If I were to travel around the world and ask everyone, "What does flourishing mean for apple trees? How would you describe a flourishing apple tree?" Nearly everyone would say, "A flourishing apple tree would grow to be big, strong, and beautiful, and it would be fruitful with the biggest and most delicious fruit it can bear." (And I might add that they'd be Jonathan apples. Just sayin'.)
But now what if I travelled the world and asked everyone, "What does human flourishing look like? How would you describe a flourishing human?" Nearly everyone would have a different answer. There would certainly be some recurring themes, but on the whole, humanity has not yet well defined what flourishing means for its own kind. What if humanity came to an agreed upon definition of human flourishing? I believe it would be immensely beneficial, and therefore should be a paramount priority for humanity now.
So if we, humanity, are going to come to an agreement on what it means for humans to flourish, we might as well start with those recurring themes that most everyone seems to recognize.
I believe that the best attempt at defining human flourishing was done by the widely renowned Abraham Maslow. In his hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is the peak of human flourishing. Had he created the hierarchy of needs for apple trees, fruitfulness might have been at the top of the pyramid with only the same general idea of physiological needs below that. Humans are clearly much more complex and have a handful of steps between having our physiological needs met and achieving self-actualization. Maslow's idea of self-actualization may be the most widely accepted notion of human flourishing. I believe this is because, when we first were introduced to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we thought his ideas on the steps to self-actualization were a bit obvious. In a way, Maslow didn't exactly present any new ideas. We all know we have a base level of physiological needs with the additional needs of safety, love/belonging, and esteem atop of that.
Often this is the case in science, and in positive psychology, many ancient but transcendent philosophical ideas turn into a more well established, defined, and accepted truism. The positive psychologists use data to backup some of the most basic ideas that have been recognized and passed on since the dawn of civilization -- only this time, they put a name to it and sometimes make it a tad more complicated so that the idea will be published and spread and the layperson will come across a ridiculous clickbait headline on social media that brings the person to say, "Aha! I knew it! I was just talking about this with Steve the other day. Now I'll just share with him without actually reading any of the article." The world will then be a better place because both the layperson and Steve will confidently believe the basic idea the positive psychologist proved. Cheers and applause ensue.
What are those basic ideas? What ideas from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs did we already recognize as one of our unspoken truths?
To be continued…
Dear reader, I'm terribly sorry that I never finished writing this. As with all my writings, if you have a strong desire to for me to elaborate on the thoughts here, then please reach out to me and let me know. I promise I'll listen, as it turns out that I'm rather receptive to encouragement.
Send me an email and I'll get back to you eventually. (My timeliness depends on the email, the weather, the day of the week, the month of the year, the going-rate of bendy straws, and the amount of time that has past since I last ate a bowl of cereal.)