by Richard G. Cowden, Victor Counted, Tim Lomas and Andre Renzaho

It is a truism that the world has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions of lives tragically lost, families separated, economies shut down and societies disrupted. Given these unprecedented challenges, it is vital to understand how the situation has impacted people’s mental health and general well-being. In doing that though, we need to make sure we have a nuanced understanding of global differences, rather than assuming uniformity across cultures. This itself will be a challenge, albeit one that is welcomed and necessary.

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Unsplash

Ten years ago, in a groundbreaking paper in Nature, Harvard anthropologist Joe Henrich and colleagues coined an influential acronym that captured a fundamental issue with the scientific process. Their charge was that social science fields such as psychology were fundamentally Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD), in that the vast majority of research was conducted by, and on, people from societies that are WEIRD (particularly the USA). The issue is that such people constitute a mere 12% of the world’s population. This of course raises a host of issues, including the extent to which findings in these fields are universally generalizable — which the fields themselves often assume — as opposed to being applicable mainly to these WEIRD contexts. When research is conducted in non-WEIRD settings, most findings are reported in English, a language that is not native to many non-western countries. Such a dissemination strategy deprives those countries of digestible evidence that could be used to transform their policies and practices. …


Augustine and the Stoics agreed that human flourishing is fragile if it depends on any external goods, but the Stoics took this to show that virtue alone suffices for our happiness, whereas, for Augustine, it proved that true flourishing is impossible except in the kingdom of God.

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J. G. Trautmann ‘The Sack of Troy/Das brennende Troja’/Wikimedia

Philosophers and theologians are wont to pose large, apparently intemperate questions: Why is there anything at all? What is goodness as such? In this short essay, I take up such another, no-less overwhelming question: is true human flourishing possible in this life? I address it by considering St. Augustine’s (350–430 AD) criticism of the ancient Stoics in his classic work, On the City of God. Interestingly, Augustine and the Stoics agree that if our well-being depends on external goods such as physical health, meaningful work, or deep relationships, then true flourishing is effectively impossible for any of us. …


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It may not be the mere presence or attainment of value as such that is meaningful but rather the effort involved in the attainment

Meaning in life is a perennial concern for philosophers, and recent empirical social science has furnished substantial evidence that people’s perception of their lives as being meaningful is strongly associated with numerous positive mental and even physical health outcomes. Scholars concerned with human flourishing have good reasons for being interested in understanding and promoting the sense that human life is meaningful. In philosophical discourses meaning in life is widely agreed to be a result of some kind of production, achievement, or successful contribution. Frank Martela thus writes a whole article simply entitled “Meaningfulness as Contribution,” which argues just what its title promises, that “an activity is meaningful to the extent that it contributes to something beyond itself.” In their own ways philosophers of meaning like Thaddeus Metz, Susan Wolf, and Iddo Landau argue that a meaningful life depends at least in part on successful achievement of valued ends. Metz concludes that the final form of his theory ought to incorporate what he calls the “kernel of truth in consequentialism” that “improving people’s quality of life or more generally promoting final value, at least in certain ways, could enhance the meaning of one’s life.” Landau affirms that a meaningful life will “include efforts to achieve many local, specific ends, the achievement of which increases value in one’s life…for example, to develop a deep friendship, finish one’s studies, increase one’s musical sensibility, or even participate in or complete rehab.” …


One way to understand human flourishing is to break “complete human wellbeing” into some of its component parts.

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Templeton World Charity Foundation has recently launched a new five year strategy to discover, develop, and launch innovations for human flourishing. As part of this, we are reaching out to leading scholars in a range of fields to learn how they think about and understand a concept as complex and multifaceted as human flourishing. Articles in this series are not intended to be definitive or limiting, rather, their purpose is to explore some of the many possible approaches to human flourishing. We invite readers to suggest additional perspectives as well. Tyler J. …

About

The Human Flourishing Program @ Harvard University

Founded in 2016, studies and promotes human flourishing, and develops systematic approaches to the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines

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