The promotion of ‘flourishing’ and it’s importance

The Menard Family Speaker series welcomed Tyler VanderWeele to speak on aspects of happiness and flourishing

The big question that humans wonder is how to find happiness. Tyler VanderWeele spoke on the promotion of human ‘flourishing’ as the Menard Family Distinguished Speaker Series. On Tuesday, VanderWeele was the last speaker for the Fall 2021 series. 

Tyler VanderWeele is the director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. At the North Dakota State University sponsored event, he virtually spoke through a presentation and answered questions about human happiness and flourishing.

VanderWeele holds degrees from the University of Oxford, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University in mathematics, philosophy, theology, finance and applied economics and biostatistics, according to NDSU. 

Flourishing is to grow or develop in a healthy way. “Although understandings of flourishing will vary across traditions, I think any reasonable conception of flourishing would include the following five domains of human life,” said VanderWeele. According to VanderWeele, flourishing has five domains including: happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue and close social relationships. These domains are meant to be desired universally. VanderWeele conducts much of his research based on these factors. 

VanderWeele conducted a list of questions in order to measure flourishment in a person’s life, which can also be effective as a self assessment and reflection. “I myself will try to go through these questions every quarter or so to do some life reflection,” he stated, “but it can also be helpful for identifying areas where one wants to make improvements or changes in life.”

During the pandemic, changes were seen in people’s flourishing levels. Many of the domain scores had dropped over the course of January to June in 2020. The domains that saw minimal changes were the character and virtue domain, which remained the same and the close social relationship, which only saw minimal decreases. “It seems that people have found other ways to connect,” said VanderWeele. 

During his presentation, VanderWeele also explained that through positive psychology interventions, happiness can be affected by small acts that improve health. These are simple things such as writing down what you are grateful for or doing acts of kindness every week. “They have found to have positive effects and increasing happiness, reducing depressive symptoms,” said VanderWeele. 

VanderWeele also addressed the four major principles of flourishing which include: Family, work, education and religious communities. This is not an exhaustive list, as people rely on different things for happiness; however, “Each of these has important effects across the flourishing domains,”  said VanderWeele. 

Religion can also affect the domains such as purpose and meaning. “For many individuals across the world, religion or spiritually is very important to them, for many it is the most important aspect of well being,” said VanderWeele. 

VanderWeele spoke on the importance of forgiveness on the body and mind. “We have pretty strong evidence that promoting forgiveness can help, not just with forgiveness and with relationships but also relieving depression and anxiety,” he said. 

VanderWeele encourages promotion of flourishing topics in universities, schools and medical centers. He also encourages people to aim for flourishing individually and as a community. “I truly believe that what we measure, shapes what we discuss, what we know, what we aim for and policies put in place to achieve it,” said VanderWeele. 

To watch Tyler VanderWeele’s presentation click here.

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