What Does Having a Good Life Mean?

The Greeks said that a good life is a process and not a state. They claimed it was the daily search to achieve well-being. However, this is a never-ending task.
What Does Having a Good Life Mean?

Last update: 17 August, 2021

What’s a good life? Does it mean being happy? Does it involve achieving most or all of your goals? Or, does it perhaps suggest a more humble approach in simply appreciating the mere fact that you’re alive? As a matter of fact, philosophy has searched for centuries for a universal answer to this question. For example, for Aristotle, it meant contemplation, wisdom, and living according to reason.

Socrates suggested a far simpler approach. He stated a good life meant being happy. On the other hand, Epicurus stressed the need for pleasure. In fact, he considered the more pleasurable experiences there were, the better. The truth is, there are multiple perspectives on this topic from the field of philosophy. However, what does psychology suggest on the subject?

We live in a world inhabited by more than 7 billion people. Furthermore, each and every one of us has an opinion about what it means to live well. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know what the scientific and psychological world has to say on the topic. Therefore, in this article, we take a look.

Sometimes, the more we focus on getting what we “want and dream about” the more we move away from what we really “need”.

Man at sea enjoying the good life

The good life according to psychology

Positive psychology has spent decades trying to clarify what a good life is. Indeed, figures such as Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and Sonja Lyubomirsky have contributed numerous theories, investigations, and research to this particular subject throughout their careers.

The University of Illinois conducted a study in which they suggested that our concept of well-being is often linked to our culture. The study concluded that having a full life is often linked to what you see around you and what you desire. For example, a house, a good job, enough money, etc.

However, Martin Seligman points out that you often might assume the kind of values that don’t harmonize very well with genuine feelings of well-being. Moreover, sometimes you want things that aren’t in tune with what you really need. For example, perhaps you long to have more money so you can do what you want. However, at the same time, you find yourself lacking a vital purpose in life, or having enriching relationships, or healthy self-esteem.

It seems that knowing what the good life is, may be a little more complex than you think. However, it’s interesting to look at it from a psychological perspective.

The PERMA model: happiness and well-being at your fingertips

Martin Seligman proposed the PERMA model to delve into what aspects provide an authentic quality of life. Throughout his career, this famous professor at the University of Pennsylvania had noted that psychology was especially effective in offering resources and strategies to solve problems and treat mental disorders.

However, there were no keys to teaching people how to “be well”, or to work on their own balance, well-being and happiness. For this reason, Seligman designed the PERMA model. It’s based on 5 factors. They are:

P- Positive Emotion

Positive valence emotions are the channel with which you connect with life in an intense, positive, and enriching way. However, it doesn’t mean you have to suppress or put aside any negative emotions. On the contrary, it signifies that you must give space to all emotions and feelings.  Nevertheless, you need to transform your more negative moods and emotions into more useful ones.

“Not only do happy people endure pain better and take more health and safety precautions when threatened, but positive emotions undo negative emotions.”

-Martin Seligman-

E. Engagement

A commitment is a purpose, a goal, an objective (or several) that encourages you to get up motivated every day. Feeling engaged in something gives you encouragement and drive.

R. Relationships

When you ask yourself what the good life is, there are certain aspects you can’t ignore. They’re the people you love and who love you, who inspire you, and generally make every day brighter. Indeed, happiness often means friendship, love, a hug from a child…

M. Meaning 

Here, it’s worth remembering the work of Viktor Frankl. He claimed that life without meaning isn’t life. For this reason, you should find out what it is that brings excitement and purpose to your existence. Reflecting on this can change everything.

A- Achievement 

You must appreciate and be aware of everything that you’ve achieved in your life. You’re a valuable being who’s capable of transforming your reality by achieving great things. Know how to appreciate what you do and value your self-efficacy.

The good life isn’t a state, it’s a process

In 1961, the psychotherapist Carl Rogers explained in his book, On Becoming a Person, that a good life isn’t a result. Indeed, it’s not a goal that you must achieve and then preserve as if it were a magical entity, like the Holy Grail. In fact, you should think of it more as a process you commit yourself to each and every day.

Happiness comes and goes. However, “being well” is an ongoing job. You must invest in multiple efforts and psychological processes to achieve it.

Woman with a light in her mind and her eyes closed enjoying the good life

Well-being means being psychologically healthy

The Association for Psychological Science conducted a study in 2009 in which they reflected on what’s called the good life. Actually, from a psychological point of view, it’s quite difficult to define what this dimension really is. That’s because it actually involves multiple states. Nevertheless, all of them require good mental health.

Psychologists Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson (University of Michigan) noted that the good life requires experiencing more positive than negative emotions. It also involves knowing how to use your talents and strengths in the face of every adversity. Finally, it means being able to have good relationships, feel good in your work, and be hopeful about the future.

All of these dimensions together complete the picture of what it’s like to feel good. Something that, sometimes, as you well know, can be extremely difficult to achieve…

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  • Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377
  • Inglehart, R., & Klingemann, H.-D. (2000). Genes, culture, democracy and happiness. Culture and Subjective Well-being. MIT Press, Cambridge
  • Park et al. Achieving and Sustaining a Good Life. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2009; 4 (4): 422 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01149.x