Four Ideas For Flourishing
December 30, 2020
The following is a published research paper on several aspects of well being/flourishing that the authors propose can be enhanced through training. I'm not much on reading academic papers, but this one caught my eye. I found it useful not so much because I learned anything new (I did learn a couple of things) but because it reminded me of what I have learned. That would include the benefits of:
- making decisions consistent with your values
- having a purpose consistent with your values
- showing gratitude (as opposed to just thinking it),
If there was a new concept it was of "awareness." My term is "head on a swivel." It is understanding your surroundings and how you are interacting (or not) with them. It's that perspective from outside your body. I also liked their use of the word insight - by which they mean self-reflection. That idea is really incorporated into mindfulness and meditation but to me it is a useful reminder that we benefit from a healthy self-reflection.
Research indicates that core dimensions of psychological well-being can be cultivated through intentional mental training. Despite growing research in this area and an increasing number of interventions designed to improve psychological well-being, the field lacks a unifying framework that clarifies the dimensions of human flourishing that can be cultivated. Here, we integrate evidence from well-being research, cognitive and affective neuroscience, and clinical psychology to highlight four core dimensions of well-being—awareness, connection, insight, and purpose. We discuss the importance of each dimension for psychological well-being, identify mechanisms that underlie their cultivation, and present evidence of their neural and psychological plasticity. This synthesis highlights key insights, as well as important gaps, in the scientific understanding of well-being and how it may be cultivated, thus highlighting future research directions.
The importance of enhancing well-being and reducing mental distress is more apparent today than ever. Distractibility, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are all on the rise, creating an emerging crisis in mental health and a growing deficit in our collective well-being. The scale of this crisis calls for new approaches to the study of well-being and innovative solutions to strengthen it. To further research in this area, we present a novel framework focused on the plasticity of well-being, highlighting four dimensions of well-being that can be cultivated through various forms of mental training.
Over the past few decades, research on psychological well-being has yielded great insights by studying the factors that constitute optimal levels of human flourishing and their relationship to physical health, work performance, social relationships, and a range of other outcomes. Related areas of research have studied interventions that improve well-being through the use of various forms of self-regulation, including psychotherapy, positive psychology interventions, and contemplative practices like meditation.
However, despite tremendous advances in well-being research, these fields lack a unifying framework that clarifies dimensions of well-being that exhibit training-induced plasticity and the psychological and biological mechanisms through which training-induced changes may endure. Such a framework provides a common language and set of constructs to orient the wide range of research efforts and interventions in this area, and also stimulates collaboration and cross-pollination within and across related fields of research.
To address this need, we present a framework comprising four dimensions of well-being: awareness, connection, insight, and purpose. These dimensions are central to the subjective experience of well-being and can be strengthened through training. In this respect, they can be likened to skills, and the cultivation of well-being to building a repertoire of skills. The cultivation of well-being thus involves the use of self-regulatory processes to learn, practice, and apply these skills in daily life.
In the sections that follow, we describe each dimension and specify the mechanisms through which it may be strengthened through training. We review evidence that each dimension is central to well-being and summarize data concerning its neurobiological underpinnings. We conclude each section by presenting research on the trainability of each dimension. Finally, in the last section, we discuss important implications of the framework by highlighting gaps that would benefit from additional research and underscoring the urgency of this task as a public health need.
Awareness refers to a heightened and flexible attentiveness to perceptual impressions in one’s environment, as well as internal cues, such as bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. States of heightened awareness are thus typified by being fully aware of what one is doing, whom one is with, and of one’s own internal states, whereas diminished levels of awareness entail being distracted or absorbed in a given activity or situation. Such states are also flexible in that they allow for the volitional control of the scope and orientation of attentional focus. To use a common example, being fully aware during a conversation would enable one to remain attentive to one’s companions and also to notice when one’s attention begins to drift, and to thus avoid being distracted. Higher levels of awareness support both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, in the sense that being aware is both a positive subjective experience, especially when contrasted with states of distraction, and also allows for self-regulation and goal-directed behavior, thereby contributing to success in meaningful pursuits and supportive interactions with other people.
Although heightened states of awareness occur spontaneously in daily life, the occurrence and duration of awareness can be increased by training in meta-awareness and through the intentional self-regulation of attention. Meta-awareness refers to an awareness of the processes of conscious experience, such as the recognition that one is experiencing an emotion, a thought, or a sensory perception as it occurs in real time. Meta-awareness is involved when one suddenly recognizes an emotion before it provokes a reaction, for example, and also when one suddenly realizes that one has been “on autopilot” while engaged in a daily routine. The self-regulation of attention similarly contributes to awareness by enabling one to direct and sustain attention, to notice and disengage from distractors, and to alter the scope of attentional focus.
Relationship to Well-Being.
The ability to be aware and attentive has important implications for healthy psychological functioning. A large-scale study of more than 5,000 people from 83 countries revealed that, on average, people spend an estimated 47% of their waking life in a state of distraction and that states of distraction are typified by lower levels of well-being. Distraction, moreover, impairs executive function and is associated with a variety of adverse psychological outcomes, including stress and anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms, and depression. It is also related to biomarkers of poor physical health, such as stress-related increased levels of cortisol and α-amylase and reduced telomere length, although these variables may be related because each is related to a third factor, such as perceived stress.
Meta-awareness enables one to recognize the occurrence of distracted mind wandering and redirect attention back to one’s current activity. This capacity to notice distraction and redirect one’s attentional focus positively impacts a range of real-world outcomes, from academic performance to automotive safety Meta-awareness also enables one to notice the occurrence of emotional cues in the body and mind and thus plays a critical role in the self-regulation of emotion, which has important implications for physical health, mental health, and psychological well-being.