In this article I am going to discuss what enables us to thrive despite life’s difficulties, but I will discuss the “how” in later articles. So what is true of people who are able to thrive and live rich, effective lives despite anything that life might throw at them?
Dr. Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, conducted a review of the existing literature, and came up with the following definition of what it means to thrive:
“[Thriving] 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.”
Dr. Brown’s literature review also identified what he referred to as “enablers” – factors that enhance our likelihood of thriving – and these include:
- “a positive outlook on life, being religious or spiritual, having a proactive personality, being motivated, being committed to learning and expanding one’s knowledge, being psychologically resilient, and being socially competent – that is, surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues.
- “Contextual enablers” include being in a situation wherein the challenges are at an adequate level compared with one’s capabilities, and having interpersonal relationships based on attachment and trust.
- Receiving support from one’s family, colleagues, and employers is also important, and being given a high degree of autonomy and being trusted as competent are key elements.
According to The Thrive Programme (www.thriveprogramme.org), people who thrive have 5 characteristics in common:
- They take control of their physical and mental health. This means that they make specific decisions that are the interests of their physical and mental health. They decide how they will eat; they choose to do exercise that supports their health and fitness; they choose what they will and will not put into their bodies in the form of drink, drugs, food supplements, etc. Also, they pick up when they have allowed things to slip and take appropriate action in terms of exercise, diet and spending time outdoors. When they have health problems or injuries, they take the appropriate rest and are disciplined in any required rehabilitation.
They also take responsibility for their mental health. They make sure that they have enough of a balance between their personal and professional lives, and put boundaries in place to protect and preserve this balance. They are able to manage and defend against the unreasonable demands and expectations of other people in order to ensure that they have enough of those aspects of life that bring joy.
They are grateful for all that they have, and tend to be optimistic and upbeat. They do not feel the need to dwell on sad or difficult past events, and when they are going through tough events, they tend to take a problem solving approach, focusing what is in their control and knowing that “this too shall pass”. They seek assistance from coaches and therapists when appropriate.
The key here is that they don’t necessarily always have perfect physical and mental health. However, they make decisions and take action in terms of their choices, recognizing that they are responsible for their mental and physical health. Consequently, they seldom suffer from severe symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression.
- They are comfortable in their own skin. People who thrive are comfortable with who they are. They do not feel obliged to fit into someone else’s mold and, at the same time, are not stubbornly dancing to the beat of a different drum. They recognize that other people’s good opinion is important without depending on affirmation from others, neither are they crushed by criticism. They are able to consider other opinions and still form opinions of their own. They are not derailed by conflict or confrontation, and do not suffer from worry or anxiety about their looks, dress, choice of friends or choice of occupation. They are simply comfortable with who they are.
- They are active contributors in all areas of their lives. At work they are seen as contributors, extending themselves beyond their immediate role and responsibilities, and they actively develop their skills so that they are able to contribute even more. They learn from their mistakes and take responsibility for their own performance. In their intimate relationships they do the work that it takes to contribute to a good relationship, and they make an effort in their social relationships. Having said that, they accept that relationships can end and are philosophical if and when this happens. They are active parents who get involved with their children’s lives, accepting that their responsibility as parents is to mould their children into contributing members of society.
- When life presents challenges, they handle them well. We all experience difficulties along the way – illness, setback, disappointments, tragedies and losses, bad days and hard times. They tend to ride these things out because they have the skills to do so. They recognise that they always have choices – and the main choice is in how to respond to whatever comes their way. They recognise that there are things over which they have no control – the things that happen to them – but that their reactions and responses are a matter of choice. They are able to maintain a sense of perspective and not overreact to what happens. No matter what happens, they have a quiet confidence that they are able to get past it and “rise again” so to speak.
- They have a can-do, positive attitude to life and make the most of whatever opportunities may come their way. They go through life with the sense that things will work out and that they will be OK no matter what happens. They try new things, they learn new skills, they take risks and live life with enthusiasm. They spend little time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. They live in the moment and experience gratitude and joy easily.
Some people develop the characteristics above as a function of how they are raised – their parents teach them these things – some people seem to develop them despite how they were raised, and some people set out to learn them. This will be the topic of my next article, so look out for it.
If you recognise that you need to start developing your own “Thrive Characteristics”, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss your coaching programme.