Once You've Survived: This Is What It Takes to Thrive Again

Researchers have pinpointed 15 factors that facilitate thriving.

Posted Sep 10, 2017

At some point in life, each of us will inevitably weather extreme circumstances that threaten our survival and/or ability to thrive. Once you've taken care of what Abraham Maslow would call your "basic needs" on the hierarchical pyramid and survived, what does it take to thrive again after the storm subsides?

To answer this question, I turn to a first-of-its-kind review by Daniel Brown and colleagues which identifies a 'shopping list' of 15 specific factors that facilitate going from 'surviving to thriving' for people of all ages and walks of life. This paper, "Human Thriving: A Conceptual Debate and Literature Review," was published online September 7 in the journal European Psychologist.

NOAA/Public Domain
Hurricane Irma around the time it was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane on September 5, 2017.
Source: NOAA/Public Domain

​As I type this blog post, Hurricane Irma has just made landfall in Florida and is blazing a record-breaking path of destruction. Like everybody else, I feel powerless right now. That said, hopefully, the insights on human thriving contained in the new review by Brown et al. will be of some psychological assistance and practical use for the victims of Hurricane Harvey or Irma—as well as anyone else who has survived a recent life-altering setback.

What Does It Take to Thrive?

Daniel Brown is a sports and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth and an expert on thriving. In a July 2017 study, "A Qualitative Exploration of Thriving in Elite Sport," Brown and colleagues at the University of Bath, identified a range of specific extrinsic and intrinsic factors that promote thriving in elite-level athletes and pinpointed the outcomes of thriving in sport and daily life. 

For his most recent review on human thriving, Brown cast a wider net and explored dozens of cross-sectional, longitudinal, psychophysiological, and mixed-method studies that included cohorts of all ages—ranging from babies to the elderly—and a wide demographic base that included artists, athletes, and corporate employees. 

His goal with this review was to create a comprehensive summary of specific universal factors that increase someone’s odds of thriving across his or her lifespan. In a statement, Brown said: "Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfillment and thriving, there's been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible. Part of the reason for a lack of consensus is the research so far has been narrowly focused. Some have studied what makes babies thrive, others have examined what makes some employees thrive and others not, and so on. By setting out a clear definition, I hope this helps set a course for future research." 

To keep his findings easily digestible, Brown breaks down the fundamental factors of human thriving into two 'shopping lists' of key ingredients that facilitate thriving. He emphasizes that you do not need all of these components to thrive, but that a combination of the factors on List A and List B will facilitate thriving. 

Key Factors That Facilitate Human Thriving by Daniel Brown et al. 

List A – Person Is:

List B – Person Has:

  • Opportunity
  • Employer/family/other support
  • Challenges and difficulties are at manageable level
  • Environment is calm
  • Is given a high degree of autonomy
  • Is trusted as competent

For anyone who has survived a literal or figurative hurricane lately, referring to "List A" provides some clues as to specific explanatory styles, daily habits, and target mindset that will increase your odds of thriving. For anyone who is in a position to help someone else line up his or her ducks in a row to make thriving more likely, "List B" offers a checklist of things you may be able to do that will help somebody else thrive. 


Brown, Daniel J., Rachel Arnold, David Fletcher, and Martyn Standage. "Human thriving: a conceptual debate and literature review." European Psychologist (2017). DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000294

Brown, Daniel J., Rachel Arnold, Thomas Reid, and Gareth Roberts. "A qualitative exploration of thriving in elite sport." Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. (2017) DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2017.1354339

Walumbwa, Fred O., Michael K. Muchiri, Everlyne Misati, Cindy Wu, and Meiliani Meiliani. "Fired Up To Perform: A Multilevel Examination of Antecedents and Consequences of Thriving At Work." In Academy of Management Proceedings, vol. 2016, no. 1, p. 10494 (2016).  

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