Psychological Richness Defining a Psychologically Rich Life Tying in PR to Happiness and Meaning Psychologically Rich Experiences Becoming Psychologically Richer Psychological Richness: The Gist Profiles of Psychological Richness How Psychologically Rich is Your Life? Quiz PR Practice & Exercises PR References & Resources

These profiles represent different versions of psychologically rich lives. Instead of showcasing exclusively exemplars of psychologically rich lives, the profiles highlight varying strengths and struggles in the realm of psychological richness. Each profile has links to further explore core elements of these profiles.

Note that even though these profiles feature real people, the biographies have been simplified to showcase the core idea of the profile.

The table below gives you an at-a-glance look at the people who are highlighted and the top three elements of psychological richness, happiness, and/or meaning they exemplify.

  • Name & Photograph – Featured person for the ways they exemplify or highlight a psychologically rich life.
  • Form of Psychologically Rich Experience – Color-coded to match the experiences outlined in the How Psychologically Rich is Your Life quiz.’
  • Quality of Psychological Richness – Italicized to indicate this is a piece related to a psychologically rich experience and/or life
  • Intersection of Meaning and/or Happiness – Normal text indicates this idea is related to happiness and/or meaning in addition to psychological richness

Quick Note

This page is part and partial with the “How PR is Your Life? Quiz” page. These two pages refer back and forth to each other, so we strongly recommend you do the quiz on that page as well.

Jane Goodall

Buck The System
Surprising / Novel / Complex
Lenses of Experiences

Mark Rober

Experimental
Interesting
Personality / Values / Mindset

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Reflective
Complex Reasoning
Your Storied Life

Albert Einstein

Childlike
Transcendent
Discovery

Anthony Bourdain

Travel
Challenge & Discomfort
Regret

Trevor Noah

Challenge & Discomfort
Money
Love

RaMell Ross

Buck The System
Community & Cultural
Awe

Richard Branson

Saying YES
Risk
Happiness as a Hindrance

Michelle Obama

Community & Cultural
Health
Service

Brandon Stanton

People-Oriented
Wisdom
Vulnerability

Nanfu Wang

Vicarious
Compassion
Purpose

Michael Palin

Travel
People-Oriented
Mindfulness

Ada Lovelace

Vicarious
Curiosity-Driven
Expression

Tim FitzHigham

Saying Yes
Challenge & Discomfort
Wall of Cool

See Yourself in Psychological Richness

Forms of Psychological Richness
Enablers to Psychological Richness
Intersections of Psychological Richness and Meaning

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall is considered the foremost expert on chimpanzees, an accomplishment she didn’t attain following what was expected of women in the 1950s and 1960s. Goodall, guided by her love of primates and the African wilderness, spent decades in the wild observing chimpanzees, shaking up the then-modern perceptions of the definitive differences between humans and apes. Her presence also blazed the trail for future female primatologists in a field that was long dominated by men. The way she approached research (and her subsequent findings) ruffled feathers in establishment settings – which didn’t stop Goodall in the slightest. Her dedication to primates has evolved and developed into conservation work as humanity’s threats close in on many species.

Buck The System
A form of psychologically rich experience

Part of what made Goodall a revolutionary figure in studying chimpanzees was that she didn’t follow many scientific standards e.g. she named the chimpanzees (as opposed to numbering them) and described them with anthropomorphic terms. Animals weren’t supposed to have ‘personalities’ and yet that was exactly what Goodall observed. ‘The way things are done’ meant little to Goodall and she stands by her methods even today. “Chimpanzees have taught me that we are not the only beings with personalities, minds capable of thinking and above all, emotions.” – Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey

Surprising, Novel, Complex
Characteristics of psychologically rich experiences

Chimpanzees seemed to be an infinite pool of interest for Goodall to dip into. Over her decades of research, she continuously found surprising, novel, and complex behaviors that deepened the scientific world’s understanding of these animals. Her observations disrupted many long-held perceptions, including the use of tools in non-humans, the consumption of meat in chimpanzees, and a deeper understanding of the darker/more violent side of their nature. “Chimpanzees have given me so much. The long hours spent with them in the forest have enriched my life beyond measure. What I have learned from them has shaped my understanding of human behavior, of our place in nature.” – Through A Window

Lenses of Experience
Finding patterns and themes in our psychological richness

Goodall has been the only human to ever be accepted into Chimpanzee society, which doesn’t happen by casually visiting the chimpanzee troop here or there. Goodall’s decades of dedication characterize her psychological richness as one of predominantly depth and interest (what we coin as Diving Psychological Richness). While not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, variety as a characteristic was sacrificed in favor of greater depth.

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Goodall shares in her book Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey about her struggle to reconcile the traditional Christian and human-centric beliefs she was brought up in and her personal experiences in the animal world. While she does ultimately conclude that science and spirituality are not incompatible, this vital journey is one that few embark on.

The path of discovering not only our beliefs but what those beliefs really mean to us is a potential source of deep meaning in life. Read more on this idea:

Spiritual (and Non) Traditions

Mark Rober

Before Mark Rober was making booby-trapped packages for porch thieves or obstacle courses for squirrels, he worked on NASA’s Curiosity Rover (and before that studied Mechanical Engineering in school). So how does someone go from one of the most prestigious space programs in the world to making a living answering absurd what-would-happen-if questions with extraordinary scientific rigor? In short, by being true to one’s groove. While Rober has an undeniable love of science, he finds himself also enamored with the oddball and experimental forms of human expression. His flavor of psychological richness combines high levels of complexity with high levels of absurdity. Of himself, Rober says, “I don’t fit the typical engineer mold, but they are my people. I speak their language. […] I also have the mind and humor of a 12-year-old. . . . It’s a beautiful combination.

Experimental
A form of psychologically rich experience

While some of us may have wondered what happens when you fill a pool with Orbeez or Jell-o, Rober adopts silly quandaries with a serious degree of scientific rigor and explores the questions most of us are unable to answer for ourselves. The experimental flavor of richness is all about leaning into the creative and inventive forms of human expression.

Interesting
Factor of Psychological Richness

Working on a Mars rover is “interesting”, but so are his sillier pursuits. For something to be interesting, ‘what you do’ matters less than ‘how you feel doing it’. When someone engages with subjectively novel and/or complex stimuli AND has the capacity to understand those stimuli, they experience interest! Note that the understanding doesn’t need to be immediate – a particularly complex puzzle can become a captivating quest. Dropping an egg from space might not be as prestigious as operating a rover, but the processes are equally interesting.

Personality / Values / Mindset
Factor of Psychological Richness

While engineers are far from one homogenous class of people, most aren’t building glitter bombs professionally. Beyond the ‘mind and humor of a twelve-year-old’, Rober’s other departures from a stereotypical engineer mold have aided his success, including a comfort on camera, willingness to pursue his own ventures, and an earnest desire to answer what others consider thought experiments.

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

One of Rober’s more popular video series involves vigilante justice in the form of a glitter bomb for anyone who dares to steal a booby-trapped package. The people who steal are decidedly ‘other’ – wrong and deserving of whatever he decides should happen to them (anything from fart-spray to mimicking a bomb-countdown). There is no shared humanity between him and a package thief.

What if Rober took a more nuanced and compassionate view toward the people he gets ‘revenge’ against?

Explore: Compassionate Communication

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Visit her website
Chimamanda.com

Find her award-winning books
Collection on Amazon

Adichie is a storyteller and writer who explores the importance of stories. She digs into topics on gender, race, and culture – pulling out the invisible story that so many take for reality. She sees surprise, novelty, and complexity in the assumptive truth people allow to guide their world. By untangling hidden and messy ideas and presenting them in writing or spoken word, she invites psychological richness into those who take the time to soak in her work. Along with several books and short story collections, she has two TED talks under her belt, each of which masterfully invites a change in perspective to the audience. Both highlight not just the subject matter, but guide the audience through the complex reasoning and reflection skills needed for a psychologically richer life.

Reflection
A form of psychologically rich experience

One of the basic requirements for a psychologically rich life is the ability to reflect on what happens to us, which fosters perspective changes and wisdom. Adichie is a master of reflection, pulling from her own experiences of growing up as a woman in Nigeria, traveling to other countries, and recalling not just her experiences but her thoughts and perceptions at the time. For profound psychological richness, we don’t necessarily need to seek out highly unusual experiences, by simply deepening the reflection of our experiences we can uncover deep veins of richness within our everyday life.

Complex Reasoning
A characteristic of psychologically rich people 

Complex reasoning skills support a psychologically rich life. When the world is perceived as simple we don’t see its complexity – there is nothing to wrangle with or untangle. Adichie demonstrates nuance and multiple perspectives in her work and we can all but assume she has a very complex reasoning style that allows her to work through disparate and complicated ideas in her novels with such mastery. “I am a person who believes in asking questions, in not conforming for the sake of conforming. I am deeply dissatisfied – about so many things, about injustice, about the way the world works – and in some ways, my dissatisfaction drives my storytelling.

Your Storied Life
A framework for thinking about your life as a story

In her TED talk “The danger of a single story” Adichie shares various examples of a limited and unserving truth that stems from ‘a single story’. Your Storied Life offers a framework for untangling and challenging stories that do not serve, even when they are upheld by power structures. She ends her talk with, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” Explore Your Storied Life to find where you can repair dignity and find empowerment.

Explore: Your Storied Life

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

After the loss of her father, Adichie published a memoir titled “Notes on Grief” on the nuance and experience of losing someone close to you. She explores themes like the universality of grief and how externalities like a global pandemic and colonialism complicate an already extraordinarily difficult process.

If you are suffering through grief, there can be great richness and healing in digging into that loss and bringing attention to those vague unexplainable aches, even if it feels scary and uncomfortable.

Explore: Grief, Loss, Death, & Dying

Albert Einstein

Watch a biography
Video Biography

Explore his thought experiments
Simplified versions from Business Insider

Albert Einstein is one of the most famous scientists of all time, known for his groundbreaking work in theoretical physics. However, his remarkable discoveries do not solely indicate psychological richness. Rather, it is his approach to life, thinking, and creativity that highlights Einstein as someone who was living a life steeped in psychological richness. His divergent and unusual thinking enabled him to formulate ideas that opened up the floodgates of contextualizing the natural world, but he did more than stay holed up in his lab. He was a human rights and social justice advocate, prolific writer, and was no slouch when it came to the violin.

Childlike
A form of psychologically rich experience

Einstein, most famous for his work in physics, is often identified by the photograph of him playfully sticking his tongue out at the camera. Rather than this moment being a perfectly captured fluke, Einstein had a playful side, which played a significant role in his scientific processes. His thought experiments were playful and whimsical visualizations of racing against a beam of light and of twins aging differently when one travels through outer space. Nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer once said of Einstein, “He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness … There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn.

Transcendent
A form of psychologically rich experience

As a child, Einstein described a sort of ‘cosmic religious feeling’ when looking at the stars. That sense of deep awe followed him into adulthood. He wrote in an essay titled, The World As I See It, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” He goes on to explore the idea that the mystery of the universe is something that unites us all, a sentiment consistent with transcendent experiences.

Explore: Awe

Expression
A cornerstone of meaning highly related to psychological richness

From art to activism, expression is how we convey who we are and what we believe in to the world. In Einstein’s case, part of his expression was in complex theoretical physics, but he was also more than just a genius holed up in a laboratory. He was a staunch pacifist, civil rights activist, and contributed to humanitarian efforts for Jewish refugees after WWII. He also was a lover of music and once wrote in a letter, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” Our expression is not just how the world sees us, but what we want to show to the world – from our genius to wild hair.

Explore: Expression

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

While there can be no definitive answer or assertion, some believe that Einstein may have been on the Autism spectrum. While it would be unfair to assert Einstein was not a genius “because” of Autism (or any other potential label or diagnosis) we can speak with confidence that Einstein was a divergent thinker and famously did quite poorly in many school subjects. As brilliant as he was in mathematics and physics, his life was not without social and academic challenges. Even if he did not go on to make great discoveries, Einstein is an example of persevering through failures of social norms and coming out strong.

Consider what you can take from Einstein’s experiences.

Explore: Social Comparison & Imposter Syndrome

Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain was known as an accomplished celebrity chef and writer who recognized that good food exists outside of Michelin-starred restaurants. His stories connected food to people (and were often just as much about the people cooking as what was on the plate). Between his travels, reporting, and storytelling, we can undoubtedly say Bourdain’s life was psychologically rich, which can be a type of good life all on its own and may even have been the type of life Bourdain would have preferred. Yet, as glamorous as Bourdain’s life appeared on the outside, it didn’t appear to be a happy one that was characterized by comfort and ease. There are unauthorized documentaries and books that share his struggles on his behalf. When considering Bourdain through the lens of a psychologically rich life, we can mourn the loss of an individual and still be inspired by the richness of the world, people, and cuisine he showed us.

Travel
A form of psychologically rich experience

If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.” – Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

Of course, you don’t need to be 22 to travel psychologically richer. Whatever age you are or what your experiences with travel have been, psychologically richer travel begins by taking a step outside your comfort zone.

Challenge & Discomfort
A form of psychologically rich experience

Psychologically rich and perspective-changing experiences can be unenjoyable and full of discomfort – but that doesn’t make them not worth doing.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

Regret
Discovering what matters to us

One way to measure how much a dimension of a good life means to us is to consider which dimension undoing our life’s greatest regret would deepen – a heartbreaking quandary when one ultimately decides to take their own life. Long before his passing Bourdain wrote, “[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered,” (Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly) which suggests a longing for meaning and psychological richness.

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Bourdain made his career at the intersection of food, journalism, and travel – all things he obviously cared about and was capable of sharing with the world. Taking a look at those core pursuits can help illustrate the nuance between one’s purposes and passions in life, and how while related, are not equal. Passions are like a fire within us, capable of both a warm sustaining presence, but also come with a risk of being burned. We might wonder what the intersections of purpose and passion were for Bourdain and if those passions ever burned.

Read more on this idea
Purpose & Passion

Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is most known for his comedy, particularly as the seven-year host of the satirical news show ‘The Daily Show’. Born in South Africa during apartheid, which was an institutionalized form of racial segregation, Noah was forced to reconcile with an institution that didn’t recognize the validity of his existence as a biracial person – a theme he explores in his memoir Born a Crime. Growing up, comedy was more than a hobby and was often a tool used to diffuse tense situations. His ability to see the humor in even the darkest situations, quick wit, and observational talents have helped him build a comedy styling that is intelligent and thought-provoking, often touching on challenging and/or political topics.

Challenge & Discomfort
A form of psychologically rich experience

Noah didn’t choose to be born under a system of institutional racism and he was set up from birth to be denied the same ‘good life’ as his white counterparts. Noah’s aptitude for comedy enabled him to take the challenges within his life and to turn them into a way to connect with others or to turn something insurmountable into something absurd. Laughing at the challenge didn’t make it any less of a challenge (nor did it justify the actions of others), but it did give more autonomy to Noah. Here are a few videos where Noah masterfully uses humor to speak about challenge and discomfort.

Money
An enabler to meaning and freedom in life

As a successful comedian, Noah is financially well-off, but life wasn’t always that way for him. Growing up in apartheid-era South Africa, Noah lived in poverty. The wealth that came from success was new to him. He reflects on this transition in his book: “The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.” While not a cure-all for life’s ailments, money can buy a great deal of freedom and options in life. A thoughtful consideration of what money affords us (and perhaps denies others) is a powerful exercise in meaning.

Explore: Money

Love
A cornerstone of meaning in life

One of the major themes of his memoir Born a Crime is his relationship with his mother. Growing up money was tight but Noah recognizes everything his mother gave to him in spirit, encouragement, and values –  including when that came as a sacrifice to herself. “She was a force of nature. Her willpower and determination were unmatched. And her unconditional love sustained me.” Our most profound and meaningful relationships do not have to be perfect or never-changing. Noah writes about how his relationship with his mother changes as he grows up and how reconciling both the joys and hardships of that relationship makes space for deeper meaning and joy.

Explore: Love

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

When apartheid was disbanded in South Africa, it wasn’t as if everything was suddenly equal regardless of skin color. One of the pervasive ripples of inequality is the idea of ‘the black tax’ which refers to the financial burden and pressure to give back to your family and community after you’ve found success, even when it can ultimately come to a personal detriment. The desire to pursue one’s own dreams and ambitions and the desire to uplift the people you care about can sometimes be at odds with one another and while there is no universal solution, being stuck in the choice (or any choice) can be extraordinarily limiting.

We have a variety of tools and enablers to assist in sorting through the messiness of life.

Explore: Enablers for Freedom

RaMell Ross

Discover his films
IMDB Page

Watch him introduce his film
Hale County, This Morning, This Evening

Find his other works and projects
Website: ramellross.com

Ross is an artist, or as he is described in a profile of his work, “a storyteller with a camera”. The stories that Ross weaves are deeply intentional without being narrative-driven. He describes himself as a ‘liberated documentarian’, which to him means pushing beyond the classic values and ethics of Western documentary-making in order to capture the complexities of Blackness. “I want to make work that unitedly honors its participants, resists their easy consumption and judgment, and quietly asks our imagination and intellect to question the known and easy constructions of identity and place”. His approach to documentary-making could be considered psychologically rich art.

Buck The System
A form of psychologically rich experience

There are classic and established ways to go about documentary filmmaking, but when those methods don’t serve Ross’s point of view as an artist, the clear path forward was to go against classic and established practices. To him, being a liberated documentarian is shedding ‘the way things are done’ in favor of unconventional and experimental forms of art.

Community & Cultural
A form of psychologically rich experience

So often, documentaries that focus on people of color focus on hardship. “The struggle narrative really got to me — most of the stories about blackness, because of the past, obviously, have a very specific poverty struggle, beginning and end, and that forecloses greater understanding of just general humanity.” Ross showcases a community through an artistic but ultimately agenda-less lens, which in turn serves his greater mission: to show the fullness of life, struggle included, but given no special attention.

Awe
Enabler to Meaning & Psychological Richness

In an interview with the LA Times Ross said, “I’m really easily moved, and I really believe, philosophically, that everything in the world exists at every point in time, in every gesture, in every look, in every tick or in every car going by. Structured in the right way, you can bring out the beauty and the metaphor and create meaning.” Ross’s connection to awe enables him to find deep meaning in everyday sights and sounds. A sense of awe opens up space within ourselves to connect to others, the natural world, and meaning in our lives.

Explore: Awe

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

While not all art is (nor needs to be) for everyone’s equal benefit, Ross’s art has been criticized as style over substance. He opts out of traditional narrative, choosing instead to build his documentary around snippets of footage that span years. For an artist moved deeply by the little things, these tiny moments carry a lot of weight, for others, they might land flat. When we behold art that is unlike what we usually see or experience, we may benefit from putting some attention into the lens we view it through.

Consider perspective and storytelling through an artistic lens.

Explore: Your Storied Life

Richard Branson

Find his books
Collection on Amazon

Read more about him
Profile in Forbes

Browse his blog
Blog on Business & Advocacy

Richard Branson’s own social media profile tagline sums him up best, “Tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes at Virgin!” He’s launched business after business, himself into space, and his personal image into the public eye (long blonde hair + open shirt + model within arms reach at all times). Like all good billionaires with a decent PR team, he has his advocacy projects, but one would be hard-pressed to argue that Branson’s preferred type of life is a meaningful one. While he certainly seems to enjoy life’s pleasures, Branson’s preferred type of life appears to be a psychologically rich one.

Saying YES
A form of psychologically rich experience

According to Branson, the nickname ‘Dr Yes’ comes from a proclivity to say ‘yes’ to all manner of projects/ideas. “Even if I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes instead of no.” Remaining open to possibilities and new experiences invites opportunities for psychological richness.

Risk
Enabler to Meaning & Psychological Richness

Beyond just saying yes to known experiences and safe opportunities, Branson embraces the risky and ambiguous ones as well. His book, literally titled, “Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life” demonstrates a comfort and ease with the unknown. A tolerance for risk can expand where we seek psychological richness.

Explore: Risk

Happiness as a Hindrance
Hindrance to Deeper Meaning in Life

Being a billionaire like Richard Branson seems great – you get to travel to space for funsies and throw seemingly endless resources at your passion projects. While Branson’s wealth certainly enables happiness and psychologically rich experiences, we don’t need to be a billionaire to have a deeply good life. The Happiness as a Hindrance pages explores how our ideas and pursuits of happiness can sometimes hinder a life well lived.

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Branson’s naming convention ‘Virgin’ may lean on innuendo, but the original idea stems from being completely experienced in a new field of business, which he considered an advantage. Without pre-conceived notions of ‘how things are done’ Branson’s virginity made space for fresh ideas outside the status quo.

Branson took the perspective this his inexperience was an asset, not a liability. Explore other ways to flip your thinking around.

Explore: Power of Perspective

Michelle Obama

Find her books
Becoming
The Light We Carry

Watch a documentary on her
Netflix – Becoming

More than an accessory to the former President of the United States, Michelle Obama is a writer, lawyer, and activist with a focus on education, health, and women’s rights. Her eight years serving as First Lady of the United States were marked with initiatives aimed at improving national health and accessibility to education, which she has continued to advocate for since leaving the White House in early 2017. While no longer at the center of the political world, she remains an influential voice throughout her pursuits, which have included everything from a children’s television show promoting healthy eating to books aimed at helping those overcome challenges within their lives. There has been tremendous variety to her endeavors, which always seem to be rooted in purpose and given a genuine depth of attention.

Community & Cultural
A form of psychologically rich experience

Michelle Obama spent the early part of her career doing non-profit community organizing in Chicago. While psychologically rich experiences stemming from community and cultural involvement can be from exploring one’s community, they can also come from digging into a community’s needs and finding solutions. In her book Becoming she said, “Community organizing is never easy, and I was constantly humbled by how much more there was to learn. But I loved the work, and I loved the people I was doing it with. […] I’d learned how to make a real difference in people’s lives, and I’d seen firsthand how much good could come from just a few dedicated people who were willing to try.

Health
Enabler to deeper meaning in life

Even in the White House, Michelle Obama kept up a dedication to physical health and fitness (paired with a sleeveless dress, the ‘right to bare arms’ jokes basically wrote themselves). She wrote in her book, “I’m a big believer in healthy habits—movement, hydration, sleep, good food—because I know that it all matters in how I feel and what I’m able to do.” Health is an enabler to deeper meaning in life for that very line of thought – that the way we physically feel impacts our mental and emotional capacities. Like a plant, we can grow bigger and put down deeper roots when we have ample access to nutrients.

Explore: Health

Service
A cornerstone of meaning

While there can be a negative bend and a general mistrust around politicians, they are intended to be ‘public servants’ – an idea that Michelle Obama embodied. During her time as First Lady (and beyond), she has worked toward expanding and encouraging education, helping children get healthier, supporting veterans, and advocating for gender equality. In her book Becoming she reflects on service as a whole, “To me, serving is an affirmation of my own humanity, a way to affirm that I’m not separate from other people, and that their triumphs and struggles are also mine.” Serving others has contributed to significant meaning in Obama’s life.

Explore: Service

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

One of Obama’s main initiatives during her time serving as First Lady to the President of the United States was ‘Let’s Move!’ which focused on combating childhood obesity through both a more balanced diet and increased physical activity. While diet and exercise get the most attention when it comes to health, there is of course more to it. Factors like sleep, breathing, and our environment play a crucial role in our health that are often overlooked in favor of some pushups and kale.

What if health beyond just diet and exercise became a more understood issue? How could we expand the definition and ideal of health?

Explore: Health

Brandon Stanton

Find his work and website
Humans of New York

Read more about him
Profile in New York Magazine

Learn more about his focus
TED Ideas: Storytelling

With over 20 million followers on social media, there is a good shot you’ve heard of Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY). While the project has some variation, Stanton will predominantly find people to photograph and interview while out and about in New York City – no schedules, no plans. Readers don’t get a look into the interview process, but the stories that Stanton pulls out of people are often deeply relatable or moving on a human level. “If you [the interviewer] find somebody’s struggle or what they’re going through, not only can your story tell basically what happened to them, but you can also get to a place where they can reflect on what happened and provide the audience with some sort of elucidation or some sort of wisdom.” We might assume that what keeps Stanton going is a genuine interest in the variety and richness within humanity, choosing to explore the breadth and depth of people over experiences.

People-Oriented
A form of psychologically rich experience

The people-person flavor of psychological richness stems from a deep interest in the breadth and depth of people. The stories of people’s lives are novel, complex, and a delight to dig into and untangle for Stanton, making simple conversations great sources of psychological richness.

Wisdom
Factor of Psychological Richness 

The perspective changes and bits of wisdom Stanton can bring about for his interviewees and audience members are one of the great appeals of Humans of New York. No single story offers an absolute solution to life, yet taken together, the project embodies a humble and relativist encapsulation of life’s lessons, mindsets, and ways to be.

Vulnerability
Enabler to Meaning & Psychological Richness

Stanton has said his best interviews come from people who are willing to be vulnerable and share specific details of their lives, struggles, and joys. Beyond enabling more connective stories, vulnerability can offer us deeper meaning in our everyday relationships, if only we have the courage to embrace it.

Explore: Vulnerability

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Stanton likes to stay behind the camera, making himself the silent interviewer yet shoulders the responsibility of presenting his stories in a fair and engaging way, often with a fundraiser attached. For people like Stanton who pour enormous amounts of energy into other people, self-care can fall by the wayside. Consider how one can balance love for others and caring for oneself.

Explore: Self Love & Self-Care

Nanfu Wang

Wang grew up in rural China and after studying film in the United States, made a number of films exploring the Chinese government’s impacts on its citizens, both the massive waves of policy and the ripples it creates in an individual’s life. Of her work, she says, “I make films that explore the theme of freedom, power, propaganda, and state control over individual lives”. She ultimately hopes that her documentaries have the power to inspire (or strong-arm) the sort of change that would benefit the lives of the people she films.

Vicarious
A form of psychologically rich experience

When Wang was showcasing her first major feature Hooligan Sparrow, she recalls people coming up to her after the screening, tearful or profoundly moved, mimicking her own first-hand experiences of capturing the footage. “I realized that’s the power of film too. It allows people to see other people and places in a new way.” Wang seeks to harness the power of filmmaking as an avenue of vicarious experiences, giving a first-hand account to those who would never be able to experience it themselves

Compassion
A foundational element of love and meaning

Wang considers documentaries as ‘vessels for empathy’ and offers her viewers an intimate look into what it means to live under the Chinese government. She uses film as a way to induce empathy and compassion in her viewers, which is compassionate communication in its own way. Both her films and non-violent communication seek to connect people to the same universal human needs so that even when our circumstances and lived experiences are vastly different from one another, we can find connection.

Purpose
An intentional and personally relevant endeavor in life

Wang first came to the US with the goal of becoming a reporter who could share the corruption and injustices of the Chinese government. As she went to school and was exposed to the possibilities within journalism, she went through her own version of “the purpose journey”, a process of internal clarification and alignment that led to her pursuing a career in documentary filmmaking. She demonstrates that our purpose in life is no less potent or powerful when it deviates from our original idea.

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Making films about difficult, and often personal, subjects like China’s one-child policy or the sex industry understandably take an emotional toll. While a modern debate is often about separating the art from the artist, when you are the artist, your personhood and experience is tied in with your artistic creation.

While Wang continues to explore difficult subjects, consider your own artistic pursuits: Does there exist a point where the challenge of creating takes more than it gives? Or does the psychological richness gleaned make it worthwhile even when all pleasantness has gone? There is no absolute answer, but the question is one worth exploring.

Explore: The Way of the Artist

Michael Palin

Find his travel books and journal collection
Amazon Collection

Watch his favorite Monty Python sketches
Netflix – Monty Python’s Personal Best

Visit his website
themichaelpalin.com

While perhaps best known as being a member of the British comedy group Monty Python, Michael Palin’s life has had more to it than delightfully absurd humor. Much of his career has focused on travel and documentaries that are often just as much about the people he meets as the places he visits. His work brings a sense of cultural and human understanding back to the viewers at home. However, it is difficult to divorce Palin entirely from his comedy (not that anyone should) – his charm, wit, and warmth were a part of what made Monty Python a success. Fittingly for this site, Palin delivers the last lines of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life which reveal the big answer of it all to be “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations” before going on an absurd tangent that assures the audience that this was all quite silly really. But if you happen to take those lines to heart, the advice really isn’t such a bad place to start and reflects the sincerity Palin moves through the world with.

Travel
A form of psychologically rich experience

Palin’s entry into travel television began in the late 1980s when he partnered with the BBC to recreate the journey of fictional character Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. Palin’s openness to adventure and warm demeanor enabled him to connect with people of different cultural backgrounds. His success snowballed into several other travel documentaries and books about his experiences. He reflects, “Traveling is more than just seeing the sights; it’s a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Psychologically rich travel invites rich perspective change from seeing a version of regular life so different from our norm.

People-Oriented
A form of psychologically rich experience

From comedy to travel, an interest in people is a throughline in Palin’s endeavors. In the same book he writes about how both are a means to connect with others. Of comedy he says, “Comedy is a way of exploring the human condition, of looking at our fears and foibles and finding the humor in them. It’s a way of celebrating our humanity, of connecting with others, and of finding joy in even the darkest of times” and of travel he writes, “

In the end, the most important thing is not where you go or what you see, it’s the people you meet along the way.” While the avenues he pursues have varied greatly, both offer deep psychological richness from his time spent with people.

Mindfulness
An enabler to meaning and psychological richness

Palin has kept a diary practice for nearly 50 years, beginning around his early days with Monty Python. He has published a curated collection of entries into a series of three books, but the practice began long before he had any intentions of sharing, giving readers an unglossed look into his experiences. Interestingly, Palin would always journal the day after, letting the unimportant bits fall away so his entries would capture only what really stood out from the day before. Journaling benefits international celebrities and everyday people alike in the opportunities it gives to reflect on our emotions, experiences, and what we have to be grateful for.

Explore: Mindfulness

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Considering the meaning of and in life can be quite a daunting task, but some good old-fashioned silliness can help us find the right mood to tackle these quandaries. Appropriately named, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life offers an absurd romp through the meaning of it all and while not everything ages well, The Galaxy Song and punchline ending (see above) can help shake off the seriousness of it all and help us look at life without the pressure of solving it.

Humor is a wonderful pathway into thinking about life (although certainly not the only one!)

Explore: Get In The Mood To Think About Life – Silliness

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, or more accurately, “Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace” was a 19th-century mathematician who is sometimes considered the world’s first computer programmer. Why just sometimes? Well, the first real computer as we know it today didn’t show up until about a century after her death. Ada Lovelace was a visionary thinker who was essentially writing code for a machine that at the time was only hypothetical. The machine she based her conceptualizations on was Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the steam-powered calculating machine that was theoretically capable of much more advanced mathematics. While the machine was never built, Babbage lectured about it and drew blueprints for it, eventually becoming the topic of a French journal. Lovelace translated that paper and included her own notations, which ended up tripling the length of the original publication. It is in these notes that her revolutionary algorithm is added, which include line-by-line instructions, conditional branching, and looping – essentially what our modern algorithms contain. Lovelace theorized the potential of computers’ usage beyond numbers, venturing into computing with symbols and multiple functions including musical composition.

Curiosity-Driven
A form of psychologically rich experience

While Ada’s education may have stemmed from her mother’s attempts to squash any ‘poetic tendencies’ she may have inherited from her father Lord Byron, she had a fierce desire to learn and explore the possibilities of mathematics. Her interaction with Charles Babbage and his calculating machine infused her with a burning desire to explore the philosophical side of science.

Vicarious
A form of psychologically rich experience

Lovelace was able to conceptualize computers with such detail and potential that her algorithmic ‘code’ predates computers by nearly a century. She wasn’t just working with what was readily available to her in Victorian England but was mentally operating far into the future.

Expression
A cornerstone of meaning that is also related to psychological richness

The Expression cornerstone of meaning is rooted in cultivating a form of ‘creative genius’ and ‘artistry’ – something that Ada’s mother was staunchly against. And yet, Ada was engaging in art and expression – only it was within the realm of science and maths. She wrote to her mother, “You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?” Art and expression are about what inspires us, which doesn’t need to be traditional ‘art’.

Explore: Expression

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

Lovelace, while being a relatively high-status citizen, was still a woman in the 19th century. Her options in life were limited and there was a common belief that women simply did not have the constitution to engage with such complicated thinking. While modern thinking generally accepts that women can do mathematical computing without the need for a fainting couch, we are still inextricably linked to our own time in history.

Consider how history impacts meaning in life.

Explore: Think About Life: History

Tim FitzHigham

Rowing the English Channel in a bathtub is an objectively silly goal that FitzHigham took remarkably seriously, not only making it across but earning himself an honorary title in the royal navy for his accomplishment. Perhaps doing something like that gets you a bit of a reputation – you become the guy who might be up for challenging world record holders at catching arrows, free-climbing structures, and pulling double-decker buses full of rugby players, which of course Tim was. He has a number of feats and world records to his name, all of them quite silly, and yet none of them done for a laugh. FitzHigham’s steadfast dedication to expanding the human experience into realms no one seemed to be asking it be expanded into is a true marker of a psychological rich life.

Saying YES
A form of psychologically rich experience

From saying YES to his own absurd idea to rowing the English Channel in a bathtub to deciding to take on ten world record holders (at their own world records) as part of a BBC show, FitzHigham has embraced a multitude of highly unusual experiences with open arms. At the end of one of his stories with The Moth he says, “And so I tell you this story, because if you try things that you’ve never tried before and you push yourself and you give it a go, sometimes, just occasionally, your own self will astound you”. At the core of experiences was a willingness to take this thing that nobody else was doing and deciding to ‘give it a go’ anyway.

Challenge and Discomfort
A form of psychologically rich experience

Having an oil tanker bearing down on you isn’t less scary because you’re in a silly little bathtub. In many of FitzHigham’s feats, there has been overt discomfort, challenge, and even danger. Even when the premise of an experience is silly, the realities of the situation can demand an individual take it seriously. Recalling his experiences of challenging world record holders at their own record, FitzHigham says, “I loved every single second. It was so much fun, a roller coaster of surprise and discovery. I think every time I managed to get through round over a personal fear, that was the best feeling.

Wall of Cool
An enabler to greater personal freedom

When we are influenced by a wanting or desire to be ‘cool’ we say no to things that we perceive as threatening to our level of cool. We fear rejection and being seen as less than. We hide our talents or deny ourselves time with our interests or hobbies. Not only does FitzHigham say YES to unusual and interesting experiences, but he also seems to do so without any regard or protection over being ‘cool’. Perhaps honed from time in comedy where laughing at yourself is a part of the game, but FitzHigham’s willingness to say YES in a manner regardless of his ‘coolness’ makes him an authentic and magnetic presence.

Explore: Wall of Cool

What If…
Thought Exercise For Deeper Meaning In Life

A theme in FitzHigham’s stories is taking a very silly premise quite seriously. Besides the personal benefit of a sort of liberation from what we “should” be taking seriously, it opens up space in our approach to service. While so many of the world’s problems are decidedly unfunny and very serious, the ways we can raise awareness and fundraise don’t always need to be ASPCA-sad-dog-commercial-level-serious. FitzHigham raised money for Comic Relief (the organization behind Red Nose Day) by taking a paper boat across the River Thames. We can both take silly things seriously and use a silly approach to helping serious problems while staying in integrity with ourselves and the projects we serve.

Explore: Play, Zest, Pathways of Service

See Yourself In Psychological Richness

Find your areas of exemplary psychological richness

Forms of Psychologically Rich Experiences
These are examples of the different ways psychologically rich experiences can take shape. Visit this page to explore more.

Travel
Community & Cultural
People-Oriented
Reflective
Vicarious
Buck The System
Challenge & Discomfort
Saying YES!
Experimental
Curiosity-Driven
Childlike
Transcendent

Discover the enablers that help you get there

Enablers to Psychological Richness
Many of the mindsets, skills and ways of being that enable deeper meaning also enable greater psychological richness.

Challenge
Curiosity
Play
Zest
Awe
The Wall of Cool
Your Storied Life
Busyness
Risk

Learn where meaning and psychological richness could work together

Intersections of Psychological Richness and Meaning
Build your ideal version of the good life with qualities that bolster psychological richness AND meaning.

Discover how your experiences, perspective changes, and life as a whole can both be psychologically richer AND tap into the four cornerstones of meaning.

Remember

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Psychological Richness Defining a Psychologically Rich Life Tying in PR to Happiness and Meaning Psychologically Rich Experiences Becoming Psychologically Richer Psychological Richness: The Gist Profiles of Psychological Richness How Psychologically Rich is Your Life? Quiz PR Practice & Exercises PR References & Resources