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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 is the importance of well-being in life? How does well-being help you flourish?

Flourish by Martin E. P. Seligman proposes that instead of prioritizing happiness as the gateway to a good life, individuals should cultivate well-being. Seligman argues this is because happiness relies too much on a positive attitude, which doesn’t automatically create meaning.

Keep reading to learn more about why well-being is important to flourish.

Well-Being Is the Key to Flourishing

We often think happiness is the key to flourishing—to living a rich, joyful, and fulfilling life. That’s what Seligman once believed, too, when he wrote his previous book, Authentic Happiness. But now, a decade later, he has a new theory—that well-being, not happiness, is the key to a good life. He argues that happiness rests too heavily on having a positive mood, which isn’t a reliable indicator of a meaningful life. How does Seligman explain the importance of well-being? He says it’s an interplay of multiple factors that enrich your life, with none being more important than the others.

(Shortform note: Pursuing happiness can actually make you less happy. One study shows that people who value happiness the most have 50% fewer positive emotions, 35% less life satisfaction, and 75% more depressive symptoms than people who prioritize other things in life. This evidence supports Seligman’s multifaceted concept of well-being and suggests that instead of pressuring yourself to be happier, you should pursue other enriching aspects of life. By doing so, you may find that joy and satisfaction come naturally.)

The Five Elements of Well-Being

According to 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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

Well-Being Is Good for Your Health

Seligman writes that having more positive emotions and high well-being improves your health and protects you from illnesses—whether it’s cardiovascular disease, cancer, or the common cold. He cites research that suggests that people with high well-being have an 18% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with low well-being. According to Seligman, the most notable trait contributing to this better health is optimism, which is a positive outlook on life that increases your well-being.

People who are optimistic tend to be less vulnerable to diseases for several reasons:

  • They believe their actions matter. Unlike pessimists who tend to feel more helpless, optimists take action to improve their circumstances, such as caring for their health and practicing good habits.
  • They have more social support. Seligman writes that people who express positive emotions more often find it easier to connect with people and form more supportive relationships.
  • They handle stress better. According to Seligman, stress tends to impact pessimists more heavily than optimists, and frequent stress has negative effects on your health. For instance, people who have more positive emotions produce less of a substance that causes blood clots.
The Importance of Well-Being: Helping You Flourish

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Here's what you'll find in our full Flourish summary:

  • Why happiness is not the key to enjoying life to the fullest
  • Why we should be focusing on well-being over happiness
  • Actionable advice for enhancing global and personal well-being

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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