In Your Pursuit, Aim for Flourishing, Rather Than Happiness

Dr. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association, in his book Flourish, explores what it takes to live a rich, full life. He has identified five elements of flourishing: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

Well-being is not about happiness: “If we wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago.” Instead, well-being combines “feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”

In terms of accomplishment, we like to think of that as healthy responsibility. According to Seligman: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being,” he said. “It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.” Seligman recommends selecting goals that match your values and monitor your progress towards these goals.

How much do you experience of these five elements of flourishing now? It might depend on where you live. How likely you are to flourish can be influenced by your country and culture. Denmark and Switzerland ranked highest in Europe, with more than 25 percent of their citizens flourishing, and near the bottom, with fewer than 10 percent flourishing, were France, Hungary, Portugal and Russia.