How Human Flourishing Works
Human flourishing is the end-goal of all holistic neighborhood development work. When we say flourishing, we mean when individuals and neighborhoods are living with joy, purpose, connection, and autonomy. Systemic inequity disrupts neighbors’ and communities’ ability to flourish. When effective, Community Development can set the stage for flourishing.
Every person has the innate, inborn ability to flourish. People from a faith background might call it being made in the image of God. Today, we want to tackle how human flourishing works. And we’ll cover how community developers can align their initiatives to this vision.
What is Human Flourishing
Human Flourishing can be a tough concept to nail down. When we say flourishing, we mean when people are able to find meaning, equity, and holistic fulfillment. At the Lupton Center, we believe that individuals flourish best in the context of neighborhoods. As we’ll talk about below, a feeling of belonging and connection is critical to flourishing. It’s nearly impossible for an individual to flourish alone, separate from a broader social fabric.
Flourishing isn’t the same as happiness, but it includes both joy and fulfillment. Thriving people experience a depth of satisfaction with life. In flourishing, life is pleasant, engaging, good, challenging, and meaningful. These are common attributes that can appear in myriad ways. Just as every neighbor and neighborhood are unique, the specifics of flourishing will look unique, too. Different cultures envision flourishing differently, too.
Now that we know a little bit about the overall concept of flourishing, let’s dig a little deeper into the pieces of flourishing.
The Building Blocks of Human Flourishing
Community Developers and positive psychologists have noticed that flourishing has common elements. Recognizing those building blocks of human flourishing shows us what to look for. Then, we can understand how community development can work to amplify local flourishing.
The Pieces of Flourishing
When some psychologists measure flourishing, they look for a few common threads. Flourishing usually includes personal growth rooted in self-acceptance. Flourishing people engage with the outside world and believe they can affect it. All of this happens while someone is integrated into a broader social fabric. Across these dimensions, flourishing neighbors and neighborhoods cultivate a sense of meaning. Every person has an inborn desire for meaning. When we’re flourishing, we have that sense of meaning. One psychologist breaks down the building blocks of flourishing like this:
Flourishing people and neighborhoods savor pleasure. They experience hope, joy, optimism, and mindfulness. Of course, the ability to feel these positive emotions varies between people. Still, most flourishing people will experience some constellation of positive emotion.
Human flourishing means getting the opportunity to be fully and deeply engaged in an experience. Oftentimes, our deepest engagement happens when we’re fully deploying our attention and skills to a challenging task. In the best of these moments, engaging in that challenge is gratifying for its own sake. We enjoy it, because we are bringing our full expertise to the experience, and the task itself helps us to enjoy our own strengths.
Deep, connected relationships are absolutely fundamental to flourishing. Neighbors need connection. Entities in neighborhoods need connection. Neighborhoods themselves need connection. Warm and supportive relationships build our resilience. They amplify our joy and carry our sadness. A vibrant network of relationships is essential to thriving.
Flourishing people have a sense that they’re a part of something greater than themselves. They can move through life with purpose, often able to serve a greater call than their own desires. Social institutions can offer meaning, as can collectives. In some ways, flourishing requires layers of vision extending from the individual level all the way to the wider community.
People flourish when they know they have an impact. As humans, we like to know that we can influence the systems, the people, the fabric around us. Knowing that our actions can have a positive impact is deeply satisfying. That means that flourishing involves experiences of achievement, success, or mastery. Accomplishments could happen at the individual level or at the communal level. A neighborhood that comes together to achieve something big buoys all of its members.
The Prerequisites of Flourishing
We’ve talked about the building blocks that form Human Flourishing. Along the way, you may have noticed some potential barriers to flourishing. Here, we’ll notice some prerequisites that make flourishing easier or harder. First, it’s important to note that everyone has the ability to flourish, even if they experience oppression. We want to name the ways that systemic injustice tries to squash flourishing. At the same time, we know that people who experience oppression are extremely resilient and find lots of ways to flourish anyway. Does that make correcting inequity any less important? Certainly not! Instead, let’s remember that pity and sympathy do not animate change.
With these tensions in mind, we can see how systemic inequity can make certain pieces of flourishing harder to attain. Let’s use housing at the physical layout of a neighborhood as an example. It can be easier to build relationships and feel integrated in your community if your community is walkable. You run into neighbors on the streets in unplanned, frequent interactions. You get familiar with the physical contours of the place. Walking means you’re more likely to notice local businesses by chance. In the same way, it’s easier to form a deep connection with your neighbors if you have stable housing and aren’t moving around a lot.
In a similar way, some forms of oppression manifest as harassment and violence. When faced with the constant threat of violence, it can be more difficult to feel like you have safety, let alone autonomy in your neighborhood. The constant specter of violence can make positive emotions like optimism and joy a touch more elusive.
Again, it’s important to note that many people have managed to flourish despite the very real oppression they face. However, people who flourish in the face of injustice are evidence of how strong and resilient they are — not that there isn’t a problem. It’s vital to note that as Community Developers, many of the factors that affect human flourishing lie beyond the individual’s control.
What does Human Flourishing Have to Do With Community Development
Community Development organizations can powerfully promote flourishing for neighbors and neighborhoods. One of the key ways is by making a more equitable neighborhood.
Let’s return to our walkability and housing example. We know that affordable and moderately dense housing helps people build roots. On top of that, a walkable space can promote relationships and a sense of connectedness. Knowing these things can help community development organizations design housing strategically to promote flourishing. We can build housing that facilitates relationships and more connectedness.
Community Development organizations can also embody some of the building blocks of flourishing. Staff can get to know their neighbors and form meaningful relationships with them. They can create space for neighbors to engage with all of their skills and expertise. They can celebrate neighbor and neighborhood accomplishments to build the sense of local pride.
Ultimately, the neighborhood decides what human flourishing looks like for itself. Community Development organizations come alongside that vision. Knowing the pieces of flourishing can help to create a roadmap.
Living according to one’s virtues is essential to flourishing. We can’t thrive in the midst of dissonance with our values. It’s one of the reasons dignifying, mutual partnerships are so important to achieve human flourishing. People cannot thrive if they interact with systems that ignore their values and personal worth every day. People, when free, make choices that align with their virtues.
Flourishing is the end-goal of all our community development work here in Historic South Atlanta. It’s crucial for us to understand how human flourishing works if we want to hear our neighbors well. We don’t get to define flourishing, but we can partner to help make it happen. And that in and of itself brings a little bit more flourishing to life.
If you want to learn more about how the Lupton Center can equip you to bring flourishing to your neighborhood, click here to learn about our Flourishing Neighborhood Index.