In 2011, psychologist Martin Seligman wrote the book Flourish, which introduced a new theory for the Positive Psychology movement that centered not on pursuing happiness, but rather on pursuing a sense of well-being.

“I used to think that the topic of positive psychology was happiness, that the gold standard for measuring happiness was life satisfaction, and that the goal of positive psychology was to increase life satisfaction. I now think that the topic of positive psychology is well-being, that the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing.” - Martin Seligman

In Seligman’s view, happiness — a topic he had written extensively about, notably in his bestselling book Authentic Happiness — is too narrow of a lens through which to measure life satisfaction.

Well-being, through flourishing, is a much more nuanced state. In the book, Seligman states that we can flourish by focusing our attention on five measurable elements:

Positive Emotion
- Experiencing emotions such as gratitude, hope, and contentment.

Engagement
- Activities that fully absorb our attention, entering us into a state of ‘flow’.

Relationships
- A sense of strong trust, connection, and support with others.

Meaning
- An altruistic purpose in life that is bigger than the self.

Achievement
- Having ambition and goals and following through on them.

Seligman wrote: “Authentic happiness theory is one-dimensional: it is about feeling good and it claims that the way we choose our life course is to try to maximize how we feel. Well-being theory is about all five pillars ... (it) is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment.”

It isn’t just about feeling good in the moment, it’s about recognizing our complexities and building a life that is meaningful.

This distinction really resonated with me. All too often people focus on being happy or positive —but there is so much more to life than the elusive and often fleeting sense of being happy.

I wonder, what do you think of this framework for flourishing?

Dave Radparvar
Co-Founder, Holstee

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This article is part of our series on the theme of Wellness.

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