Psychological wealth isn’t marked by a neat, tidy life with standardized stories to tell. Nor is it crossing off lengthy bucket lists to post on social media.
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New research shows that the relentless pursuit of happiness might not be yielding the return on investment we’re promised.
Happiness propaganda baits us to think we can unequivocally radiate with all-good vibes, no dark emotions, and boundless positive energy if we just summon the willpower to turn that frown upside down.
Even after binge-reading every last happiness book, repeating affirmative mantras with the fullest fervor, and mustering up as much gratitude as humanly possible, life remains hard, especially when our time and energy are misdirected toward the relentless pursuit of perfect bliss.
Wanting to be happy isn’t bad. Yet, the overemphasis on feeling good all the time might be getting in the way of feeling good when we can.
Research has shown alternative markers of a life well lived, given how much falls out of our control. The science of human flourishing reveals we can invest in becoming psychologically rich—meaning that we remain open to the growth that comes through a wide range of experiences.
While happiness is often equated to having a fun, comfortable, or carefree life, there are other approaches that aren’t just more realistic but also beneficial for true well-being. Psychological wealth isn’t marked by a neat, tidy life with standardized stories to tell. Nor is it crossing off lengthy bucket lists to post on social media.
Being psychologically rich is a new currency—one of curiosity, contentment, and colorful living that can help us experience less shame when our lives aren’t exactly happy-go-lucky or Insta-perfect. This type of wealth is marked by embracing experiences that allow us to change perspectives, versus ones that are glamorous or linear.
It’s unhelpful to compare yourself to those who seem steadily joyful and put together. If you’re that person with a dramatic, eventful life with lots of bumps and bruises to show for it, you’re richer than you may realize.
Contrived or controlled happiness may be a sign of rigidity, monotony, or stagnation. Even if it seems calmer and happier from afar, it may be an illusion. There’s tremendous value in embracing a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions. They are exactly what adds zest, depth, and key learning to our lives.
Here are some ways to invest in becoming psychologically rich:
1. Be willing to take risks.
This allows us to develop a deeper tapestry of experiences that shape our perspectives. When we embrace novelty and variety, we avoid the risk of monotony and limited growth.
2. Stay open and nonjudgmental.
Hurt and disappointment are notorious for pressing our turtle shell buttons. We retreat. We lament things aren’t fair. We are hard on ourselves. Instead, when we remain open to the lessons within difficult seasons, and our capacity to continue working through challenges, we deepen valuable psychological, social, and emotional resources like self-compassion, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
3. Don’t frown upon frowns.
Constant happiness might be a red flag for toxic positivity or what Susan David calls the “tyranny of positive emotions.” There’s no such thing as perpetual happiness. Sadness, hurt, and anger are natural responses to life. Feeling bad about feeling bad is unproductive.
Happiness can be elusive when we limit ourselves to thinking that all has to go well to be well. When we aim to live a psychologically rich life, we remain invested in the pursuit of wealth that drives true growth, not through superficial happiness, but by embracing the tapestry of experiences that enrich our perspectives and add color to our lives.
Lee, K. (2022). Worth the Risk: Learn How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World. Sounds True: Boulder.
Oishi, S., Choi, H., Buttrick, N., Heintzelman, S.J., Kushlev, K., Westgate, E.C., Tucker, J., Ebersole, C.R., Axt, J., Gilbert, E., Ng, B.W., The Psychologically Rich Life Questionnaire, Journal of Research in Personality (2019), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.06.010