The 5 Elements of Thriving
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Hello and welcome. This is Kate's Nuggets, the podcast where I share bite-size nuggets of wisdom about self-leadership. I am your host, Kate Arms. I invite you to listen lightly, let these ideas wash over you. Take what you take and let the rest go. You can always come back and listen again.
Today, I want to talk about the five elements of thriving.
I spend a lot of time thinking about thriving.
I really want to get to the heart of what is it we need to experience in our own lives that when they are together as a whole, our assessment of our lives is that we are thriving, our experiences that we are doing well.
A lot of my work is grounded in all sorts of traditions, and academic disciplines, and that sort of thing.
This one comes from my application of Martin Seligman's work in Positive Psychology. Now, Martin Seligman's first book, Authentic Happiness, has been taken by pop culture and run in some ways that I think are quite dangerous, and I'll talk about that on a little bit of the first element. But his later work is much richer, much more nuanced, gets much more to the truth of the matter. And if you want a deep dive into the details, you can read his book, Flourish.
This set of things I'm going to share here today is basically in the form of, "I read it so you don't have to." So, without further ado, my adaptation of Martin Seligman's five elements of flourishing.
It's got a little acronym that I use: GAMER. G is for good feelings.
We actually need to have an experience of positive emotions, feeling good, often enough that it balances out the negative. We need to cultivate feeling comfortable, happy, pleasant. Those emotions that are on the positive, comfortable, enjoyable, we want to move forward and have more of them. We do need to cultivate that if our balance is tipped to negative emotional experiences.
There are a couple of ways that we can do that.
One is by whenever something's tough, whenever something's feeling uncomfortable, we can practice equanimity. Getting some distance from that feeling, so that we don't feel the negative emotion is part of our identity quite so much, makes it less weighted.
We can practice savoring the good experiences, which allow us to extend them, and deepen our experience of them.
We can identify the things that make us feel good, and we can consciously choose to have more of them in our lives, to make room for more of them in our lives, and to build structures that create them.
The other thing we can do is we can notice that things are happening simultaneously.
It can be a crappy day in your personal life from an emotional connection with other people or a one-relationship-going-really-badly day. And at the same time, there can be people who love you that you're not in conflict with, and the sun can be beautiful, or you can catch a gorgeous piece of music.
If you can hold the appreciation for the good stuff and the other stuff simultaneously, it gets less weighted in the negative direction.
The danger of focusing on positive emotions, and this is what happened out of Authentic Happiness because this is the piece that authentic happiness is particularly focused on.
The danger is if you're not feeling great right now and you think it's your responsibility to cultivate positive emotions, it's very easy to shame yourself for being in the experience of an unpleasant emotion right now. And then, you can send yourself down a shame spiral.
The other thing that can happen is that you can practice a form of active denial of the negative experiences in your life.
Sometimes looking for the silver lining in a situation is dangerous and bad for your health. Most things, if you use them to grow from, 10 years later, you can look back and you can say, "The thing that I got out of that experience that was good for me is..." But that doesn't mean that the experience itself was a good thing. It just means that you made lemonade from those lemons.
We have to actually acknowledge that lemons are sour or we do mental health damage to ourselves.
So, some balance of positive emotions.
Positive emotions doesn't necessarily just mean happy. It could be gleeful or joyful, it could be contentment, it could be pride, it could be giddy, or silly. Positive emotions, there's a range of them.
One of the other dangers of focusing on positive emotions is it is easy to select something that feels good right now and has a negative consequence. And so, there's also some practice in increasing your capacity to choose what's good for the long run, and that has the positive emotions vicious cycle eliminated and has a virtuous cycle instead. "I'm going to feel proud when I don't have that cookie, and then I'm going to see the weight going down, and I'm going to feel so good about that. And then, when I treat myself on my reward day, I'm going to just savor that. And that's going to feel extra special delicious because I deprived myself now." Those kinds of tools.
So, good feelings are an important part of thriving.
GAMER, remember? GAMER. A is for accomplishment or achievements.
We actually need to get things done. We need to feel like we've made things, like we've succeeded in doing things. We need to actually get things done.
Often we fail to appreciate the things that we've accomplished enough to notice. As soon as you check one thing off the to-do list, there are six sitting there just below it on the to-do list that you're like, "Okay, time to move on to the next one."
We need to not only accomplish things, but also to have a sense of accomplishment. And so, we need to savor those moments of accomplishment. We need to notice them. We need to keep track of them. We need to celebrate them. We do not need to be arrogant about them, but we do need to own them.
Different people have different needs in this realm. Some people are quite happy to count small milestones towards long-term objectives over decades, and some people need bigger wins more frequently. Some people are much more satisfied with, "I completed this six-week project. I completed this six-week project. I completed this six-week project." You know yourself.
M is for meaning or a sense that I matter. Meaning is a little funky as a word because we all want to have meaningful lives. And meaningful has two different aspects.
One is that we feel like we have this sort of emotional response to what we're doing with our lives that feels like this is meaningful. And that is an emotional response. We can't always unpack all of what feels meaningful to us and why.
What we can do is investigate. "Oh, when I was doing that, it felt really meaningful." Why? What was at the core of it? What mattered? Because underneath all of that felt sense of meaning is a sense of, "Here's the judgment that I'm making about the things that I'm doing now."
It's an emotional thing, and so it's got a body component. And because it's got a body component, you cannot just make it out of thin air.
The other part of meaningfulness is a cognitive sense that, "What I'm doing matters." Some people teach that you can decide whatever it is that you want to attribute meaning to and you can, but that's limited.
It is much more powerful to have a connection between what cognitively you're like, "This matters, even if it feels hard right now," with the things that feel meaningful to you when you're in flow with them. Sometimes, that's not easy, but you really need both.
And you need a sense that your contribution to the thing that you're doing matters.
It may or may not be meaningful that you yourself are doing it. For lots of others, it actually matters that there's something about me and who I am that is being used well in this endeavor that makes meaningfulness happen. Here's a quality in me that I've applied to a task that has value, and I have been used well in doing something that has impact. I matter.
E is for engagement. Engagement is that sense of, "I'm in it, I'm doing it, I'm participating. I am right there in the heart of this."
It's that sense of agency, that sense of doing it. Sometimes, it shows up as a sense of flow and sometimes, it shows up as a sense of struggle, but it's that sense of, "I am engaged."
For a lot of people, this really comes alive when they start thinking of themselves as the leader in their own life and not reactive, not being a victim of circumstances.
The final element, which is actually an element by itself and also, in most cases, a contributing factor to satisfaction in the other areas, and that's positive relationships where you have the level of intimacy, connection, and belonging that is good for you, that creates those positive emotions.
The culture work that I do is very much embodied in this realm of relationships.
Relationships are a vehicle for which we achieve positive emotions, we achieve a sense of accomplishment. We get that sense that we matter and we get engaged... No pun intended. And quality relationships are of value for their own sake, not just as vehicles.
Learning to have healthy relationships and managing conflict in non-toxic ways is a super important aspect of thriving.
So, with that, there they are, the five elements of thriving.
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Here's to Thriving! Catch you next time.
Kate's Nuggets is a Signal Fire Coaching production. The music is adapted under license from Heroic Age by Kevin McLeod.