‘Human flourishing’ is an oddly elusive concept. It is arguably the rightful aim, though perhaps often forgotten, of most fields of human endeavour, and yet I would suggest we don’t review often enough wether what we are doing is actually making anyone’s life better.
In the 4th Century B.C. Aristotle was already considering these questions. He introduced the concept of ‘eudaimonia’, which is variably translated, but can be broadly understood as human flourishing or the good life.
Human flourishing is an objective state, not simply a feeling or subjective sense of wellbeing, but a verifiable state of being
Speaking in Athens and outlining what came to be known as Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discussed this notion of eudaimonia, it’s form and determinants, and in doing so made a point which underpins the whole point of this endeavour – human flourishing is an objective state, not simply a feeling or subjective sense of wellbeing, but a verifiable state of being.
Eudaimonology: The Science of Human Flourishing
This is my objective – to explore and characterise the state of human flourishing, and more importantly to examine what factors promote it. It is this pursuit that I term ‘eudaimonology': the science of human flourishing.
To this end, human flourishing needs a working definition. Perhaps the most useful is offered by positive psychologists Fredrickson and Losada (Fredrickson, 2005) – “To flourish means to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience”.
To flourish means to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience
Fredrickson and Losada go on to point out that “flourishing contrasts not just with pathology but also with languishing: a disorder intermediate along the mental health continuum experienced by people who describe their lives as ‘hollow’ or ‘empty.’ Epidemiological work suggests that fewer than 20% of U.S. adults flourish and that the costs of languishing are high; relative to flourishing (and comparable to depression), languishing brings more emotional distress, psychosocial impairment, limitations in daily activities, and lost work days”.
the costs of languishing are high … languishing brings more emotional distress, psychosocial impairment, limitations in daily activities, and lost work days
Getting The Big Picture
In line with the definition above, human flourishing cannot be a solely individual attainment. Humans are by nature social beings, and therefore any notion of flourishing must entertain elements of community and societal function. Humans live in a finite and definable ecosystem, and therefore any notion of human flourishing must give thought to the ecosystem which supports humanity. Much of the daily activity of humanity may be termed ‘economic’ and therefore flourishing must be intimately linked to the economic conditions under which humanity labours.
‘Flourishing’ is broad, eclectic and elusive – but that is what we seek.