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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Flourish" by Martin E. P. Seligman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the five elements of well-being? How do these elements cultivate a meaningful life?

Well-being is a blend of five elements: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, relationships, and achievement. You can fortify these pillars of well-being by applying the principles of positive psychology in your life.

Continue reading for in-depth explanations of the elements of well-being.

The Five Elements of Well-Being

According to Flourish by Martin E. P. Seligman, there are five key elements of well-being:

1. Positive Emotions—Temporary pleasurable experiences such as joy, excitement, and warmth that we enjoy having.

(Shortform note: In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor explains that positive emotions cause your body to release dopamine and serotonin, which are brain chemicals that make you feel good. They also stimulate your brain’s learning centers, enhancing your memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. These effects help explain why Seligman lists positive emotions as a key element of well-being.)

2. Engagement—A state of flow, which we experience when we’re completely absorbed in an activity. This usually happens when we’re doing an activity that’s challenging, enjoyable, and involves our strengths. For example, you might be in flow while performing music, practicing a sport, playing video games, working on your car, or creating artwork.

(Shortform note: Before you can enter flow and be fully absorbed in a task, you must first set a challenging goal. Having a challenging goal heightens your focus, which is key for flow. The concept of flow originates from the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who describes three benefits of flow that might explain why it’s beneficial to your well-being: It boosts your self-confidence, makes your tasks feel more rewarding, and helps you grow into a deeper and more complex person.)

3. Meaning—A sense that we belong and contribute to a purpose larger than ourselves.

(Shortform note: In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl asserts that meaning is something you find outside of yourself, not within. He proposes three ways to find meaning: First, by creating something or performing a deed. Simply having something to accomplish in life can motivate you and give you purpose. Second, you can find meaning through love, which means experiencing and feeling connected with others—whether it’s another person, nature, or art. Lastly, you can find meaning through unavoidable suffering by viewing it as a challenge to overcome and feeling accomplished in how you endure it.)

4. Positive Relationships—Having close, social connections with others. Having positive relationships counteracts loneliness, stress, and depression because humans are social by nature.

(Shortform note: In The Good Life, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz give an evolutionary explanation for why we’re more stressed, lonely, and depressed without positive relationships: Loneliness triggers a stress response that allowed our ancestors to survive dangers alone, without the protection of others. While this might have helped our ancestors survive in the short term, long-term loneliness is harming the well-being of many people today.)

5. Accomplishment—A feeling of success for having mastered and achieved our goals.

(Shortform note: It may be harder to feel accomplished if you’ve set big goals that take you a long time to achieve. To feel more accomplished while pursuing your goals, researchers suggest you break them down into mini-goals. For example, if your goal is to grow a successful garden, you might set mini-goals like deciding what plants to grow, researching care requirements for the plants, purchasing supplies, and so on. Achieving these mini-goals can give you a sense of progress and accomplishment, which boosts your confidence.)

Seligman asserts that well-being is a more worthwhile measure of a meaningful life than happiness because it calls for people to build up all five of these pillars in their lives instead of just focusing on feeling good. You might pursue positive relationships even if they don’t always bring you positive emotions, like when you attend an event you’re uninterested in to support a friend. Overall, the more you build up these pillars of well-being, the more you’ll flourish and lead a rich, satisfying life.

(Shortform note: The elements of well-being might sometimes clash, so how do you choose which ones to prioritize at any given time—for instance, spending time with friends (relationships) versus upgrading your skills (accomplishment)? The solution may be to identify your values, writes Tony Robbins in Awaken the Giant Within. To apply his advice to the five elements of well-being, make a ranked list of your current values based on their importance to you and see if changing the order might improve your life. If you value “love” over “power,” you might prioritize positive relationships, even if they limit your time and achievement in your career, for instance.)

The 5 Key Elements of Well-Being: Explained by Seligman

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  • Why happiness is not the key to enjoying life to the fullest
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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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