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Mar 8, 2022

Human Flourishing & Grit with Angela Duckworth (podcast)

How does grit — passion combined with perseverance — encourage us to thrive?

By Templeton Staff

Dr. Angela Duckworth makes the case that achievement is not dependent on genius, but instead, on the power of passion and perseverance: grit. She believes that grit is part of what allows humans to flourish, and in this conversation for Stories of Impact podcast, Duckworth shares observations from her research into the many elements that lead to success. She also discusses why achievement and happiness are not the same as flourishing, what she means when she speaks about "character," and why role models and leaders who exemplify character strength are important to flourishing.

Grit, Flourishing, and Adversity

Building the capacity for resilience, to withstand and learn from failure or difficulty, is a component of grit. Cultivating a mindset where every adversity is an opportunity to learn takes practice, but it's a quality intrinsic to flourishing. "Every high achiever I have ever interviewed believes that learning to fail is one of the most important lessons that they ever mastered, and that ability to experience failure as the same as success is really about being able to take every moment in your life and take it as information... If I never have the perspective that there’s something to be gained in difficulties, then I don’t think I will live a full life. I think a full life says, you take your good days and your bad days, and you try to make something honorable out of both of those," says Duckworth. However, she points out, there’s a difference between systemic adversity and setbacks that can help us develop character. "We ought not romanticize adversity. We ought not say, poverty is great. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all felt marginalized and left out of conversations? But adversity of all kinds is part of life. And if we don’t have an attitude toward adversity that says, there’s something that I will learn from this experience, even if I don’t wish it upon myself or others, I know that it’s part of life to have, you know, things happen that I don’t want to happen."

Flourishing and Alignment

Duckworth describes what flourishing means to her: "Human flourishing, I think, is alignment... when your hopes and dreams line up with what you’re doing every day. And I also think it’s when my hopes and dreams are in alignment as opposed to in conflict with your hopes and dreams. And so when I think of flourishing, the visual that I have is that there is a kind of aerodynamic harmony both within the person and then across people."


Human flourishing is alignment....when your hopes and dreams line up with what you’re doing every day.


Flourishing differs from happiness. It includes having a sense of meaning and purpose, and having the sense that your life is part of something larger than yourself.


What does "Character" really mean?

"When I say character, I really mean all of the ways that we interact with each other and with our world that really do leave us and others better off. That means our humility, that means our gratitude, our ability to empathize with each other. It also means our imagination and creativity, our curiosity to learn more, our grit, our self-control, our proactivity, our optimism. It’s an infinite list, really. And when I think of character development, I really think of a lifelong process of the cultivation of these character strengths," shares Duckworth.

Role Models of Flourishing

Duckworth believes that leaders who demonstrate character are influential in the flourishing of those around them. However, notes Duckworth, we don't have to be in a position of formal leadership in order to help others develop strength and resilience. Every adult, Duckworth says, has an opportunity to be a role model. "I have a dream that every kid everywhere in the world will have a psychologically wise adult in their life, a psychologically wise mom, or a psychologically wise rabbi or a psychologically wise godparent, teacher, coach. What those adults do in the life of a young person is they help them develop strengths of heart, mind and will, and when I think of character, I think that these are the strengths that are heart, interpersonal, mind, curiosity, imagination, intellectual humility, and will, grit, self-control, optimism and more."

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by podcast producer and host Tavia Gilbert. Featuring: Dr. Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive. She is also a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and in 2013 was named a MacArthur Fellow.

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 writer / producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.