Imagine flourishing. To choose to flourish is an intentional act to increase your well-being in a profound way, improve your health and extend your longevity. Now imagine choosing flourish as your daily word for 2017 to anchor your life and sense of purpose. To choose to flourish is a bold affirmation of your life and continued emergence as a person.
Your chosen word of flourish will present inevitable roadblocks from the competing choice to keep clutching onto what you think you know. As a noun clutching references a hand or claw that is grasping and exercising a tight grip or hold. Your familiarity of clutching at life may feel safe but it is no life at all because it leaves little mental, heart, spiritual or physical space to be luxuriant about the one unique life that you have.
People who clutch typically hold onto regrets or work life. Both of these forms of clutching drive and keep you from life itself. Research from Yale School of Medicine indicates that holding onto regrets activates similar brain function responses found in hoarders. Such behavior causes people to become socially isolated. In contrast, one study shows that when you stop clutching your longevity improves.
To flourish is a choice for your wellbeing. The verb flourish is about thriving and growing luxuriantly. It is about being in a vigorous state and creating conditions for being in your prime.
If you are ready for 2017 to be a year of flourishing it requires a willingness to let go of your clutching. You also need to be willing to follow the scientific evidence (see the book by Kelly McGonigal, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More Of It.” (Avery, New York 2013)) that mindfulness practices make the brain immune to temptation – in this case the temptation to clutch onto regrets or work.
You’ll need a healthy dose of self-compassion which impacts your brain and willpower in a positive way to avoid self-sabotaging your choice to flourish.
Here are seven key items to maximize your flourishment and several tools for ensuring the success of your choice to flourish.
Your seven key items to flourish:
All seven are inter-connected in creating the environment for your fullest emergence as a unique person. Pay special attention to the ones which you resist, dismiss or smile at. Intuitively you will know that they are the items inviting your greatest attention and work. Some combination of them will be pivotal to maximizing your flourishing.
For millennia a host of religious traditions have focused on cultivating the well-being of their followers or of all people . What is new is that there is a growing dissatisfaction about the pursuit of happiness as an isolated goal unto itself. From this perspective the search for happiness often becomes isolating because of the self-absorption of the pursuit and the ensuing narcissism that often results.
There is a yearning for a more textured way to experience and think about life. Happiness becomes intertwined into your existence when you create the conditions to flourish by nurturing your wellbeing.
One lens for thinking about the conditions required for your wellbeing and flourishment is offered by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania (Martin E.P. Seligman, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing,” (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2011))
His theory of wellbeing for creating a connected life is called PERMA – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.
But there’s more than just these five pillars. They’re rounded out by your Values and Complex Emotions because your emotional engagement and values are part of your compass for flourishing.
Looking at their interplay will guide you in what to be aware of with your chosen word. It’s a dashboard for where you need to invest your energy, imagination and time.
Relationships and engaged living honor the richness of your need of one another as human beings, feeding your capacity to appreciate others and notice the enrichment, stimulation and positive challenge they bring to your life. It is about living with a widely cast net.
Meaning is about what happens to your sense of self and worth when you are part of something that is significantly larger than yourself. It expands your orbit of life. Meaning may even allow you to experience the transcendence of awe.
Accomplishment refers to achievement that is celebrated for its own sake rather than for any measurement of success or winning. It is about becoming less dependent on external affirmations and the judgment that accompanies them. Accomplishment is typically discovered in a succession of seemingly small everyday acts of kindness, courage and creativity.
Positive emotions are the fruit of the interplay of accomplishment, engagement, relationships and having meaning in your life. They mirror back to you what matters in allowing yourself to flourish.
Complex Emotions come in many forms. Negative, challenging and surprising emotions typically accompany your choice to shift, realign or enlarge your life. To ignore them undermines your choice to flourish. Working through them lays solid foundations for a lifetime of flourishing.
Values are a loaded word for many people. Rather than a set of doctrinaire principles their strength is discovered in your inter-connection with those who may be quite different from you. In this context it is to appreciate the values – such as love and compassion -- that shape the things you truly care about.
There seven key items will always be experienced in the ebb and flow of the cycles of your life. Together they create the context for the possibility of flourishing.
Here are a few tools to consider for providing some structure to your practice of becoming intimate with your chosen word. This list will hopefully spur you to think of additional tools for success!
Place your chosen word in a spot where it will be visible to you throughout the course of each day. If you use technology consider making flourish2017 your password for the year.
Send a daily or weekly flourish update to yourself and record it in a traditional journal or on your smart device or as a video.
Consider a collage of some kind to convey your new insights into flourishing. You might use images or colorful sticky notes.
Incorporate a daily practice of mindfulness and a loving-kindness meditation on the word flourish. Science based studies reveal that these practices significantly improve your health.
Your chosen tools should affirm the importance of your daily word and the investment you are making in your own life. They will give you strength and courage to resist returning to clutching.
Your tools will allow you to mark, digest and celebrate the steps you make over the course of 2017 by allowing your truest self to emerge more luxuriantly.
More than just a gift to yourself, your flourishing will be a gift to those in your orbit and beyond. Your footprint of wellbeing will be a positive impact in the world. May you flourish!
Robert V. Taylor is President of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York. He is a speaker and author of "A New Way to Be Human" (New Page Books). He lives in Seattle and rural Eastern Washington State.