"Whom shall I send?
No Ordinary Tree
And who will go for us?
And I said, here I am. Send me."
Perfectly decked out in a navy suit that complemented his graying temples and steel blue eyes, Brad chose his words carefully. “We earn plenty of money as financial advisors but we work too long and hard. We have a summer home we rarely get to. We deserve to be happier. I want us to live on less money and retire by 55 so that we can enjoy our lives together. Who knows how long we will live? Let’s cut back. We deserve to flourish in our lives.”
Ann, tall, lithe and elegant, listened. Each time Brad brought up this theme she reminded him that she had grown up in financial need, and she loved her work. But ever since Brad had read the psychological research that tells us that money is not highly related to happiness, Brad had become tenacious about creating an optimal life without wealth. Accomplished at sales presentations, he made an impressive pitch. As the three of us sat together week after week, he did influence her towardsshifting her primary motivation from material comfort to well being.
Curiosity engaged, Ann wanted to understand the major concepts behind Brad’s aspirations, but she worried that he might spin the facts to be more convincing. Because she trusted my knowledge of the field, she turned to me. “Judith, I want to know more about the ingredients that go into being satisfied with life. Is there a list or something? Do we even know?”
“Ann, I can highlight the major ideas about what helps us to flourish in our lives. The list makes perfect sense. We surmise that there are five properties that go with feeling daily well-being. Each of these ways of being are so satisfying that we want to be involved in them simply because they feel good. I remember these activities through their first initials, which spell PERMA.”
•Positive emotion: When we concentrate on creating pleasure, comfort and a warm feeling inside, we create the very cornerstone of experiencing well being. We stop planning and simply flow with the pleasant feeling state. Sometimes we even experience ecstasy. A bubbly Jacuzzi or dancing with someoneyou love might create this for you.
•Engagement: When we are fully engaged in something, time stops and we can lose ourselves in the activity. We do not bother to stop to reflect or to think. When Brad is running in a marathon, he is fully engaged.
• Relationships: We actually know that happiness is about being with other people. People you love are the best antidote to feeling badly. And doing kind acts, like bringing flowers to a sick friend, usually creates a short burst of well-being.
• Meaning: We need meaning in our lives. We need to work towards something we believe in. “Brad places great meaning inmolding a best life for you and for him. Ann, you find meaning in helping others make money. For most of us, building such strong relationships provides optimal meaning.”
• Accomplishment: It feels good to set and achieve a goal. Some of us want to earn enough money to later donate to worthy causes. Others of us get a sense of achievement from collecting sea glass or running a marathon. The joy is actually in exerting mastery over our environment. We achieve because it feels great to achieve.
These five characteristics of people who flourish give us clues about how to have a terrific life day after day. Folks who flourish are optimistic, self-reliant, resilient to stress, and successful in creating vibrant human relationships.
But the best news of all is that we can train people to flourish. We think of this as psychological fitness, whether this fitness be related to emotional fitness, social resilience, spiritual depth, optimal physical health, or family vibrancy. As Gandhi said, we can actually become the embodiment of the change we want to see in the world. As pie-in-the-sky as this sounds, Gandhi’s statement ca function as a wonderful road map for optimal life.
A way that I think about this is that we are able to take ownership and to become the author of our lives. We can turn trauma into growth. We can become fully accountable. The Bible tells us that when God asked Isaiah whom to send into a dangerous situation requiring bravery, vision and leadership, Isaiah replied, “Here I am. Send me.”
To consider: Am I on the road to flourishing in my life? How might my life improve if I trained myself to be more accountable and have more meaningful relationships with those I love?