Know the Different Kinds of Well-being

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We set goals to get what we want. We want to earn more money so we can afford a nice car, or we practice a musical instrument to feel good about learning a skill. Our own well-being is almost always at the heart of goal-setting, which makes it extra important to understand what needs we're actually filling.


Economists in Australia have just released a report that tackles this question from the side. The study looks at major life events — ranging from marriage and parenthood to bankruptcy and losing a loved one — and how those affect our well-being over the course of our lifetimes. Some that seem like a big deal at the time, like a major financial gain, don't actually contribute to long-lasting happiness, while others were much more profound in their effects.

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In tracing these outcomes, the researchers illustrate two key but differing kinds of well-being: One, affective well-being, is about "the frequency and intensity of positive or negative emotions." It's what you experience through your feelings in the immediacy of the moment. The second is called cognitive well-being, "which refers to a more deliberate, goal-directed evaluation of 'life satisfaction.'"


Cognitive well-being is what can help you keep your old age chill, figure out when you're wealthy and when you're prosperous, and set your course for your own best version of the good life. That doesn't mean affective well-being is out of your control; in fact, you can actively cultivate ways to make it last longer. Understanding how your own happiness works in the short and the long run will give you the tools you need for the maximum in self-charted success.