Health: What Is The ‘Ideal Life’? Too Much Perfection Is Overrated

If you could design your ideal life with the godlike powers of a simulation game, how much would it take for you to feel satisfied? Researchers from Australia asked people from around the world and found our ideas of perfection may not be so perfect after all.

The paper titled “How Much Is Enough in a Perfect World? Cultural Variation in Ideal Levels of Happiness, Pleasure, Freedom, Health, Self-Esteem, Longevity, and Intelligence” was published in the journal Psychological Science on June 11.

In the first study, the researchers surveyed 2,392 participants from eastern and western countries. On a scale of 0 to 100, they were asked to indicate what they would consider the perfect levels of health, individual freedom, happiness, pleasure, and self-esteem. 

Overall, people across cultures only wanted 70 to 80 percent of the desirable traits.

“Our research shows that people’s sense of perfection is surprisingly modest,” said psychological scientist Matthew J. Hornsey of the University of Queensland, Australia. “People wanted to have positive qualities, such as health and happiness, but not to the exclusion of other darker experiences — they wanted about 75 percent of a good thing.”

When asked about their ideal lifespan, people said they wanted to live until the age of 90. According to current estimations, the average life expectancy of the global population is approximately 72 years.

To get rid of the aging factor, participants were asked about their ideal lifespan if they could also take a magic pill which would keep them young forever. Surprisingly, the answers only increased by a few decades, to a median of 120 years old.

Next, people were asked about their ideal intelligence levels i.e. their ideal IQ. The median score was found to be around 130, which is considered to be above average intelligence but not enough to be called a genius.

While no differences were found regarding ideals for society, individual traits revealed a trend based on culture. People from holistic cultures aspired to less happiness, pleasure, freedom, health, self-esteem, longevity, and IQ compared to people from other cultures.

“Interestingly, the ratings of perfection were more modest in countries that had traditions of Buddhism and Confucianism,” Hornsey said. “This makes sense — these Eastern philosophies and religions tend to place more emphasis on the notion that seemingly contradictory forces coexist in a complementary, interrelated state, such that one cannot exist without the other.”

Countries like China, Hong Kong, India, and Japan were classified as holistic cultures due to the dominance of religions or philosophies (like Buddhism, Hinduism, or Taoism) which emphasize a holistic worldview. On the other hand, the United States, Australia, Russia, Chile, and Peru were classified as nonholistic cultures.

The second study which examined 5,650 participants from 27 countries also found similar results. Hornsey concluded the data illustrated how human beings have complex ideas on what standards constitute perfection. Our notions appear to lean towards embracing both light and dark, he said.

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