traditionally distinguished between a hedonic, or happy/pleasurable life, and a eudaimonic, or meaningful/purposeful life. However, it is plausible to imagine a life that is both meaningful and happy, but also rather dull and boring. Could an essential part of the good life be surprise, novelty, and adventure? Viewing one’s life as complex and interesting? Scholars have recently termed this concept the psychologically rich life, and proposed that it is distinct from the definitions of eudaimonic and hedonic well-being.

Consider this thought experiment: if you could only choose one, would you prefer to live a happy, meaningful, or psychologically rich life? In a survey of participants from Japan, Germany, Portugal, India, Angola, and four other countries, the majority of participants chose a happy life, followed by a meaningful life. But a substantial minority, 7-17%, said that they would choose a complex and interesting life instead of a life that would be primarily happy or primarily meaningful.

Louis Tay

We often wish that our lives were happier, and many of us are motivated to find a higher purpose in life. But the coronavirus pandemic has also illustrated the value of complexity and novelty in our lives. During weeks spent social distancing, many of us began to feel bored and craved new experiences. Why do we value new, “psychologically rich” experiences? Obviously, they are interesting and are an antidote to boredom and monotony. A more philosophical reason is that new experiences help us grow as individuals and can lead to wisdom. Not all surprising or novel experiences are “fun” — some of these experiences are simply interesting, while others can be frustrating, challenging, or unpleasant. However, all of these experiences can help us learn and grow from new challenges and surprises.

As we head into spring, with warmer weather and more opportunities to spontaneously travel and experience new things, it might be helpful to reflect on what makes your life psychologically rich and interesting. When you felt bored of the winter weather and social distancing, what were you missing the most? Intentionally seeking out new challenges and experiences can help relieve boredom, and can possibly lead to the development of wisdom and perspective over time.

Cavan Bonner and Louis Tay 

Cavan Bonner received his B.A. in Psychology from Kalamazoo College in 2021, and currently works as a research manager at the Well-Being and Measurement Lab with Dr. Louis Tay. Cavan is broadly interested in how personality — including traits, well-being, and attitudes — develops over the lifespan.

Louis Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!

Key References

  • Oishi, S., Choi, H., Koo, M., Galinha, I., Ishii, K., Komiya, A., ... & Besser, L. L. (2020). Happiness, meaning, and psychological richness. Affective Science, 1(2), 107-115.
  • Oishi, S., & Westgate, E. C. (2021). A psychologically rich life: Beyond happiness and meaning. Psychological Review. Advance online publication. 

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