The 3 Pillars of a Good Life: Happiness, Meaning, and Psychological Richness

By Madeline Farquharson, CPCC

Okay, let's be honest. Even if your life looks great – the good job, the loving relationships, the occasional beach vacation – something can still feel… off. A restlessness you can't shake, a vague sense that there must be more to life than this.

What if that feeling isn't a sign something's wrong with you, but actually a compass pointing you towards deeper fulfillment? Psychologists call this the desire for a "psychologically rich" life. It's a path less focused on constant happiness and more on growth, intense experiences, and constant evolution.

Beyond the Basics: Happiness vs. Meaning vs. Psychological Richness

Let's clear up one thing: you can absolutely value happiness, find deep meaning, AND crave psychological richness. It's not an either/or situation! But to understand what drives you most, let's define our terms:

  • Happy Life: Focused on comfort, joy, security. Think cozy nights in, surrounded by loved ones, financial stability.
  • Meaningful Life: Purpose-driven. Feeling like you're making a difference, contributing to something larger, and your life has significance.
  • Psychologically Rich Life: All about variety, newness, and perspective change. Intense emotions, seeking challenges, questioning the way things are.

Exercise #1: Your North Star

Let's get real for a second. If you could focus on just ONE of these for the next year, which would instinctively draw you in the MOST?

  • Unwavering Happiness
  • A Deep Sense of Meaning
  • Constant Growth & Exploration

Don't overthink it! This isn't about which is "better", but revealing your current dominant desire.

Are You Drawn to Psychological Richness?

If you've got that restless feeling, here are some key signs that point towards desiring this type of life. These are directly inspired by the paper's findings:

  • Eternal Student: Learning is pure joy. You're obsessed with gaining new perspectives, even on seemingly mundane topics.
  • Craving Novelty: You get antsy when things feel too predictable, drawn to newness, whether that's trying a niche cuisine or changing up your weekend routine.
  • Embracing Complexity: You don't see things in black and white. You love exploring the gray areas and holding space for multiple, even contradictory, viewpoints.
  • Challenging Systems: The phrase "that's just the way it's done" makes your skin crawl. You're energized by questioning the status quo and exploring better alternatives.
  • Emotional Intensity: You feel deeply and see your wide range of emotions – positive and negative – as a source of insight, not as something to suppress or feel ashamed about.

"…people whose lives are psychologically rich tend to seek out challenges and value learning and are less interested in maintaining the status quo." – Quote from the research paper

Recognize yourself in these? That's a sign you're likely wired for a fulfilling life filled with growth, learning, and the messy beauty of transformative experiences.

Exercise #2: Mapping Your Motivations

Here's a quick way to spot that restless, growth-seeking part of you. Consider these experiences:

  • Traveling to a country with a vastly different culture
  • Volunteering in a high-need, emotionally challenging environment
  • Starting a business or creative project in a new field
  • Debating someone with radically opposing viewpoints
  • Taking a course on a complex topic you know little about

Which ones make you excited, even with a twinge of nervousness? That mix is a good sign you crave the challenges and perspective shifts inherent in a psychologically rich life path.

Resonating so far? Check out our podcast episode!

Our team of coaches and therapists read the entire paper and discussed what we thought.

You can listen to the episode or watch it here:

You can also listen to the episode on our podcast player here:

Scientifically Backed Benefits: Why Bother?

Okay, so a psychologically rich life sounds intriguing. But what are the real, tangible benefits that go beyond feeling vaguely fulfilled? Let's dive into the science:

  • Wisdom (Not Just Smarts): The study clearly showed that wisdom was an outcome unique to psychological richness. This is about processing those varied, intense experiences into applicable life lessons that go far beyond simple knowledge.
  • Greater Satisfaction in the Long Run: While pursuing this path might lead to temporary dips in happiness compared to those chasing comfort, overall life satisfaction seems to grow over time. Think of it as an investment in a more deeply rewarding future.
  • Unexpected Problem-Solving Skills Seeking novelty and facing discomfort fosters mental flexibility. People who prioritize psychological richness can see unconventional, creative solutions others miss when faced with challenges.
  • Fuel for Positive Change: The paper found a strong link between psychological richness and the desire to create large-scale change. If you care about making the world a better place, the spark of dissatisfaction with the status quo can propel you towards impactful contributions.

It's important to be honest: a psychologically rich life isn't all sunshine and easy growth. It can be gritty, challenging, and may even lead to periods of unhappiness. But, as the science suggests, the rewards may very well be worth the effort.

How to Cultivate the Rich Life

It doesn't mean quitting your job and backpacking the globe! Here are everyday and accessible practices:

  • Mini-Adventures: Try a new food genre you're nervous about, take a different route home, learn a skill wildly outside your comfort zone.
  • Consciousness + Coaching: "I think that in some ways it's really freaking hard sometimes." – Maggie, from the podcast episode. Coaching or counseling can help you face those challenges, get support, and maximize the growth gained from intense experiences.
  • Mindful Media Choices: Replace an hour of social media with a thought-provoking documentary or dive into a heady podcast

Exercise #3 - Your Ideal Week

Imagine you could design your PERFECT week with zero obligations. What would it look like? Consider activities, how you'd spend time with others (or not!), and how much pure relaxation vs. stimulating challenge you'd include.

Analyze your 'dream' week:

  • High Comfort Focus = Happiness is your top priority
  • Purposeful Activity = Meaning is likely your driver
  • Variety & New Experiences = You're wired for psychological richness

The Case for a Psychologically Rich Life

A psychologically rich life doesn't invalidate the importance of happiness or purpose. It's about honoring the part of you that craves depth, challenge, and the thrill of becoming someone new through your experiences.

So, which calls to you most right now? Take some time to reflect, and hey, if the answer surprises you, that's the start of a beautiful adventure.

If this whole psychological richness thing is resonating…

…consider this your invitation to coaching. No, not one of the coaches you may be thinking of. I’m talking about transformational coaching.

You're clearly driven by growth, crave deeper experiences, and aren't content with the status quo. But let's be real, embracing a psychologically rich life is easier said than done! A transformational coach may be one of the most important relationships you’ll ever have for your depth of experience and growth. I help people like you to:

  • Uncover Your Unique North Star: We all want 'growth', but what kind resonates MOST for you? A good coach helps you ditch generic goals and design a life path that truly lights you up.
  • Step Intentionally Into Discomfort: Craving challenge is one thing, doing it well is another. Coaching can help you plan experiences that push the boundaries of your comfort zone without leading to burnout.
  • Make Sense of It All: Experiences alone aren't enough. Coaching provides a space to process the intense emotions, perspective shifts, and breakthroughs – that's where the wisdom the study talks about comes from.
  • Challenge Your Own BS: We can be our own worst critics. A coach helps you see your blind spots, overcome limiting beliefs, and step into the boldest version of your potential.
  • Cut Through the Analysis Paralysis: Overthinking can derail even the most ambitious plans. Coaches help turn ideas into action, guiding you to make decisions aligned with your desire for a richer life.

Here's the thing: Transformational coaching isn't about fixing you. It's about partnering with someone who believes in your innate capacity for growth and helps you access it strategically. If you're ready to go beyond your self-aware overthinking traps, a coach can help you get there exponentially faster.

Sound like a good time?

You can also read the full paper here:

A Psychologically Rich Life: Beyond Happiness and Meaning

Download PDF

References from this article:

Oishi, S., & Westgate, E. C. (2021, August 12). A Psychologically Rich Life: Beyond Happiness and Meaning. Psychological Review. Advance online publication.