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Study: People Who Feel More Attractive Also Believe Their Lives Have More Meaning
They May Even Be Right
Last year, an article published in the journal of positive psychology reported that people who view themselves as more attractive also view their lives as being more meaningful.
The article came to my attention last week when it was written up in Psy Post. The journal article actually included three studies. To summarize:
In the first study, college students were surveyed about how attractive they believed themselves to be, how meaningful they felt their lives to be, how much hedonic enjoyment they experienced, and so on. Self-perceived attractiveness was positively correlated with feeling that one’s life was meaningful.
In the second study, participants– this time recruited online, with an average age of 37– filled out the same questionnaire, with the same results. Additionally, they looked at photos of other people and were asked to estimate how attractive those people were, and how meaningful their lives seemed. Again, positive correlation, for whatever that’s worth.
In the third study, people again looked at photos of other people and were asked to estimate how attractive they were and how meaningful their lives were. In this case though, the people in the photos had also filled out the survey from the first study. Feeling that one’s life was meaningful was positively correlated with both self-perceived and other-perceived attractiveness, but more so with self-perceived attractiveness.
It should be added that “having a meaningful life” was broken down into three subcomponents: coherence, purpose and significance. All three showed correlations with self-perceived attractiveness, but the biggest correlation was found for significance.
So, what can we take away from this? There are a few possible interpretations.
1. Better-Looking People Feel Better About Themselves Because They’re Treated Better
There’s probably some truth to this. Better-looking people certainly are treated better.
That said, people aren’t great at estimating their own attractiveness, and the last study found that how attractive you feel is more important than how attractive other people think you are. So this doesn’t seem to be the main factor.
2. More Attractive People Are Happier, So They Feel Their Lives Are More Meaningful
There are a few ways this could be true. First off, attractiveness is positively correlated with health and fitness– at least in the sense that being overweight is generally seen as unattractive– and healthier people are generally happier, so maybe that’s what’s going on: healthier people are happier, more attractive, feel more attractive both because they’re happier and more attractive, and feel like their lives have meaning because they’re happier.
But beyond that, more attractive people earn more money and are generally materially better off. That might also make them happier.
It’s also possible that being happier makes you more attractive, either because you smile more or are motivated to take better care of your appearance.
3. More Attractive People Actually Do Have (Arguably) More Meaningful Lives
More attractive people are healthier, more physically fit, and earn more money. People prefer to be friends with attractive people. In addition to that, more attractive people are more intelligent. That might surprise you, but intelligence has also been positively correlated with health and physical fitness.
So, more attractive people generally are healthier, more materially well-off, and have better social lives. On top of that, making more money and being more intelligent suggests they generally have more highly-skilled careers, so they’re likely to find their work more purposeful or significant.
People will of course disagree about what a “meaningful” life means– I’m going with the operational definition used in the study, which is by no means the only valid definition of meaningfulness.
So What Can We Take Away From This?
There’s nothing here to necessarily suggest that focusing on your appearance, specifically, will make you feel like your life is more meaningful. On the other hand, it does provide another piece of evidence that taking care of your appearance won’t require you to sacrifice other areas of your personal development, at least up to a point.
More broadly, if you take care of your health, you’ll generally be both more attractive as well as happier. Making more money also tends to help you to be healthy, happy and attractive, for a variety of reasons. Finally, good productivity and time-management habits tend to make your life better across all areas– health, wealth, attractiveness, social life– because they let you do more of everything to improve your life.
In short, this is another data point in the “some people’s lives are just better across the board” column. I don’t recommend obsessing over your appearance unless you make a living off of it, but the evidence suggests that taking care of your appearance doesn’t have any serious downsides, and might even make you a bit happier with your life.