What Are the Characteristics of Thriving Adults?

An Indigenous Worldview offers a wider view of human potential.

by Darcia F. Narvaez Ph.D., Moral Landscapes

Humanistic and positive psychology have delved into the upside of personality. But Indigenous perspectives are wider and deeper.

How has positive psychology conceived of a thriving individual? Here are three examples.

Corey Keyes (2002) suggested that flourishing combines three types of well-being: emotional (positive emotion and life satisfaction), psychological (e.g., autonomy, self-acceptance, purpose), and social (e.g., social acceptance, integration into the community, actualization, contribution to society).

Martin Seligman (2011) in his book Flourish summarized wellbeing theory using the acronym PERMA to represent the categories he found important for adult flourishing: Positive emotion (e.g., happiness, life satisfaction); Engagement (interest in life); Relationships (people care about me); Meaning (my life is meaningful); Achievement.

Felicia Huppert and Timothy So (2013) studied flourishing among Europeans using items from the European Social Survey. They identified 10 characteristics, a combination of feeling and functioning: competence, emotional stability, engagement, meaning, optimism, positive emotion, positive relationships, resilienceself-esteem, and vitality. Individuals’ scores were compared across nations. The top-ranking countries were Denmark, Switzerland, Finland and Norway and the bottom-ranking countries were Russia, Portugal and Bulgaria.

None of these proposals identify how and where they obtained baselines for our species thriving. We know what thriving race horses look like and how to raise them, but social scientists typically have avoided looking for species-normal baselines for human beings (Narvaez & Witherington, 2018).

Maslow is often described as the father of positive psychology with his Farther Reaches of Human Nature and discussion of self-actualization (Kaufman, 2020). It turns out that Maslow’s theory may have been influenced by the principles for thriving he found among Blackfoot Indians, whom he visited when he was developing his positive human psychology theory (Hoffman, 1996).

Maslow’s intuition about attending to traditional Indigenous peoples provides a good model for us today. Why? Because our ancestors had to survive, thrive and reproduce over generations for natural selection to take place. They had to live in sustainable ways for their descendants to survive. (In contrast, much of humanity today has been living outside of sustainable ways without much concern for descendants.) Many Indigenous peoples around the world continue their ancestral patterns.

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(Used through Creative Commons)

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