Pursuit of Flourishing

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Just as there is a continuum of severity for disease or injury, there is also a continuum of wellness. Psychological, social, and behavioral factors impact susceptibility to and severity of illness, and they also affect wellness. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Several professors from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health published an opinion piece in JAMA in 2019 titled, “Reimagining Health – Flourishing.” They argue that most metrics used to measure health do not capture the full breadth of factors that affect well-being, including a sense of purpose in life, happiness, the quality of relationships, and the ability to provide for one’s needs. These authors tout the use of the term “flourishing” and propose a “flourishing index” for health that includes the following six domains: happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material security. In support of their position, they cite research that links life satisfaction and purpose in life to reduced mortality risk, and that links loneliness and social isolation to increased risk mortality risk.

Health may be viewed as a goal itself, but it is more accurate to recognize that health allows persons to fully function in meaningful and necessary aspects of life. From that perspective, health is about being completely engaged with purposeful activities, and hence the more comprehensive term “flourishing” includes more than a person’s physical and mental state. Flourishing is perhaps best understood as a journey rather than a destination, because the myriad of factors that affect health themselves change and evolve, and the scientific understanding of health itself continues to develop.

In 2005, I began writing e-quilibrium as a monthly brief that aimed to be of service by discussing physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral factors that either impede and or enhance the pursuit of health. Because so many variables affect health, there has been no shortage of subjects to review. My hope is that topics addressed in one or more of the posts over the past 17 years have been beneficial to you.

This is going to be the last issue of e-quilibrium, one of the adaptations I am making as part of the evolution of my own professional responsibilities and activities. Although I won’t be communicating with you in this format going forward, I certainly wish you well in your ongoing pursuit of flourishing.

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