How do you determine whether your life is going well? Whether you're happy and fulfilled vs. merely going through the paces? Whether you're growing and developing as a person vs. merely expressing more of the same old, same old? In short, when the alarm goes off in the morning does the prospect of a new day cause you to be filled with excited anticipation and a sense of being actively engaged? Or do you wish you could bury yourself beneath the blankets and put off your daily routine for as long as possible?
"Flourishing" is a term long-used by philosophers to describe a state of ongoing positive engagement with life.1,2,3 When a person is flourishing she is not only interested and participating, but also widening and expanding her range and her scope. Most of us are familiar with the concept of flourishing as it relates to our plants and gardens. A flourishing tree sports many new branches, many new twigs, and many shiny new leaves. The bark of a flourishing tree has deeper and richer shades of brown. The greens of such a tree's leaves are moister and wetter, reflecting the aqua tones of the rivers, streams, and sky. All the flourishing tree's semi-moving parts are joyously turned toward the sun.
A flourishing human being expresses many similar phenomena. When describing the characteristics of well-balanced individuals, psychologists and sociologists have historically used the term "happiness". But "being happy" seems a fairly passive state of affairs. It's good to be happy, certainly, but what's being referred to is more of an emotional, subjective state of being. You're happy in response to a circumstance or series of events. In contrast, when you're flourishing you're actively taking part. You are the initiator rather than the responder. You're in the driver's seat. You get to say how things are going to go.
How do you achieve a state of flourishing? As always, it's the journey, not the destination, that provides the biggest payoff - in this case, a joyous, fulfilling life. Flourishing as such is not an endpoint - it's a moving target. We need to be proactive to replenish, reinvigorate, and revivify our continuing cycle of 24-hour allotments. We want to live, rather than merely exist. Living requires imagination, invention, interest, and action. Flourishing is an outcome of playing full out, of active participation in life.
1- Menk OL, et al: Exploring measures of whole person wellness: integrative well-being and psychological flourishing. Explore (NY) 6(6):364-370, 2010
2- Bunkers SS: A focus on human flourishing. Nurs Sci Q 23(4):290-295, 2010
3- Fosha D: Positive affects and the transformation of suffering into flourishing. Ann NY Acad Sci 1172:256-262, 2009