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Reflective Practice: International and

Multidisciplinary Perspectives
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In what ways can reflective practices

enhance human flourishing?
Tony Ghaye

Reflective Learning UK (RLUK) , Overton Business Centre ,

Maisemore, Gloucestershire, GL2 8HR, UK
Published online: 29 Jan 2010.

To cite this article: Tony Ghaye (2010) In what ways can reflective practices enhance human
flourishing?, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 11:1, 1-7, DOI:
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Reflective Practice
Vol. 11, No. 1, February 2010, 17

In what ways can reflective practices enhance human flourishing?

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Tony Ghaye*
Reflective Learning UK (RL-UK), Overton Business Centre, Maisemore, Gloucestershire,

I wish to raise the question, In what ways can reflective practices enhance human
flourishing? Underpinning this question is my assumption that enhancing human
flourishing is important work. So in what ways is it important? How does it matter?
And what do we actually mean by the term human flourishing? In a very pragmatic
sense would reflective practices that enhance human flourishing help us bounce-back
from adverse events in our lives? Would they help us be more open-minded, have
more creative thoughts, enjoy better relationships with others? Be more resilient?
These, I suggest, are big questions that deserve some serious attention from those who
regard themselves as reflective practitioners, who learn through reflection and who
use various reflective practices for some positive purposes. For those who believe in
practical action for positive purposes, I frame a challenge as a positive question
namely, What would we need to do to (re)cast reflective practices in the role of
enhancing human flourishing? I wonder what kind of uncommon wisdom we would
discover if we embraced a question of this kind? Aristotle (384322 BC) had much to
say about this. Through his writing and teaching, Aristotle explained that the purpose
of life is earthly flourishing, achieved via reason and the acquisition of virtue.
Aristotle suggested that each human being should try to use their abilities to their
fullest potential and should obtain fulfilment through the exercise of their realised
capacities. Arguably if human flourishing involves the intentional use of human
potentialities, then these could include what an individual, a group, team, organisation
and community may regard as their gifts, talents, abilities and virtues in order to
pursue their freely and democratically chosen values and goals. Intentional action
could therefore be considered to be appropriate if it leads to the flourishing of the
person, or people, performing the action.
I am also suggesting that the idea of human flourishing can encompass a wide variety of moral and ethical pursuits, the development of character traits such as being
optimistic, meaningful and productive work, religious pursuits, community strengthening and altruistic activities, love, allegiance to persons and causes, self-efficacy and
so on. Some might regard all of these as relevant to the notion of well-being. Boniwell
(2008) states that:

current theories of well-being seem to give a one-sided, rather bare picture of well-being.
In fact what they seem to cover quite well is the notion of hedonism striving for
maximisation of pleasure positive effect and minimisation of pain negative effect.
(p. 39)
ISSN 1462-3943 print/ISSN 1470-1103 online
2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14623940903525132

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T. Ghaye

Another idea of well-being comes from Aristotle and is called eudaimonic well-being.
This is a broad idea. He thought that true happiness could be attained through leading
a virtuous life and especially doing what is worth doing. He argued that the realisation
of human potential was the ultimate human goal. So two questions arise: (a) in what
ways is reflection a practice worth doing? (b) In what ways do the practices of
reflection contribute to the realisation of human potential?
During 201011 the journal Reflective Practice International & Multidisciplinary Perspectives, will be encouraging its readership to consider submitting
papers that address the question, In what ways can reflective practices enhance
human flourishing? My argument is that if we can use reflective practices to
enhance human flourishing, we may make a significant contribution to reducing
depression, enabling people to do better at work, to stay healthier, to become more
resilient and even to live longer! I have sketched out some possible dimensions of
this question in Figure 1.
Figure 1. In what ways can reflective practices enhance human flourishing?

Figure 1.

In what ways can reflective practices enhance human flourishing?

Figure 1 has an explicit emphasis on positivity (Fredrickson, 2009) and an

implicit acknowledgement of the importance of being appreciative and expressing
appreciation. I do not believe in pressurising ourselves (or others for that matter) to
be positive, as this can lead to alienation and insincerity. Neither do I believe that we
can eliminate negativity. This could be unhealthy. What I am advocating is that we
try to keep our negativities in check and try to balance them with thoughts and
actions that enhance positivity. This might involve such things as being appreciative,
being open-minded, demonstrating kindness to others and always trying to be
authentic. One starting point may be to consider the ways reflective practices have a
role to play in enhancing positive emotions, within individuals, groups, teams,

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Reflective Practice

squads, organisations and whole communities. These might be emotions like love,
happiness, joy, contentment and accomplishment. Positive emotions can be about the
past (gratitude), present (savoring), or future (hope). So how do the practices of
reflection build hope, for example? A consideration of the way reflective practices
might enhance positive relationships can be linked with issues about the quality of
interpersonal action, trust, honesty, openness and positive regard. The idea of positive engagement might take reflective practices into the arena of an activity that
results in flow. This a psychological state in which people are fully engaged in an
intrinsically enjoyable and challenging activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). This would
indeed be welcomed, by some, as reflection can be associated with being a rather
burdensome, time-consuming and a traumatic experience. Positive engagement also
opens up possibilities for reflective practices to explore work-life balance issues and,
of course, ones engagement with the workplace. With regard to meaning and
purpose in life and work, there is now a considerable and pursuasive amount of
research (Robertsoncooper, 2008) that emphasises how significant this is, especially
in terms of psychological well-being. I suggest there is much work to be done by
those in the field of learning through reflection with regard to the way reflective
practices may enhance a sense of individual and collective meaning and purpose in
working life.
Developing conversations of positive regard
A practical way to begin to address the central question, In what ways can reflective
practices enhance human flourishing? might be to think about the interface between
reflective conversations and the development of conversations of positive regard. I
have argued elsewhere (Ghaye et al., 2008) that when trying to improve work and
working lives through reflective practices, thinking and conversations can get stuck
with vocabularies of human deficit and in doing so fail to unlock the creative potential
of those involved. Deficit phrased questions lead to deficit-based conversations. These
in turn lead to deficit-based actions. A particular kind of reflective practice called
Participatory and Appreciative Action and Reflection (PAAR), being developed by
colleagues in Reflective Learning Centres and groups in the UK, Italy, Uganda,
Nigeria, Sweden and Bulgaria for example, is both a general disposition and a style of
research which requires us to use our appreciative intelligence to focus on the best of
what is currently experienced, seek out the root causes of this, then design and implement actions that amplify and sustain this success. I have shown this interrelationship
in Figure 2. In order to enhance human flourishing, we may have to shift reflective
practices away from those that are concerned with problems, rather more, and
towards practices that are more strengths-based. One practical way to achieve this is
to focus on making conversations of positive regard those which place an emphasis on
active and constructive dialogue, where you (and others) take time to identify good
and successful experiences and events and put what you learn from such conversations
to good use. This is not the frivolous activity that some seem to think it is! Such a
conversation unfurls where these good events that you disclose, are actively and
constructively responded to, by other people. This way of conversing is a real opportunity to build more positive and more productive relationships. Far better I suggest,
than conversations that are either active and destructive (e.g. where what you say is
dismissed) or even worse, passive and destructive (e.g. where what you say is

T. Ghaye

Figure 2.

The deficit trap.

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Figure 2. The deficit trap.

Using the power of the positive question to enhance human flourishing

To enhance human flourishing, in a practical sense, we might usefully consider using
the power of the positive question. I have outlined four such questions in Figure 3.
All require an ability to engage in appreciative reflection and appreciative action.
Appreciative reflection is a new form of reflection (Marchi & Ghaye, forthcoming,
2010). It requires four basic types of appreciative intent. They are:
(1) An appreciative intent towards knowing. This is about, for example, recognising our own gifts and the talents of others, focusing on what is and can be,
rather than what is not and cannot be. Focusing on what is understood rather
than what is not. It is about being selectively attentive to the positive and
(2) An appreciative intent towards relating. This is about the active process of
valuing and affirming the worth of others through interaction (e.g. good
relations) and dialogue. It is about caring about growth-promoting and
improvement-enhancing relationships.
(3) An appreciative intent towards action. This is inspired by the positive intention for the betterment of self, group, organisation and community. It is
inspired by an ethic of care and by social, cultural and organisational structures
and processes that empower all involved to reach toward their highest
(4) An appreciative intent towards organising. This is about organising for the best
individual, group, organisation and community practices from an appreciative
stance. It includes some frame-breaking propositions such as a commitment to
trust building amongst all stakeholders, multi-disciplinary development team
working, getting ideas to improve lives and livelihoods from everywhere,
developing a readiness for innovation (doing different things and doing things
differently), becoming emotionally intelligent and developing learning
enriched conversational groups that build collective strength and wisdom to
enable change for the better.
Responding to the four questions in Figure 3 also implies an understanding of and
capability for appreciative action. Arguably this involves the qualities of appreciation,
astuteness and alignment.
Figure 3. Using the power of the positive question to enhance human flourishing.

(1) Appreciation: This concerns reflecting not only on what is, but also what
might be. It involves utilising what it is we currently know as a creative springboard, to unleash our imagination in order to envision doing things differently.
Having said this, individuals and communities still have to exercise their
judgement with regard to what is best and for whom. A key question becomes,

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Reflective Practice

Figure 3.

Using the power of the positive question to enhance human flourishing.

how can individuals and communities improve their levels of appreciation?

A good way to begin is to reflect upon our openness to experience and the
courage and opportunity we have to play with new and different ways of
relating, engaging and producing. In other words, the freedom we have (or
otherwise) to explore new ways of relating. So how can we take or risk the
time for such reflection and action?
(2) Astuteness. This is about our ability to interpret, organise and pragmatically
use the fruits arising from appreciation. Another way to express this is by
using the word implementation. The particular form of reflective practice
referred to above as PAAR, is a strengths-based approach to improving practices (what we do) and policies (what shapes and governs what we do). So it
follows that we need to be very astute in order to do this. Our political acuity
and skilfulness at influencing others, plays a big part in implementing something that may lead to building a better future. Astuteness is closely associated with empowerment and our awareness of the influence of power and
politics. The choice of implementation strategies is not a value-free choice of
(3) Alignment. This focuses on the match (or congruence) between what we say
and what we actually do. It also concerns the way individual values match with
community or collective ones. Appreciative action of this kind is a way of
understanding our personal relationship with others and with our work. When

T. Ghaye

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there is a good alignment, there is synergy between personal, community and/

or work needs. There is a balance between individual, community and/or the
direction of working life. This presupposes, of course, that the individual
actually knows the direction in which their community and/or working life is
So in what ways can reflective practices enhance human flourishing?
To really get to grips with a question such as this may require those working in
fields such as human well-being, livelihood improvement, community strengthening,
productive workplace engagement and human performance and achievement, to
reflect upon the fact that our minds change according to the daily experiences we
have. From recent work in neuroplasticity we know that what we spend time thinking
about and doing, determines how our minds are wired-up and how our brains are
sculptured. Neuroplasticity determines what we are capable of doing and therefore the
kinds of (better) workplaces and communities we are able to imagine, create and then
sustain. So it follows. If we wish to be more appreciative, positive, creative, perform
better and be kinder to others, we need to practise these things. We need to develop
strategies to enhance them. This line of thinking could be productively developed. For
example, what strategies and practices do we need to develop that free us from the
burden of reflective practices as a solution looking for a problem? What do we need
to do to use reflective practices to change a view of a world where negatives dominate
positives? A world where fear dominates hopefulness? What do we need to do to use
the ways we might learn through reflection to enhance flourishing and reduce
languishing and pessimism? By this I do not wish to imply that reflective practices
might just help to make us happier (there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest the opposite!). What I am inviting readers to contemplate are practices of reflection that make
us more outward facing, more community focused, more able to add value, make a
real and tangible difference, be more socially responsible and able to work with more
ethical courage. It is possible to believe that without poverty, devastation due to natural disasters, suffering and despair, there could be no virtues of generosity, of giving
and of sacrifice. Is it possible to think of reflective practices that are worth anything
if they do not enhance human flourishing?

Notes on contributor
Tony Ghaye is director of Reflective Learning-UK. He is an organisational strategist and
social entrepreneur. He currently works on a range of quality of life, workplace engagement,
ethical leadership and high performance teamwork projects in Europe, West and East Africa
all of which use the principles and processes of participatory and appreciative action and
reflection (PAAR). He has written many academic books and research papers on reflective

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of Optimal Functioning (second edition). Personal Well-Being Centre, London.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York:
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the
hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York: Crown

Reflective Practice

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Ghaye, T., Melander-Wikman, A., Kisare, M., Chambers, P., Bergmark, U., Kostenius, C., &
Lillyman, S. (2008). Participatory and appreciative action and reflection (PAAR)
democratizing reflective practices. Reflective practice, 9(4), 361397.
Marchi, S., & Ghaye, T. (2010). Appreciative Reflection: How to feel positive and do good
work. New Vista Publications, Gloucester. Forthcoming.
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Network Annual Report, RobertsonCooper Publications, Manchester.