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What is Human Flourishing?


Introduction to Human Flourishing

Even if the term "human flourishing" is new to some, the principles underlying it have been widely discussed for centuries and well before Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, coined the phrase in the 1990s. Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher spoke of being content and having appreciation in what we have, he said, "When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you." Today, as a society, we are increasingly focused on understanding well-being and the true meaning of happiness.

Flourishing is a concept in positive psychology. Compared to the centuries-old discipline of psychology, positive psychology is relatively recent, introduced by Seligman during his inaugural speech as president of the American Psychological Society in 1998. Seligman highlighted that psychology had adopted a disease model, which focused primarily on alleviating human suffering. Precious little scientific research was devoted to discovering what makes life worth living.

"In our rush to address people in trouble and to repair damage, it never occurred to us to develop interventions to make people happier—positive interventions," *Martin Seligman, 2004.

Shift in Focus: Illness to Wellness

So, what does that mean? With the emergence of positive psychology, there has been a notable shift in mental health research and practice. The conversation has now evolved to focus in on what is right and good, and making the best of the present moment. The approach aims to enable positive well-being through self-awareness, building skills and confidence, so we can meet life's challenges and flourish, even during difficult times.

Christopher Peterson, a key person is the emergence of positive psychology also makes the distinction that "Happiness is not a spectator sport." Peterson argued that lasting happiness isn't achieved by watching from the sidelines but through rolling up our sleeves and actively participating. It puts us in control, in the driving seat, regarding our health and wellbeing and being able to take a more proactive and preventative approach. This will come as a relief for many of us, knowing there are things we can do to make a positive difference for ourselves and others.

Simple Steps to Significant Changes

These steps need not be big, time-consuming, or costly. Micro-actions performed daily can lead to significant macro, long-term change. These can be simple but effective activities and habits that support the ‘right’ mindsets, thoughts, and behaviours, enabling us to move from just being okay to thriving and flourishing.

For example, research on gratitude journaling shows that writing down achievements or positive feelings at the end of each day for two weeks can positively impact our well-being after six months, even if the practice stops after two weeks. This activity helps us focus on the positives in the world around us, moving beyond the default mindset and looking for the potential ‘threat’ or what’s wrong.

Engaging in this simply yet effective activity releases serotonin and dopamine, improving mood, cognitive function, and overall health and well-being and helps create a mindset that focuses on the ‘good stuff.’ It is important to note that focusing on the positive does not mean ignoring negative emotions; all emotions are valid and deserve attention. The goal is to find deliberate ways to balance out the enjoyable experiences alongside the uncomfortable ones. To learn more about supporting positive well-being read "How We Can Flourish: The PERMA model” 


Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Seligman, Martin E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, Martin E.P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.


Health Blog

Health & Wellbeing
What is Human Flourishing?

In this article, Grace Walsh discusses the simple but effective activities and habits that support the ‘right’ mindsets, thoughts, and behaviours, enabling us to move from just being okay to thriving and flourishing.

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How We Can Flourish and the PERMA Model

In this article, Grace Walsh, Irish Life Wellbeing Consultant, shares tips on how to‘nourish’ our minds and enhance our emotional and psychological health.

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