What does "flourishing" look like?
19 Jul 2011 | Lindsay Doran
In September 2010, an eclectic group of 25 men and women were
brought together at Gravetye Manor to give our best thoughts on the
subject of "flourishing". Our host was Dr. Martin Seligman, founder
of the Positive Psychology movement, and the attendees included two
headmasters, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a poet, an economist, a
neuroscientist, authors, professors, students, philanthropists, two
game inventors, and one movie producer (me).
The goal we discussed was the possibility of a flourishing
world: 51% of the earth's population flourishing by the year
2051, and steady improvement after that. In brief, this is
what I learned at Gravetye about flourishing.
What flourishing looks like for individuals
Flourishing individuals are basically happy people, and their
happiness is derived partly from generosity. They don't
only do things for themselves, and they don't
only do things for other people - there is a
balance. They have a number of positive relationships, and
they feel that their lives have meaning. They are
forward-thinking and optimistic: they take steps to achieve the
things they want to achieve, they take actions that will lead to a
better future for themselves, their loved ones, their community,
their country or even the world. They think life is worth
living. They have learned to frame even their most negative
experiences in a positive way (i.e., instead of "I can't figure
this out" they substitute "I haven't figured this out yet"; instead
of "I can't walk" they substitute "Walking is the only
thing I can't do").
It goes without saying that the people who have brought about
anything important - the development of the polio vaccine, peace in
Northern Ireland, the vote for women, the rescue of trapped miners,
etc. - first had to believe that those victories were
possible. The same applies to individuals who have put an end
to personal debt, achieved a healthy weight, made peace with a
permanent disability, or looked for and found a job or a loving
spouse. Even the grouchiest of them was an optimist, a person
who lived in the realm of the possible. Without optimistic
individuals, nothing can be achieved.
What flourishing looks like for a
The flourishing society is a society with institutions that are
proactive and positive rather than reactive and negative.
Health care aimed at prevention rather than picking up the pieces
when people become ill, injured, depressed or addicted.
Schooling that aims for happy, creative and flourishing children,
rather than sullen resistant children in an environment that feels
more like a prison than a place of learning. Policing aimed
at preventing crime rather than catching and punishing
What flourishing looks like for a
The flourishing government measures the life-satisfaction and
well-being of its citizens rather than just measuring their
financial status. We have long known that making a lot of
money and owning a lot of things are no guarantee of happiness and
often lead to the opposite - ambition, greed, envy, debt,
depression. Yet we measure the health of our country
according to the stock market, the number of people who buy homes,
or the amount of goods that were produced, bought and sold in a
month. In a world in which sustainability is an obvious
problem if people continue to consume at the current rate, we
measure the health of the country according to how much we
consume. The challenge is to protect employment while
altering the perception that we need to buy things in order to
achieve the happiness we want to achieve.
Of course the goals of any government must include enough food
and clean water for its citizens, the maintenance of
infrastructures, health care, education, security, etc. But
it turns out that the best way to achieve any of those goals is to
begin with the nurturing of flourishing individuals.
How to Begin
Since I returned from Gravetye, I have practiced a discipline
whereby I spend five minutes each day doing something to make
myself happy (since I'm often desk-bound, this usually consists of
going to the internet and watching something like the "Summer
Nights" musical number from "Grease" or the "End of the World" skit
from the 1960s comedy team Beyond the Fringe) and five minutes each
day doing something to make someone else happy (a phone call, an
email, a letter, a favour large or small for a loved one or a
stranger). Just strengthening the well-being muscle in myself
and in one other person each day feels like a good foundation for
everything else that needs to be done.
Lindsay Doran is a film producer based in Los Angeles. Her
producing credits include Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee, and
Stranger Than Fiction.
Do things for others, Keep learning new things, Look for what's good, Local community, Be a Happiness Activist, Politics of Happiness