Tue. Oct 19th, 2021


Next week I will start slowly with The Great Return to the office. After 18 months of working from home, I’m a little nervous – I try to concentrate in a busy newsroom, but I have to look neat, the messy business of dealing with other people. But what I fear most is something completely different: losing the sense of well-being I often felt during these months of isolation.

Maybe I have nothing to worry about. Research published on Tuesday of neuroscientists at University College London indicates that you are entering the office – at least the commuter section – well for our well-being, the relief of ‘brain fog’ by generating ‘more diverse experiences’ and making ‘every day more unique’.

‘Diverse experiences’ is a way of describing public transport in London. And it should be noted that this study was commissioned and paid for by the railway industry. But that might just be something. According to a recent newspaper in Psychology overviewThere is one component of well-being that is often overlooked: a diverse range of experiences – even if unpleasant – can contribute to ‘psychological wealth’.

The question of what it means to live ‘the good life’ is something that philosophers have struggled with since the time of Aristotle. Since then, well-being is largely considered to consist of two main components: happiness, or ‘hedonic well-being’, which is associated with joy and comfort; and meaning, or “eudaemonic wellbeing”, which indicates purpose and contributes to society.

But Shigehiro Oishe, lead author of the research and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, says that this framework ignores a third dimension of well-being, characterized by diversity and experiences that change perspective.

“This new concept of a psychologically rich life is actually to address the issue in the literature that was essentially so ambiguous in thinking – that the good life is about either being happy or leading a meaningful life,” says he. “It’s a different purpose in life – you try to accumulate different kinds of experiences.”

Oishe and his team’s research suggests that while most people still say they want the most happiness and meaning, a large proportion – as many as one in six people in Germany – cite psychological wealth as the most important element in their lives. . Furthermore, the report finds that people with a psychologically rich life are more curious and more open to social and political change.

We can use it to help us bring to the fore what we see as negative experiences as opportunities for expansion and change of perspective. Indeed, the Oishe team analyzed hundreds of death reports from newspapers in the US and Singapore and found that those who faced major life challenges, such as divorce or financial problems, whore levels of psychological wealth.

The research can also help explain why places that seem rather uninspired to me anyway are so high on the “luck” maps – Finland was recently mentioned the happiest country in the world for the fourth year on the run – while places I find more exciting but more stressful, like New York, tend to rank weak.

Maybe then we should welcome the tension that office life brings. “Your home environment is incredibly familiar, and there’s a real value in familiarity – there’s comfort, it reduces stress levels,” says Joseph Devlin, professor of cognitive neuroscience at UCL and author of the research on commuting. “However, it is not a very rich environment, because there is very little novelty in it.”

For me I work at home has wealth brought – my daily walks did not give me a lack of variety and interest, and the silence of the house enabled me to think deeply, which I sometimes struggle to do in a bustling newsroom. But I hope that my ‘new normal’ hybrid job will enable me to maintain and even add to my sense of well-being, with new challenges and stress that I will try to embrace, knowing that it is not my hedonic joy can not add or even give me meaning, it makes me psychologically richer.

jemima.kelly@ft.com



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