Shigehiro Oishi (PI) (Psychology, University of Virginia)

Lorraine Besser (Co-PI) (Philosophy, Middlebury College).

What is the good life? This question is probably one of the most important questions we can ask. Each one of us, no doubt, wants to live the good life. And, no doubt, we all probably have different opinions about what the good life is. We might think that the good life is a happy life, consisting of life-long pleasurable experiences. We might think that the good life is one in which we've been able to find meaning and purpose. But what about a life full of novel and dramatic experiences that feel rich? Could this be the good life? This project will explore what we call the "psychologically rich life" in an effort to identify it as a good life. We don't think it is the only good life, but we do think it is an important life, worthy of being recognized as a valuable and worthwhile life. The proposal that the psychologically rich life is a good life opens up a new way of thinking about the good life for both philosophers and psychologists. The most recent research within psychology and philosophy reveals two broad understandings of the good life: a happy life (sometimes called a hedonistic life) and a perfectionist life (sometimes called a meaningful life). Our goal is to identify the psychologically rich life as a good life that is independent of these two other forms of the good life. A psychologically rich life is best characterized by variety, depth, and interest. It is a life without boredom, and full of novel experiences. We think that many people might consider the psychologically rich life a good life, and that they structure their lives differently from people who consider happiness or perfection to be the good life.

To examine this hypothesis, we will conduct a series of studies that use diverse methods and samples. We will develop a reliable and valid self-report scale of a psychologically rich life and administer it to 500 adults. We will ask college students to complete a 21-day outline diary to test whether or not participants who seek a psychologically rich life experience a more full range of emotions than those who seek a happy or a perfectionist life. We will study the evaluative terms used in obituaries to see whether their descriptions of people’s lives indicate that they have lived a psychologically rich life, a happy life, or a perfectionist life. As we suspect that cultures will vary on their understandings of the good life, much of our research takes place across diverse cultures. One of those studies will engage in archival analysis of ethnographies from across 200 societies in order to document and describe the frequency in which these cultures make reference to the three good lives. Another study will directly participants from different cultures to reflect upon the ideal life and engage in free association. These study will involve collaborators from at least nine nations, including Sweden, Bulgaria, Ghana, Mozambique, China and Japan.