Mental health has long been defined as the absence of psychopathologies, such as depression and anxiety. However, the absence of mental illness is only a minimal outcome from the perspective of positive psychology.

The absence of mental illness does not necessarily constitute complete mental health. Someone may not have a mental illness but they may not be satisfied with their life or striving to reach their potential. They may be surviving, but not thriving.

According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Within this definition there is an emphasis on the idea of living optimally and gainfully, which relates to a term applied to complete mental health called flourishing.

Someone who is flourishing is living with optimal mental health and may be experiencing subjective well-being in most or all of three general domains.

These domains of well-being include emotional, psychological, and social.

Emotional well-being

This is when someone is satisfied overall with their life. They feel a positive affect and experience high levels of positive emotions. They are cheerful, in good spirits and seem full of life.

Psychological well-being

Someone with positive psychological functioning would have a sense of purpose and meaning in their life. They would have self-confidence and feel positively about their abilities and who they are as a person.  There would be a drive to continue personal growth and development, and engage in the world through personal values and convictions.

Social well-being

Positive social functioning involves having a sense of belonging and acceptance of the world around us. Having a positive attitude toward others and society, and taking an approach that society can be improved and engaging in the world with this motivation.

Even with these areas of well-being in mind, we can’t overlook the mental and emotional distress that emerges in our life. So along with subjective well-being in these domains is the consideration of the level of mental illness someone is experiencing.

A model developed by Corey L. M. Keyes and Shane Lopez explains how mental illness and subjective well-being can be examined concurrently by categorizing their prevalence into four basic dimensions.

Flourishing – Someone who is high on subjective well-being and low on mental illness.

Languishing – Someone who is low on subjective well-being and low on mental illness.

Struggling – Someone who is high on subjective well-being but also high on mental illness.

Floundering – Someone who is low on subjective well-being and high on mental illness.

How would you describe your level of mental health?

Overall there is a low prevalence of flourishing in the American adult population. From this perspective there is significant progress to be made from a social policy perspective to promote a greater sense of well-being.

Each of us can aslo take strides and make decisions that contribute to a greater sense of well-being for ourselves. In what area of your life would you like greater satisfaction, and what can you do to make this happen?


Compton W. C. (2005). An Introduction to Positive Psychology. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.