Previously, I discussed what we could say in general about fulfilling our potential as humans. Now, I’ll discuss some of the characteristics of people who are fulfilling their potential—people who are flourishing. In this, I am drawing heavily on Abraham Maslow’s concept of self-actualization and his related hierarchy of needs.
What are the characteristics of flourishing humans?
1. Flourishing requires the maintenance of a healthy body and mind. Of course, this doesn’t mean that flourishing people are perfectly healthy—remember fulfilling our potential pertains only to those things that are under our control (and our health is certainly not under our complete control). But we can assume that flourishing people are trying to be as healthy as their circumstances allow them to be. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are spending their lives in the gym or running marathons, but they do have a balanced lifestyle that allows them to have sufficient energy to work on their goals and have the best possible quality of life. Moreover, they avoid those habits that reduce the health of their body and mind.
2. Flourishing people are well situated in the physical world. They make changes to their environment that allow them to function well and reach their goals (such as the other life tasks). They avoid being subject to the elements, clutter, and scarcity. They acquire the trappings and tools that they need to fulfill their potential. There is near infinite variety in how people do this, but the point is that in order to reach our potential we need to devote some of our time to making changes in our environment so as to promote balanced living and productive behavior.
3. Being social creatures, flourishing humans form relationships with other humans. They would tend to have close, supportive, mutually beneficial relationships with at least a few select others. They avoid isolation and generally do not live as recluses if it is in their power to avoid this. This does not mean that they are all extroverted socialites, but even the most introverted among us benefit from having close relationships.
4. Flourishing humans avoid, when they can, indolence and being dependent on the work of others. Typically they have some task that they perform to serve their community (such as a job or career). This role might be something that they consider to be their calling, vocation, or purpose, but it need not be anything grand. All that is required is some honest labor that they trade for what they need to pursue the rest of their goals.
5. Flourishing humans find some way to share the fruits of their experiences with other people. This ability to incorporate highly enjoyable shared experiences into their life might be called thriving. Thriving comes in many forms such as creativity, imparting wisdom to a younger generation, or partaking in highly enjoyable or meaningful experiences with others.
Based on these characteristics we can identify five challenges that I shall refer to as The Five Major Life Tasks. These tasks are the components that bring us to a state of human flourishing and fulfillment.
The Five Major Life Tasks
- Be whole.
- Find your place.
- Choose your purpose.
Before we consider each of these tasks in detail, there is a little more we can say about the nature of the Five Major Life Tasks.
Firstly, they are not steps. You do not need to “complete” one step before moving on to the next.
Second, you never “finish” these tasks. As long as you are alive you will have to contend with these tasks, either because of continued need or because of your own desire for increased fulfillment.
Thirdly, just because they can never be completed, doesn’t mean that you cannot make animprovement. Throughout life, we can make gradual progress in all of these areas.
Fourthly, these tasks are interrelated. As you progress on one, you will be better able to progress on others. For example, having a job will help you maintain a place to live. Having an adequate place to live will make it far easier to have a job.
Going forward we will discuss each of these in detail and present a series of questions that will help you determine where you stand with regard to the Five Major Life Tasks.