There are a lot of different ways psychologists are defining happiness and well-being. You might have read or heard be talk about Martin Seligman’s Authentic Theory of Happiness which was the topic of a recent newsletter and podcast. This subject will be different.
There are other definitions of well-being and happiness such as hedonic happiness, eudaimonic happiness, and a more recent one: psychological richness. The reality is that happiness is not something we experience as a permanent state and there are many elements to it. Let’s break down these three topics of happiness that were reviewed in detail by researchers Oishi and Westage.
Hedonic happiness is a feeling of joy, comfort, security, relationships, and positive affect. Those all sound great, but the flip side is complacency and even boredom. Eudaimonic happiness is linked to action that brings purpose and meaning to life as well as virtue and sacrifice. Those actions may not bring feelings of comfort or positive affect in the moment. An example would be parenting a sick child. You might not feel happy in the moment because it’s really challenging, but the role of being a parent might bring you joy and meaning when it comes to long term life satisfaction.
“First, we theorize that a psychologically rich life is characterized by variety, interestingness, and perspective change; in contrast, a happy life is characterized by comfort, joy, and stability, and a meaningful life by purpose, significance, and coherence.”
Oishi and Westgate argues that the third element- psychological richness, is what we ought to be focused on when it comes to quantifying a happy life with a high degree of well-being. Of course, all of these elements are interweaved and one is not superior to the other.
So what is psychological richness?
Psychological richness is characterized by perspective shifting experiences as well as experiences that have a degree of intensity to them. Often, we look at our lives and will say we want more of the happy, comfortable elements. But when reflecting back on well-being and meaning, we often look at the perspective-shifting experiences we’ve had, even if they weren’t the most comfortable. (Think of type 2 fun although it doesn’t always have to be that way!)
The research concluded that ”happiness leads to personal satisfaction, and meaning to societal contribution, psychological richness leads to wisdom.”
Hope that gives you some food for thought!