Human flourishing is the highest level of psychological, social and emotional well-being. It’s a place many of us want to reach, but few know how to get there. This post will show you a way.
It is good to develop. Flourishers bounce back quickly from adversity and get the most out of life. They enjoy an optimal balance of positive and negative emotions and report higher life satisfaction and quality of life. They embrace their community and receive support from those around them. They feel in control of their lives and environment and see this as meaningful. They accept themselves for who they are and enjoy steep personal growth. In other words, they have resources to help them lead a better life.
However, prosperity is not something we hold onto. It is a fluid state. Just because we experience it today doesn’t mean we will keep it. For example, in a longitudinal study assessing levels of flourishing over a decade, half of flourishers declined over time. Furthermore, the decline from development to moderate health, which most of us experience, is associated with a higher risk of depression and other mental health problems. It is thus essential to take steps to improve and maintain our well-being.
Progress doesn’t mean our lives are perfect. The opposite is true. Flourishers can be people who have just been diagnosed with a long-term illness, are going through a divorce, or are dealing with the day-to-day hassles associated with their growing family. However, despite their circumstances, they have developed many resources that help them live well. These may include a support network, the ability to balance negative emotions with positive emotions, or having a hobby that allows them to lose themselves and take a break from life’s challenges.
Positive psychology contributes to a variety of interventions that help individuals improve and improve their well-being. They include activities such as:
- Gratitude: Count your blessings or write a thank you letter to someone you haven’t thanked.
- Acts of Kindness: Random or not-so-random acts of kindness.
- Tasting: Think of past or future events and relive them in your mind.
However, while most positive psychology activities aim to change individuals’ thoughts or emotions, subsequently influencing their developmental state, they often ignore the body. Thus, when it comes to development, we are sometimes seen as floating heads, not connected to our torsos and limbs, because somatopsychic and psychosomatic influences are often ignored.
In search of evidence for alternative interventions that lead to psychological, emotional and social improvement, my colleague Padraic Dooney from the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences explored how lifestyle medicine interventions affect mental development.
Lifestyle medicine is a rapidly growing field of medicine that aims to save people’s lives by preventing, treating and managing non-communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, 74 percent of annual deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases such as stroke, heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes. Most of these deaths are preventable. The six pillars of lifestyle medicine can make a significant contribution to reducing disease and mortality worldwide.
The six pillars recommended by doctors are good nutrition, physical activity, sleep quality, stress management, relationships, and reducing substance use and abuse. For each pillar, a range of interventions is developed. For example:
- Balanced Nutrition: Eat an extra vegetable a day.
- Physical activity: Go outside for 120 minutes a week.
- Sleep: Turn off your phone an hour before bed.
- Stress Management: Practice mindfulness for 10 minutes a day.
- Relationship: Connect meaningfully with one person a day (could be a stranger).
- substance: Drink one unit less alcohol per week.
We have ample evidence that taking action and making small changes in each pillar of lifestyle medicine reduces disease and hospital visits and prolongs life. However, until recently, there was no evidence of their impact on our psychological, emotional and social well-being.
That’s why Dunne and I recently conducted research with more than a thousand participants and found that not only is there a link between lifestyle improvements and engagement in wellness, but improvements are predicted by using lifestyle medicine.
Specifically, those who were improving were three times more likely to use the intervention for lifestyle medicine pills than moderately well participants. Furthermore, flourishers were nine times more likely to engage in lifestyle medicine pillars than those with poorer health.
What lifestyle medicine interventions do you practice today to prevent or manage your noncommunicable diseases and contribute to your psychological, emotional, and social well-being?