Most people dream of living “the good life.” We seek to flourish, despite life’s challenges. But what creates a life worth living? Some people define the “good life” as financial success and material acquisitions. Positive Psychology took a broader approach and spent years researching this question. They focused on the good in people and life, rather than what is wrong, then developed ways to enrich people’s lives. So, what is flourishing? Counselor Courtney Ackerman explains flourishing as “a multi-dimensional construct” which happens if one functions well in several areas. Ackerman refers to Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman, who identified 5 components of flourishing in the PERMA model: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.” Flourishing occurs when we pay attention to building these areas. Author John-Manuel Andriote wrote, “As a lifelong lover of green growing things, I often use images from nature and the garden” to illustrate abstract concepts. “Just as we tend our plants and flowers, flourishing happens when we: increase our positive emotions; engage with the world and our work; develop meaningful relationships; find meaning and purpose in our lives; and achieve our goals by applying our strengths and talents to turn them into accomplishments.” Lyn Soots, positive psychology professor, notes flourishing is not a static trait you “either have or don’t have…. Anyone can flourish, but it will likely require some effort to get there.”
Flourishing applies to individuals, couples, families, schools, workplaces, and communities. Positive Psychology research has developed tools for many settings. One simple step is focusing upon your strengths. Many strengths definitions exist. I particularly like the VIA Character Strengths Survey. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson identified 24 universally valued character strengths after 4 years of worldwide research. The results include hope, bravery, teamwork, humor, spirituality, social intelligence, gratitude, and more. A free 10 minute survey is available at www.viacharacter.org. The basic report is free, as are videos and articles on how to use strengths. Knowing your top strengths helps you live in more fulfilling ways. Couples and families can take the survey and gain new appreciation for each other’s strengths. According to VIA Institute on Character, “Research shows that knowing and using your character strengths can help you increase happiness and well-being; find meaning and purpose; boost relationships; manage stress and health; and accomplish goals.”
Here are ways to increase your strengths and flourish from Christopher Peterson’s “A Primer in Positive Psychology,” a practical, readable book, where he further explains these exercises with good stories and humor. Three Good Things: For one week at the end of each day, write down 3 things that went well. Why was it a good experience? This exercise has contributed to increased happiness and reduced depression. Fun vs. Philanthropy: This week, do one fun/pleasurable event and then do one thing helpful to others. Spend about the same time at each activity, then reflect upon and write your reaction to each activity. Most people found the enjoyment of the fun activity was short-lived, but helping others gave long-lasting enjoyment. Being a Good Teammate: We are encouraged to be leaders, not followers, which can diminish the value of teamwork and good citizenship. First, think of your best teammates or favorite group members, and what qualities make them so. Then, choose an existing group and resolve to be the best teammate you can for the next month. Martin Seligman recommends Active and Constructive Responding in his book, “Flourish.” In response to someone telling you good news, be intentional about responding using positive words, asking for more details, recognizing their good feelings about the event, and even offer to celebrate in some way if appropriate. Research showed this strengthens relationships by sharing joy. Avoid a passive or critical response to their news, or which can diminish the good news and damage the relationship.
Psychologist Christina Hibberts suggests we ask ourselves “Am I flourishing?” More specifically, “How much positive emotion am I creating and receiving in my life? How much meaning & purpose do I experience on a daily basis? How good are my relationships with others? How much mastery, confidence, competence & achievement do I enjoy in life?” I imagine all of us would love to flourish. Dr. Hibberts believes “we all have the power to grow luxuriantly, to surpass our own expectations of what life has to offer. Positive Psychology aims to make normal life more fulfilling… and help us live according to our highest potential, to create a life of goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience.”