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A Lyrical Definition of Thriving

My dictionary defines “thrive” as “to prosper, be fortunate or successful, and to grow or develop vigorously. The word “thrive” is derived from an Old Norse word meaning “to grasp or get hold of.” This morphed in Middle English into thrive, meaning “to grow or develop vigorously.”  The word “flourish” is often used interchangeably with “thrive.” Its history is as a word meaning to blossom, grow or flower. There are many other synonyms for “thrive,” including prosper, advance, progress, do well, and blossom.  Antonyms, words meaning the opposite of “thrive,” include decrease, wither, decline, shrivel and languish.

It is hard to avoid a botanical metaphor here: to thrive is to grow like a very healthy plant, flower or tree. It’s not just a healthy plant, though. Thriving also demands growing in good conditions. Rich soil. Plenty of sunlight. Just the right amount of rain. Warm but not too hot days (Corn, for instance, grows avidly at 80 degrees Fahrenheit but begins to be stressed at 90 degrees). Maybe a few insects or fungi or cold days to increase hardiness.

And so, if I could offer a more lyrical definition of thriving it is this: thriving means growing toward the light.

Ah, but perhaps each of us grows best toward slightly different light sources. After all, not one sun but many millions exist in this universe. Consider these four different goals or directions, each representing a very different light source.

  • Contentment. This person wants more than anything else to achieve a true sense of serenity. His journey toward thriving takes him from a highly stressed urban life into the country where he finds calmness and peace of mind.
  • Positive energy. This individual wants to feel totally and vibrantly alive. Her journey toward thriving takes her away from boredom, passivity and depression toward activity, accepting challenges, adventure and excitement.
  • Spirituality. Here is yet another source of light. This man finds meaning in life through religious or spiritual practice or perhaps mindful meditation. His journey is from letting go of limiting self-centered ego concerns toward seeking larger universal truths.
  • Relationship. Family and community come first in the heart and soul of this individual. Her journey is from physical and emotional isolation into the world of people. Friendship, community involvement, and cooperative endeavor bring her true joy. 

Apparently, then, the actual practice of thriving means different things to different people. The specific light that each person seeks emerges partly from that individual’s innate character traits and dispositions, partly from all the accidents and incidents of personal history, partly from his or her losses and gains in childhood, and partly from the values of the society that person lives in. There does seem to be one common denominator, though. Thriving implies choosing to take action intended to improve one’s sense of well-being. Thriving is something you do for yourself. You can’t receive it from others. That brings us back to the Old Norse origin of the term. One reaches for thriving. It is something to take hold of. However, what is grasped is not a physical object. It is more a special way of doing things that is unique to each person.

Thriving, then, is an active state of being. It may well be a state that people reach toward on occasion as against a permanent condition. You survive for a while, then thrive, and then return to surviving. Sometimes we are in the light and sometimes we have to go seek it. Sometimes the light is a beacon showing us the way to a better life. And, of course, sometimes we have no idea where that light could be hiding.

Instead of “growing toward the light” let me alter my definition of thriving slightly: Thriving means growing toward your inner light.




Hi Ron,

I enjoyed your last blog entry. I especially appreciate the sentence, "thriving is something we do for ourselves". Thankfully we aren't plants stuck in one place. When we are ready, we have the power to make life altering choices... for ourselves.



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