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Healthy? Maybe. But are you truly flourishing?

CEO Tinh Phung
What's your blood pressure? It's a simple question that we are all familiar with. We get it checked at the doctor's office, at the supermarket, and even on our smartwatches. But here's a question that...

What's your blood pressure? It's a simple question that we are all familiar with. We get it checked at the doctor's office, at the supermarket, and even on our smartwatches. But here's a question that might be just as important: What's your purpose in life?

According to a group of researchers at Harvard University and Baylor University, your answer to this question might be just as crucial as your blood pressure when it comes to measuring your overall well-being. And they are embarking on a groundbreaking study called the Global Flourishing Study to explore the connections between well-being and various aspects of life, such as character traits, practices, relationships, and religions.

Health is more than just the absence of disease, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. It encompasses our physical and mental health, happiness, life satisfaction, sense of meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and our close social relationships. The Global Flourishing Study aims to unravel the complexities of well-being and identify what factors contribute to human flourishing.

The study, which is set to follow approximately 240,000 participants from 22 countries over a span of five years, is a first-of-its-kind endeavor. By taking a global and longitudinal approach, researchers hope to find causal links between well-being and specific factors. If successful, the survey could one day be used as a diagnostic tool to prescribe interventions, much like exercise and heart-healthy diets for cardiovascular disease.

Tyler VanderWeele Tyler VanderWeele, director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard, explains that people in poorer, developing countries often have a greater sense of meaning and purpose, as well as stronger relationships.

"We study physical health and wealth very well," says Tyler VanderWeele, the co-director of the project and the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard. "But why aren't we studying well-being and purpose with the same level of empirical rigor?"

One reason is that measuring concepts like happiness and purpose is challenging. Unlike physical health, they can't be easily quantified with medical instruments. That's why the team enlisted the help of a senior philosopher to develop survey questions that could provide quantitative and measurable answers to these age-old questions.

While a country's GDP is often used as a metric for success, it doesn't necessarily reflect the well-being of its citizens. Wealthier, developed countries may have higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction, but people in poorer, developing countries often have a greater sense of meaning and purpose, as well as stronger relationships.

To study these seemingly intangible qualities like happiness and love, the researchers designed a survey in which participants respond to statements about their friendships, relationships, self-worth, forgiveness, and other aspects of life. By collecting data from diverse cultures, the research team hopes to gain a deeper understanding of well-being across the globe.

Matt Lee Matthew Lee, the director of empirical research for the Human Flourishing Program, acknowledges the challenges of measuring subjective qualities like love but remains optimistic about the study's potential.

However, translating these concepts across cultures is not without its difficulties. Different languages have their own nuances and definitions for words such as "happiness" and "love." Cultural values of humility and privacy can also influence how individuals respond to survey questions.

Aware of these challenges, the research team sought feedback from scholars worldwide and conducted pilot tests to ensure the survey is culturally sensitive and interpretable across different countries. After three years of preparation, the first survey is finally set to launch, with the data being open-access and available to anyone interested.

Critics still question whether the study can effectively measure subjective qualities like love. But as Matthew Lee, the director of empirical research for the Human Flourishing Program, suggests, only time will tell. If we continue to prioritize material wealth over deep and fulfilling relationships, will we truly find meaning in life?

The Global Flourishing Study aims to shed light on these questions and provide insights into what it means to flourish as a human being. Whether it's measuring blood pressure or understanding our purpose in life, the pursuit of well-being is an essential aspect of our existence. And this study is a bold step forward in unraveling the complexities of human flourishing.

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