From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
We learned about this cutting-edge commentary from psychology professor Richard Winett's Master Trainer health letter.
In 2016, Harvard University began a Human Flourishing Program. Now Tyler J. VandanderWeele, PhD, and two other Harvard professors have published Reimagining Health--Flourishing in JAMA (online April 1, 2019) proposing a Flourishing Scale to broaden the concept of health beyond risk factors such as blood pressure and absence of disease to include flourishing or emotional well-being: "Being happy, having meaning and purpose, being 'a good person,' and having fulfilling relationships."
This is an expansion of the Positive Psychology movement spearheaded by psychology professor Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD. (We first wrote about positive psychology in The Lean Advantage 3, published in 1994.)
Pessimists, according to Seligman,
respond with helplessness; they give up. Optimists, on the other hand,
persevere--and have better immune activity. A big leg-up on health.
* * *
In 1965, Seligman, while a graduate
student in the department of experimental psychology at the University
of Pennsylvania, performed the first experiment showing that animals can
be taught helplessness. One group of dogs was given escapable shock. By
pushing a panel with its nose, a dog in that group could turn off the
shock. The dog had control because it could escape the shock. A second
group of dogs was given exactly the same shocks as the first, but no
response they made had any effect. They had no control; they couldn't
In short Visintainer became the first person to demonstrate that
the psychological state of helplessness produces a more rapid growth of
cancer. She also showed that the psychological state of
mastery enhances the ability to reject the tumor. And that's not all.
Visintainer went on to demonstrate that the rats who had experienced
mastery when young were better protected against tumors as adults.
Fast forward to the present day.
Professor Seligman now believes that positive psychology is well-being, that the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing. His latest book is Flourish (Simon & Schuster, Atria Paperback, 2013). See https://www.cbass.com/FlourishOptimismHealth.htm.
I don't pretend to know the whole story, but it appears that Harvard has jumped on the band wagon, studying and advancing the concept of human flourishing.
The View From Harvard
The mission of Harvard's Human Flourishing Program is to bring together various academic fields on topics fundamental to human flourishing and to produce educational and other programs to facilitate human flourishing. The Reimagining Health commentary proposing the Flourishing Scale fits the bill, although it isn't specifically presented as a product of the program. (Dr. VandanderWeele is listed as part of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the Human Flourishing Program.)
The commentary tells us that clinicians currently apply a "deficits" framework to define health. Factors such as normal blood pressure and glucose levels along with an absence of disease are seen as constituting health.
VandanderWeele and colleagues broaden that framework to include well-being.
"A patient cares not only about physical health and test results within normal limits, but also more broadly about being happy, having meaning and purpose, being a 'good person,' and having fulfilling relationships."
In addition to those factors, their scale asks how you rate your mental and physical health, and your financial stability.
VandanderWeele and colleagues concluded:
The concept of flourishing has the potential to capture health more broadly than existing wellness measures for both patients and populations. Asking questions related to flourishing can inform and refine many complex trade-offs for patients facing treatment decisions. The concept can potentially guide clinicians in assessing their own personal well-being as well as delivering better patient-centered care. At the population level, too, attention to flourishing may present a more useful way to address policy and societal goals and current options. Such an approach could open a national conversation that reframes and reimagines traditional concepts of health.
My life is an example of the power of positive psychology--flourishing.
"I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weakness," Professor Seligman wrote in Authentic Happiness (Free Press, 2002). "Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths."
While I didn't realize it until years later, that's the path I have taken. I have optimized my mental and physical strengths and skirted my weaknesses.
My early success in weight training set the stage for the rest of my life. That and winning the state championship in the Pentathlon as a junior in High School taught me that setting realistic goals and working hard gave me the power to shape the course of my life. Optimism has guided my life. See Outlook Matters--My Story: https://www.cbass.com/outlookmatters.htm
This grainy photo of me with the Pentathlon trophy appeared on our Sports page with the caption "Bass is strongest."
As indicated above, Professor Seligman has developed methods--to help pessimists become more optimistic--which may help clinicians "treat" negative ratings on the Flourishing Scale.
Hurricane at 103
The power of positive thinking was on display in Albuquerque at the 2019 National Senior Games--in the form of 103-year-old Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins. Her events are the 50 meters, 100 meters, and shot put. She holds the world record for her age group at 100 meters.
She says staying active and positive thinking keep her going strong.
She told the Albuquerque Journal she always thought it would it would be fun to run the 100 meters at 100 years old.
"Maybe I'll retire now--or maybe not," she said after winning the gold medal with a time a little over her record. "In two years I might be ready for the next one."
"As you get older you need challenges," she explained.
Like Clint Eastwood, she's not ready to let the old person in.
* * *
Whether or not that uplifting attitude can be taught, it seems clear that the Flourishing Scale will help clinicians go beyond the "deficits" and include well-being in the patient-care mix. Treat the whole person.
Clearly a positive step forward.
July 1, 2019
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