What Does Flourishing Refer To In Positive Psychology?

Flourishing is a key concept in positive psychology. But what does it actually mean?

First, let’s look at the definition of flourishing according to Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of positive psychology:

Flourishing refers to the state we are in when we pay attention to each aspect of the PERMA model and build up a solid sense of well-being. We flourish when we cultivate our talents and strengths, develop deep and meaningful relationships, feel pleasure and enjoyment, and make a meaningful contribution to the world. We flourish when we find fulfillment in life along with achieving more traditional objectives related to success when we are truly living the ‘good life.’”

The idea of flourishing goes beyond simply “well-being”—it includes a wide range of positive psychological constructs and offers a more comprehensive, panoptic view of what “well-being” and “happiness” truly mean.

According to Seligman, it comes as a result of building and maintaining the five pillars of the PERMA model.

These five pillars include:

P – Positive Emotions

E – Engagement 

R – Relationships

M – Meaning

A – Accomplishment

Pursuing each of these five building blocks is important on its own, but cultivating and maintaining all five elements is the key to flourishing.

Naturally, everyone desires “happiness” and “well-being”—to flourish and thrive—and every individual person will have their own unique goals to focus on when it comes to achieving this.

To identify which of the PERMA elements you should focus on, take our Four Streams quiz.

In his lecture Flourish: Positive Psychology and Positive Interventions given at The Tanner Lectures on Human Values at the University of Michigan, Seligman said that evidence shows people who are flourishing “are physically healthier, more productive at work, and more peaceful than people who are not flourishing.”

In addition to the benefits Seligman listed, positive psychology expert Corey Keyes reports that people who are flourishing experience:

  • Higher resilience
  • Higher intimacy
  • Lower risk of chronic physical diseases related to age
  • Lower helplessness
  • More clear life goals

It’s important to note that flourishing isn’t a “trait”—that is, it’s not a characteristic that you either have or don’t have. It’s a dynamic, action-based process that requires effort. This is a good thing—it means that anyone can flourish if they make the effort to do so.

It’s also important to distinguish that flourishing doesn’t simply refer to an absence of depression or mental illness. According to Keyes, a significant number of people who flourish do so even after being diagnosed with severe depression.

In an interview in the May 2011 issue of Psychologies magazine, Seligman said “I think you can be depressed and flourish, I think you can have cancer and flourish, I think you can be divorced and flourish.”

Although there is no exact recipe everyone can use to flourish, many of the factors that contribute to flourishing are within our control to change.

And, thankfully, we have the PERMA model to help us discover what areas we should focus on, and learn how to improve each of these areas.

For more about flourishing, see Flourishing: Well-being through Positive Psychology.