Happiness. Fulfillment. Plenitude.
We often long for a state of consciousness we can label to denote ‘life satisfaction’. At UEF, our intention is, rather, to flourish. Related to the word “flowering”, flourishing is about blossoming into who we are at our state of fullest potential. A flower blooms to its full potential as long as it gets enough sun, water, and air in the right proportions. A flower is happy in itself — a rose, for example, does not want to be a marigold. Flourishing can also be understood as being in a state of permanent contentment as opposed to the normal quest for transitory happiness, which is contingent on external objects. True happiness should be everlasting.
So what do we need to truly flourish? What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose?
These are the most universal and oldest questions that have preoccupied us in some form or another even before our recorded history as a species.
Since the advent of writing in around 3,400 BCE, we find in the works of law, religion, and philosophy understanding of what it means to flourish. For example, Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE) famously was on a self-professed mission from the Delphic Oracle to know thyself and was reported to have said at his trial that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
The good life was defined by Aristotle as eudaimonia. However, what eudaimonia meant to different wisdom schools varied greatly. The Stoics thought that suffering was largely an illusion created by the untrained mind. The Epicureans were atomic materialists who thought that the good life meant the absence of pain and practiced moderation. Across religions (or what we would consider religion) there have also been a wide variety of views that range from theistic, to deistic, and even atheistic.
However, when we look deeper, a rich and beautiful melody of voices from throughout history continue to echo a chorus of wisdom regarding what matters most in life. We at UEF, after distilling from a wide spectrum of wisdom traditions, have stumbled upon a simple but comprehensive framework to guide us in answering these questions (i.e., what does it mean to flourish and why are we not yet flourishing?).
The answer to what is flourishing is that our deepest longings are only three – to Love, to Learn, and to Play (LLP). The framework on the face of it sounds too simple. Sometimes simplicity leads to the most profound insights. As Sir Isaac Newton, physicist and mathematician said “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things”.
This simplicity unites all the aforementioned (and not aforementioned) approaches to understanding flourishing.
The big existential questions to which we seek answers are our minds’ way of bringing to our attention these longings, just as thirst and hunger are our bodies’ way of bringing to our attention our need for drink or food. Similarly, loneliness is our way of feeling that we need to reconnect to the community and overcome the feeling of separation, curiosity is for us to keep learning, and imagination is to induce us to play!
If I look back at my life, when I felt great from the inside, I was fully engaged in LLP—on holidays for instance, when I was with family and friends and our entire holiday was about love, play and learn about a new culture, see new places, enrich our understanding of humanity’s rich history and thereby learn more about ourselves. I have a feeling that you will relate to what I am saying when you reflect back on your life.
We can love infinitely, can play infinitely, can learn infinitely, which is why these are ultimate ends. In contrast, we can’t eat infinitely, or have sex infinitely, or intoxicate ourselves infinitely, or work infinitely.
We will enjoy the greatest happiness and fulfillment if all three elements are present in our lives in the right proportions. We can and should bring love, learning, and play into all of our activities; though some activities may be more dominant in one over the others, all can contain at least a bit of each. For instance, we can learn with those we love, and enjoy that learning as a form of play.
LLP can be manifested in all our daily activities and actions at every stage of our lives. It does not matter whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, Christian or Muslim or Hindu. But, although we always could pursue LLP through our daily activities, we don’t always do so, even though, by not doing so, we miss out on flourishing. This loss is felt as a nagging sense that there is something missing, that we are missing out somehow
To use a tech analogy, the LLP mindset is an app that is compatible with all operating systems — meaning all people regardless of age, race, rank, religion, etc. can use it. LLP is nothing new, but with all life’s complications, we’ve lost sight of how it can bring us real fulfillment.