If the proverbial good life still eludes you, there is encouraging news. Psychologists have discovered yet another way to reach it.
For many years psychological research suggested that there were two primary paths to the good life: the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of satisfaction. The first path involves maximizing happiness simply by doing more of what makes you happy, i.e., hanging out with friends, going to the beach, playing sports. The second path involves setting and working on goals that reflect your values or priorities so that they are better reflected in your life. Examples include pursuing an advanced degree or raising children. Working on these goals may be difficult and not always pleasurable, but finally reaching them offers long-term satisfaction and reward. We feel they were worth the effort because they fill our life with meaning and satisfaction.
A recent study suggests there is a third path to the good life: the pursuit of psychological richness. This involves building a life filled with novel and complex experiences that can lead to profound changes in perspective and to personal growth. Experiences that make your life psychologically rich don’t have to be positive. Painful or negative life experiences such as loss, failure, and isolation can be psychologically rich and enhance our lives. The pandemic, for many, has been a painful experience. It has brought about abrupt changes to how we live and work, and unfamiliar challenges. Viewed through the lens of psychological richness, many of our pandemic experiences offer opportunities to test our limits, grow, and change perspectives about ourselves and our world.
So the next time you find yourself in the midst of a negative life experience, try reframing it as psychologically rich. You might not have thought of them this way before, but these negative experiences could be part of your path to the elusive good life.