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Dec 13, 2023

Holistic Flourishing with Dr. Timothy Lomas (podcast)

What are the broad societal, environmental, and cross-cultural aspects of flourishing — for humans, as well as animals, plants, machines and systems?

By Templeton Staff

There are many near-synonyms for flourishing, such as wellbeing, thriving, happiness. From a theoretical and conceptual point of view, researchers like Dr. Timothy Lomas are working to find distinct roles for these terms, and to consider the nuances of what it means to flourish. In this Stories of Impact podcast, Lomas shares insights into the broader societal, environmental, and cross-cultural aspects of flourishing — for humans, as well as animals, plants, machines and systems.

Listen to the episode with the above player to learn more.

Key Takeaways:

A Contextual Approach to Human Flourishing
Lomas is a psychology research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and he’s part of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University. Lomas’ main research focus is exploring cross-cultural perspectives on flourishing, especially concepts and practices deemed ‘non-Western.’ Among other projects, he is assisting two major studies of flourishing. One is the Global Flourishing Study, a longitudinal study of 240,000 people in 22 countries; the other is the Global Wellbeing Initiative, a collaboration with Gallup to develop and analyze new items for their World Poll that reflect non-Western views of wellbeing. 

Lomas’ work with the Human Flourishing Program explores flourishing as "this more expansive notion of wellbeing encompassed and nestled within flourishing, with flourishing being about the person and their contexts and systems.” He says this approach useful to get “beyond the individualist perspective that can sometimes be bound up with the notion of wellbeing."

Flourishing as a Venn Diagram
Flourishing can be visualized as a Venn diagram, with an overlap between health, wellbeing, and a broader context. While "health and wellbeing apply to living agents or living entities," Lomas explains, "flourishing can apply to any system." Humans flourish when not just individuals, but their contexts, thrive. This is an ideal, Lomas points out, not necessarily a reality. "We do note that it's possible for a human to be healthy and to have wellbeing even in spite of their circumstances. Humans are remarkably resilient creatures and can do well even if their surrounding situation is not doing so well. That's a remarkable testament to the human spirit,” says Lomas. But to truly flourish, the context and systems have to also be doing well. “That puts the onus on attending to the context when we're thinking about flourishing," says Lomas. In that sense, to truly flourish, one must maintain harmony with the environment. "We're not flourishing if we're living at odds with nature or to its detriment. Even if we might personally feel well, and feel healthy, in the long run, we need to be living in balance and harmony with nature." Similarly, he notes, true flourishing is not possible "if our neighbors are doing poorly or if there's people really suffering in our communities."

Flourishing & Data-driven Policy Action
In this conversation, Lomas also stresses the importance of applying rigorous scientific study to flourishing so that concrete data can be provided to policymakers and others who influence society. He alludes to the US Surgeon General's recent declaration of loneliness as an epidemic — backed by scientific literature on mortality impact of being socially disconnected — as an example of this idea in action. Similarly, Lomas notes "if we can find out the impact of certain environmental factors on wellbeing — poor air quality, for example. If we could really show that poor air quality had a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing to the point where you could quantify that in terms of its impact on morbidity and mortality and so on, you could make it a real strong case for then improving air quality.” However, he fears, "the extent to which we can overcome and mitigate impacts of climate change is up for debate. It's something we must at least try to do but I would say, beyond that, there's other remedies and changes that are perhaps more readily within reach that we can and should pay attention to,” such as demonstrating the tangible impact of inequality on wellbeing.

Listen in to the podcast to hear more insights about Holistic Flourishing from Dr. Timothy Lomas including:

  • The Elements of Human Flourishing - Lomas describes the diverse factors essential for human flourishing, including health, community relations, character virtues, and sustainable actions.
  • Overcoming Bias - Learn how Lomas and fellow researchers in the field are working to identify and eliminate bias in flourishing studies.
  • Scalable Granularity - Lomas describes the concept of scalable granularity, suggesting a need to zoom in and out across various elements of oneself and time for a comprehensive understanding of flourishing.
  • Human and Non- Human Flourishing - Find out why Lomas is willing to include AI and machines in his concept of what systems are capable of flourishing.

We're pleased to note that Dr. Lomas was a featured speaker at The Global Flourishing Conference, organized by Templeton World Charity Foundation.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.