How to thrive and flourish
What do you need in order to thrive and flourish? How do you know? And how can you get more of what you need?
This is the basis of positive psychology. It consists of a number of questions to help you pinpoint the areas in your life that need attention, and I'm going to explain briefly why each of them is important.
- Physical health - if you are ill or injured you aren't going to be at your best, of course, but many of us put up with lower levels of health than we could have. So this is one of the first areas to check out - do you have any physical problems you could do something about? We often put up with minor niggles that sap our energy - better to sort them out!
- This leads easily on to psychological health. There is much more awareness these days of how important this is and indeed how prevalent it is. We can all feel stressed and fed up sometimes, but if it is seriously affecting our day to day life it's vital to seek professional advice.
- Your environment and where you live has a big effect too. Without going into the mysteries of Feng Shui, it does save mental energy if you know where things are and your immediate environment isn't messy and chaotic. And it's often a big lift to do a bit of decorating!
- Relationships are crucial, whether intimate relationships, your immediate family and friends or your work colleagues. If they are right then most of the rest of life is more likely to be all right. The core of this is, do we feel safe? can we trust the other? Do we behave in ways that generate this trust and safety in others?
- Your work - well we spend a long time at work, and in these days of increasing longevity, we're going to be doing it for longer, so we want to be happy doing it. Often people feel they want a different job, but there can be a lot of mileage in tweaking the one you've got so it suits you better.
- A sense of meaning in life - this is up amongst the biggies in life, together with relationships and oxygen. If you know that what you are doing matters, makes a difference and may even leave a legacy, then you are more likely to enjoy it and feel satisfaction in it. My favourite story about this is the cleaner who worked for NASA in the 1960's; when asked what he did, he said, 'I'm helping to put a man on the moon'.
- Organisation - well, this is the foundation of efficiency and effectiveness, very important at work, but also for a sense of personal control and agency. If you are well organised - even something as small as having your clothes ready the night before - it frees up energy for other, more interesting things.
- Learning and doing new things - this is good for your brain! It likes novelty, and if you have novelty together with positive emotional engagement, the learning is going to stick better. In the education world there is this concept of life long learning, and it's good for you. Same goes for creativity and making things.
- Exercise - before you groan this doesn't have to mean the gym, although many people enjoy it. Anything that gets the body moving for a decent length of time will do. The body is designed to move and again that is good for the brain directly, and indirectly because of the effect on physical health. There's an intriguing evolutionary idea that suggests our brains are so advanced precisely so that we can move around in three spatial dimensions and find food. As evidence the life cycle of a particular sea squirt is cited; in its early life it has a brain and spinal cord, but when it has floated around a bit and found a nice rock to attach to for the rest of its life, it settles down and digests its brain and spinal cord, having no further need for them!
- Difficulties in life - we all have them and many of them are out of our control. But we can learn to develop more resilient ways of responding to them, and then we manage life better.
- Doing things for other people - the research seems to show that this is actually good for us! Random acts of kindness, such as letting someone into the traffic, paying for a coffee, not necessarily anything big, do increase our own well-being. It's a win-win situation.
- Beauty, of whatever nature, is again good for us because it tends to take us out of ourselves so that we see the bigger picture and how it's all joined up. You can see how this can relate to spirituality and meaning in life. Music, art, flowers - it doesn't matter what.
There are a few more questions on the personal life analysis but this is enough to give you a good taste of it. Feel free to have a go, as many times as you like. In fact it can be good to do so at regular intervals, to see how things have changed for you.