Human Flourishing: Neuroscience and Health, Organizations and Arts

Virtual meeting - January 14-15, 2021

Flourishing has been variously defined as “a combination of feeling good and functioning effectively, and the experience that life is going well,” or “living within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience,” among others. How can humans achieve this “flourishing?”.

The study of the good life, or Eudaimonia, has been a central concern at least since Aristotelian times. This responds to the common human experience of seeking happiness. Today, we are immersed in a new paradoxical boom, in which the pursuit of happiness seems to permeate the atmosphere, while remaining difficult to achieve.  Indeed, it is even difficult to achieve a consensus regarding the meaning of the very word ‘happiness.’  Seligman, one of the fathers of positive psychology, confirmed that his original view was close to Aristotle’s, yet he now considers its overuse to have rendered it essentially meaningless.

Eudaimonia is commonly translated as happiness or welfare. "Human flourishing or prosperity" as well as "blessedness" might actually be more accurate translations. ‘Flourishing’ could be a (new) term to refer to the good life, or Eudaimonia in its full context. Seligman considered that human flourishing rests on five pillars, denoted by the handy mnemonic PERMA: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. However they define it, most thinkers seem to agree that human flourishing goes beyond states and outcomes, and certainly includes mental and physical health, while also encompassing happiness and life satisfaction, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships. The term flourishing is now used in family studies, in ethics, and in many other disciplines.

In order to discuss the concept of human flourishing comprehensively, STI gathered an interdisciplinary group of scholars in which participants could offer perspectives that draw on their respective fields of study and interest regarding human flourishing. The virtual Experts Meeting  was organized around sessions dedicated to the following themes: Neurosciences and Health; Organizations and Policies; and The Arts, History, and Literature. The gathering should yield an interdisciplinary report based on the main conclusions from the discussion, opening up a new agenda for fostering human flourishing. The report should include a short manifesto with recommendations for researchers, practitioners and individuals. The presentations will later be gathered to form the chapters of an academic book, drawing on contributions from the presenters and other invited scholars.

Professor Mireia las Heras Maestro, Research Director of the International Center for Work and Family at IESE Business School, together with Professor Yasin Rofcanin, Professor at Bath Business School, served as Academic Directors.


Lara Aknin - Simon Fraser University

Ana Balda Arana - Universidad de Navarra

Maria José Bosch - ESE Business School in Chile

Paloma Diaz Soloaga - Universidad Complutense Madrid

Marc Grau-Grau - Harvard Kennedy School and UIC Barcelona

Mireia las Heras - IESE

Matthew T Lee - Harvard University

Ángel Pérez Martínez - Universidad del Pacífico

Yasin Rofcanin - Bath University

Carol D. Ryff - University of Wisconsin - Madison

Colin Strong - IPSOS

Josep Maria Tarragona - Historian

Christian Waugh - Wake Forest University

Paper Abstracts

Carol D. Ryff   University of Wisconsin, Madison

In Pursuit of Eudaimonia: Past Advances and Future Directions

This chapter will address a model of well-being built on Aristotle’s views of eudaimonia combined with theories of positive functioning from clinical, developmental, existential and humanistic psychology Points of convergence in these perspectives culminated in six key dimensions of what it means to be well and live a good life.  The specific dimensions include: autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, self-acceptance. A first key objective will be to highlight select advances that have grown up around this model of well-being and to contrast it with emerging conceptions of flourishing.   The second and primary objective will be to promote needed future directions, organized around three topics: (1) social structural impediments that stand in the way of eudaimonic becoming for many, with a key focus on growing problems of socioeconomic inequality; (2) factors that nurture eudaimonic pursuits, with a focus on encounters with the arts, broadly defined; and (3) how the field of entrepreneurial studies can be fruitfully linked with eudaimonic well-being via a hypothetical contrast between virtuous and vicious entrepreneurs.

Christian E. Waugh – Wake Forest University

An affective neuroscience perspective on psychological flourishing: How the brain knows that things are going well

In this chapter, Waugh will briefly review the perspectives of the brain as reflecting trait flourishing and as doing the things that lead to flourishing. He will then spend more time fully fleshing out one of these perspectives – how the brain “knows” that its human is flourishing. This chapter will describe how the brain represents the facets of psychological flourishing common and unique to hedonic and eudaimonic well-being such as positive emotions, self-esteem, good relationships, engagement, meaning, etc. 

​Matthew T. Lee – Harvard University

Health and Flourishing: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis

Human flourishing is a complete state of well-being, comprised of essential elements that are universally valued across cultures as ends in themselves rather than as means to ends. The integration of individual and communal flourishing has important implications for health. A narrow view of health has been framed in biomedical—and frequently physical—terms as the absence of disease or impairment. But broader and more holistic understandings derived from long-standing wisdom in the humanities are increasingly being used in tandem with the allopathic approach, thereby offering a relational understanding of health that transcends a focus on physical infirmity and locates the individual in a social context. This wisdom has profound implications for the organization of “healthcare,” including a restoration of compassion as the heart of healthcare practice, as recent iterations of lifestyle medicine and integrative medicine  have demonstrated. A synthesis of interdisciplinary knowledge affirms the goal of building a wellbeing ecosystem that transcends self-centeredness and reimagines health as flourishing.

Lara Aknin – Simon Fraser University

Revising Policy to Reflect Our Better Nature

The ultimate purpose of government is to help citizens thrive, not merely survive. Indeed, governments and organizations can enable human flourishing by not only alleviating sources of stress and mental illness, but by amplifying positive experiences and emotions that allow humans to blossom and grow. But what factors comprise and promote human flourishing? Challenging early and pessimistic views of human nature as solely self-interested, in this chapter Aknin provide a brief summary of the emerging literature on the ways in which humans demonstrate their ultrasocial and prosocial character. Then, in light of this evidence, she suggest that governments and organizations should revisit policies to reflect and encourage the human tendencies to connect and care.

Colin Strong - Ipsos

Human flourishing through behavior change

Why do we do what we do?  And what do we need to flourish in life?  This is a topic that has gripped philosophers, policy makers, business strategists, parents, lover and friends since time and eternity.  What we will attempt in this chapter is to set out a call-to-arms for organisations that are involved in finding ways to help people flourish. The case is made for human behaviour to be a core facet of what it means to flourish.  But also an understanding of behaviour as acts that occur in a human social, cultural context, for it is this which grants it meaning beyond a simple hedonic experience.Given behaviour is at the heart of flourishing then we need to consider ways in which organisations can conceptualise the dimensions underlying behaviour that leads to flourishing.  This requires us to adopt a systems-thinking approach to bring together the complex interactions between people, the environments they operate in and the way in which actions can be taken to help people reach outcomes that will offer them meaning and flourishing.

Mireia las Heras – IESE Business School 

Work, family and human flourishing

The purpose of the first part of their research is to study how contextual resources, such as spouse behavior at home, can foster human flourishing through spill crossover, resulting in enriched outcomes in the work and home domain using a sample of 150 US resident couples. They explore how support for work received from the spouse can lead to the generation of resources such as creativity, self-efficacy and strategic renewal. The second part of their research suggests that resources, in the form of spouse support, may cross over between couples and result in the accumulation of resources of the partner.

Yasin Rofcanin- University of Bath

Work, family and human flourishing

The purpose of the first part of their research is to study how contextual resources, such as spouse behavior at home, can foster human flourishing through spill crossover, resulting in enriched outcomes in the work and home domain using a sample of 150 US resident couples. They explore how support for work received from the spouse can lead to the generation of resources such as creativity, self-efficacy and strategic renewal. The second part of their research suggests that resources, in the form of spouse support, may cross over between couples and result in the accumulation of resources of the partner.

Marc Grau - International University of Catalonia

Father–Child Relationships as a source of Human Flourishing

Although there is still a gender division of labor in post-industrial countries, evidence seems to suggest that some fathers are more involved than others, and interestingly, a growing number of fathers who want to be more involved with their children. While we know that fatherhood involvement is positively related with child outcomes and gender equality, less is known about the benefits of having both work and family roles for working fathers themselves and their jobs. Using the conceptual framework of enrichment, this chapter seeks to explore how father–child relationships might be a source of human flourishing.

Ana Balda - University of Navarra

Balenciaga. The Importance of Creativity in Human Flourishing

This chapter explains, through the figure of Cristóbal Balenciaga, that creativity is a necessary aspect in the achievement of human flourishing. The need to set goals, self-knowledge, the desire for improvement, the development of capacities that lessen the fear of failure or the importance of cultural heritage, are common aspects of creative processes, which can serve as a guide to be applied in the achievement of the most important goal, which is happiness. The study of some aspects of the figure of Cristóbal Balenciaga, one of the most important creators of the twentieth century, reflects on its applicability to the highest goal of all: the achievement of a full life.

Josep Maria Tarragona - Historian

What we can learn from Antoni Gaudí about human flourishing

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), dedicated his life to architecture, the first of the plastic arts. Great artists are precisely the ones who are aware of the tensions, desires of the human being in flourishing, and how flourishing can be achieved. In this chapter, Tarragona discuss human flourishing using the life and teachings of Gaudí. The chapter also examines how Antoni Gaudí achieved his own flourishing. Then, the chapter reviews how Gaudí’s art is generating human flourishing in other people. Finally, Tarragona illustrates three examples of Gaudí’s works as examples of human flourishing.

Paloma Díaz Soloaga - Complutense University in Madrid

The paradox of human flourishing in the fashion business

Beauty is important in your life, whether you know it or not. Every day you make an effort to surround yourself with beautiful things, you pay attention to the way you dress, your shoes, hairstyle, depilation, make-up and tattoos. You may even have made some of the big decisions in your life guided by the beauty of what you wanted to achieve. Your clothing reflects how you understand yourself and is a form of non-verbal language through which you dialogue with others. Your sense of aesthetics, balance and harmony are expressed in the shoes you wear, the earrings or tie you choose for the dinner you have tonight or the sports equipment you select when you play them. We are entering the second millennium, a century where beauty, appearance, artifice, perfection and the enjoyment of the senses take pride of place. For that reason, this chapter aims to undersand what human flourishing means in metamodernism.

Ángel Pérez Martínez – University of the Pacific, Peru

Travel Literature as an example of Human Flourishing

The concept of human flourishing has become increasingly important for studies on positive psychology and is linked to the ideas of functionality and well-being. According to Barbara Fredrickson,  human emotions have a variety of effects on our behavior. Self-control, growth and personal mastery are other ideas that fall under this realm. Along this line, the point where philosophical and psychological inputs intersect is the idea of eudaimonia. It can be thought of as a sort of conceptual axis for interdisciplinary exchange. Also, there are several links that can be traced from art and literature with regard to it. And this is the concurrence where its interest may lie. On this occasion, Pérez Martínez will consider Anscombe‘s and Hawerwas’ proposals and look for the relationship with literature.