Written By Ellen Ryan
In November, I attended the Global Scientific Conference on Human Flourishing online along with 3,000 others from most nations in the world. The Conference was sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and the Harvard Human Flourishing Program. I was inspired by the international, interdisciplinary panels on the science and philosophy underlying the notion of flourishing, which can be defined as “a state of being in which all aspects of a person’s life are good.”
Global Flourishing Study
The Templeton Foundation is collaborating with lead scientists from Harvard and Baylor Universities on an ambitious, longitudinal study. The study addresses two questions:
- How and why do people’s happiness, health, purpose, faith, virtue, and relationships change over the course of their lives?
- How do these aspects of what it means to be human vary within cultures and across countries?
Researchers will track self-reports of 240,000 adults and teens in 22 countries. Social scientists can mine the data banks to investigate how love, generosity, forgiveness, religion, spirituality, and well-being change and interact over time across a broad array of human cultures and demographics.
Research findings were presented at the conference to support the Flourishing Scale with 6 dimensions: happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material stability. Panels of experts were gathered to offer constructive critiques of the planned study from diverse perspectives: indigenous, Global South, planetary/climate, economic, political, marginalized groups, etc.
Strategies to Promote Flourishing in Later Life
Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, Director of the Harvard Human Flourishing Program, provides research updates through a Flourishing Blog sponsored by Psychology Today. See the Resources list below.
Focus on the “5 F’s” for a flourishing life has been captured in this easy-to-remember list:
- Faith – Spiritual strivings, gratitude, sense of purpose and meaning, search for the sacred – all these are the bedrock of a sense of well-being.
- Family & Friends – Loving relationships are the best predictor of aging well, according to the Harvard Longitudinal Study, currently led by Robert Waldinger. Good relationships in childhood life buffer later stresses, and good relationships later in life can overcome damaging effects from early life.
- Fitness – We all know that physical and mental exercises support body, mind, and spirit in later life.
- Food – Just as our mothers thought, nutritious eating and appealing dining experiences are the foundation of good health.
- Fun – Let’s play – connect with children, play sports/games, laugh with friends, smile at strangers, breathe deeply, swing your arms, sit on a swing.
Other evidence-based activities to promote individual and societal flourishing are: volunteering, caring for others, creativity, mindfulness practice, breathing exercises, forest bathing, and humour.
For me, the most awe-inspiring milestone of the past year has been looking at the night sky by way of the images from the James Webb telescope. Reflecting on light from the early eons of the universe gives me a sense of time/distance perspective beyond my imaginings. Then I naturally take long deep breaths, swing my arms while walking, listen more deeply, and smile to myself and others.
May this be a year of flourishing – for you and me, and for our communities, and for our planet.
Psychology Today – three articles on flourishing
How to Flourish at 50+: Focus on the “5 F’s” for a flourishing life
Why Caring and Character Matter
Waldinger, R. W. (2016) Ted Talk: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study of Happiness.
Waldinger, R. W., & Schulz, Marc, M. S. (2023). The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. Simon & Schuster.