What if attaining happiness were as simple as planting a seed and growing it? What if you were given a single seed from which to grow a lifetime of happiness? Would you toss the seed onto a random pile of dirt and leave it to grow on its own? What type of plant would you expect to grow from an uncultivated pile of dirt?
You don’t have to be a gardener to know that healthy plants require a nourishing environment. You wouldn’t expect to grow prize-winning tomatoes from a pile of depleted dirt. Instead, you would expect prize-winning vines to be mindfully cultivated from a foundation of 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 would make it less likely.
What does this have to do with gardening?
As you can probably guess, gardening is simply a metaphor for our lives and the fruit we bear. As mentioned above, exceptional tomatoes don’t just happen; they require careful cultivation. Like gardeners, we must mindfully cultivate our lives if we want to bear exceptional fruit. Following the metaphor, if you are striving to flourish, your first step is to examine your environment to assess whether your “soil” is good.
Your 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 devoid of enriching stimulation can lead to boredom and apathy, the antithesis of flourishing.
Toxic soil contains poisons or pollutants that can kill the plant. Likewise, a toxic human environment can impede your ability to flourish and, in some cases, limit your very existence. Attempting to survive in an abusive, unsanitary, unsafe, or any other type of dangerous 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.
In contrast, 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 barren or toxic surroundings. Therefore, aim to cultivate an environment rich with growth-stimulating elements. Keep your surroundings 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.
Your 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, aim to build a new support system with like-minded people who can inspire and cheer you on as you move toward your goals.
Your Activities: Do You Actively Tend to Your Need for Fulfillment?
Gardeners know the key to abundant growth is to mindfully tend to the needs of the plant. They pull weeds, aerate the soil, eliminate pests, and may even talk to their plants to encourage growth. When it comes to our personal well-being, we are the gardeners; it is up to us to nurture our own needs and cultivate growth through mindful action.
Flourishing doesn’t happen by chance. It is a by-product of our day-to-day choices. A sedentary life on a sofa in front of the TV is unlikely to help you flourish. In contrast, interacting with inspirational media, exercising, hiking, taking a cooking class, gardening, volunteering, and travel are examples of activities associated with fulfillment. Activities such as these provide opportunities to expand your mind, build skills, manage health, help others, and explore—the activities of human flourishing.
“Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds.“–Leonardo da Vinci
Like the gardener who cultivates prize-winning tomatoes, you can cultivate a life of human flourishing. An enriched environment, supportive relationships, and taking part in fulfilling activities will put you in a better position to enjoy peak life experiences. These life-changing steps can make the difference between mere existence and a life that blooms.