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Nothing Less Than Human Flourishing – From Surviving to Thriving

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

There is a self-limiting flaw in the philosophy of modern healers. We have yoked our minds to a philosophy of health based on the Hippocratic cult of allopathy. The irony is that most of us are not even aware that the allopathic perspective is the bedrock of our medical philosophy. Allo-pathy describes the “opposite or against suffering”. This perspective has been conducive to “fighting disease” but has blinkered us to the greater horizon of our potential for human flourishing. Unfortunately, most allopathic modern healers are clear what they are against, but cannot describe they actually support. This stance inevitable leads to demoralization, and eventual burnout.

Human flourishing is a central concept in all philosophy that refers to the realization of one’s full potential and the attainment of a life well-lived. It encompasses not only physical and mental well-being but also the cultivation of virtues, the pursuit of meaning and purpose, and the fulfillment of one’s unique talents and abilities. The concept of human flourishing has been explored by various philosophical traditions, including those of the East and West.

In Eastern philosophies, the concept of space is closely related to the idea of human flourishing. In Taoism and Buddhism, for example, the notion of emptiness or void is seen as a fundamental aspect of reality. This emptiness is not a mere absence but rather a dynamic space of potentiality from which all things arise. By embracing the emptiness within oneself and the world, one can tap into the infinite possibilities for growth and transformation. As the Taoist sage Lao Tzu wrote, “The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled.

The Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo also explored the relationship between space and human flourishing in his integral yoga philosophy. For Aurobindo, the ultimate goal of human life is the realization of the divine consciousness within oneself and the world. This involves a process of inner transformation and the integration of all aspects of one’s being – physical, vital, mental, and spiritual. Aurobindo saw space as a metaphor for the infinite consciousness that underlies all existence. By expanding one’s awareness beyond the confines of the ego and embracing the vastness of space, one can awaken to one’s true nature and achieve a state of spiritual enlightenment. As Aurobindo wrote, “The eternal Wisdom, the eternal Beauty, the eternal Power, the eternal All-Consciousness, the eternal Bliss is in all things and nothing can exist which does not derive its essence from That.”

The American philosopher Ken Wilber has also written extensively on the concept of human flourishing and its relationship to space. In his integral theory, Wilber proposes a model of human development that encompasses multiple dimensions of existence, including the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. For Wilber, human flourishing involves the integration and harmonization of these various dimensions into a coherent whole. This process requires a willingness to embrace the unknown and to explore the vast spaces of one’s inner and outer worlds. As Wilber writes, “The more you open to the Mystery of existence, the more you realize that everything is ultimately a radiant and resplendent expression of Spirit.

The Persian poet Rumi also speaks to the importance of embracing space in the pursuit of human flourishing. For Rumi, the path to self-realization involves letting go of one’s attachments and surrendering to the infinite space of the divine. This requires a willingness to embrace the unknown and to trust in the unfolding of life’s mysteries. As Rumi writes, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

Despite the rich philosophical and spiritual traditions that have explored the concept of human flourishing, it has often been neglected in the allopathic tradition of medicine. Allopathic medicine, which is based on the treatment of disease with drugs or surgery, has tended to focus narrowly on the physical dimensions of health and illness. This approach has led to significant advances in the treatment of acute conditions but has often failed to address the deeper existential and spiritual dimensions of human suffering. By reducing the human being to a collection of symptoms and bodily functions, allopathic medicine has often lost sight of the whole person and the broader context of their lives.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing recognition of the limitations of this narrow approach to health and healing. Integrative medicine, which combines conventional allopathic treatments with complementary and alternative therapies, has sought to address the whole person and to promote overall well-being and flourishing. This approach recognizes that true health involves not only the absence of disease but also the cultivation of positive mental, emotional, and spiritual states. By embracing a more holistic and multidimensional view of the human being, integrative medicine seeks to support the full realization of one’s potential and the attainment of a life well-lived.

Human flourishing is a concept that encompasses various aspects of a fulfilling and meaningful life. Human flourishing is sometimes derided as the naive fantasy of idealists. However, it is a robust concept with specifiable characteristics. Some of these key characteristics include:

  • Physical health and well-being: Maintaining a healthy body through proper nutrition, exercise, and access to healthcare.
  • Emotional and mental well-being: Experiencing positive emotions, managing stress effectively, and maintaining good mental health.
  • Positive relationships: Cultivating strong, supportive, and meaningful connections with family, friends, and the community.
  • Personal growth and development: Continuously learning, acquiring new skills, and striving for self-improvement.
  • Purpose and meaning: Engaging in activities that provide a sense of purpose, align with one’s values, and contribute to something greater than oneself.
  • Autonomy and self-determination: Having the freedom and ability to make choices and shape one’s own life path.
  • Resilience: Developing the capacity to adapt, recover, and grow in the face of challenges and adversity.
  • Engagement and flow: Experiencing a state of complete absorption and enjoyment in activities that challenge and utilize one’s skills.
  • Ethical and moral behavior: Acting with integrity, compassion, and consideration for others, and contributing to the well-being of society.
  • Material sufficiency: Having access to the necessary resources to meet one’s basic needs and live a comfortable life.
  • Creativity and self-expression: Engaging in creative pursuits and expressing oneself authentically through various means.
  • Appreciation and gratitude: Recognizing and appreciating the positive aspects of life, including the beauty of nature, art, and the kindness of others.
  • Spiritual well-being: Cultivating a sense of connection to something greater than oneself, whether through religious practices, philosophical contemplation, or a deep appreciation for the mysteries of life and the universe. This may involve finding meaning and purpose through spiritual or transcendent experiences, and developing a sense of inner peace and harmony.

Unfortunately, there is currently no consensus definition of the term “flourishing”. However, there have been several definitions that have been recently proposed:

Here are different definitions of the term “flourishing” along with their sources:

  1. “Flourishing refers to the experience of life going well. It is a combination of feeling good and functioning effectively.” (Source: Huppert, F. A., & So, T. T. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110(3), 837-861.)
  2. “Flourishing is a state where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning, most of the time.” (Source: Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207-222.)
  3. “Flourishing is the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.” (Source: Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Simon and Schuster.)
  4. “Flourishing is a dynamic optimal state of psychosocial functioning that arises from functioning well across multiple psychosocial domains.” (Source: VanderWeele, T. J. (2017). On the promotion of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(31), 8148-8156.)
  5. “Flourishing is living within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience.” (Source: Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686.)

How effectively does an allopathic model of health approach each of these characteristics and/or definitions? The answer is clear – it cannot because it is not organized around the inherent capacity of systems to manifest emergence.

Although allopathic approaches have limited utility in understanding or enhancing human flourishing this does not mean that the scientific method is not helpful to better understanding human flourishing.

Here is a list of validated scales for measuring flourishing, along with their respective references:

  1. Flourishing Scale (FS)
    • Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi, D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). New well-being measures: Short scales to assess flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 97(2), 143-156. DOI: 10.1007/s11205-009-9493-y
  2. Mental Health Continuum-Short Form (MHC-SF)
  3. PERMA-Profiler
    • Butler, J., & Kern, M. L. (2016). The PERMA-Profiler: A brief multidimensional measure of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(3), 1-48. DOI: 10.5502/ijw.v6i3.526
  4. Comprehensive Inventory of Thriving (CIT)
    • Su, R., Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2014). The development and validation of the Comprehensive Inventory of Thriving (CIT) and the Brief Inventory of Thriving (BIT). Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 6(3), 251-279. DOI: 10.1111/aphw.12027
  5. Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS)
    • Tennant, R., Hiller, L., Fishwick, R., Platt, S., Joseph, S., Weich, S., … & Stewart-Brown, S. (2007). The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS): Development and UK validation. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 5(1), 63. DOI: 10.1186/1477-7525-5-63
  6. Flourishing Scale (FS-8)
    • Huppert, F. A., & So, T. T. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110(3), 837-861. DOI: 10.1007/s11205-011-9966-7
  7. Questionnaire for Eudaimonic Well-Being (QEWB)
    • Waterman, A. S., Schwartz, S. J., Zamboanga, B. L., Ravert, R. D., Williams, M. K., Bede Agocha, V., … & Brent Donnellan, M. (2010). The Questionnaire for Eudaimonic Well-Being: Psychometric properties, demographic comparisons, and evidence of validity. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 41-61. DOI: 10.1080/17439760903435208

These scales have been validated through various studies and can be used to assess an individual’s level of flourishing and well-being.

Flourishing versus Flow

In the realm of positive psychology, two concepts have garnered significant attention: flow and flourishing. While both relate to positive experiences and well-being, they describe very different ways of being.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience Flow, a concept introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to a state of complete immersion in an activity, characterized by intense focus, intrinsic motivation, and a sense of effortless control. When in flow, individuals experience a merging of action and awareness, a distortion of time, and a loss of self-consciousness. Flow occurs when there is a perfect balance between the challenge of the task and the individual’s skills, leading to a highly rewarding and satisfying experience.

Flourishing: A Multidimensional Approach to Well-Being Flourishing, on the other hand, is a broader concept that encompasses various aspects of well-being. It goes beyond mere happiness or satisfaction and involves thriving across multiple domains of life. Psychologist Martin Seligman proposed the PERMA model, which identifies five key elements of flourishing: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. Flourishing individuals experience a combination of these elements, leading to a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and overall well-being.

Comparing Flow and Flourishing: While flow and flourishing share some similarities, they also have distinct differences. The following table highlights the key characteristics and comparisons between the two concepts:

Here is a chart that describes the characteristics, similarities, and differences between flourishing and the flow state:

AspectFlourishingFlow State
DefinitionA broad concept that includes various aspects of well-being, thriving across multiple domains of life.A state of complete immersion in an activity, characterized by intense focus, intrinsic motivation, and effortless control.
Key ElementsPositive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, self-acceptance, growth, autonomy, mastery.Intense concentration, merging of action and awareness, time distortion, loss of self-consciousness, challenge-skill balance, immediate feedback, control, intrinsic reward.
DurationLong-term, sustained state.Temporary, momentary experience.
ScopeHolistic, encompassing overall well-being in various life domains.Specific to activities or tasks where intense focus is applied.
MeasurementAssessed through a multidimensional approach including psychological, emotional, and social well-being.Measured by the subjective experience of the individual during the activity.
OutcomeLong-term fulfillment and enhanced overall well-being.Immediate satisfaction and psychological reward during and immediately after the activity.


  • Both contribute significantly to personal well-being.
  • Engagement and intrinsic motivation are crucial in both states.
  • Experiences of flow may contribute to or be a part of a flourishing life.


  • Flourishing is a broad, sustained state of well-being, whereas flow is a specific, temporary experience.
  • Flourishing includes a wide range of life aspects, while flow is focused on specific tasks or activities.
  • The measurement of flourishing is more complex and multidimensional, whereas flow is assessed through direct, subjective experience.

This chart should help you visualize and understand the distinctions and overlaps between these two important psychological states.

While the allopathic tradition of medicine has often neglected these deeper dimensions of human experience, the emergence of integrative approaches to health and healing offers hope for a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of what it means to flourish as a human being. Perhaps the most important contribution that integrative medicine can bring to modern allopathic medicine is its belief in the capacity of human beings to flourish, and not not just survive.

Can you imagine a world where the promotion of human flourishing was the primary focus of our healthcare systems?

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