I was recently invited to a birthday party by a friend. She had chosen a handful of people from diverse areas of her life with whom she shared meaningful and deep connections. No one knew each other, and as these kinds of conversations go, everybody shared what work they do. When it was my turn, I said that I was a Positive Psychology Practitioner.
The blank stares I received didn’t surprise me, so I explained that I help people to flourish and achieve their optimal potential in their life. This stirred up a debate which continued for the rest of the evening.
The gentleman sitting opposite me was an accountant and I asked him if he thought that he was flourishing in life or languishing. He said that he wasn’t sure as he didn’t know what it meant to flourish. On the way home, I realised that many people would have answered the same way.
That evening led me to write this article on the six items that make up flourishing. The state where people experience a high level of emotional, psychological and social well-being. When people feel well and function optimally, this is flourishing.
Positive Psychology: A New Perspective to Health
To start, let me take a slight detour and explain the term Mental Health. In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organization, 1948, pg. 28). Unfortunately, since 1948 the word ‘health’ has come to be associated with disease, disability, and mental illness.
In the past 60 years, there has been a strong focus on the medical model of diseases and how to cure them. This perspective has often partially, if not completely, omitted the holistic understanding of human health, encompassing psychological, emotional and social well-being. This means that, until recently, we had forgotten to look at what works well in human beings and how to enhance human potential to thrive. The factors that allow us to achieve, succeed and feel satisfaction are still being learnt and understood. The science of Positive Psychology changed this perspective and provided the platform for the plethora of research which supports the understanding of makes humans thrive.
What Does Flourishing Mean?
So now that you have a background of the Positive Psychology perspective on health, we are ready to dive into the concept of flourishing. The Encyclopaedia of Positive Psychology, defines flourishing as a positive mental state and a self-transcending phase which allows a person to prosper and grow beyond themselves in pursuit of meaningful actions and relationships. This also allows them to experience positive emotional vitality and to function well in all areas of their lives (Michalec et. al.,2 2009).
Sadly, only 18% of adults are flourishing according to the criteria, with 65% having modest mental health and as much as 17% of people are languishing. People need psychological, emotional and social well-being in order to flourish and sadly there is the incorrect assumption that being mentally healthy means the person is flourishing. However, the opposite is in fact true.
Most adults just function in their personal and professional lives when they have the capacity to be so much more than they are right now. They face the challenge of not knowing how to practically shift from being OK to being awesome.
You may be wondering why such emphasis is placed on flourishing and why it isn’t OK to languish. The many benefits of flourishing will convince you:
- Higher academic achievements,
- Increased creativity,
- Goal setting mastery skills,
- Higher levels of self-control and
- Enhanced self-efficacy, and
In a nutshell, the experience of flourishing is about positive human functioning. And who doesn’t want more of that?
The Six Components of Flourishing
Flourishing comprises of these six basic components. Read through the list and see which ones apply to you every day, and which are less frequent in your life. From here you will be able to make a more informed judgement about how much you are flourishing in life and you can then start your process of moving towards a life filled with more satisfaction and vigor.
- Self-acceptance is the acknowledgement of all parts of your personality. Liking and accepting yourself, including your best and worst qualities. Self-acceptance is about having a positive attitude and using positive language with yourself. It’s also about being kind and patient with yourself which includes feeling positive about your past and present life.
- Personal growth is actively challenging yourself to become a better version of yourself on a regular basis. It’s about continuously developing and improving your knowledge by engaging in activities that contribute to society’s well-being.
- Personal life is linked to experiencing a life that has direction, meaning and purpose through pursuing goals that are important and valued by you. It’s a feeling that you belong and are worthy in the community and the world.
- Environmental mastery is making sense of what is going on around you and effectively exploring opportunities that come your way. It’s about feeling a sense of control of the complex external environment around you.
- Autonomy is the independence to manage, think, express and apply your ideas, even when you’re under social pressure. It’s about being self-determined and regulating your behaviour to be aligned with your internal standards and values.
- Positive relations are about creating trusting, warm and loving relationships with others. It means being kind, courteous, empathetic and helpful to strangers and equally upholding positive, intimate, fulfilling relations with loved ones. It’s also about accepting other people’s diverse opinions and ideas without judgement.
Now that you know what the six components are that lead to flourishing, you can hopefully identify one or two that you want to develop. It needs to be noted that it isn’t good enough to flourish here and there as that doesn’t drive optimal human functioning. To thrive and achieve your potential that you are destined to, you need to flourish on most of the time.
Besides reaching your potential, flourishing has an added benefit of reducing the psychological wear and tear your daily life has on you. Flourishing serves as a protective buffer against depression, psychological illness, stress, low immunity and cardiovascular disease as well as having many other benefits. In this busy day and age, working on increasing your flourishing components is not a nice-to-have, but a must-have if you want to experience a fulfilling and satisfying life.
3 Activities to Start Flourishing
In closing I would like to leave you with three activities to kick-start your flourishing development:
Firstly, have a positive attitude towards everyone you meet. Acknowledge them for what they bring to your life and openly show appreciation. Go out of your way to thank people or perform random acts of kindness.
Secondly, enrol in a new learning activity be it a short course, a weekend workshop, or read a thought-provoking book.
Thirdly, accept yourself for who you are. At the end of the day jot down the strengths that you used during the day. And if you haven’t done so yet, take the Flourishing Scale Assessment below.
Remember you have every right to flourish and be the very best version of yourself. All you need to do is reach out and claim it.
Flourishing Scale (Diener et al., 2009)
Below are eight statements which you may agree or disagree with. Indicate your response to each statement using the 1 to 7 scale below.
7 = strongly agree
6 = agree
5 = slightly agree
4 = mixed or neither agree or disagree
3 = slightly disagree
2 = disagree
1 = strongly disagree
_______ 1. I lead a purposeful and meaningful life.
_______ 2. My social relationships are supportive and rewarding.
_______ 3. I am engaged and interested in my daily activities.
_______ 4. I actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others.
_______ 5. I am competent and capable in the activities that are important to me.
_______ 6. I am a good person and live a good life.
_______ 7. I am optimistic about my future.
_______ 8. People respect me.
Add the responses, varying from 1 to 7, for all eight items.
The possible range of scores is from 8 (lowest possible) to 56 (highest possible). A high score represents a person with many psychological resources and strengths.