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The difference between thriving and just surviving

In the past, studies have failed to answer the question of what makes a person thrive rather than just simply survive. Research published in the journal European Psychologist reveals that thriving may be as simple as feeling good about yourself and what you are capable of.

Dr. Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth, set out to determine what makes people thrive at every stage of life across all cultures. For his investigation, he pulled together research on thriving that ranged from studies of babies and teenagers to studies on employees, artists, athletes, and the elderly.

“Thriving is a word most people would be glad to hear themselves described as, but which science hasn’t really managed to consistently classify and describe until now,” said Dr. Brown. “It appears to come down to an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something.”

The study produced two “shopping lists” of underlying conditions which are needed to thrive. Dr. Brown explained that all aspects of the lists are not required for thriving, but that a combination of components from both lists can be advantageous.

According to List A, a person who thrives is often optimistic, spiritual or religious, motivated, proactive, enjoys learning, flexible, adaptable, socially competent, and has self-esteem. List B points out what a thriving person has available to them, including opportunity, outside support, a manageable level of difficulties, a calm environment, a high degree of autonomy, or a trusted level of competency.

“Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfilment and thriving, there’s been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible,” said Dr. Brown.

“Part of the reason for a lack of consensus is the research so far has been narrowly focused. Some have studied what makes babies thrive, others have examined what makes some employees thrive and others not, and so on. By setting out a clear definition, I hope this helps set a course for future research.”

Dr. Brown conducted the research as part of his PhD studies at the University of Bath with co-author Dr. Rachel Arnold, an expert in the psychology of performance excellence. The authors of the study have recommended six areas for future exploration, such as an analysis of what enables thriving.

Dr. Brown said that what basically constitutes thriving “is feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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