Are You Flourishing?

Flourish: (verb) to thrive; to grow luxuriantly; to prosper; to be fully engaged and energized; to be in a state of production; to reach the height of development and influence

The Opposite. As the school year nears an end it’s no surprise that some students are feeling weary and burned out. This year has been particularly challenging due to the restrictions and abnormalities caused by Covid-19. A Boston University study of college students (February, 2021) found depression and anxiety at all-time high. 50% of the students screened positive for depression and roughly 66% reported feeling lonely and socially isolated.

A positive cultural shift recently has been an increasing sensitivity to those struggling with poor mental health. More openness surrounding the topic has immensely decreased the stigma of depression. Counseling has become a regular go-to for many, and we no longer fear taking medication for depression/anxiety when needed.

Yet there’s still progress to be made. With so many struggling with chronically depressive emotions, it’s crucial that we learn strategies for conquering and overcoming “the blues.” No one sets out to live in a constant state of sadness, fear, anxiety, fatigue and a generalized sense of languishing.

The Meaning. The opposite of languishing is flourishing. When someone is flourishing they display a positive perspective. They possess a strong sense of purpose and determination. They feel fully alive! What a great way to live!

Hopefully you recognize yourself in the definition of “flourishing.” But if not, what are some practical steps you can take today to begin moving from a place of languishing to a season of truly flourishing?

Aristotle talked about the Greek word eudaimonia which carries the idea of “flourishing, welfare, blessedness and the life of virtue.” Eudaimonia, according to Aristotle, was not so much a state of being as a state of doing, meaning it is more stable, reliable and attainable than happiness. He believed there is an “objective good” for every human being.

Action Points. Fast forward 2400 years. In 2011, Psychologist Martin Seligman wrote the book “Flourish: Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being” and developed what is known as the PERMA model which describes attributes which constitute a sense of flourishing. Other research backed up his basic findings. As you read about the components to flourishing, think about an area where you can take a step forward, or reach towards someone you know who is languishing. The necessary ingredients to flourishing are:

  • Positive Emotions. How do I turn negative emotions into positive emotions? We first recognize/name our feelings (fear, worry, stress, restlessness) and sit with them without judgement. We then regulate our emotions by redirecting/reframing our unhelpful thoughts into more useful ones. (For example, we reframe, “No one asked me out this year; I am unlovable and ugly,” into, “No one asked me out which is disappointing, but I’m still worth getting to know”). In addition, we practice self-care (giving our bodies proper rest, exercise and nutrition) which helps with mood regulation. We learn self-soothing (listening to good music, praying, relaxation) and work on developing emotional problem-solving/coping skills for when stress is highest.
  • Engagement. We need to engage with the world around us by working and playing. This means developing hobbies and skills and new interests. When we are depressed, one of the first things to go is our outside involvement with sports, extra-curricular or social activities. Our grades may plummet as we become less tuned in with our studies. The temptation to disengage is always there and may seem like an easy “escape” from stress, but the truth is, we need to stay plugged in with activity as this leads to growth, development and health.
  • Relationship. University of Michigan researcher Jane Dutton developed college courses promoting well-being and flourishing and coined the term “high quality connection” stating that relationships are most helpful when they are authentic and we are “fully present.” This means practicing active listening. Studies show that people speak at a rate of 100 words per minute, while our brains are able to comprehend 600 spoken words per minutes, making it tempting to tune others out or begin multitasking. High-quality friendships develop depth through empathy and reflective questions. Trust is built through equal amounts of sharing/listening and mutual self-disclosure. It’s vital that we seek out community with healthy people for support and a sense of connectedness.
  • Meaning. It should come as no surprise that we thrive best when we have a clear sense of purpose. Of all people in the world, believers should understand our strong sense of purpose as those made in the image of our Creator, with the goal of reflecting His glory to the world. His Word fleshes this out even more as we see our calling to love God, love others and seek out the lost. But it’s important that we define what that looks like tangibly. How do I bring him glory by studying hard for finals? What does it mean to love Him in seasons of preparation and waiting? How can I reach the lost when I’m surrounded by believers on a Christian campus? These are important issues to wrestle through in order to stay focused on our life objective in each stage of life.
  • Accomplishment. Our sense of thriving goes up when we achieve goals by using our strengths and talents. Whether our goals are small or large, there’s a sense of completion when they’re met. Make it a habit of setting daily, weekly, yearly and long-term goals for yourself and then working towards their fulfillment!