Human Flourishing

Seedling Flourishing

In June 2009, The Atlantic published a cover story on the Grant Study, one of the longest-running longitudinal studies in human development. It began in the 1930’s, lasted 75 years, and tracked the lives of 268 Harvard undergraduate men. A wealth of data measured an amazing range of psychological, anthropological and physical, traits, ”…from personality type, IQ, drinking habits, family relationships, to ‘hanging length of scrotum’ – in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.

George Valiant, the psychologist who ran the study in it’s last 40 years reported that:

  • “Above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t matter” (for example, and among other measures, no significant difference in income between men with an IQ of 110 and men with a 150).
  • “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.”
  • “Political ideology had no bearing on life satisfaction”(although liberals apparently tended towards having more sex later in their lives).

But the single, most influential factor that correlated most with health and happiness was “…(that the) relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.” Valiant summed up the study with a five-word conclusion: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” The study’s findings have been duplicated a number of times, including cross-culturally: In order to thrive we need social relationships.

Researcher Shawn Achor, in his book: Happiness AdvantageThe Happiness Advantage reports on similar research:

  • “…when we have a community of people we can count on – spouse, family, friends, colleagues – we multiply our emotional, intellectual and physical resources.
  • We bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose
  • (the) characteristic that distinguishes the happiest ten percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships.”

Here’s a tool you can use to map & then cultivate your relationships, and in return, build stress tolerance, happiness and the ability to flourish:Relationship Grid


Step 1.

Populate the boxes with initials of people who you would say belong in any box.

Step 2.

Look at your grid and ask yourself:

  • Do I have all kinds of people in all boxes? If yes, congratulations! But revisit in 6 months, as people move on – and away.
  • Does your manager show up alone in most professional boxes? If yes, you are getting a view of your workplace only through one pair of lenses.
  • Do some people show up in Support, Clarification & Confrontation, but not in Celebration? If yes, share with them your successes and happy moments, otherwise you could be seen as a high maintenance relationship.
  • Does your significant other show up alone in all the personal boxes? If yes, you may be demanding too much of this relationship.

Step 3.

Think about your relationships and how to enrich, cultivate and invest in them so that they pay off when you (and they) need each other. Achor, with others, suggest:

  • Writing emails/notes of thanks and recognition for something you observed or heard that they did.
  • Join volunteer groups where, side-by-side, you share values & common ground.
  • Instead of eating at your desk, make a point of spending lunch with others, or going for a walk.
  • What’s going on in their personal lives? Do they have a child applying to college? What’s happening with their parents? Check in periodically. It shows that you care.
  • When you walk through the office, smile, make eye contact, and say “hi.” (Neuroscience tells us that this triggers empathy and rapport in other’s brain).
  • If someone shares some personal good news with you (like their assignment to a new project), don’t just say: “Congratulations!” Share why you’re not surprised they were chosen. (“That’s terrific! Given your skills and accomplishments, I’m not surprised you got the role. When do you start?”).

To flourish in the face of inevitable events, situations and stressors, invest regularly in your social network. It will pay out.

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