Happiness is surely the most precious good. Aristotle said it is the supreme good. We find the word happiness in bookshops, in advertisements for soft drinks and holidays, in schools, in workshops and seminars, and more recently in organisations. We want to be happy, and as far as possible, to make others happy. However, there’s no clear consensus on what happiness is. What is happiness?
What am I going to read about in this article?
- Relationship between ‘Human Flourishing’ and happiness
- Happiness according to VanderWeele
- Happiness according to Carol Ryff
- Keys to achieving Human Flourishing
What is the relationship between ‘Human Flourishing’ and happiness?
For Aristotle, happiness is not pleasure. With all due respect, it’s not the hot shower in winter, nor the aroma of coffee in the morning (both indispensable and necessary, but they don´t create happiness).
Nor is it honour and recognition. Being a CEO, Founder of XYZ, Professor or instagrammer… Neither is fortune, nor satisfaction of appetites.
For the Greek thinker, happiness is an action. An action of the soul, in accordance with reason, in order to achieve the best that is in us. It is to be the best you can be. It is to unfold. To unfold to your full potential. To be complete. In other words, to blossom. That’s its meaning: to flourish. In recent years, the concept of Human Flourishing has expanded to go beyond happiness or satisfaction with life, which can be confused with well-being or pleasure.
“Happiness is an action that brings out the best in us”.
Happiness according to VanderWeele
Professor Tyler J. VanderWeele, Director of the Human Flourishing Program and Co-Director of the Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality at Harvard University, asked what lies beyond well-being and contentment. What explains flourishing? His published article on this question reviews what key concepts should be incorporated into the notion of Human Flourishing, and also proposes a scale from 0 to 10 in order to facilitate its operationalisation. (VanderWeele, 2017):
* Happiness and satisfaction with life. This dimension measures the participant’s own perceived level of satisfaction and happiness, using questions such as: How satisfied are you with your life these days?
* Health, both physical and mental. This dimension examines the perceived degree of physical and mental health, based on questions such as: How would you rate your overall mental health? In general, how would you rate your mental health?
* Meaning and purpose in life. This third dimension looks at whether participants perceive their life and actions as having meaning. An example of a question in this dimension is: Generally speaking, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
* Character and virtue. This dimension examines aspects of character such as strength or self-control, based on variables such as: “I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later”.
* Social relationships. This fifth dimension measures the level of relational quality, using variables such as “I am happy with my friendships and relationships”.
* A minimum financial and material stability. Finally, the last dimension assumes that a minimum of financial stability is necessary to flourish. To understand its weight, it uses questions such as “how often do you worry about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses? ”
Tyler J. VanderWeele and his team are immersed in the “Global Flourishing Study“, a research that will involve 240,000 people from 22 countries. The conclusions they reach will be very interesting in order to reflect on the concept from a professional and personal point of view.
Happiness according to Carol Ryff
Years prior, Carol Ryff worked on a proposal along the same lines, based on the great classics of mid-20th century, resulting also in a model with six dimensions that would be the ingredients for a flourishing life (Ryff, 1989). These are:
- Having a motivation in life and a sense of direction (purpose)
- Positive attitude towards oneself, accepting one’s own qualities as well as one’s past experiences (self-acceptance)
- To have the feeling of continuous development (personal growth).
- Have the ability to resist social pressures and act (autonomy),
- Enjoy quality, caring and trusting relationships (positive relationships).
- Sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment in which one lives, works, acts (environmental management).
Keys to Human Flourishing
Between the two models of Human Flourishing, we observe interesting similarities. For example, the need for high quality relationships, as we discussed in another article. Also, the need to be purposeful and resilient. Both authors also invite us to think about the role that work and family play in our flourishing. These are big words.
In both cases, evidence indicates that true involvement in both roles is linked to greater Human Flourishing. So is having the support of colleagues, partners and other family members. On the other hand, job insecurity, long working hours, stress and lack of autonomy are major enemies of Human Flourishing.
“Job insecurity, long working hours, stress and lack of autonomy are major enemies of Human Flourishing”.
Therefore, given this scenario, where we observe that human flourishing is not only personal, but also environmental (i.e., our immediate environment can be a facilitator or a stumbling block), what can organisations do to encourage or facilitate the Human Flourishing of their employees?
Belinda Carreira, a member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants’ Health and Wellbeing Advisory Group and co-founder of #SustainableSA, suggests three important steps in an interesting article on what organisations can do about this new challenge:
* Mitigate the fear that artificial intelligence (AI) makes us humans more redundant. Sometimes we allow, probably unconsciously, some messages to circulate more easily than others. One is the future of AI and jobs. Organisations, as key social actors in 21st century society, would contribute to the flourishing of their employees by reinforcing the message that people will always remain the main asset and AI just a good complement, not the other way around. Offering employees security and reducing their uncertainties is a step towards Human Flourishing.
* Reflect on and articulate all those benefits that can contribute to personal flourishing, which need not necessarily come at a cost, or at least an exorbitant cost. These could be support in planning career paths, offering spaces for silence, mindfulness training, help with time management, training on caring for the body and the mind, as well as new avenues and spaces for individual and collective creativity.
* Reduce stress and excessive workload. As both Ryff’s and VanderWeele’s models showed, work stress, long working hours and workload in general are great enemies of human flourishing. In a way, they stifle it. Stress causes illnesses… In Japan there’s even a word for death from overwork, Organisations can make an effort to rethink the workload and the stress suffered by each person within the organisation. They can also offer decent contracts, and spaces in which to foster quality relationships.
Organisations don’t’ have the solution, nor the ultimate responsibility, but as key social actors, they can be good facilitators of Human Flourishing. These are small quality steps towards a more flourishing society.
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,57 (6), 1069-1081. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1990-12288-001
VanderWeele, T. J. (2017). On the promotion of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,114 (31), 8148-8156. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1702996114