F is for Flourishing
Updated: Jul 6
What does it mean to flourish?
“We flourish when we cultivate our talents and strengths, develop deep and meaningful relationships, feel pleasure and enjoyment, and make a meaningful contribution to the world. We flourish when we find fulfilment in life along with achieving more traditional objectives related to success when we are truly living the “good life”.” Martin Seligman
Another good description is by Dr. Lynn Soots who describes flourishing as the following:
“Flourishing is the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.”
Dr Soots continues that flourishing is not simply a state you either have or don’t have, it might not always be easy but everyone can flourish with effort and contribute to a greater sense of their own well- being. It is possible to be diagnosed with mental health difficulties but still flourish, and conversely it is possible to be diagnosis-free but still languish.
“…even if we could find a cure for mental illness tomorrow, it does not mean that most people would necessarily be flourishing in life. In other words, we cannot treat our way out of the problem of mental illness; we must also promote a life of balance in which people can achieve happiness and realize lives in which they can flourish.” Corey Keyes
How can we flourish?
Flourishing is an action-based happiness – it is not a spectator sport. You cannot flourish just by trying to think positively it is a process that requires action on your part. If you want to flourish, positive thinking has to be accompanied by coherent behaviours and actions.
“We have the power as individuals to create a different perspective. We can physically rewire our brains to see our work and lives in a more positive light. We can reduce our stress and increase our peace and happiness. We can use our minds to change our brains for a better life.” Tina Hallis
“PERMA” is an acronym for the five facets of well-being used in a model to help explain and define well-being by Martin Seligman.
E – Engagement: When we become completely absorbed in something we enjoy and excel in, we lose track of time because we are 100% engaged. In order to do this more often, we need to pursue hobbies that interest us, develop different skills and look for activities/jobs that we are passionate about.
R – Relationships: Having deep, meaningful positive connections with others is vital. We need to constantly work on building more positive and supportive relationships with our friends, family, and significant others
M – Meaning: When we dedicate ourselves to a cause or recognize something bigger than ourselves, we experience a sense of meaning. We can do this by looking to improve the quality of our relationships with others; looking for meaning in our activities e.g. we could do this via work, in volunteering opportunities, personal hobbies or leisure activities or acting as a mentor for others in person or via various online organisations
A – Accomplishment / Achievement: We all thrive when we are succeeding and achieving our goals and bettering ourselves but it is important to keep our ambition in balance with the other important things in life
We flourish by tying up the two concepts i.e. we build up a solid sense of well-being when we pay attention to each aspect of the PERMA model and change our behaviour in order to incorporate and improve these key PERMA elements.
“The days that make us happy make us wise” John Masefield
To flourish intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, interpersonally and intra-personally we need to go beyond removing anything that is not working in our lives and ask salutogenic questions focusing on what will create the best source of health, happiness, well being, success etc for us i.e. focusing on what works and actively pursuing it.
It is not enough to simply remove negative aspects from our lives, by doing so doesn’t automatically mean that happiness levels will rise automatically and we will flourish. We need to take the necessary steps to cultivate the traits that we desire because they don’t just happen automatically overnight.
Values are an essential key to flourishing. Values guide us toward our goals and temper how we should work to achieve them. To create a rich, full, and meaningful life and flourish it is necessary to stop to reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
“Values are important because they can guide you and motivate you through situations where your feelings might lead you off course. Acting in accordance with your own deepest values is inherently satisfying and fulfilling – even though it often forces you to face your fears.” Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap)
Once we have ascertained the manner we want to live our lives then we need to intentionally seek out opportunities to develop these virtues
“Change is essential to growth. Embrace the unpredictability, accept your own painful process, and know opinion can never take away your personal truth. Allow yourself to flourish into a matured, improved version of yourself, but know that it takes time”. Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
Looking at others can sometimes be helpful. Not in the sense of comparison but as an example to learn from or springboard from. It is at the growing tip of a plant that the greatest genetic action takes place and if we focus on ‘role models’ of excellence it will direct our thoughts higher and ‘prime’ ourselves by planting a positive seed in our mind. If we study figures of excellence, see what works and then apply it this will make more of a difference than merely focusing on what doesn’t work and what is ‘average’.
“Beliefs in personal efficacy affect life choices, levels of motivation, quality of functioning, resilience to adversity and vulnerability to stress and depression” Albert Bandura
Our ability to flourish is largely dependent on our thoughts about our self and our experiences and our mindset. It is essential to change any negative perception of our experiences and make pro-active choices to focus and act on the positive in order to transform our lives and flourish. Positive emotions signal flourishing but this is not the whole story because positive emotions also produce flourishing not simply within the present moment but over the long term as well.
“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven”
People who believe in themselves tend to do well across all areas of their lives and flourish. They create their own lives as opposed to allowing their lives to be prescribed by others. They are more resilient and better placed to embrace all the opportunities that come their way.
“People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future rather than simply foretell it” Albert Bandura
In summary, we flourish when we experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning whilst living intentionally according to our values. Flourishing is not only a measure of positive mental health and overall life well-being but the positive experiences we experience can in turn also increase flourishing in both the present moment and over the long term. When we flourish it has a direct impact on our lives and sense of well-being and happiness and our relationships with other people but if we want everyone to flourish, then we need to be concerned with the welfare of others not just ourselves.
“No society can be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable”. Adam Smith
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What practical steps can you put in place to increase your own sense of well-being?
How can you help others to flourish?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started: