The Act of Thriving not just Surviving

Surviving is something we do really well as a species, often at the expense of other people, other creatures, our environment and our sense of peace. It is defined as the means to endure, or live through an affliction, adversity or misery. Sadly, we spend most of our lives feeling like we are just surviving, when what we crave I think is to thrive.

Thriving simply means to flourish, grow and prosper. It's a term we do not often use to describe our lives and is not one that I would choose to describe myself right now. Yet I would love to be able to say I am thriving, not just surviving because it would mean that essentially I am at peace with my situation and can find joy in my everyday life, despite the challenges that come along with living life.

Most children seem to have the capacity to thrive, unless they are exposed to trauma of some sort (such as war, domestic violence, poverty, abuse or neglect). We watch them live their days to the full, experiencing each moment, fully present, whether it is a moment of joy or sadness. Through all of their experiences they grow, many of them prosper and we see them thriving, or flourishing.

Then, without anything materially changing, we see many children move progressively into survival mode as they mature and become more self aware and aware of the world. Their joy fades away, to be replaced more and more by concerns, about doing well at school and/or at sport, music or some other activity, or how to keep up with the latest computer games, or clothes or music fashion. Anxiety related to certain friendships creeps in, maybe some adversity and misery related to enduring bullying and teasing at school. Then more negative emotions started become evident because their world isn't the way they think it should or would be. The light heartedness and easiness is replaced more and more often with grumpiness, or anger and a need to be comforted. Somehow thriving has become surviving and this only gets worse as our young people deal with the mounting pressures from their school environment, family relationships, friendships and going through the physical changes of adolescence.

The question I have is, is all of that just inevitable? And for me, is my problem really just the way I look at myself and my situation? I am wondering whether surviving or thriving depends more on one's attitudes and perspective than actual circumstances because intellectually I can see that:

  • Our mind and spirit may be thriving while we are physically just surviving, but this takes resilience, which is built on a positive outlook, created by a sense of optimism and hope that things will improve or be resolved somehow.
  • Our body may be thriving and well nourished while our mind and spirit are in pain, which results in stress, resentment, anger and poor mental wellbeing.

Why do so many people, including myself, fall into the second category and feel as though they are merely surviving not thriving? Here are some thoughts that occur to me:

  • We do not often consciously exercise choice about how we spend our time and energy and so do not achieve balance in the areas of nurturing ourselves (mind, body and spirit), the people in our lives (family and friends), the communities in which we live and our workplaces (see Could four buckets and ten marbles work for you?)
  • We haven't set boundaries around what we will and will not do, how we and others behave
  • We are not engaged enough of the time in doing meaningful things aligned with our values, which underpin what we find to be important in life
  • We often feel isolated and disconnected from other people
  • We regret the past, worry about the future, and miss the present
  • We engage in black and white thinking - labelling people, things and events as good or bad

How can you (we) create a sense of thriving instead? Borrowing some concepts from the psychologist Russ Harris, thriving requires compassion, caring and connection, both towards yourself and others. Applying these concepts to the list above, what can you (and I) therefore do about moving from surviving to thriving today?

  • Make sure that every day we're doing something that nurtures ourself (mind, body and spirit), i.e., be kind and compassionate to ourselves 
  • Be kind and compassionate towards other people as well, but be discerning about who we focus on and where our boundaries lie
  • Be quick to forgive ourselves and others as opposed to looking where to allocate blame
  • Don't accept accountability for wrong doing without asking for forgiveness from ourselves and others
  • Stop and consciously plan how we are going to spend our day - and only today - by purposefully doing things we find meaningful that we value
  • Show others we care about them, by enquiring how they are doing and so become connected 
  • Do something kind or generous for someone else and thereby be helpful 
  • Notice what's happening around you, not so much what's going on inside of you and thereby be mindful 
  • Record what's happened in a daily or weekly journal without judging people or events as wholly good or bad, and try to see things as they were, as an opportunity to learn and grow by being reflective 
  • Look to the future and the myriad possibilities to thrive - be hopeful (see The Hope Stone)

Wellbeing is defined in the dictionary as a good or satisfactory state of existence, comprising health, wealth and happiness. Personally I do not find that to be a very inspiring definition, certainly not something I aspire to. I want to feel that my life is more than 'satisfactory'. Thinking instead about people's wellbeing as being a combination of mind, body and spirit, I would say wellbeing comes from showing compassion, caring and connection, both towards yourself and others, inspired by love; I think this is a conscious choice we can all make.

"Life gives the most to those who make the most of what life has to give" - Russ Harris

If you have any thoughts of your own that you would like to share on this subject, please leave a comment, or message me directly (jokirker@gmail.com)

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