Practices To Help You Flourish

Do you feel stuck, living a middling life, getting by OK but not thriving? Or are you excited to get up in the morning, looking forward to a day of meaningful and enjoyable activity? You have a choice. Will you choose the downward spiral that leads to languishing and worse? Or will you choose to take the upward path, an upward spiral to help you flourish?

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Which would you prefer?

This is the story of three neighbors, Tommy, Timmy, and Tammy. They live on the same street in the same neighborhood. But that’s the only thing they have in common. Let’s take a look.

Meet Tommy. Tommy is not a pleasant person. He is sad or angry or fearful most of the time. He can’t really say why. It’s just how he feels. He is unhappy with his life and he doesn’t see it getting any better in the future. Tommy feels that life has no purpose. He has no friends and even his family keep their distance. He is lethargic and so he doesn’t take care of his health. Because of this, Tommy is 40 pounds overweight and has frequent colds, headaches, stomach problems, and other ills. Tommy is on a downward spiral.

Then we have Timmy. Timmy doesn’t have any really negative emotions, but he doesn’t have many positive ones either. He is OK with his life. It’s not great, but then whose is, really? Timmy has some acquaintances he goes out drinking with but he doesn’t have any close friends. He occasionally exercises but not consistently. In fact, consistency is not a part of Timmy’s way of living. He’s mostly languishing, and he certainly isn’t thriving. He’s living a kind of middling life.

Now, how about Tammy? She is generally happy but feels other emotions as appropriate and overall she is satisfied with life. She takes care of her health and feels really good most of the time. Tammy has a few close friends whom she can interact with and share deep feelings and she sees them several times during the week. Tammy is doing worthwhile things with her life and she feels she is living on purpose. In fact, Tammy is flourishing.

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What Does It Mean To Flourish?

As you can see from our three friends, if you have a choice between languishing and flourishing, you’d most likely choose to flourish. But what exactly does that mean?

When you are flourishing, you mostly enjoy positive emotions. You enjoy good health, physically and mentally. You have close, meaningful relationships with family and friends. You feel your life has meaning and that you are living out your purpose.

In fact, as Dr. Ryan Niemiec writes: “Flourishing is like supercharging your well-being and happiness.” [Niemiec]

What Does Flourishing Look Like?

To get a full picture of flourishing, let’s turn to the “father” of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman. Seligman began the movement by defining happiness via the Happiness Formula, which states: H = S + C + V, where H is your level of Happiness, S is your happiness “Set point”, C represents the Circumstances of your life, and V stands for things under your Voluntary control. And fortunately, the things under your voluntary control can have the largest impact on happiness levels.

Over time, Dr. Seligman came to understand that there were other factors of happiness, other components that helped one live “the good life”, going deeper than simply being happy and experiencing positive emotions. He eventually brought them together under the acronym = PERMA.

PERMA includes Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.

Each of the five components has all 3 of these properties: 1) it contributes to well-being, 2) it is pursued for its own sake (not only as a means to another end), and 3) it is defined and measured independently of the other elements.

When you are flourishing, says Barbara Fredrickson, a major figure in the research of Positive Psychology: “You feel more alive, creative, and resilient. You have a palpable sense of personal growth and of making a positive difference. This is flourishing. It feels and is totally different from languishing. You’ve stepped up to a whole new level of life.” [Fredrickson]

When a plant flourishes, it is growing – strong, healthy, and alive. It has beautiful foliage and masses of flowers or fruit. When you flourish, you, too, are strong and healthy; not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You are growing and producing the fruits of your labor. You feel content, even when you are confronting and struggling with problems and concerns.

help you flourish

How Do We Measure Flourishing?

Here are two different tools to measure well-being and flourishing.

  1. You can take this well-being quiz to learn more about your well-being. [Davis]
  2. The Diener Flourishing Scale is a brief questionnaire that measures your self-perceived success in important areas such as relationships, self-esteem, purpose, and optimism. The scale provides a single psychological well-being score.

If you want to improve your own sense of flourishing, first know where you’re starting from by taking one of these assessments. Next, try some of the practices presented below. After you’ve practiced for a few weeks, take the assessment again and see how your score improves.

How Can I Flourish?

Here are 12 “happiness tools”, activities to boost your positivity to help you flourish. Don’t try to do them all – pick a few that resonate with you right now and do one or two of the exercises.

Practice gratitude.

Expressing gratitude

  • promotes savoring of positive life experiences.
  • bolsters self-worth and self-esteem.
  • breaks the habit of focusing on failures and disappointments.
  • helps you cope with stress and trauma.
  • during personal adversity can help you adjust and move on, or start anew.
    o This is challenging and difficult, but it may be the most important thing you can do.
  • encourages moral behavior.
  • can help build social bonds, strengthen existing relationships and nurture new ones.
  • inhibits undesirable comparisons with others.
  • is incompatible with negative emotions and may diminish feelings of anger, bitterness, and greed.
  • helps thwart hedonic adaptation – the tendency to rapidly adjust to new circumstances or events.

Here are ways to count your blessings. Experiment to see which works best for you.

  • Choose a fixed time to contemplate on something or someone for which you are grateful. Think of why you are grateful and how it (or she or he) has enriched your life.
  • Choose one thing each day that you usually take for granted or that goes unappreciated and express gratitude for it.
  • Acknowledge one ungrateful thought per day and substitute a grateful one in its place.
  • Choose a gratitude partner and share your blessings list with each other.
  • Introduce a visitor to the things, people, and places that you love, to see these through another’s eyes.

Perform acts of kindness.

Practicing kindness boosts happiness by

  • helping you to perceive others more positively and in a more charitable light.
  • heightens your sense of interdependence and brings cooperation in your social community.
  • relieves guilt, distress, and discomfort over others’ difficulties.
  • encourages awareness of and appreciation for your own good fortune.
  • you may begin to perceive yourself as altruistic and compassionate.
    o This new awareness can promote a sense of confidence, optimism, and usefulness.

Kindness can jump-start a cascade of positive social consequences and satisfies a basic human need to connect with others.

As you begin engaging in kindness, keep these points in mind:

  • Mix up and vary the acts of kindness you do. We adapt to smaller acts fairly quickly and they lose some of their ability to increase happiness.
  • If possible, commit to a major act (tutoring a student, fund-raising for a worthy cause) that involves regular contact with other people.
  • If you can’t give money, give the gift of time.
  • Surprise someone with a kind act.
  • Try to do more of those things which don’t come naturally to you.
  • Develop your compassion by looking at the world from another’s perspective.
  • At least once a week, do a kind deed anonymously. Tell no one and expect nothing in return.

Nurture relationships.

Happy relationships are characterized by a ratio of five positive statements or behaviors to each negative one. Resolve to raise your positive to negative affect ratio each week. Communicate your admiration and gratitude directly to your partner. To increase your respect, value, and admiration for your partner, follow this 4-week plan.

Week 1: Make a list of attributes that attracted you to your partner or that you appreciate right now, and think of one episode that illustrates each one well.

Week 2: Remember and write about a good time in your marriage.

Week 3: Consider a recent or memorable time when your partner angered or disappointed you. Write down two or three charitable explanations for his or her behavior.

Week 4: Write about specific goals, values, or beliefs that you and your partner share.

Engage in physical activity.

There are a number of ways in which physical activity boosts happiness.

  • Mastering a sport or taking up a fitness regimen lets you feel in control of your body and your health.
  • Seeing yourself get better at something – stronger, faster, more skillful – provides a sense of self-worth.
  • Physical activity offers potential for flow.
  • When performed along with others, physical activity can provide opportunities for social contact, improving social support and reinforcing friendships.

Here are some tips for engaging in physical activity.

  • If you have been living a sedentary life, get your doctor’s approval before beginning an exercise program.
  • Start slow (in the 60 – 65 % range of your maximum heart rate) and gradually build up.
  • Decide on specific dates, times, and durations and pencil them into your schedule as appointments.
  • If you can, choose to exercise during the time of day you feel most energetic.
  • Aim for 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. If you can’t do 30 minutes in one session, three 10 minute sessions have almost as much benefit.
  • If you already engage in regular physical activity, increase your participation in some way. Run longer, lift more weight, join an advanced exercise class.
  • If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Remember the importance of the day after perfect. Get back in the routine the next day.

Be in flow.

The state of flow occurs when you are deeply engaged in an enjoyable pursuit, when you are challenged and focused. You lose track of time and are not conscious of yourself or your thoughts. Typically, you are using your skills to meet a challenge.

Here are some ideas to help you have more flow experiences.

  • Discover your signature strengths and develop ways to use them at work or in other situations.
  • Pay attention. Whatever you are doing, put your heart and mind into it. It can be difficult to maintain your concentration on the present activity, but it gets easier with practice.
  • Seek out and be open to new experiences. Keep learning throughout your life.
  • Engage in challenging activities that allow you to use your skills, either at work, by engaging in sports, or in attempting an artistic endeavor. Push yourself, but not to the point that you are in over your head.

Savor.

The ability to savor is one of the most important ingredients of happiness. You can savor the past by reminiscing about past pleasurable experiences. You can savor the present by being mindful of and wholly in the present moment. And you can savor the future by anticipating and visualizing upcoming events.

These are strategies to foster savoring. [2]

  • Relish ordinary experiences. Consider your daily routine activities. Instead of dashing through them, resolve to linger over the pleasurable experiences. For example:
    o Linger over your morning or afternoon snack; absorb its aroma, feel the textures, enjoy the taste.
    o Bask in the feeling of accomplishment when you complete a task at work or at home.
    o Luxuriate in a long, hot shower after a brisk walk.
  • Replay happy days. Pick one of your happiest days and replay it in your mind, as though you were replaying a videotape or DVD. Think about the event or day and remember what happened in as much detail as you can. Don’t analyze the event or day, just revel in it.
  • Celebrate good news. When your spouse or a friend wins an honor, congratulate him or her and celebrate! Do the same for yourself: pat yourself on the back, acknowledge how much effort you put into the accomplishment.
  • Be open to beauty and excellence. Allow yourself to truly admire an object of beauty or a display of talent or virtue. Strive even to feel reverence and awe.
  • Be mindful. Practice a daily meditation. Practice being present in each moment. Be the Observer as you watch yourself moment by moment while you perform an activity.
  • Take pleasure in the senses. Pay close attention and delight in momentary pleasures of taste, sound, sight, smell. Turn a meal into a ceremonial occasion, with an attractive presentation, a quiet and comfortable setting, and no distractions

Commit to your goals.

Having a goal to work for provides these positivity boosts:

  • provides a sense of purpose and a feeling of control over our lives.
  • bolsters self-esteem, self-confidence, and the feeling of being useful and effective.
  • adds structure and meaning to daily life and helps us to master our time and set priorities.
  • helps us cope better during times of crisis.
  • often involves engaging with other people, which can bring happiness in and of itself.

But remember all goals are not created equal. To increase positive feelings, choose SMART+Plus goals which have these characteristics:

  • Choose intrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals are those that are personally rewarding to you. They bring fulfillment and meaning to your life. Extrinsic goals are chosen for you or chosen by you because someone else wants you to have the goal. Intrinsic goals are inherently satisfying and lead to a larger payoff in terms of happiness. Extrinsic goals have been shown to be frequently accompanied by anxiety and interpersonal problems.
  • Choose authentic goals. These are the goals that you value and “own”, as opposed to goals that you set because of the expectations of others (parents, spouse, friends, society). Choose goals that fit your values and strengths.
  • Choose approach goals. Approach goals are goals that have you working toward a positive outcome. This is in contrast to avoidant goals, where you are avoiding a negative outcome. Approach goals promote well-being; avoidant goals can detract from happiness.
  • Choose harmonious goals. It is important that your goals complement each other. You may be able to change your method of pursuing each one so that they are in harmony overall. You may need to give up one or the other or run the risk of losing both.
  • Choose activity goals. Seeking to improve your circumstances (bigger house, bigger car, bigger TV) has been shown to be a difficult route to improved happiness. Activity goals allow you to meet new challenges, take advantage of new opportunities, and have a variety of experiences.

Develop coping strategies.

One way you can increase your positive experiences is to develop strategies for coping when problems arise and sad or troubling events occur. Here are three situations where you may use coping strategies.

  • Problem-focused coping involves problem-solving. In this situation, you generate possible solutions, examine the pros and cons of each solution, choose one of the solutions, and act on it.
  • Emotion-focused coping involves behaviors or cognition (ways of thinking). Examples of behaviors used in coping are exercise or other physical distractions and seeking the support of friends. Examples of using cognition include finding the seed of good (positively reinterpreting), accepting, and seeking spiritual meaning and comfort.
  • Coping through social support means turning to others for comfort and contact in times of distress or trauma. This, by the way, is one of the most effective coping strategies. People who confide in others during times of trouble have fewer health problems than people who try to “go it alone”. Just be sure the people in whom you confide are sympathetic and want what’s best for you.

Here are coping strategies that have been proven through research. [1]

Find meaning through expressive writing. In a journal, write about one of your most painful life experiences. Write for 15 – 30 minutes per day (at least 15 minutes) for 5 days. Describe the experience in detail; fully explore your personal reactions and deepest emotions. You may write about the same experience on all 5 days, or a different experience each day.

Construe benefits in trauma through guided writing or conversation. This may be done either by writing in your journal or in conversations with a trusted confidant.
Step 1: Either through writing or talking, acknowledge that your loss or trauma has caused you a good deal of pain and suffering. Tell what you have done in response to your loss that you are proud of.
Step 2: Consider how much you have grown as a result of your loss or trauma.
Step 3: Think about how the trauma has positively affected your relationships.

Learn to cope through thought disputation. This technique involves challenging and disputing your own negative, pessimistic thoughts. Use the ABCDE disputation technique by writing out your thoughts in these steps.
Step 1: Write down the adversity or problem you are facing.
Step 2: Identify any negative beliefs triggered by the problem.
Step 3: Record the consequence of the problem – how you are acting and feeling as a result.
Step 4: Dispute the negative belief; challenge it and think of other probable reasons for the problem.
Step 5: Considering the more optimistic and positive explanations for the problem can lift your spirits and energize you so that you are less anxious and more hopeful.

Develop a growth mindset.

The concepts of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindsets come from the work of Dr. Carol Dweck.

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” [Dweck]

Fortunately, the research shows that you can move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Find out which mindset you use most and then discover ways to move to a growth mindset by following the steps described in this Fixed Mindset Or Growth Mindset post.

Avoid overthinking.

Overthinking or rumination, is “thinking too much, needlessly, passively, endlessly, and excessively pondering the meanings, causes, and consequences” of your life and your problems. [Lyubomirsky] Sometimes we fall into a trap of believing that when things get us down we need to get to the cause, by focusing on the problems of our life. Research shows that this is counterproductive. Hyper focusing on the problem often makes the picture even gloomier and increases our negativity. It doesn’t resolve the problem, and in fact, can make finding a resolution more difficult.

Choose one of these strategies to immediately stop overthinking and focusing on comparisons with others.

Stop overthinking in its tracks.

  • Distract yourself.
    o Choose an activity that is engrossing and that helps you feel happy, curious, peaceful, and/or happy.
  • Use the “Stop” technique.
    o Think, say, or shout “Stop!” or “No!” to yourself when you find yourself resuming overthinking, then think about something else.
  • Set aside 30 minutes sometime during the day when you will do nothing but ruminate. You can stop yourself at other times by telling yourself, “I’ll think about this later.” You may find that when you consciously try to overthink, the things you set aside to contemplate seem less important.
  • Talk to a sympathetic and trusted person about your thoughts and troubles. Choose someone who can be objective, not someone who will start ruminating with you. And don’t wear them out by going to them too often.
  • Journal. By writing out your ruminations, you can organize your thoughts and make sense of them. You may begin to see patterns emerge. Plus, you get them out of your head and onto a piece of paper.

Act to solve problems. Jumpstart yourself to solve the real problems that can lead to overthinking.

  • Define or state the problem.
  • Brainstorm solutions.
  • Select the best solution.
  • Decide on the 1st action to implement the solution.
  • Take a small step toward completing the 1st action.
  • Take a step each day toward implementing your solution until the problem is resolved.

Dodge overthinking triggers.

  • Make a list of the people, places, times, or circumstances that trigger your overthinking. Develop strategies to avoid these triggers or to modify them enough to impede their ability to trigger overthinking.
  • Build your sense of self-worth. Learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, begin a new project.
  • Meditate.

See the big picture.

  • When you begin a cycle of rumination or social comparison, stop, and ask yourself: “Will this matter in a year?”
  • Distance yourself from rumination by contemplating your problem in the context of space and time. Consider yourself and your problems in relation to the Universe.
  • If you decide that your problem is significant and will indeed matter in a year, then consider what it is teaching you. Open yourself to the lesson that is being sent to you (or that you are attracting to yourself).

Find the “seed of good”.

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” ~Napoleon Hill

Why is it that some people are miserable even in the midst of fortune and fame yet others keep a sunny disposition despite undergoing extreme difficulties? It’s because, as Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar points out, “our happiness is not only a function of the objective events that make up our lives but also of the subjective way we interpret them”. [Ben-Shahar]

Sometimes “bad things happen to good people”. Actually, an event is neither good nor bad, in and of itself. The forest fire destroys and it also clears the way for new growth. But unquestionably things happen that we interpret as bad, even horrible, and that bring feelings of pain, despondency, grief, loss, and so on.

Some people accept these events when they occur and set about to find the “seed of benefit”, the opportunity to learn and grow. These people are the exemplars of the “benefit finder”. [Ben-Shahar] Then, there are the “fault finders”, who, as Henry David Thoreau said, “will find faults even in paradise.” [Ben-Shahar] These are the people who can never be happy, never satisfied, regardless of what happens.

Here is an exercise to help you move toward becoming a benefit finder. Pick some events in your life (failures as well as successes) and examine them first as a fault finder, then as a benefit finder. Write about the events from each perspective. For example, if you missed an important deadline and got yelled at by your boss, write about how angry and upset it made you, how it wasn’t your fault that you were late with the project, how you just had too much to do. Then turn the tables and write about the benefits. Write about how you learned the importance of scheduling your activities and of prioritizing and that you’ve begun to take your responsibilities at work more seriously. Remember, the point isn’t to convince yourself to be happy regardless of what happens to you, but to learn to accept what happens and then make the best of it. [Adapted from Ben-Shahar]

Forgive (yourself and others).

The act of forgiving is within everyone’s grasp, but the ability to forgive varies from person to person. For a number of reasons, forgiveness can be difficult for some of us, easier for others. But studies have shown that there are benefits for those who learn to forgive: deeper happiness, greater life satisfaction, better physical health, healing of relationships.

What Forgiveness Is Not

  • Reconciliation – re-establishing a relationship with the transgressor
  • Pardon – a legal term, implies justifying or tolerating the victimization or hurt
  • Excusing
  • Forgetting

What Forgiveness Is

  • When you experience a shift in thinking, such that your desire to harm the other person has decreased and the desire to do him or her good (or to improve the relationship) has increased.
  • Forgiving is something you do for yourself, not the other person.

Benefits Of Forgiving

  • Clinging to bitterness or hate harms you more than it does the object of your hatred.
  • Forgiving people are less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, or neurotic.
  • Forgiving people are more likely to be happier, healthier, more agreeable, and more serene.
  • People who learn to forgive have been shown to have lower anxiety and higher self-esteem.

Appreciate Being Forgiven

  • Remember a time when you were forgiven for something you did.
  • How was forgiveness communicated to you and how did you respond?
  • Why do you think they did it?
  • Do you think they benefitted from the experience?
  • Did you benefit from it?
  • Did the experience change you in any way or did you learn from it?
  • What insight do you have about the experience right now?

Seek forgiveness for yourself.

  • Write a letter of apology for a past or present wrong that you have done to someone else.
  • Describe what you did (or didn’t do) and acknowledge that it was wrong.
  • Describe the harm that it did to the other person or to the relationship.
  • Apologize, either directly (“I’m sorry”) or by affirming the value of the relationship and your wish to restore it.

Imagine Forgiveness

  • Identify a person who has offended or mistreated you.
  • Imagine you are viewing the situation through the other person’s eyes, from his or her perspective.
  • Try to view him or her as a whole person, not just his or her offending behavior.
  • Granting forgiveness does not mean excusing or tolerating the behavior, but it does entail letting go of your hurt and anger and adopting a more benevolent perspective.

Transforming Ideas Into Action

Those are different ways to boost your positivity. If you’re feeling overwhelmed a little (or a lot!), break it down into smaller steps. Here’s a suggestion. [3]

  1. Look at the 5 components of PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement.
  2. Think about your day-to-day activities. Which ones bring you pleasure? Which activities are engaging? Which ones center around family and friends? Which activities are meaningful to you? And which ones bring you a feeling of accomplishment, that you are making a difference?
  3. After you consider all of these activities, give yourself a score of 1 – 5 in each of the five areas, where 1 equals “not at all” and 5 = “most of the time”.
  4. Where is your lowest score? Choose one of the happiness tools from that area and select one or two exercises for that tool.

Choosing the Upward Spiral

Do you feel stuck, living a middling life, getting by OK but not thriving? Or are you excited to get up in the morning, looking forward to a day of meaningful and enjoyable activity? You have a choice. Barbara Fredrickson reminds us that “simply by virtue of being human, you have within you the seeds of flourishing.” [Fredrickson]

Of course, every day will not be rosy: storms arise, mistakes and failures come, people get angry, shxx happens. But the practices of the Excelerated Life™ can help you get through the difficult times. And boosting your positivity keeps you resilient, so you bounce back more quickly. Again, you have a choice. Will you choose the downward spiral that leads to languishing and worse? Or will you choose to take the upward path, an upward spiral to a life of flourishing? In fact, the path to your Excelerated Life™!


Excelerated Positivity™ — building the skills in positivity that help you flourish — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Footnotes:

[1] Please NOTE: I am neither a medical professional nor a licensed counselor. If you are struggling and simply cannot accept or move past a situation you are dealing with, I urge you to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.

[2] Adapted from The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. See Resources.

[3] Adapted from Positive Psychology by Bridget Grenville-Cleave. See Resources.

Resources:

Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., Tal. Even Happier. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010

Davis, Ph.D., Tchiki. “12 Ways to Flourish.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, April 19, 2021. Web. January 8, 2022.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/202104/12-ways-flourish

Dweck, Carol. “What Is Mindset?” , , , Web. April 3, 2016. http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html
[Website no longer active.]

Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009.

Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012.

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Niemiec, PhD., Ryan. “Research-Backed Strategies To Help You Flourish.” Strengths Basics. VIA Institute On Character, January 24, 2018. Web. January 8, 2022.
https://www.viacharacter.org/topics/articles/research-backed-strategies-to-help-you-flourish

Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press, 2002.

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