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Overview of a Talk on Flourishing and Well-being

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 18, 2023

Post written by guest blogger Emily Grugan; Postbac IRTA fellow, OITE Summer Program Staff Assistant

On March 27, 2023, a keynote presentation was given at the Consortium of Emotional Well Being Networks’ Annual Investigator Meeting by Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele on the subject of Flourishing and Emotional Well-Being. Dr. VanderWeele, from Harvard University, is the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Director of the Human Flourishing Program and Co-Director of the Initiative on Health, Spirituality, and Religion at Harvard University. He also writes a blog for Psychology Today about human flourishing.

During his talk, Dr. VanderWeele spoke in-depth about the concept of flourishing – what it is, how it can be measured, current research on the subject, and more. It is worth a watch. But in case you don’t have time, some of the main takeaways are outlined below:

Flourishing can be described as growing or developing in a healthy and vigorous way, or as a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good. The word brings to mind the image of a healthy tree in full, springtime bloom. When we are flourishing, the goodness can be seen blossoming across all important domains of our lives. A more tangible definition of flourishing might include the following components:

  • Happiness and life satisfaction
  • Physical and mental health
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Character and virtue
  • Close social relationships

It can be worthwhile, as VanderWeele attests himself, to think about the areas in which flourishing is present, or could use improvement, in one’s own life. This can be done as something like an annual or semiannual personal check-up. Here are some questions/statements (a couple to address each of the domains listed above) that you could consider:

  1. How satisfied are you with life as a whole these days?
  2. In general, how happy or unhappy do you usually feel?
  3. In general, how would you rate your physical health?
  4. How would you rate your overall mental health?
  5. Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  6. I understand my purpose in life.
  7. I always act to promote good in all circumstances, even in difficult challenging situations.
  8. I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later.
  9. I am content with my friendships and relationships.
  10. My relationships are as satisfying as I would like them to be.

VanderWeele elaborated on the distinction between flourishing and well-being. You can think of these as subsets of one another, where a person could have a good sense of general well-being, for example, but not necessarily be flourishing due to environmental or contextual factors:

  • Flourishing
  • Subset of flourishing: General Well-being
  • Subset of General Well-being: Mental Well-being
  • Subset of Mental Well-being: Emotional Well-being

As outlined above, there are many components of life that contribute to our ability to flourish. Each of these components is fluid; our emotional and mental well-being can fluctuate often (for better and for worse) in response to changes we face and interactions we have. This, in turn, impacts our general well-being and subsequently our capacity to flourish. Of course, this is life. There will be good times and bad. However, when we have the means by which to assess our current circumstance (like by using the questions above), we can better pinpoint gaps and room for improvement. We can use these tools when making important choices: How will this job offer affect the domains of flourishing in my life? Will accepting this work/social/personal opportunity help or hinder my ability to flourish? Will the career path I am currently pursuing continue to foster flourishing in the years ahead?

A final consideration is that one important component of well-being is growth. And growth often comes from times in which we feel we are not flourishing or are struggling in a particular domain. We can rest assured, then, that even periods of difficulty or low levels of flourishing can be a helpful and necessary part of getting to a point of greater flourishing in the future.


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