I have always been passionate about aromatherapy as it allows me to flourish; however, what does it mean to flourish?
For example, this year we have just established an aromatic garden and it is so delightful and exciting to see the plants flourishing. However, part of our water sprinkler system was not working and not before too long we could see that some plants suffered from ‘water stress’ – in other words these plants began to languish.
Dr Martin Seligman, author of internationally best-selling book Authentic Happiness and the more recent Flourish, provides us with some research exploring the role of Positive Psychology and explains how the notion of flourishing is becoming the new benchmark for measuring wellbeing.
Seligman states the gold standard for measuring wellbeing is flourishing and that the goal of Positive Psychology is to increase flourishing. He lists five elements that contribute to wellbeing:1
- positive emotion
- positive relationships
He states that happiness and life satisfaction are only one element of wellbeing. However, he warns us that any public policy aimed only at subjective wellbeing is vulnerable to the Brave New World caricature; in which the government promotes happiness simply by drugging the people with an euphoriant called ‘soma’ which can be best described as a state of hedonia.1
To flourish involves eudaimonia, a type of psychological wellbeing associated with feelings of inner peace, happiness, vitality and satisfaction with life.
Huta describe eudaimonia as the pursuit, manifestation, and/or experience of virtue, personal growth, self-actualisation, flourishing, excellence and meaning while hedonia refers to the pursuit and/or experience of pleasure, enjoyment, comfort, and reduced pain.2
Eudaimonia is a form of wellbeing that includes the following themes:2
- Meaning: feeling that one’s activities and experiences are meaningful and valuable.
- Elevation: a sense of being inspired, enriched, and raised to a higher or broader level of function.
- Awe: feeling awe, wonder, and deeply moved.
- Connection: Feeling connected with, awareness of, and harmony with oneself, one’s activities, or a broader or longer-term context.
- Aliveness: feeling live and present.
- Fulfilment: Feeling fulfilled and complete, and that one does not wish anything more.
- Competence: competence and mastery in life’s important domains.
I don’t know about you, but these are some of the feelings that I experience when I use essential oils. Essential oils can help us find meaning in our lives, they elevate our spirits, I am in awe when I experience a beautiful essential oil and they make me feel alive. I also feel connected - not just with all of humankind - but with all of nature.
Seligman cites the work of Felicia Huppert & Timothy So of the University of Cambridge who defined and measured flourishing in each of twenty-three European Union nations. Their definition of flourishing includes:1
- Positive emotion – Taking all things together, how happy would you say you are?
- Engagement, interest – I love learning new things.
- Meaning, purpose – I generally feel that what I do in my life is valuable and worthwhile.
- Self-esteem – in general, I feel very positive about myself.
- Optimism – I’m always optimistic about my future.
- Resilience – When things go wrong in my life, I bounce back quickly.
- Positive relationships – There are people in my life who really care about me.
Flourish has also been described as a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good. VanderWheele states that in understanding what constitutes flourishing we need to refer to five broad domains of life:3
- happiness and life satisfaction
- health, both physical and mental
- meaning and purpose
- character and virtue
- close social relationships.
Schotanus-Dijkstra M et al. state that flourishing is the ultimate end-state in psychology and a key concept in the field of Positive Psychology research. They state flourishers are those individuals with high levels of hedonic wellbeing and eudaimonic wellbeing.4
Hedonic wellbeing comprises subjective or emotional wellbeing and incorporates factors such as happiness, life satisfaction and a positive-negative affect balance. One the other hand psychological wellbeing and social wellbeing are part of eudaimonic wellbeing and include factors such as meaning, engagement, purpose in life, positive relations and personal growth.4
Those who are flourishers are described as those individuals with high levels of emotional, social and psychological wellbeing and are more resilient to vulnerabilities and challenges of life than those who are languishing. Those individuals who are neither flourishing nor languishing are defined as have moderate mental health.4
Are individuals who are flourishers in a better position better to deal with the challenges associated with mental health?
Ackerman states one can be diagnosed with mental illness but still flourish, and one can be free of any mental illness but still languish. Therefore, while flourishing is not simply the absence of mental illness, there is agreement that flourishing provides numerous health outcomes such as:5
- lower levels of helplessness
- more clarity around life goals
- higher levels of resilience
- higher intimacy
- lower risks of cardiovascular disease
- lower number of chronic physical diseases with age
- fewer health limitations of daily activities
To nurture our ability to flourish, Ackerman suggests the following activities:5
- Expand and enhance your social support system. Make new friends and deepen your existing relationships with friends, family and romantic partners.
- Commit to experiencing the good in life. Plan fun, exciting, meaningful, and fulfilling events in your life. Set goals for reaching milestones in life that are important to you, and savor the experience when you achieve those milestones.
- Focus on having some fun. Smile more, laugh more, and enjoy yourself more.
- Enhance your sense of purpose and meaning in life.
I hope that this blog has given you a wonderful insight into the importance of flourishing and how it contributes to your own wellbeing.
Which essential oil or essential oils allow you to flourish?
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1. Seligman M. Flourish. Random House, North Sydney, 2011.
2. Huta V. Eudaimonia. In S. David, I. Boniwell, & A.C. Ayers (eds), Oxford Handbook of Happiness (chapter 15, pp. 201-213)., Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013.
3. VanderWheele TJ. On promotion of human flourishing. PNAS, 2017;114(31):8148-8156. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1702996114
4. Schotanus-Dijkstra M et al. What factors are associated with flourishing? Results from a large representative national sample. Journal of Happiness Studies. 2015. doi: 10.1007/s10902-015-9647-3
5. Ackerman CE. Flourishing in positive psychology: definition + 8 practical tips. Downloaded on 22 Sep 2021 from https://positivepsychology.com/flourishing/