Why thrive? What does it mean to thrive?
Thriving describes the best aspects of human flourishing and growth. Quite literally, thriving means to prosper and flourish. This means increasing and growing human well being across the globe. A thriving life is one that contributes to that prospering and flourishing, both in one’s own life and in the lives of others.
Living a thriving life combines the best elements of personal growth with broader societal contribution:
More often, when evaluating our own lives, we turn questions inward: What is my purpose? What does it mean to live a good life? What should I do with my shorn time being alive? Commonly defined and described life goals like success, happiness, and others always come up short for me. For example:
- Success. We all want success, right? But success at what? We seek career success at times, but not when it comes at too great an expense of other life objectives, like family or health. We typically think of success as monetary or career success, but most people agree that this shouldn’t be the only objective. As a result, leaders seek to redefine success to encapsulate a broader notion of a thriving life. But the terminology comes up short for me as an overarching goal. Success means achievement of a goal — success in our careers, success in our athletic training. But as an overarching life goal, I’m not seeking success, per se, I’m seeking some broader notion of a prosperous and growing life, that includes success but also includes much more.
- Happiness. Happiness is one of the most widely cited purposes of life. We want to be happy, we want our children to be happy, we want friends and family to be happy. After all, Aristotle called ‘happiness’ the chief good, right? While happiness is a worthwhile goal, at times, it is not the only goal and should not dominate other objectives. Parenting does not make us happier, per se, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Sometimes I sacrifice happiness in the short run in order to make a meaningful contribution somewhere. That may increase my overall satisfaction or fulfillment with my life, but not happiness as I think of it. Thought experiment: would you take a pill that made you perpetually drugged but happy? If so, what’s stopping you? When we admire great lives (e.g., Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln), we don’t admire them because they were the happiest. We admire them because they sacrificed their own personal happiness for the greater good. We don’t have to be Mother Teresa to understand that part of our life purpose goes beyond selfishly increasing our own happiness.
- Purpose. Purpose is helpful in persevering in the face of challenges. You might be down or depressed, but if you have a greater purpose, you can make it through. People find purpose in child rearing, religion, charity, and a whole host of other activities. But some purposes are good, and others are bad. If we find purpose in human suffering, is that a purpose worth striving for? Purpose is an energizer, a kick starter, a multiplier, but not an adequate end in itself because it doesn’t define good purposes from bad purposes.
- Progress. Progress feels good. It can get you out of a rut. Feeling stuck and not growing can be paralyzing and demoralizing. Progress is a necessary element of human thriving but is no means complete. We can’t simply progress, for its own sake, marching right into death. We need to combine progress with purpose and other elements of a good life in order to achieve a broader overall objective and definition.
- Achievement. Achievement is easy to obsess over. It is tangible. We can rack up trophies on the shelf. We can hang our achievements on the wall. We can post our achievements online into the minds and hearts of everyone we know. But what for? We don’t take trophies with us to the grave. Will anyone ultimately care if we did or didn’t achieve a particular goal in life? There is a definite science to achievement: perform steps 1, 2, and 3 and you will achieve. But achievement does not provide fulfillment, happiness, or necessarily even human thriving. Achievement is great for short-term goal pursuits, but does not and should not define our lives.
- Contribution. Making a positive contribution to the world is another necessary element of a thriving life. We can moderate between focusing inward, on our own growth and happiness, and focusing outward, on the growth and happiness of others. We can contribute in small ways (e.g., listening to a friend in need) or in big ways (e.g., starting a charity, working in public service). But contribution alone leaves us wanting because it lacks individual growth and prosperity. We can give and give, but if we never receive it can leave us feeling empty. Fortunately, science shows us that contributing to others feels good, increasing our own well-being, so there’s a relationship there. But contribution alone without individual growth will leave many of us dissatisfied.
- Devotion. Devotion is similar to contribution, but doesn’t necessarily require a broader impact. We can devote ourselves very narrowly to a child or a spouse, or even art or a cause. Ultimately, devotion can be a pathway to purpose and happiness. We can devote ourselves to religion or spiritual growth in a way that is all-consuming. Devotion gets us into flow, which can be soothing and spiritual. “Don’t think less of ourselves, but think of ourselves less” (see The Talent for Aging Well). But is devotion the definition of a good life? It might be one way to pursue or facilitate certain components of a good life, but not something to exclusively aim for, in and of itself.
All elements listed above are worthwhile objectives. They are ideas and passions that I can support wholeheartedly. But are they complete? Should we strive for a successful life? A happy life? A devoted life? To me, each of the above aims, by itself, falls short. We need to embrace a broader concept to fully capture what it means to living a thriving human life.
Thriving is a concept that combines personal growth (living, growing, progressing) with contribution (giving, devotion, growth of others). Personal growth includes elements of success, happiness, and achievement, but we need to also make a positive impact on the world by pursuing truth, morality, and the well-being of others. This means creating positive interactions with those around us, and making positive contribution to the broader society.
Thriving is a term that is taking off. From Ariana Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric and Thrive Global to a variety of health and wellness companies (e.g., Thrive Health, Thriving Family, Thrive Life). But is it just nomenclature? No, I think it is bigger. The cultural movements that have emphasized meditation, yoga, organic foods, work-life balance, the four-hour workweek, social media, B Corporations, responsible capitalism, and feel the Bern have rejected the overworked, overstressed, you-can’t-have-it-all lifestyle that we feel pressured to pursue. But those movements all recognize the inherent importance of elements of success, achievement, and positive impact — they just don’t pursue them as an overarching goal. Thriving combines the best elements of personal growth with societal responsibility and broader contribution. We can embrace personal thriving, familial thriving, and societal thriving, all of which make our world a better place.
How can we live a beautiful life, a life worth striving for? What tangible steps can we take to increase thriving in our lives and the lives of those around us? This website is devoted to exploring what it means to be a Thriving Dad, a Thriving Professional, a Thriving Parent, a Thriving Investor, and how to lead a Thriving Life (see also About Thriving Dad and My Story). I welcome anyone and anywhere to join me in this pursuit.
— Thriving Dad