Are you coasting through life or flourishing? Unfortunately, most people are not flourishing. That’s a disappointing fact. The majority of people are languishing—going through the motions of life, not feeling very strong mentally, and not feeling they have many strong connections with others. In other words, most people are not functioning at their best.
Traditional psychology studies languishing—how people anguish and suffer. Positive psychology aims to examine what is best about human beings, answering questions such as: What are the ingredients of flourishing?
My friend, scientist Lucy Hone and her colleagues have done just that in a recent study they published on the behaviors and characteristics of working people who flourish. This study showed that 25% of people in New Zealand are flourishing. (Data of people in the United States is less optimistic—less than 20% of people in the U.S. are flourishing).
Hone’s study reveals that there are many pathways to flourishing and this study shares several. But, I will point out three areas from the study that have the best ramifications for the science of character strengths.
1. Become highly aware of your character strengths:
Workers who were highly aware of their strengths were nine times more likely to flourish than those who were not aware of their strengths.
Strategies from The VIA Institute on Character:
- Mindful awareness helps you understand your strengths. Cultivate mindfulness meditation the easy way (see 5 tips no one has told you about mindfulness). Anyone can learn mindful strengths awareness.
- Take the VIA Survey, a free validated tool that measures your character strengths.
- Ask your friends and family this question: What do you think are my best character strengths?
2. Use your character strengths often:
Workers who report using their strengths often were 18 times more likely to flourish than those who report that they seldom use their strengths.
Strategies from VIA:
- Use one of your signature strengths in a new way each day.
- No matter what your job is, make sure you are using your signature strengths as you undertake your work tasks.
- Consider a current stressor. How might you use your character strengths to manage this stressor?
3.) Express appreciation to people you feel close to:
Workers who felt highly appreciated by people they’re close to were 29 times more likely to be flourishing than those who felt least appreciated. These data indicate a benefit for other people, but if you take action to express appreciation, other research has found that you, too, benefit.
Strategies from VIA:
- Point out what other people do right—find what researchers call “the positive deviance” (the positive exceptions).
- Don’t assume people you are close to know how you feel—often they don’t. Tell them directly and concretely why you value them.
- Help your family, friends and close colleagues understand the meaningful impact behind their actions, no matter how small.
- Practice strengths appreciation: When someone does something good, name the strengths they are using and tell them why you appreciate their using those strengths.
These data are correlational. I’m not saying strengths awareness or use causes flourishing (although other research has indeed supported causal findings). These data note that there’s a substantial, increased chance that if you are aware of and use your strengths that you’ll be creating a foundation for flourishing.
Hone, L. C., Jarden, A., Duncan, S., & Schofield, G. M. (2015). Flourishing in New Zealand workers: Associations with lifestyle behaviors, physical health, psychosocial, and work-related indicators. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(9), 973-983.
For more references or character strengths research, contact Ryan Niemiec.