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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

How is Life Tree-Ting You?: Flourishing on the Farm

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Flourishing encapsulates all the things that make up our well-being. In practical terms, well-being, mental health, and flourishing are the same—one’s well-being or mental health is “high” when they are flourishing, and vice versa. Concepts like flourishing that attempt to describe the immense complexity of human experience differ across individuals, communities, and cultures as our deeply held values influence what it means for us to flourish. When moving towards your version of flourishing, the first thing we need to do is understand where the origin of our ideas about what well-being is. Often, these ideas are prescriptive in nature, or they attempt to be universal, implicitly denying the diverse ways in which well-being can take shape.

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What is Well-Being?

Well-being is the integration of positive feelings, meaningful doing, and sustainable connecting. Well-being, including the lack of well-being in our lives, is something we’re all deeply familiar with, and yet it is still a complex, almost indescribable concept. Well-being is about flourishing in multiple domains of living, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. A Stanford community vision for well-being focuses on what we all need, both as individuals and communities, to function, feel, and be well.

Most elements of well-being can be linked to universal human needs and desires that evolved in our bodies and minds over millions of years. Whether its connection, comfort, agency, and safety — or belonging, meaning, purpose, and pleasurable emotions— all of these are important to us modern humans because they have roots in our history, and were essential to our ancestors. In the last two centuries our world has changed so drastically that our well-being has been challenged as we depart from ways of living that make up our histories.

So how can we skillfully navigate our complex, demanding lives, the challenges at Stanford, and the desire to belong in a fast-moving world?

Stanford may be an academic institution, and you may be a student—but a life well-lived is more than productivity and academic accomplishment. Developing our well-being is an active, lifelong process of choices, skill-building, and introspection that lead toward your own visions of health, fulfillment, and meaning.

If flourishing = well-being = mental health, then how does this all relate to mental illness?

It may feel intuitive that mental health and mental illness would be seen as opposites, but, while they impact each other in complex ways, they actually exist on two separate continua. All of us are on both of these continua at the same time, always, moving up or down these continua throughout our lives.

One can be experiencing high mental health AND be managing mental illness at the same time. Conversely, one can be languishing (low mental health) while not having symptoms of a mental illness. In fact, before COVID a pandemic of languishing had been creeping in for many years; the many challenges of COVID just revealed a world already full of too much languishing.

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