What constitutes a well-lived life?
Defining the meaning of life and the conditions, traits and features of a well-lived life is a question that throughout history engrossed theologians, philosophers, artists and, more recently, positive psychologists. This essay outlines findings from a selection of the literature and research to answer this question with the aim of identifying whether happiness is the true sign and the ultimate goal and marker of a well-lived life. This review of the literature has yielded findings that possessing a disposition towards gratitude is not only indicated to be present in a well-lived life, but can enhance and improve mental, physical and spiritual life outcomes. The different research models used to explain, measure and identify the markers of a well-lived life are briefly outlined, and finally further research directions are indicated to expand understanding about how gratitude affects life satisfaction outcomes in specific populations. A challenge in researching this topic is that the literature describes happiness and well-lived in terms that are used by different researchers interchangeably and inconsistently. In this essay and in accordance with the literature reviewed, the terms happiness and the well-lived life are used synonymously. Definitions
A problem with defining a well-lived life is that the terms well-being and happiness (Frey, 2011; Kristjánsson, 2010), and the good life and happiness (Dunn & Brody, 2008) are used by researchers interchangeably. Indeed Diener (2000) notes that the very term well-being has come to be known in common usage as happiness. Seligman (2011, pp 420) notes that sometimes the terms happiness and well-being define emotions whilst at other times refer to activities. This ambiguous terminology has caused some to criticize Positive Psychology but, as both Lazarus (2003) and Kristjánsson (2010) point out, precise definitions to describe a well-lived life have also eluded philosophers and other academics for over 2,000 years. Imprecision of terminology aside, many have attempted to describe the conditions required to nurture a good or well-lived life. Some researchers have described the good life as one full of the hedonistic pursuit of frequent positive experiences (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005). Others have described it in terms of the result of employing unique talents to achieve abundance (Seligman, 2002), whilst still others have argued that the good life involves personal growth (Bauer, McAdams, & Sakaeda, 2005). Seligman (2002) argues that these descriptions are all valid because there are different pathways to happiness, although it is by combining them that one lives a full or well-lived life. He describes these pathways as the pleasant life, concerned with hedonistic pursuits, the good life, concerned with gratification of desire and the meaningful life, using ones talent to serve a higher purpose (Seligman & Royzman, 2003). Research Findings And Challenges
Early studies involved in identifying precisely what elements contribute to life satisfaction involved field research with participant self-reported satisfaction ratings recorded against a range of factors (Diener, 2000; Lazarus, 2003; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Self reported satisfaction ratings are problematic because they are, as noted by Kristjánsson (2010), by their very nature subjective. People in difficult situations can report themselves as living a good life, whereas people who are in happier circumstances can report themselves as having low life satisfaction. Additionally the factors used to measure life satisfaction are problematic because what some would consider critical to a well-lived life may be anathema to another (Bauer et al., 2005) or not supported by the participants culture (Diener, 2000; Peterson, Ruch, Beermann, Park & Seligman, 2007). Further research is indicated to firstly identify what factors are actually...
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