Flourishing: The 5 Ingredients of a Fulfilling Life

“I don’t think anyone aims to be typical, really. Most people even vow to themselves some time in high school or college not to be typical,” writes Bob Goff in Loves Does. The truth is, despite their vows, many people find themselves living typical lives because doing so doesn’t take intentionality. If you’re looking for something more; if you’re daring to excel, to make a difference in the world, and truly thrive – read on.


In order to lead a more fulfilling life, we can’t just avoid being typical. We have to actively move in a different direction. We need a target to shoot for. Martin Seligman, author of Flourish, and grandfather of positive psychology presents us with a well defined target. In Flourish, Seligman goes beyond pursuing the momentary emotion of happiness and takes a scientific approach to identifying the ingredients of “the good life.” He calls these ingredients “pillars.”

To be clear, in this post, I’m only addressing the targets we should shoot at. There just isn’t room for providing the how-to for each pillar. I’ll include links to other posts that provide some direction.

To move beyond a mere pursuit of happiness and truly flourish in life, we need to target 5 powerful pillars.

Positive Emotion

Central to happiness and life satisfaction, positive emotions also play a significant part in our moment-to-moment experience of daily life. Additionally, positive emotions such as gratitude, joy and excitement impact our physical and psychological health. Author of Positivity, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s work highlights that positive emotions enhance our resilience, our ability to deal with adversity.


You may also know this as being “in the zone” or “flow.” Engagement is experienced when we’re fully engrossed in a task, lost in the moment and time stands still. Essentially, this is one aim of meditation and mindfulness practices – to get us to be fully engaged in the moment. And, no it isn’t just for elite athletes or world class musicians. Often, flow is free of thought and emotion. It’s only afterwards that we can attribute enjoyment to the activity itself. Seligman says that employing our strengths and talents toward the challenges we face fosters engagement. This is an essential aspect of a flourishing life.


You have likely heard before that we, as human beings, were made to live in community. The truth is, we are better together. Consider the last time you felt elated and uplifted. What about the last time you felt a part of something powerful and important? Or the last time you were really proud of something you achieved? The likelihood is that they occurred in the context of other people.

Relationships buffer us from the throes of life’s downs and enhance our experiences of the good times. Even if you see yourself more as an introvert, you still need relationships. I’ve met people who have isolated themselves, and they are miserable people. In contrast, consider the happiest, most joyous and fully alive person you know. I’d bet that person has positive relationships in his or her life.


Think purpose – what gives your life meaning. Seligman emphasizes this as “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” To many, meaning is derived from our connections to others and our relationships. Parents often find meaning in raising their children. Some people find meaning in humanitarian efforts. For me, the primary driver of meaning in life is my relationship with God and my faith. Ultimately, we all wrestle with finding meaning in life and to truly flourish, we must satisfy this hunger.


We are driven to accomplish and achieve. This isn’t about those who pursue achievement to ride the wave of positive emotions. It isn’t even about those who just “love playing the game” and “being in the flow” like a golfer who enjoys losing himself in the game. Here, Seligman says the “achieving life” is simply the pursuit of “accomplishment for the sake of accomplishment, in its extended form.”

Although it may be difficult to isolate completely from the other pillars, in the moment of accomplishment, our desire to achieve is a critical component to living a flourishing life. I, like many of you, enjoy winning. More than that though, I enjoying learning, doing and mastering things. Perhaps you can relate to this aspect of accomplishment too. Even daily, I sense more of a flourishing life, when I’ve achieved something.

Together, these sure don’t sound typical to me. My mentors, those who I look up to and are living a truly full life seem to pursue each of these 5 pillars, intentionally. So, if I want to avoid being typical, I need to set my sights on these 5 pillars too. I invite you to join me in the journey.

Question: What is one thing you can do to be more intentional in one of these 5 pillars? I’ll go first. You can leave a comment too in the section below.




Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • JustinRFoster

    As promised…the relationships pillar is a struggle for me. According to the StrengthsFinder assessment, I’m an achiever. That means I’m task focused and love to accomplish things. However, in my personal life with friends and as a leader, that area requires greater intentionality for me.

    What can I do about it? I will call at least one friend or family each week during my commute.

    Ok, what about you?