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Seven Pathways to Thriving

New research reveals the key enablers of thriving are already within you.

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute

Are you thriving in life? Think of someone in your life who is high in well-being and their life functioning. Someone who can bounce back quickly from problems and also take advantage of new life opportunities. Someone who feels good and strong physically, mentally, and socially. That’s what science tells us thriving is.

Does that describe you? If not, don’t worry, you can get there.

In a recent study, researchers reviewed what was known about how human beings thrive. They examined personal factors and environmental factors. I will focus on the main seven personal factors or enablers of thriving that they discovered.

These are parts of ourselves that we can attend to and improve upon:

1.) Positive perspective

“I see the good in the future.”

Research shows that having hopeful future expectations, an optimistic attitude, and positive views of your future are linked with greater thriving. This approach helps you cope with stress and adversity by sticking with activities or tasks rather than quitting or avoiding.

Character strengths: clearly the central strength here is hope which means to look positively toward the future, to set your goals and to feel confident you can reach them. The researchers also mention here a link with being honest about one's values. Honesty might be considered a secondary character strength here dealing with your having integrity with your values, practicing what you preach, and being authentic along the journey forward.

2.) Religiosity and spirituality

“I am connected with the universe in a meaningful way.”

For some people, religious coping, faith, a relationship with a Higher Power, and having a spiritual community are connected with thriving. Other research has shown the importance of practicing one’s religion/spirituality, as opposed to merely having a religion.

Character strengths: the strength of spirituality is broadly viewed as having a sense of meaning and purpose in life which may or may not include formal religion. Personal practices such as meditation and prayer, spending time in nature, and reflecting on the universe are sources of spiritual sustenance for many. When this is connected with other people in community, other strengths emerge such as gratitude, and the gateway to thriving may widen further.

3.) Proactive personality

“I try to challenge myself.”

Proactive people seek out opportunities to be challenged. This is an internal desire you feel when you want to pursue something and to challenge yourself. One example found in research is teachers who engage in purposeful career decision-making are more likely to thrive.

Character strengths: Facing challenges and obstacles is the work of the bravery and perseverance strengths. In addition, I have observed when I am proactive pursuing a new work project I am tapping into my zest strength in that situation while maintaining levels of self-regulation strength to take on the right task and not take on too much. No doubt when you are being proactive you are using more than one character strength in that effort.

4.) Motivation

“I am motivated to grow.”

Research shows people are motivated by their naturally occurring strengths, talents, and interests. These serve as sparks for fueling interest, growth, and learning. Thriving in the workplace is connected with work that is meaningful.

Character strengths: curiosity and love of learning are central to our pursuit of knowledge, ideas, and the development of new skills. Individuals can turn to their highest strengths—signature strengths—as a central source of personal motivation to take action in relationships, work, or play.

5.) Knowledge and learning

“I learn, therefore I know.”

Research shows the desire and commitment to learning is important to thriving not just for certain people but across groups of people.

Character strengths: here researchers suggest a number of strengths that have been found to support thriving under hardship in academic and vocational domains. These include creativity, perspective, appreciation of excellence, and especially love of learning.

6.) Psychological resilience

“I overcome, rise up, and benefit from my struggles.”

When stress and adversity rise, those who thrive are able to be flexible and adaptable and even benefit from the problem. The idea here is to move beyond surviving to thriving. Extra workloads, colleague difficulties, new demands – these become sources not to overcome and “ride out” but to benefit from.

Character strengths: what helps you become more resilient? In researching this area I’ve found links between all 24 character strengths and resilience so we could plug in any of them here. The strength with the most immediate resonance would be perseverance – the capacity to keep going, to overcome obstacles. Other important factors include hope, gratitude, forgiveness, spirituality, curiosity, and kindness.

7.) Social competence

“It matters that I connect with others.”

An important enabler of thriving is to access others, connect with them, and benefit from their social support. The building of social competence matters here, such as skills of peaceful conflict resolution, awareness and appreciation of other cultures, and interpersonal skills.

Character strengths: the strength of social intelligence helps us assess situations and people and respond appropriately. It serves us in sensing what is going on within both ourselves and others and to share those feelings in the spirit of cooperation or connection. Also important here is the strength of love which involves bonding with others, being warm and genuine with them, and giving/receiving that caring support. The justice-oriented character strengths of leadership, fairness, and teamwork are important for building social competence.


Brown, D. J., Arnold, R., Fletcher, D., & Standage, M. (2017). Human thriving A conceptual debate and literature review. European Psychologist, 22(3), 167–179. DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000294