Are you flourishing?—Yes, but not on your terms!

I knew I was in for something spurious when I saw, in the New York Times (to which I subscribe, and which I read daily), the headline “Are You Flourishing? Take the Quiz.” I suspected it would be one of those “The happier you are in all ways, the better! Behhter! Beh-eh-eh-ter!” quizzes, which fail to acknowledge that “flourishing” sometimes happens in the cracks between the rocks. I reserve the right to be a little unsure of myself, a little melancholic, a little unsatisfied, without the Pep Police showing up at my door.

Anyway, the quiz was as bad as I thought. The preface begins, “At Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program, Tyler J. VanderWeele uses this quiz to gauge a person’s overall physical, mental and emotional well-being. While he says there’s no specific score to determine if someone is definitely flourishing, the higher the score, the better.”

Oh, dear. This reminds me of “growth mindset,” whose proponents insist that no matter how much growth mindset you have, you would be better off with still more.

So, what questions are included in the quiz? I will bring up just three here, since otherwise I would be copying the whole piece.

How satisfied are you with life as a whole these days?”

I like my life. I would not give it a 10, because there are still things I hope for, and various problems in the world. But an 8 or 9 would be fair.

“I understand my purpose in life.”

Hell no! I understand what I am doing, I like what I am doing and want to do more of it and better. But is this “my purpose in life”? I have no idea, nor do I have to know.

I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later.

No, not always. First of all, I am not always in a position to “give up some happiness now.” Second, I am not always sure which happiness is greater: the one right now or the one to come. Third, I can be impulsive sometimes. Fourth, I find the “always” strange.

I had a high score at the end of it all, but the analysis suggested that I take a look at those areas that “need more attention.”

I believe there are areas of my life that need more attention, but not necessarily these. Moreover, attention can bring the score down. When you look closely at something, you start to see its flaws.

Speaking of that, the premises of this quiz crumble upon inspection. Flourishing has little to do with being absolutely happy, confident, or satisfied. It has, rather, to do with motion and perception. You can be sad in some ways and still flourishing because you’re making things, enjoying relationships, and living fully. Or because you have learned how to live on your own terms, not the terms of an online quiz.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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