A Closer Look at Thriving

With so much news on how down people are, have to say it was more than a little surprising to read about all this reported Thriving.

CNN said the 59.2% number of Americans thriving was the highest measure ever recorded over the 13 years Gallup has been measuring it.

The number comes from a June 2021 Gallup poll, after “widespread vaccinations and economic reopening”:

For its Life Evaluation Index, Gallup classifies Americans as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering” according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their current life a 7 or higher and their anticipated life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving.

Maybe, after hitting a bottom like no other over the 13 years measured, Americans were simply filled and thrilled with hope that may not be quite as high now, since Delta, as it was then. And it felt like thriving.

In the Gallup chart, thriving does appear fickle and situational, fluctuating with the economy. “It’s the economy stupid,” as they say. So, I’m not ready to call it the kind of well-being—that deep inner, resilient, evergreen well-being—that I’m peddling wherever I go.

Still, there is plenty of science on the upside of so-called happiness, so it beats the alternative, except when it doesn’t, and there is science on that too.

So, what are some of the ups and downs of feeling happy in life.

Benefits of Happiness

From an earlier blog post of mine:

Here is just some of the good that is associated with happiness, which you can explore in greater depth if you like:

Health Benefits: Stronger heart, immune system, resilience under stress, less sensitivity to pain, longer lives.

Work Benefits: Improved cognitive performance, individual/team performance, customer satisfaction, increased income (and yes, for money and happiness there is research on which comes first.)

On The Other Hand

recent study found that “emodiversity,” an ongoing mix of balanced and rich positive and negative emotions, was actually good for our health.

And, for every one of you who believes you will be less motivated if you are happy…guess what, according to the science, you are right and wrong.

At the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching annual conference, researcher Robert Biswas-Diener reported his finding that a little dissatisfaction is better for motivation than 100% satisfaction, even if possible.

Other studies also support the idea that, if we experience anxiety as a challenge more than a threat, it really can help to energize and motivate, boosting performance as well, especially if we already have a plan for just in case things don’t work out.

This all makes sense in light of the Yale study I wrote about earlier, suggesting that if we are satisfied and comfortable the brain’s learning and motivational centers shut down, thinking everything is just fine, so let’s just conserve energy and chill out for now.

I can’t remember exactly, but am pretty sure Harvard’s Biswas-Diener said about 80% satisfied would be good, which would be approximately the reverse of the suggestion made by the researchers at Yale. These researchers might say I’m mixing apples and oranges somehow, and probably I am. Still there appears to be agreement that positivity is great for us, just not 100% of the time.

From the Biswas-Diener paper on Optimal Levels of Happiness: “We focus on three ways that happiness might be sub-optimal, including mood dysregulation (being happy regardless of circumstance), complacency (curtailing effort), and affect imbalance.”

How to Regulate

We just have to get our hands on the dials, and get in charge of the emotions so that they are not in charge of us. In The Moral Animal, Robert Wright calls it Knobs and Tunings.

We humans all have the same capacities for emotion (Knobs). By nature and nurture, however, some of us are more or less dialed up or down on them (Tunings).

And just in case you might think it’s selfish to be tending to your own moods and overall well-being, bear in mind that our emotional states are contagious.

Our moods, up and down, affect not just us but everyone around us too. So, happiness is not frivolous and it is not selfish, and the more of us who stretch ourselves to let it be, more often than not, the better for us all.

As for unhappiness, please know that, according to neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, an emotion lasts only about 90 seconds anyway—if we let it and don’t pick it up and chew on it forever like a dog with a bone. Humans do that, but we don’t have to and it’s better if we don’t.

Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So yes, you get to choose. Let us know what you find.

Warm wishes,