Curiosity • Compassion • Contentment
Flourishing is the natural outcome of being curious, compassionate, and content. These elements of flourishing are psychosocial tools that we each possess. Development of these aspects of our nature requires thoughtful engagement and sustained effort, throughout our life. We can flourish at anytime and under diverse conditions when we can utilize these inner resources.
The capacity for flourishing can be enhanced through:
• Psychotherapy – leading to change and growth
• Consultation – providing perspective, leading to actualization
• Guidance – assisting the process of transformation
The Sources of Flourishing
As part of our innate motivation to seek out novelty, curiosity fuels our interest and sustains our engagement in new areas of life.
We all have the capacity for emotional curiosity in the form of excitement as well as intellectual curiosity in the form of wonder and awe towards science and the transcendent. Intellectual curiosity fuels our need to understand the nature of our world, compelling us to ask questions and seek answers. Albert Einstein attributes his discovers to a passionate curiosity, a force unto itself. Openness to intellectual curiosity leads to learning and discovery.
Emotional and intellectual curiosity can become derailed. Since curiosity is closely related to excitement, it can shift into anxiety. When our anxiety is too high, instead of being curious, we become inhibited. Our focus in life becomes narrow and limited, often leading to withdrawal from new opportunities, sometimes even resulting in depression. Often, distress and dysfunction arises when our innate needs and motivations are constricted, as can happen when curiosity becomes supplanted by anxiety. Optimally, there is a balance between the positive feeling of curiosity and the inhibitory aspect of the anxiety. Unfettered curiosity can lead to impulsive or illicit behavior that is not well suited to long term well-being. When in balance excitement and inhibition guides our curiosity towards intellectual and emotional growth.
Intellectual curiosity can be derailed when we struggle to find intellectual answers in order to relieve emotional pain. When our intellectual curiosity is fueled by fear or a need to control our world the result is often obsessive rigidity, not awe and wonder. There are times when we ought to foster our emotional curiosity and there are times when we need to pursue our intellectual curiosity; and we must have the wisdom to know which and when. The capacity to be curious and the ability to discriminate emotional from intellectual curiosity are constantly evolving throughout life.
Compassion is a positive emotional resonance that can be felt in many ways including caring, agapé or unconditional love, and empathy – among others. Out of this emotional resonance, we can develop a sense of social responsibility and a values-based morality that goes beyond the current zeitgeist of enlightened self-interest. Compassion is an emotional consciousness that creates a positive connection to others, our world, and most importantly towards ourselves and the contingencies of our life.
Compassion is well known, as a fundamental virtue; however, compassion also helps organize our emotional Self. The psychological organizing power of compassion emerges out of the perspective compassion generates, best described as acceptance without resignation. The compassionate perspective arises in an observing distance; but the distance is bridged through an emotional connection, a connection that is neither enmeshed nor disengaged. This allows us to feel connected but independent, to grasp that others have an internal life, with thoughts, feelings, and reasoning of their own. Being able to hold this in mind is essential to interpersonal intelligence and healthy relationships.
Compassion is a natural component of emotional intelligence and we can enhance our capacity for compassion throughout our life. At times, we may only need a reminder to shift into this higher emotional consciousness; at other times in our life we may need the empathic assistance of another person to help us develop or use our compassion to manage distressing feelings and challenging circumstances.
Contentment is a state of mind that provides a supporting emotional background for the ups and downs of life. A foundation of contentment allows us to experience emotional shifts from a place of basic well-being. From this center of well-being, we can experience joy, pleasure, and happiness, even bliss without having a sense of grasping urgency to maintain or recreate those feelings. Similarly, we can experience sadness, grief and loss, or disappointment without despair or devastation. We move from contentment to these painful feelings with a trust that we will return to a feeling of being ok. Without an emotional home-base of contentment, our ups and downs can become reciprocally reactive, where negative feelings drive us to seek relief in manic pursuits of pleasure or satiation, resulting in burnout and a return of even deeper negative feelings.
Being able to feel that things in life will be ok is an aspect of contentment that emerges from having secure attachments while growing up. When we are connected to trustable, predictable, loving caregivers we have an emotional shield protecting us from becoming emotionally overwhelmed beyond our youthful abilities. We are provided the opportunity to experience that good feelings come and go, but that predictably, good feelings can be counted on to return. This emotional safety zone helps us learn that we can be ok even when faced with hardships.
Starting in young adulthood, we increase our capacity for contentment through effective action in the world. This self-efficacy is best learned incrementally, through watching and then modeling ourselves on people we see as similar to us who are effective in ways we would like to be. An interesting truth expressed by many of the most successful, and content, men and women, is that they had significant mentors and throughout their life, they have surrounded themselves with talented, respected, and helpful people.
The development of self-efficacy requires being able to recognize the positive outcomes of our efforts to control our thoughts and feelings, as well as manifesting our desires in the world at large. Unfortunately, many people mistake self-esteem for self-efficacy. When there is an emphasis on feeling special, or a sense of being destined to be successful, without learning that we are also efficacious, our self-esteem can actually generate shame and despair. We are left with a feeling of having great potential that we feel is never realized.
We gain a sense of control and mastery by appreciating our ability to successfully do things in the world. From these experiences, we gain a sense of self-efficacy, learning that we can deal with things. Having a sense of self-efficacy is essential to maintaining contentment throughout our adult life. Our sense of self-efficacy lets us trust that we can manage distressing emotions and interpersonal hardships, as well as trusting that we can learn to deal with the situational challenges life presents. We know we can control and direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions in the world.