The secret to happiness and success could be as simple as feeling good about life, yourself and being good at something, according to new research.
Until now there has been no agreement on what makes a person thrive, rather than survive, or on how people can try and ensure that they do.
Yet one expert claims to have cracked the code for a fulfilling life, creating a ‘shopping list’ of requirements to leading a contented existence.
Dr Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth, pulled together research on what makes people thrive.
The list includes traits such as optimism, motivation and self-confidence.
Being spiritual or religious can also help someone thrive, as can a calm environment and a high degree of autonomy.
Dr Brown says that tackling ‘challenges and difficulties at a manageable level’ is also key to thriving rather than merely surviving.
His ‘shopping list’ includes two column of what a ‘person should be’ and what they ‘should have’.
He says ‘thriving’ in life comes from being positive, spiritual, pro-active, flexible, confident and socially competent.
But having opportunities, family support, challenges, a calm environment, trust and autonomy are also important.
He suggests a combination of some from each of the two following lists may help, but not all things on the list are needed to thrive.
To make the list, Dr Brown used studies of babies and teenagers, as well as studies of artists, sportspeople, employees and the elderly, to come up with the first catch-all definition of the term.
About his findings, Dr Brown said: ‘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.
‘It appears to come down to an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something.
‘In the simplest terms, what underpins it is feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.’
Thriving has been examined at various stages of human life.
At times it has been described as vitality, learning, mental toughness, focus, or combinations of these and other qualities.
It has also been examined in various contexts, including in the military, in health and in child development.
‘Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfilment and thriving, Dr Brown added.
‘There’s been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible.
‘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’s research makes six recommendations for future research, including the need for close examination of what enables thriving, and whether thriving has any lasting or cumulative effect on individuals.
He carried out the research as part of his PHD studies at the University of Bath.
His primary supervisor, Dr Rachel Arnold, an expert in the psychology of performance excellence, is a co-author of the paper.