As spring beckons and the pandemic seems to be abating, we feel the pull toward hope, optimism and the future. We’ve been surviving, but now we want to thrive.
But thriving isn’t just a lovely intention. How to thrive has actually been the subject of much study, and there are science-based elements which predict whether you will thrive. These point to the are the conditions you can create and actions you can take to increase the likelihood of your ability to thrive.
Science has covered a lot of ground—and multiple situations—from elite athletes and children’s development to psychological growth in challenging situations. All of these provide for plenty of perspective.
Thriving is a cool concept because it encompasses the components of both development and success. It is fundamentally about ongoing enhancement which may be physical, psychological, cognitive or social. And this is combined with performance. Thriving can be specific to a particular area (you’re thriving in your career), but it is usually related to a holistic experience (you’re thriving in your life overall).
Ultimately, thriving is about flourishing. It is the combination of happiness, accomplishment and growth and is closely related to prospering and developing resilience. And who doesn’t want that?
How to Thrive
So how do you thrive? And what are the secrets to happiness and fulfillment? It has to do with personal characteristics, suggesting you can adjust yourself to thrive. It also has to do with what’s going on around you, suggesting you can make choices about your situation.
Here’s what you need to know:
Perspective and approach. Having a positive perspective and an optimistic stance matter to thriving. Look to the future and stay expectant about what is to come. This should translate into action as well—because being proactive is a critical part of thriving. It makes sense: You’re focused on what is to come, you see opportunity and put effort into moving forward. These are all part of how you can thrive.
Passion and learning. Thriving is also based on development, so embrace your passions and interests. Know your talents, develop them and grow in new directions as well. Find what motivates you and keep the focus on learning, progressing and advancing your skills and abilities.
A bigger picture. According to research, people who thrive also feel connected to something bigger than themselves. This is typically manifested in their commitment to a religion, faith or spiritual practice. But ultimately, it’s about a belief in something broader than themselves. To thrive, find what matters to you and remind yourself of the ways you have a role to play. Having a belief in what’s important and being clear about your contribution to it are ways to feel a sense of fulfillment.
Relationships. Another aspect of thriving is social competence and the ability to build rapport and connect effectively with others—at work, in social or family situations. This is no surprise, because belonging is a fundamental need and community is where we get a sense of purpose and connectedness. Great relationships with colleagues, friends and family provide encouragement, support and trust. These in turn, help us grow. So it makes sense that an ability to connect and bond is critical to an experience of thriving.
Resilience. Sometimes resilience is equated with thriving, but it is actually an ingredient for thriving. Think of resilience as adaptability. It is the ability to see what’s going on and improvise, respond and solve problems. To thrive, you must be able to flex and adapt. As the saying goes, “The plan never survives the experience in the field.” Planning is still important because it helps you think through intentions and contingencies—and that gets you ready to react, respond and act effectively.
Challenge. Thriving is a result of facing difficulty and responding to it. Thriving doesn’t occur when you’re sitting on the couch binge-watching your favorite show. Rejuvenation is certainly important in the ebb and flow of life—and binging may give you that—but it can’t be all you have. Humans have a need to reach, grow and stretch, and these are good things. Embrace hard work and the trials and tribulations of your job. Seek activities that aren’t easy. Appreciate the things that cause you to wonder, exert yourself and sweat (literally and figuratively). These conditions will give you the greatest experience of thriving.
A journey. Thriving is also about an ongoing journey. When you create the conditions to thrive, you keep moving—continually looking for ways to improve. Again, if thriving is fundamentally about development and performance, it must include a focus on mastery. The classic exchange between the student and the master is instructive: Student: “How long will it take me to master this?” Master: “How long will you live?” Thriving is an ongoing opportunity to seek growth and fulfillment.
The pandemic may have set us back and everyone gets an asterisk—a pass—for 2020. We may not have been at our best for obvious reasons. But as the future dawns and the birds begin to sing again, it’s the perfect time to thrive. And we can do this as individuals and communities.
- Tracy Brower, PhD, author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work
*This article was originally published on Forbes.com March 8, 2021.