How Both Positive & Negative Experiences Enrich Our Lives


| LAST UPDATE 12/28/2021

By Eliza Gray
new psychology findings happiness

The concept of what makes for a "good life" is changing and evolving before our very eyes. And while previous research focused on two major strands that contributed to general well-being, a third path is emerging into the discussion.

meaningful life psychology findings
Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

Flashback just a few years ago, researchers' understanding fit within a rigid binary when it came to the idea of human flourishment. "So far, psychologists worked with this dichotomy - a dichotomous model of well-being about life," explained Shigehiro Oishi, a registered psychologist. Essentially, it broke down into two main categories: happiness and meaning. A happy life was depicted as one filled with comfort, security, and joy, whereas a life of meaning was one full of significance, coherence, order, and purpose. And as Oishi continued to explain, these two facets could run both parallel or intersect in a given person's life - but they were both grounded in the stability one felt with themself and their community.

So, what's changed? Well, researchers have begun exploring incidents of extreme instability and the possibility of a positive outcome for individuals. Oishi and his peers at the University of Virginia's Charlottesville campus have been engulfed by the phenomenon for six years. And together, they've come to explore the third path to a good life, which they have named "psychological richness." Their theory is that rather than seeking richness from stability, instances of curiosity or exploration can improve one's life to great degrees.

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What's most striking about the findings is that Oishi and his team show little to no favoritism when it comes to psychological richness. To them, rich experiences are neither positive nor negative in nature. Nor are they inherently joyous or traumatic. Rather, it's the sheer fact that someone's experiencing it that can prove to be enriching. These findings couldn't have come at a better time, as people around the world are reeling from a seemingly never-ending pandemic that has turned their lives upside down. From social life to work life and family dynamics, COVID-19 has certainly proved itself to be an experience. However, Oishi's research shows light at the end of the tunnel. Could the pandemic prove to enrich our lives overall?

Stay tuned for more interesting developments in the world of science.