Sparked by an engaging keynote speech by Micael Dahlen at the Inner Development Goals Summit 2022, this blog outlines some ideas about what it may actually mean to live ‘the good life’.
The idea of a live worth living or good life has been around since the times of ancient Greek philosophy – by defining what a life well-lived may look like, we can learn the tools and cultural norms needed to nurture more good living.
A challenge for psychology is to try and define and measure ideas which can seem abstract at first. As you can imagine, the concept of ‘a good life’ contains a cocktail of feelings and experiences that can overlap – making them hard to separate into distinct components. However, research seems to have settled on three key ingredients that form the building blocks of a good life:
In a keynote speech Dahlen illustrates these three dimensions through the example of food;
Dahlen argues that when people think about the kind of life they want to lead, the framing of time makes a difference to people’s wishes. For example:
Being aware that all three components have a role to play in our quality of life means that we can bring them into alignment. The first step – as usual at The Self Leadership Initiative – is to get reflective:
Brainstorming the answers to these questions may help you to outline the kinds of things that you would like to build into your life to ensure that it’s a good one. The lure of the ‘ice cream’ means that it is easy in the present moment to skip the meaningful or psychologically rich experience in favour of whatever brings joy and comfort. To overcome this takes a little bit of discipline. When you identify your rich and meaning making goals ask yourself:
In addition to happiness, meaning and psychological richness, Dahlen & Thorbjørnsen proposed a fourth component in ‘the good life’ – subjective welfare. They defined subjective welfare as “welfare, economic security, capability for good health, access to what I need, opportunity to do what I want”.
This resonates with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which poses that in order for people to reach their potential (meaning, happiness etc) their most basic needs must first be met: food, water, safety, shelter etc.
Dahlen & Thorbjørnsen surveyed 702 people and asked them to rate on a scale of 1-10 how important it was to have a life with happiness, meaning, psychological richness and subjective welfare. (all of those terms were defined). Interestingly subjective welfare scored the highest average:
In recent years there has been a boom of research, resources and practitioners helping people to lead happier and more meaningful lives… but when subjective welfare rates as the most important factor to a good life it also begs the question of what policy makers are doing to contribute to the good life in terms of:
Whilst individuals can get reflective and be proactive in working on three of good life dimensions, if we as societies are going to get serious about helping more people to live good quality lives then we also need to press policy makers to get involved in the conversation and invest in the infrastructure and services that provide subjective welfare.
If you want support in living a happy, meaningful and psychologically rich live then get in touch with The Self Leadership for groups workshops or 1:1 coaching support.
Dahlen, M & Thorbjørnsen, H. (2022). Individuals’ Assessments of Their Own Wellbeing, Subjective Welfare, and Good Life: Four Exploratory Studies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Read article