Growth, Mastery & A Shopping List to Truly Thrive

A researcher at the University of Portsmouth in England wanted to know what specific factors contribute to people feeling as though they are thriving in this life rather than merely surviving. Until now, and despite plenty of theories, there has been no agreement on what makes a person thrive or on how people can try and ensure that they will.

Researcher Dr. Daniel Brown, a sports and exercise scientist, pulled data from a large variety of studies on thriving: from babies to teenagers, artists, athletes, employees, and the elderly.

He finally came up with the first definitive catch-all: Thriving in this world could be as simple as feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something. From a teenager studying for their exams to an employee succeeding at work, thriving can be seen at all ages and across all cultures.

“Thriving is a word most people would be glad to hear themselves described as, but which science hasn’t really managed to consistently classify and describe until now,” said Brown.

“It appears to come down to an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something. In the simplest terms, what underpins it is feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”

The study outlines a “shopping list” underlying Brown’s definition. To thrive doesn’t need all the components, but he suggests a combination of some from each of the two following lists may help:

List A:

  • optimistic;
  • spiritual or religious;
  • motivated;
  • proactive;
  • someone who enjoys learning;
  • flexible;
  • adaptable;
  • socially competent;
  • believes in self/has self-esteem.

List B:

  • opportunity;
  • employer/family/other support;
  • challenges and difficulties are at manageable level;
  • environment is calm;
  • is given a high degree of autonomy;
  • is trusted as competent.

Previous studies have shown that though thriving is similar to resilience, prospering, or growth, it stands alone. The act of thriving has been studied at various stages of human life and has at times been described as vitality, learning, mental toughness, focus, or combinations of these and other qualities. It has also been examined in various contexts, including in the military, in health, and in child development.

“Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfilment and thriving, there’s been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible,” said Brown.

“Part of the reason for a lack of consensus is the research so far has been narrowly focused. Some have studied what makes babies thrive, others have examined what makes some employees thrive and others not, and so on. By setting out a clear definition, I hope this helps set a course for future research.”

Brown’s findings trigger six ideas for future research, including the need for close examination of what enables thriving, and whether thriving has any lasting or cumulative effect on individuals.

Brown conducted the research as part of his Ph.D. studies at the University of Bath in the U.K. His primary supervisor, Dr. Rachel Arnold, an expert in the psychology of performance excellence, is a co-author of the paper.

The study is published in the journal European Psychologist.

Source: University of Portsmouth