Westgate says she doesn’t know why people in certain countries were more or less into the idea of pursuing psychological richness. But she does suspect that people may put more weight on certain versions of the good life depending on their age.

“There are times of our life when we accept discomfort and prioritize exploration,” she says, recalling her own travels in hostels when she was a young adult. And research shows that people tend to get happier as they age, which is tied to the fact that “instead of prioritizing challenging experiences, they prioritize familiar things that will make them happy; instead of meeting new people, they prioritize family and close friends. Those things do increase happiness, but may decrease psychological richness.”

What makes life worth living

Considering what it means to live a good life is complicated by the realities of the Covid era, which has imposed extra limitations on many people’s ability to create the kind of lives they want. Someone who places a lot of value on spending time with friends has probably had fewer opportunities to be social in light of lockdowns; a person who loves to travel has likely taken far fewer trips than in previous years. What kind of orientation—toward happiness, meaning, or psychological richness—might be most advantageous in our current state?

Westgate says the answer will naturally depend on the person, but for essential workers and healthcare workers who have been at the forefront of the pandemic, “focusing on meaning and psychological richness might be more salient. They’re living through challenging, dramatic times, which is associated with psychological richness, and what they’re doing is truly meaningful.”

For those of us who feel we’re not living a particularly good life right now, thinking through the different dimensions of what a happy, meaningful, psychologically rich life can look like may help us figure out the changes we want to make.

And if you feel that your life is currently good in a way that doesn’t fall into any of the three categories described by the paper, its authors note that there may well be even more dimensions they haven’t accounted for—an intellectual life, a creative life, or a loving, caring life, for example.

Aristotle was onto something nearly two and a half millennia ago. But Westgate says it’s important for psychological science to keep pushing beyond the philosopher’s foundation, expanding our views of what makes life worth living.

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