Briggs, A., & Reiss, M. J. (2021). Human Flourishing: Scientific Insight and Spiritual Wisdom in Uncertain Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Waldinger, R., & Schulz, M. (2023). The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Good news. It is possible for human beings to flourish. Now there are lots of examples of how people are figuring this out. To measure how well someone is doing, Andrew Briggs and Michael Reiss propose we look at the material, relational, and transcendent dimensions of the human experience. Their book explores what we know today, from research and practice about what these three dimensions are, how they show up in human life, the great diversity of ways people express them, and how they all three contribute to a life well lived. It is not about achieving a high level of one of them, but rather the coherence in all three of them.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores ancient wisdom and modern research to see what causes this flourishing for humans, what gets in the way of flourishing, which of those obstacles are self-inflicted, and how we might take ancient wisdom and apply it to our lives today. In our thinking, in our social relationships, in the purpose that organizes our lives, and in how we develop the capacities we need to flourish along the way.
Directors of an 85-year study of the lives of 2,000 people, covering three generations in the same families, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz tease out the biological, psychological, and sociological factors that most determine a good life, as determined by the participants, over a long life. While many factors affect one’s experience and choice of a good life, their study shows that strong relationships are the most fundamental predictor. Your intimate partner, family, close friends, work colleagues, and neighbors. They all contribute to your “social fitness.”
This is exciting terrain, into which I too have jumped. I am part of four large-scale efforts to describe human flourishing. The Harvard-Baylor-Gallup-COS Global Flourishing Study looks at the conditions affecting the flourishing of 240,000 people in 22 countries over 5 years, where my teams will be looking at the “close social relationships” across the globe, as well as all of the questions for Mexico and Spain. At Harvard’s Center for Work, Health, & Well-being, we are looking at what drives the level of thriving of workers and how that influences enterprise-level outcomes. In the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience, the Institute for Strategic Clarity is using (1) the Agreements Health Check survey to identify the positive deviants who are experiencing high levels of human flourishing across the globe, having already surveyed 132,000 groups in 126 countries, as well as (2) a longitudinal dataset across the ecosystem of a large microfinance bank to measure the total value generated across an organization’s ecosystem. And, through the Harvard-Oxford Leadership for Flourishing initiative, we are assessing the characteristics of leadership for flourishing and how it manifests across a wide variety of organizations, and we have proposed the Global Flourishing Goals for the UN Agenda 2050, which will be publicly presented in May 2023 by UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development.