Live For Happiness Or Purpose? Psychologists Say There Is A Third Way To A Good Life

October 8, 2020

Ask any person on the street what a good life means and you’d most likely get one of two answers. They’ll tell you it means to be happy—seeking joy and pleasure, or that it means doing something meaningful with their life—to live with purpose. The two are very different and are regarded as an either/or by psychologists. 

A meaningful life, in which you strive to meet your goals and aspirations and is guided by certain morals and ethics, does not coincide with seeking a happy life, in which one seeks low-stress, stable situations and relationships and is guided by the mission for pleasure and comfort. 

Despite these being the two age-old options for what is considered a “good life,” recent studies suggest there is a third option human beings desire and live by, called Psychological Richness. These are the people who we would regard as “deep” individuals. Deep thinkers, deep feelers… those who experience a life that’s beyond the surface of things like happiness or career goals. 

According to a 2020 study by Besser and Oishi on what characterizes a psychologically rich life, the topic in question is “a life characterized by complexity, in which people experience a variety of interesting things and feel and appreciate a variety of deep emotions via firsthand experiences or vicarious experiences.” 

In my own experience, I sometimes feel that I can only be happy for so long before I begin to crave a different emotion. I used to think it was because I wasn’t allowing myself to be happy, but now I think maybe it’s something like desiring a more psychologically rich life. 

Experiencing the same emotion consistently isn’t as appealing for someone like me who likes to switch up routines constantly. I wouldn’t say that I particularly revel in sadness or negative emotions, but rather that I can appreciate their presence, feel the fullness of them and look forward to welcoming happiness and positivity. Like most things in life, it’s about balance, and I believe this approach to life allows for much more balance than the chase of happiness or certain goals—both of which aim for a kind of homogeneity. 

In a 2014 study published in Science, Westgate and Wilson found that people dislike boredom so much that they would rather give themselves a tiny electrical shock than “sit idly.” A psychologically rich life is rarely boring; people who live this way welcome a variety of experiences freely into their lives, desiring to experience the fullness of what life has to offer—including both positive and negative experiences.  

While seeking a psychologically rich life may not be appealing for everyone, if you would like to welcome a bit more of this into your life, here are 3 ways to do it. 

1. Embrace Variation

This can be as simple as trying a new cuisine or restaurant, walking a different way to work or stepping further out of your comfort zone for bigger excursions like travel destinations. For example, before moving to Toronto, I visited there twice a year. There were many other places I wanted to go, but I chose to use my vacation time and money in Toronto, where I had the same experience year in and year out. If I would have visited somewhere else, like Costa Rica, imagine the new experiences I would have had. 

2. Let Someone Else Decide

This is an easy one for some, but for others, not so much. Letting go of the reins even for small decisions can be a big push, as many of us want to control the outcome. Leaving the decision up to a friend, family member, or significant other in terms of small decisions can be a healthy way for us to experience new things we wouldn’t ordinarily choose for ourselves. 

3. Pick Up a Hobby—or Two

Bonus points if this is in a social setting, as introducing strangers into your life certainly mixes things up and pushes us out of our bubble of normalcy. And trying or learning new things adds depth to our lives. In a 2020 study, Oishi and Choi report that “experimental manipulation of perspective change reliably increase psychological richness.” In other words, switching things up works! 

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Photos: Jones, Juarez, Street, Fletcher-Brown, Reichmuth, Sennin, Hamann, Antenna; Unsplash. 

Nea Pantry
Nea is a vegan and gluten-free baker currently living in Bermuda. She is a huge vegan foodie, an aspiring writer and a lover of poetry. Traveling often, her goals are to seek out new cultures and experiences, to learn as much as she can and to spread the message of peace, love and kindness always.

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