Fertile Soil: How to Cultivate an Environment for Personal Flourishing

Fertile Soil

You do not have to be a gardener to know that if you want to grow healthy plants, you must provide a nourishing environment. Planting seeds in barren or weedy soil will yield weak plants. And if you plant seeds in toxic soil, the plants will die. The only way to ensure abundant growth is to plant healthy seeds in nutrient-rich soil.

Happiness can be defined as the ultimate state of well-being. Ancient philosopher Aristotle referred to happiness as “eudaimonia,” which is best understood as the state of human flourishing. He described it as the ultimate end sought by all human endeavors. But to reach it, we must live in a manner that supports this end goal. Therefore, if we want to flourish, we must commit to activities that support flourishing and avoid activities that do not enable us to flourish.

What does this have to do with gardening?

You can’t expect to grow prize-winning tomatoes if the soil you start with isn’t good. Bountiful plants require careful cultivation. Like the plants, happiness is something we must actively cultivate. Using gardening as a metaphor, if you are striving to flourish, the first step is to examine your environment to assess whether your “soil” is good.

Physical environment: Is it barren, toxic, or rich?

In barren soil, an environment devoid of nutrients, a plant will struggle to eke out an existence. Though it may grow, it cannot truly thrive. The same is true for human beings. Living in an environment lacking enriching stimulation can lead to boredom and apathy, the antithesis of flourishing.

Planting seeds in toxic soil puts them in direct contact with poisons or pollutants that can kill the plant. Likewise, a toxic human environment can impede your ability to flourish, and your ability to exist. Attempting to survive in an abusive, unsanitary, unsafe, or any other negative environment can poison (or kill) the body, mind, and spirit. I can’t stress enough how important it is to remove yourself from those environments.

Rich soil supplies an optimal mix of nutrients, providing an environment conducive to growth. Like plants, human flourishing depends on the environment; it is unlikely to occur in a barren or toxic environment. Therefore, aim to cultivate an environment rich with growth-stimulating elements. Make sure your environment is clean, uncluttered, and filled with things you enjoy, such as books, candles, and artwork. Create spaces for prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, or reading, and make sure your bedroom promotes restful sleep.

Relationships: Are you struggling to grow among weeds?

The problem with weeds is that they draw essential nutrients away from the roots of the primary plant, robbing the plant of its vitality. Weeds represent relationships that make it difficult to flourish. They are people who (knowingly or unknowingly) hold you back. They contribute to self-limiting beliefs, promote negativity, or are unsupportive of your goals.

If your goal is to flourish, it is important to consider the psychological impact of the people in your life. Do they encourage you to be your best? Are they critical of you? Do they have similar values? Are they seeking to flourish as well? Do they contribute to the spirit of flourishing, or do they detract from it? If your current relationships are unsupportive, build a support system with like-minded people who can inspire and cheer you on as you move toward your goals.

Activities: Do you actively till the soil?

Gardeners know the key to abundant growth is to feed the soil because the soil feeds the plant. They pull weeds, aerate the soil, and may even talk to their plants to encourage growth. With personal well-being, we are the gardener. We must take part in activities that lead to flourishing.

Eudaimonic happiness does not happen by chance. It comes from our chosen activities. Sitting sedentary on the sofa in front of the TV is unlikely to help you flourish. In contrast, interacting with inspirational media, exercising, hiking, taking a cooking class, volunteering, and travel are examples of activities compatible with your goal. These activities provide opportunities to expand your mind, build skills, manage health, help others, and explore—the activities of human flourishing.

Like the gardener who cultivates prize-winning tomatoes, you can cultivate a life of human flourishing. Building supportive relationships and taking part in fulfilling activities will put you in a better position to indulge in peak life experiences. It can be the difference between mere existence and true fulfillment.

“Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds.“
—Leonardo da Vinci

Personal Reflections:

  • What kind of environment are you in?
  • What have you done lately to cultivate your environment?

*Image: Monicore