Flourishing is "when people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning, most of the time,"[web 1] living "within an optimal range of human functioning." It is a descriptor and measure of positive mental health and overall life well-being, and includes multiple components and concepts, such as cultivating strengths, subjective well-being, "goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience." Flourishing is the opposite of both pathology and languishing, which are described as living a life that feels hollow and empty. It is a central concept in positive psychology, developed by Corey Keyes and Barbara Fredrickson.
Flourishing is a "descriptor of positive mental health."[web 1] According to Fredrickson and Losada, flourishing is living
...within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience."
According to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, flourishing
...is a state where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning, most of the time. In more philosophical terms this means access to the pleasant life, the engaged or good life and the meaningful life[note 1] [...] It requires the development of attributes and social and personal levels that exhibit character strengths and virtues that are commonly agreed across different cultures (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005). On the other hand languishing includes states of experience where people describe their lives as "hollow" or "empty" (Fredrickson & Lahoda, 2005).[web 1]
According to Keyes, mental health does not imply an absence of mental illness. Rather, mental health is a "separate dimension of positive feelings and functioning." Individuals described as flourishing have a combination of high levels of emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being. Flourishing people are happy and satisfied; they tend to see their lives as having a purpose; they feel some degree of mastery and accept all parts of themselves; they have a sense of personal growth in the sense that they are always growing, evolving, and changing; finally, they have a sense of autonomy and an internal locus of control, they chose their fate in life instead of being victims of fate.
Flourishing is related to the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia. According to a Neo-Aristotelian view, the concept of human flourishing offers a view of the human good that is objective, inclusive, individualized, agent-relative, self-directed and social. It views human flourishing objectively because it is desirable and appealing. Flourishing is a state of being rather than a feeling or experience. It comes from engaging in activities that both express and produce the actualization of one's potential.
According to Keyes, only 18.1% of Americans are actually flourishing. The majority of Americans can be classified as mentally unhealthy (depressed) or not mentally unhealthy or flourishing (moderately mentally healthy/languishing).
Keyes collaborated with Carol Ryff in testing her Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being, and in 2002 published his theoretical considerations in an article on The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing, qualified by Fredrickson as "path-breaking work that measures mental health in positive terms rather than by the absence of mental illness."
Barbara Fredrickson developed the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. According to Fredrickson]] there is a wide variety of positive effects that positive emotions and experiences have on human lives. Fredrickson notes two characteristics of positive emotions that differ from negative emotions:
- Positive emotions do not seem to elicit specific action tendencies the same way that negative emotions do. Instead, they seem to cause some general, non-direction oriented activation.
- Positive emotions do not necessarily facilitate physical action, but do spark significant cognitive action. For this reason, Fredrickson conceptualizes two new concepts: thought-action tendencies, or what a person normally does in a particular situation, and thought-action repertoires, rather an inventory of skills of what a person is able to do.
Previous theories of emotion stated that all emotions are associated with urges to act in particular ways, called action-tendencies.[note 2] According to Fredrickson, most positive emotions do not follow this model of action-tendencies, since they do not usually occur in life-threatening circumstances and thus do not generally elicit specific urges. Fredrickson proposes that instead of one general theory of emotions, psychologists should develop theories for each emotion or for subsets of emotions.
The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions proposed by Fredrickson states that while negative emotions narrow thought-action tendencies to time tested strategies as handed down by evolution, positive emotions broaden thought-action repertoires. Positive emotions often cause people to discard time-tested or automatic action tendencies and pursue novel, creative, and often unscripted courses of thought and action. These positive emotions and thought-action repertoires can be seen as applicable to the concept of flourishing because flourishing children and adults have a much wider array of cognitive, physical, and social possibilities, which results in the empirical and actual successes of a flourishing life.
Measurement and diagnostic criteria
With the concept of flourishing, psychologists can study and measure fulfillment, purpose, meaning, and happiness. Flourishing can be measured through self-report measures. Individuals are asked to respond to structured scales measuring the presence of positive affect, absence of negative affect, and perceived satisfaction with life. Participants are specifically asked about their emotions and feelings because scientists theorize that flourishing is something that manifests itself internally rather than externally.
Keyes has operationalized symptoms of positive feelings and positive functioning in life by reviewing dimensions and scales of subjective well-being and, therefore, creating a definition of flourishing. To complete, or "operationalize", the definition of what it means to be functioning optimally, or flourishing, diagnostic criteria have been developed for a flourishing life:
- Individual must have had no episodes of major depression in the past year
- Individual must possess a high level of well-being as indicated by the individuals meeting all three of the following criteria
- High emotional well-being, defined by 2 of 3 scale scores on appropriate measures falling in the upper tertile.
- High psychological well-being, defined by 4 of 6 scale scores on appropriate measures falling in the upper tertile.
- High social well-being, defined by 3 of 5 scale scores on appropriate measures falling in the upper tertile.
Major empirical findings
Positive emotional feelings such as moods, and sentiments such as happiness, carry more personal and psychological benefits than just a pleasant, personal subjective experience. Flourishing widens attention, broaden behavioral repertoires, which means to broaden one's skills or regularly performed actions, increase intuition, and increase creativity. Secondly, good feelings can have physiological manifestations, such as significant and positive cardiovascular effects, such as a reduction in blood pressure. Third, good feelings predict healthy mental and physical outcomes. Also, positive affect and flourishing is related to longevity.
The many components of flourishing elicit more tangible outcomes than simply mental or physiological results. For example, components such as self-efficacy, likability, and prosocial behavior encourage active involvement with goal pursuits and with the environment. This promotes people to pursue and approach new and different situations. Therefore, flourishing adults have higher levels of motivation to work actively to pursue new goals and are in possession of more past skills and resources. This helps people to satisfy life and societal goals, such as creating opportunities, performing well in the workplace, and producing goods, work and careers that are highly valued in American society. This success results in higher satisfaction and reinforces Frederickson's Broaden and Build model, for more positive adults reap more benefits and, are more positive, which creates an upward spiral.
Studies have shown that people who are flourishing are more likely to graduate from college, secure "better" jobs, and are more likely to succeed in that job. One reason for this success can be seen in the evidence offered above when discussing languishing: those that flourish have less work absenteeism, cited by Lyubomirsky as "job withdrawal." Finally, those that are flourishing have more support and assistance from coworkers and supervisors in their workplace.
Flourishing has been found to impact more areas than simply the workplace. In particular community involvement and social relationships have been cited as something that flourishing influences directly. For example, those that flourish have been found to volunteer at higher levels across cultures. Moreover, in terms of social support and relationships, studies have shown that there is an association between flourishing and actual number of friends, overall social support, and perceived companionship.
The definition or conceptualization of mental health under the framework of flourishing and languishing describes symptoms that can cooperate with intervention techniques aimed at increasing levels of emotional, social, and psychological well-being. Furthermore, as Keyes implies, in a world full of flourishing people, all would be able to reap the benefits that this positive mental state and life condition offers.
Keyes mentions children as well as adults. He says that children are directly affected by maternal depression, and points out that the flourishing or languishing of teachers and the effect on students have not been studied. Keyes also speculates that teacher retention may be associated with the students' frames of mind. Furthermore, if students can be made to flourish, the benefits to the education process are greater, as flourishing can increase attention and thought-action repertoires.
Flourishing also has many applications to civic duty and social engagement. Keyes believes that most people do not focus enough on those aspects of life and focus instead on personal achievement. Keyes suggests that people should provide encouragement to children, and adults, to participate socially. People that exhibit flourishing are engaged in social participation and people that are engaged in social participation exhibit flourishing. Therefore, he suggests that people should give their kids a purpose, which creates a sense of contribution and environmental mastery that enhances feelings of well-being and fulfilment.
The concept of flourishing is built on Fredrickson's broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, but some researchers have suggested that there are other functions of positive emotions. Mackie and Worth propose that positive emotions diminish cognitive capabilities. They showed that when exposed to a persuasive message for a limited amount of time, subjects experiencing a positive mood showed reduced processing as compared with subjects in a neutral mood. Others have suggested that positive emotions diminish the motivation but not the capacity for cognitive processing. Flourishing is still a newly-developing subject of study and, more tests need to be done to fully define, operationalize, and apply the concept of flourishing; this lack of research is also one criticism of the concept of flourishing.
- A reference to Seligman's Authentic Happiness; see Positive psychology#Initial theory: three paths to happiness.
- For instance, anger creates the urge to seek retribution or to attack, fear creates the urge to escape, guilt creates the urge to make amends for actions, etc. People do not necessarily act on these urges when they experience these particular emotions, but rather people's ideas about possible courses of action narrow to reflect these specific urges. These action-tendencies are not merely thoughts, but also manifest physiologically. For example, when someone is afraid, blood flow increases to major muscle groups and pupils dilate, preparing the body to flee. Emotions have adaptive value, such as mobilizing and preparing our minds and bodies during times of danger. The reflexive action-tendencies that are associated with emotions probably developed over the course of humankind's evolution.
- Printed references
- Fredrickson, B. L.; Losada, M. F. (2005). "Positive affect and complex dynamics of human flourishing". American Psychologist. 60 (7): 678–686. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.60.7.678. PMC 3126111. PMID 16221001.
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- Keyes C. L. M. Toward a science of mental health. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.). Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 89-95). New York: Oxford University Press.
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- Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, Flourishing, Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing: How can they be increased?
- Martin E.P. Seligman, April 2011, Happiness Is Not Enough
- Fredrickson, B. L. (1998), "What good are positive emotions?", Review of General Psychology, 2 (3): 300–319, doi:10.1037/1089-26188.8.131.520, PMC 3156001, PMID 21850154
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2004), "The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions", Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 359 (1449): 1367–1377, doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1512, PMC 1693418, PMID 15347528
- Fredrickson, B. L.; Losada, M. F. (2005), "Positive affect and complex dynamics of human flourishing", American Psychologist, 60 (7): 678–686, doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.7.678, PMC 3126111, PMID 16221001
- Keyes, C. L. M. (2002), "The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life", Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43 (2): 207–222, doi:10.2307/3090197, JSTOR 3090197
- Martin E.P. Seligman (2011), Happiness Is Not Enough