Beautiful young woman jumping on  a green meadow with a colored tissue

Thriving expresses the experience of profound oneness of one’s identity and supportive environmental context. Thriving describes the immersion into a state of true being in which one finds his or her most inner calling fulfilled, when every day is a bonus and life feels superbly and intrinsically right.

More than just a singular episodic experience, thriving entails development; to evolve towards the next higher level of engagement between the Self and developmental context (Benson & Scales, 2009, p.91). Thriving seeks the next higher level of loving, understanding, comprehension and interaction between self, others and the world at large.

It isn’t until emerging adulthood that thriving appears (McAdams, 2001, p.102) facilitating identity achievement (Marcia, 1987) and helping to define adolescents’ specialness (Benson & Scales, p.90), but to a lesser extent to evoke long-term goal setting (Heckhausen et al., 2010) while this relation appears inversed in middle adulthood. Thriving moves gradually from identity-exploration to goal-exploration. Thriving is woven into the narrative of life stories within its cultural field (McAdams, p.114). Its process form is autobiographical and it allows scaffolding our life’s narrative and development of themes from the inside-out.

Neither dispositional personality-traits nor characteristic goal adaptations (McAdams, p.111) or self-determination needs (Crocker & Park, 2004, Ryan & Deci, 2000) by themselves explain surging episodes of thriving: traits and needs exist permanently as a given while thriving-goals appear to be fueled by intrinsic motivations.  Thriving requires embeddedness in relationships (e.g., teachers, mentors, superiors) and institutional settings that reinforce and encourage an individual’s potential and engage his or her intrinsic motivations. Thriving appears to be more related to the happiness dimension of ‘life evaluation’ than to ‘subjective well-being’ due its episodic nature and inherent goal-orientation. As such, thriving seems to be an emergent quality of developed countries. In traditional cultures people might just be happy (as in ‘subjective well-being’/ SWB) with the role that life, age and society has cast out for them.

In middle adulthood thriving may be accompanied by thematic fields of wisdom and knowledge, humanity and transcendence (Seligman et al., 2005) that come into focus as spiritual, pro-social and general altruistic directedness (Benson & Scales, 2009, p.93-94).

We grow, we develop and we enjoy happiness. When we positively interact with our environment, we experience extended episodes of thriving. Should thriving become the primary focus of research in life span development, rather than an abstracted idea of happiness? What prevents us from thriving? What are the effects and tangencies that periods of thriving provide for us? Do people have a right to thrive?


Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2009). The definition and preliminary measurement of thriving in adolescence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 85–104.

Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 392–414.

McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5(2), 100–1222.

Heckhausen, J., Wrosch, C., & Schulz, R. (2010). A motivational theory of life-span development. Psychological Review, 117(1), 32–60.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.

Seligman, M. E P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.

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