What is flourishing?

Until recently, we used to think that mental health is the absence of mental illness. In other words, if you didn't have anxiety, depression or another mental disease, people would say you're mentally healthy. We now understand that thinking of mental health in this way is INSANE - and, that in order to be COMPLETELY mentally healthy, we also need to be FLOURISHING. So, what does that mean? And how do you know if you're flourishing or not?

Social wellbeing among flourishing and happy women

"I think you can be depressed and flourish, I think you can have cancer and flourish, I think you can be divorced and flourish. When we believed that happiness was only smiling and good mood, that wasn’t very good for people like me, people in the lower half of positive affectivity."

- Martin Seligman -

Mental health is more than the absence of illness

Think about it this way: Would you say that physical health is merely the absence of illness, such as diabetes or a fractured leg? Or would you say that it also includes the presence of positive symptoms, such as good circulation, sufficient muscle mass, or a strong immune system?

 

In a similar way, mental health is more than the absence of mental illness, but instead entails the presence of some positive symptoms, too.⁠ In other words, in order to be COMEPLETELY mentally healthy, we need both the absence of mental illness AND the presence of mental WELLBEING. And mental wellbeing is also called FLOURISHING.

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You can see one continuum ranging from mental illness to NO mental illness. This is what is addressed by traditional or clinical psychology or sometimes by psychiatrists (medical doctors who can prescribe medication such as antidepressants).

The other continuum ranges from LANGUISHING (at the bottom) to FLOURISHING at the top, where you have mental wellbeing. This is what is addressed by positive psychology professionals like myself. So how do you know whether you’re flourishing?

The 3 symptoms of flourishing

There are 3 key symptoms of flourishing, which, together with the absence of mental illness, form complete mental health. Here is what they are.

1. Emotional wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing is basically 'feeling good'. That includes both having positive emotions, such as feeling joy, love, gratitude, or excitement, as well as 'low negative affect'. But be careful: the latter doesn't mean that you don't have any negative emotions. All emotions are valuable and important! Rather, low negative affect refers to a general state of calmness and content, rather than being agitated and discontent.

Importantly, emotional wellbeing also includes being satisfied with life in general. So, when you think about your life and your needs and wants, and compare that against what you have, you're content with that. The concept of emotional wellbeing is related to the idea of hedonia or hedonic happiness.

2. Psychological wellbeing

In contrast to emotional wellbeing, psychological wellbeing is more related to the idea of eudaimonia or eudaimonic happiness. This is less about how you feel momentarily, but more so about your fulfilment or sense of meaning and purpose in life.

This includes your sense of self-growth, how well you accept yourself as a person, your sense of freedom and autonomy and your ability to express yourself, accomplish goals and live intentionally.

3. Social wellbeing

Last, but certainly not least, is social wellbeing. This one is hugely underestimated and often forgotten about. However, even the World Health Organization has highlighted the role of social connections for health and wellbeing since 1948! We are social animals after all.

Importantly, social wellbeing is more than just having social support from friends and family. Having good relationships is certainly part of it, but it also includes a sense of belonging⁠ to a community, contributing to society⁠, having a positive attitude towards others⁠, and believing that society has the potential to grow⁠.

Another way too find out if you’re flourishing is to take this scientifically validated FLOURISHING TEST. Alternatively, you can read about what languishing, the opposite of flourishing, feels like in this ARTICLE or browse the BLOG  for other interesting articles on the topic! And, if you're ready to take action to level-up your own flourishing, check out the RESOURCES about it, enrol in FRESH START or the FLOURISHING SCHOOL, or book a call to see if coaching could be the best option for you.