Enabling People to Flourish


Welcome to the fifth quarterly newsletter from White Pine Mountain, LLC.

As most of you know, the subject of “happiness,” as defined by the science of Positive Psychology, has been a key focus of mine for the past 10+ years. Positive Psychologists have most recently abandoned the term “happiness,” moving from “enabling more people to be lastingly happier” to “enabling people to flourish.” While the definitions of happiness and flourishing are not terribly different, there was just too much baggage and misperceptions around the word “happiness.” As a result, I too have moved with the science to the concept of “flourishing” in my work as well.

So, in this newsletter, I want to explore what it means to flourish, how we measure whether someone is flourishing or not and how America is doing versus other nations in terms of flourishing. I will tell you upfront, that America is not leading the pack in this important measure; in fact, we have a lot of work to do if we as a nation are to flourish.

What Does It Mean to Flourish?

Two prominent Positive Psychologists, Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada, define flourishing as “living within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth and resilience.” To measure whether someone is flourishing, researchers look for a set of qualities that are captured in the acronym “PERMASOR.”

Let me explain. Those who flourish have the following qualities:

  • Positive emotions – They experience more positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, hope, inspiration and peace, and fewer negative emotions such as fear, anger, remorse and jealousy.
  • Engagement – They are engaged in life.
  • Relationships – They have healthy, enduring relationships.
  • Meaning – They feel their life has value and worth.
  • Accomplishment – They set and achieve goals.
  • Self-esteem – They like themselves feeling both worthy and confident.
  • Optimism – They have a positive outlook concerning the future.
  • Resilience – When they encounter setbacks they bounce back quickly.

So, How is America Doing?

We now measure flourishing around the world. Since most of my readers are in the US, let’s look at how we are doing. For those readers in Scandinavian countries, you can take a bow, you are doing a lot better.

Percent Meeting Criteria for Flourishing

Source: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Well Being and Happiness, Martin Seligman


A closer look at the US suggests more of us are languishing than flourishing, with “languishing” defined as “suffering from some form of mental illness, not socially or psychologically well adjusted or addicted to alcohol or drugs.”

Source: Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press, 2011


We are also not trending in a positive direction lately. While not exactly the same measure, Gallup, which measures “well-being” just released figures for 2017. A record 21 states saw a decline in well-being and for the first time zero states saw a statistical improvement from the prior year. We have much work to do.

My work and that of Positive Psychologists here in the US is to figure out how to move this curve to the right. Imagine if instead of twice as many US citizens languishing as flourishing it was the other way around, such that 33% of us were flourishing. “What a beautiful place it would be.”

As the work of Positive Psychologists expands into almost every facet of our society from schools, to corporations and to governments, I think it is possible to enable many more citizens to flourish. Working to bring this about is a joy. In future newsletters, I will share a set of skills that lead to flourishing. In the meantime, you will find these skills on my website.

Thanks for reading. Be well … in fact, flourish!

–Douglas. A. Smith


“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”

–Martin Seligman


From the bookshelf!

Books I am reading and highly recommend.