Thursday, February 16, 2012


I did my overview of Flourish at co-op yesterday. The book was full of great, practical ideas, though it would have benefited from some editing. (The author said he started writing it while on vacation, and I believe it.)

Flourish outlines five areas that go into having a sense of well-being. These are:

Positive emotion -- happiness, pleasure and all that. Culturally this is largely where we are, goal-wise, and it's only a fraction of flourishing. I found it interesting that one of the conundrums that happiness researchers face is that as much as 80% of their results can be attributed to how the respondents are feeling on the day they take the survey. So measuring this is subjective, but still important.

Engagement -- pretty much what Csikszentmihalyi (love that name! no idea how to pronounce it) calls Flow. This is when your greatest strengths are fully 'on'; for a writer it's when the ideas are pouring out and the brain is working hard, for a 6yo boy it might mean being in the midst of a complex Lego project, for a dancer it's when the body is moving smoothly through complex choreography. In the midst of engagement you may not be thinking, "Oh, I'm so happy!" but that's because you're so in the moment that the satisfaction comes in retrospect. I think this is the area which technology depletes us the most, because the web allows us to trail our interests rather than develop our passions.

Relationships --  Even introverts need others. When I was in my 20s I traveled to Europe several times alone. I enjoyed the sights and the independence, but ultimately I stopped going. It wasn't the hardships that made the trips unsatisfying, but that when I saw something glorious or interesting there was no one with whom to share it. I need solitude, but without relationships it is empty. I recently read about a study that showed that too much dependence on virtual relationships creates social deficits because 80% of all human communication is non-verbal. If you're not seeing it, you're not completely getting it.

Meaning -- Having a story or purpose that's bigger than you are.

Achievement -- Getting something done or reaching a goal because you can brings its own satisfaction.

These five areas are nicknamed PERMA.

So here's the thing: ALL of these elements go into having a sense of well-being. Seligman is a psychologist, and he notes that in the early stages of his career he thought that if you were treating someone for depression and got the sadness to go away, you'd have a happy person. What he realized over time is that the absence of sadness and lethargy doesn't create a happy person but an empty person. We have to know how to fill our lives with richness in order to lead rich lives.

Interesting stuff. And it gets even more interesting when you use it as a framework for looking at your life -- and the lives of your children -- to see which areas need shoring up or further development.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. Interesting Stuff indeed.