At Challenge Lab we are committed to researching and creating resources to help individual students flourish at university in this time of disruption. We are seeking to build digital and offline resources using the best of affective computing, positive psychology, and pedagogical design to provide students with a unique tool to track and reflect on their mental and physical health while providing guidance to help them direct themselves towards flourishing in their student experience.
As part of Challenge Lab, we are posing the question :
How may we support higher education students to identify and take the right actions to flourish in their personal and professional lives?
Flourishing is a multi-dimensional construct moving beyond simply happiness, to encapsulate a holistic view of wellbeing. With roots in Aristotelian philosophy, flourishing consists of a combination of Eudaimonic and Hedonic well being, considered within modern psychological thought to be 2 essential components of wellbeing.
- Eudaemonic Wellbeing
Quality of life derived from the development of a person’s best potentials and their application in the fulfillment of personally expressive, self-concordant goals (Sheldon, 2002; Waterman, 1990; 2008)”
- Hedonic Wellbeing
The hedonic approach focuses on happiness, defining well-being in terms of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance (Kahneman et al., 1999).
Wellbeing in learning environments has become increasingly pertinent given the rise of mental health issues prevalent amongst students. In the UK, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, five times as many students as 10 years ago have disclosed a mental health issue to their university. This indicates that there are deficiencies in access for students to clinical psychological interventions. Flourishing, and positive psychological resources in general, cannot and should not replace medical interventions, however, they can provide tools for individuals to take a proactive approach to build their subjective well being, through strength-based exercises centered on building positive state of mind.
Flourishing as an Assessment Tool
There have been a range of models outlining criteria for flourishing. In line with the growth of positive psychology over the last 2 decades, there have been numerous efforts to understand how to assess levels of flourishing. Martin Seligman, considered a founding father of the term flourishing, created the PERMA model to identify 5 criteria for wellbeing. This has evolved into the PERMA-profiler, a multidimensional measure of flourishing.
The criteria for ‘flourishing’ measures are broad, incorporating a range of variables that influence day to day wellbeing. Other factors of flourishing explored in assessment tools include financial stability, good character, and physical health. (See Harvard Human Flourishing Model, and The Flourishing Scale). Furthermore, some interventions focus specifically on constructing environments of flourishing at a collective scale (See SHINE programme). While it is key for organisations to be supported in building environments that foster high wellbeing, our focus is primarily on how we can support young individuals to maximise their wellbeing and chances of flourishing in their personal and professional lives.
First Stage: Preliminary Assessment
Our first stage is to identify the assessment criteria we will use to assess the extent of flourishing of individual students. We are currently benchmarking the range of existing flourishing interventions which measure student wellbeing. We will be subsequently constructing a questionnaire designed to ascertain the wellbeing of students currently in further education. This will include understanding how students are adapting to this current period of confinement, which is posing a multitude of new challenges to personal wellbeing, including loneliness, anxiety, and academic uncertainty. This will provide a basis for understanding the areas in which students require most support to facilitate personal flourishing.
We are embarking on this journey with a mission to support students in finding greater meaning and wellbeing, despite this time of crisis and uncertainty (cf. VUCA world). We believe flourishing is a conceptual tool that can guide our preliminary research, prototyping, as well as our digital- and offline interventions for students.