Summer is officially here! I’m in the north of Europe, and everything is flourishing – the days are getting longer, the nature is blooming more and more for each day and there is the excitement of this bright, positive season in the air.
Great timing to consider how to make sure we all flourish too!
Quite aptly, this is the new term used for happiness in the psychological research profession (coined by Martin Seligman). To flourish in this sense, is about living as your authentic self and reaching your potential. Sounds pretty attractive, right?
The great news within the flourishing research is that our natural strengths are found to underpin our happiness. And not just the usual strengths of leadership, judgement or critical thinking but also those you may not usually consider such as humour, creativity, forgiveness or kindness.
By including your strengths in everyday life, your overall wellbeing will improve. You’ll be less stressed, less down and more likely to reach your goals. In short, you’ll be happier and more content!
So allow yourself to identify your strengths. In doing so, try to free your mind of what others around you and society at large might value, and really look for what you enjoy being good at. For once perhaps, this is about your genuine interests and natural abilities. Quite liberating in a world that usually likes to impose what we should value and strive for!
And remember your strengths are potentials, not traits. So you may occasionally fail in your area of strength. This is absolutely fine! The key is to continue to cultivate your potentials, in part through trial and error. So have patience with yourself and allow yourself to recognize and enjoy your progress.
The happiness research also identified 5 pillars of happiness, and what underpin those are your strengths. So let me move on to explain a little about the pillars, they are:
- Positive emotions (or traditional happiness)
- Interest in and engagement with life
- Positive relationships
- Meaning and purpose
- Have goals and achieving them
These are the five ingredients that stirred together in your life add up to your happiness and wellbeing.
The great news is that each of these pillars can be targeted. So if you feel you’re lacking in one or another, focus your attention there. Boost your scores in each of the areas, and you’ll be boosting your overall wellbeing.
It’s important that you don’t privilege or value one above the others – all five have been found to be important to exist. So be careful for example, not to only focus on your goals and blindly concentrate all your waking hours towards achieving them at the expense of the other areas. This would result in one or more of the others being neglected. You may then not have time to get involved in extra curriculum activities (pillar no 2), to see your friends (pillar no 3), noticing and appreciating the present (pillar no 4) and so on. The end result won’t then be the flourishing happiness you’re looking for.
You may find though that by boosting one of the five, it can lead to a boost in one or more of the others. For example, if you invest in a positive relationship, perhaps by doing a positive act towards someone else such as giving them a compliment (perhaps cultivating your kindness and generosity strengths), you’re more likely to feel positive emotions and it may enhance your engagement with life. Equally by having and achieving goals, you’re likely to feel engaged with life and that your life has meaning and purpose. There is an endless amount of positive correlations here.
So when you feel a lack of satisfaction, enjoyment, happiness or wellbeing go through the list and identify specific things you can do to boost any pillars you realise have not had enough attention of late. This really empowers you to work, systematically on your wellbeing by focusing on the areas you feel you’re missing out on.
Reflecting back to your strengths that underpin the pillars, once you’ve identified yours, use them more and in new ways, every day. Remember them in the ‘pillar boosting’ activities. If you’re creative, think of ways to use this strength in enhancing your relationships, of ways to express your creativity to develop new interests and perhaps set goals to ensure you continue harnessing your creative skill.
Just one word of warning – be mindful of the effect of your strengths on others too, and ensure you use and express them appropriately – in the right situations, and to the right degree. Being humorous for example can be offensive in a serious or sad circumstance, being creative may be perceived by others as non-conformist and expressing gratitude for all that you have when someone else has lost something important could be perceived as insensitive.
Find Your Happy Flourishing Self:
Here’s a quick test that you can use to establish any areas that would benefit from being targeted to allow you to fully flourish.
1. Indicate your agreement with each of the following 8 statements on a scale of 1 – 7*. 
- I am optimistic about the future.
- I am a good person and live a good life.
- I actively contribute to the happiness and wellbeing of others.
- I am engaged in and feel interested in my daily activities
- I have supportive and rewarding social relationships
- I feel purpose and meaning in my daily life.
- I feel respected by others.
- I am competent in the activities that are important to me.
*1 (strongly disagree), 2 (disagree), 3 (slightly disagree), 4 (neutral), 5 (slightly agree), 6 (agree) and 7 (strongly agree).
2. Add up your responses for all 8 statements. The possible range of total scores are between 8 and 56.
3. For a month, deliberately encourage your score to increase by experiment with targeted actions, correlating the 5 pillars whilst using and drawing upon your strengths.
4. Redo the test and assess what activities have worked, informing your decisions on how to further improve, or maintain your flourish.
I hope you’ll have fun exploring and cultivating your strengths and enjoy developing the 5 pillars of happiness to ensure you too flourish this summer and beyond.
And why not share your insights, developments and successes – I and I’m sure many others, would love to hear about them and feel motivated by reading about your progress and flourishing stories. Post about them on my facebook page (facebook.com/bemelifecoaching) or email me your success stories for me to share in a future newsletter.
This kind of sharing will not only increase your enjoyment but will help you stay motivated and well equipped to continue on your flourishing journey! Shared successes are double successes!
I hope you’ll have a wonderful summer and here’s to a flourishing you!
 If you’d like some help in finding out your strengths, sign up to research website http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx and complete the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
 Test adaptation of Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, January 2009