Saturday, June 27, 2020

Investigating whether some people desire a psychologically rich life more so than two well-established ideal lives: a happy life and a meaningful life

Happiness, Meaning, and Psychological Richness. Shigehiro Oishi, Hyewon Choi, Minkyung Koo, Iolanda Galinha, Keiko Ishii, Asuka Komiya, Maike Luhmann, Christie Scollon, Ji-eun Shin, Hwaryung Lee, Eunkook M. Suh, Joar Vittersø, Samantha J. Heintzelman, Kostadin Kushlev, Erin C. Westgate, Nicholas Buttrick, Jane Tucker, Charles R. Ebersole, Jordan Axt, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brandon W. Ng, Jaime Kurtz & Lorraine L. Besser . Affective Science volume 1, pages107–115, Jun 23 2020.

Abstract: What kind of life do people want? In psychology, a good life has typically been conceptualized in terms of either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. We propose that psychological richness is another neglected aspect of what people consider a good life. In study 1 (9-nation cross-cultural study), we asked participants whether they ideally wanted a happy, a meaningful, or a psychologically rich life. Roughly 7 to 17% of participants chose the psychologically rich life. In study 2, we asked 1611 Americans and 680 Koreans what they regret most in their lives; then, if they could undo or reverse the regretful event, whether their lives would have been happier, more meaningful, or psychologically richer as a result. Roughly 28% of Americans and 35% of Koreans reported their lives would have been psychologically richer. Together, this work provides a foundation for the study of psychological richness as another dimension of a good life.

General Discussion

Recent research has found that a psychologically rich life is distinct from a happy or meaningful life in terms of personality predictors (Oishi et al., 2019), life experiences (Oishi, Choi, Heintzelman, et al., 2020), and political orientations Oishi, Westgate, Heintzelman, et al., 2020). We conducted the current research with the goal of investigating whether some people desire a psychologically rich life more so than two well-established ideal lives: a happy life and a meaningful life.
In study 1 (a 9-nation study), we found that most people’s self-described ideal lives were psychologically rich. When forced to choose, however, the majority favored a happy life (49.7 to 69.9%) or a meaningful life (14.2 to 38.5%). Even so, a substantial minority of participants still favored a psychologically rich life, even at the expense of a happy life or a meaningful life, ranging from 6.7% (Singapore) to 16.8% of participants (Germany). In studies 2a and 2b, we found that these numbers were even higher when desire for a psychologically rich life was measured indirectly. Roughly 28% of Americans and 35% of Koreans reported that their lives would have been psychologically richer, if they could undo the most regretted event of their lives. These data suggest that most people’s ideal lives are not just happy or meaningful but also psychologically rich, and that when forced to pick one, a non-trivial number of people desire a rich life more than a happy or a meaningful life. When measured indirectly, just as many people wish their lives were richer as do wish their lives were happier or more meaningful.
As discussed above, well-being research has been dominated by two concepts: hedonic and eudaimonic well-being (Diener et al., 1999; Vittersø, 2016). Our present research suggests a broader view. Namely, that a psychologically rich life is another type of a good life that some individuals lead and desire, and one that is not captured by current empirical conceptions of a good life. Importantly, unlike happiness or meaning, our conception of richness includes moments of discomfort and unpleasant emotion. Understanding that a good life may not always be pleasant or sacrificial—that there is value to individuals in leading lives that investigate truth, knowledge, and deep encounters with the world around them—may help us understand why people sometimes seek out such experiences (e.g., studying abroad, reading James Joyce’s Ulysses) at the expense of their own comfort and security. The ability to make sense of such behaviors is a benefit of conceptualizing a psychologically rich life as another type of a good life that people value and seek out.
Indeed, people with psychologically rich lives experience both positive and negative emotions more intensely, whereas those leading happy or meaningful lives experience positive emotions more intensely but negative emotions less intensely (Oishi, Westgate, Heintzelman, et al., 2020). It will be fruitful to explore how a psychologically rich life is associated with other important dimensions of emotional experiences such as the diversity of emotional experiences (Quoidbach et al., 2014), affect valuation (Tsai, 2007), and emotion differentiation and regulation (Barrett, Gross, Christensen, & Benvenuto, 2001).
Importantly, although we tested the relative importance of three types of the ideal life, we do not claim there cannot be others. Based on Schwartz’s (1992) value theory, Tamir and colleagues (Tamir et al., 2016; Tamir, Schwartz, Oishi, & Kim, 2017) recently examined four types of desired and experienced emotions: self-transcendence (e.g., love), self-enhancement (e.g., pride), openness (e.g., interest), and conservation (e.g., contentment). A psychologically rich life corresponds well to openness-related emotions, whereas a happy life corresponds well to conservation and self-enhancement emotions; a meaningful life appears to match well with self-transcendent emotions. Given that the literature suggests that there are at least 11 universal human values (Schwartz, 1992), and that values are guiding principles in life, there may be many more than the three ideal lives presented here.
We also acknowledge the limitations of the current research. Most critically, we did not examine the potential consequences of leading a psychologically rich life. It is crucial to test whether the consequences of a psychologically rich life are indeed different from a happy or meaningful life—and whether these consequences are a good thing. Second, while study 1 included diverse cross-cultural samples, study 2 was limited to the USA and Korea. It is important to explore what it means to live a psychologically rich life (and whether doing so is desirable) in other non-Western, non-democratic, relatively poor societies.

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