GIrl contemplating


March 12, 2020

Changing Our Focus from Surviving to Thriving

Dr. Pamela King reflects on the importance of contemplative practices as the key to thriving during difficulty.

Photo by: Dương Nhân on Pexels

Surviving vs. Thriving

Distinguishing thriving from surviving is having an orientation beyond yourself. A surviving orientation is about me and mine. A thriving orientation, on the other hand, is about us and ours, yours and theirs.

Having an orientation beyond the self involves a guiding source of hope, meaning, and strength bigger than ourselves that continues to direct our lives in attitude and action beyond ourselves. For some, this “True North” (think moral compass) is their faith, their community, or their connection to humanity and/or the natural order. Such a “True North” serves as a moral and spiritual compass that guides and directs us in the mundane and manic moments of life.

However, disruption brings disorientation. In times such as these—which seem to be “undergirded” by the never-ending, sonic change, and are now filled with mounting pressure and panic—it is all the more important that we stay oriented and directed beyond ourselves. Keeping connected to our ideals through practices and the relationships that ground us is imperative.

Contemplative Practices

Spirituality has long taught us, and science has reaffirmed, that contemplative practices are extremely effective for promoting attention, focus, resilience, and purpose.1 Taking a cue from the season of Lent, I recommend the tradition of taking on a practice for the next month that orients you towards what is most sacred in your life.

Meditation Apps

A few mindfulness apps and resources that I have found helpful include:

  1. HealthyMinds app, which provides practical tools to help you develop simple skills to improve awareness, connection, insight, and purpose.
  2. Headspace app to help you manage stress, maintain focus, and balance the things that matter most to you through guided meditations and mindfulness techniques.
Christian-Based Apps

From the Christian tradition, I have relied on:

  1. Prayer of Examen app, which guides you through an end-of-day spiritual practice by integrating contemplative imagery to help you reflect on the day and prepare you for the next.
  2. Pray As You Go app that is designed to help you pray and reflect scripture whenever you have moments of free time throughout your day.
  3. Hallow app that offers guided meditations and contemplative prayer techniques that help you grow in your faith. 

Those who thrive cultivate an ability to stay aware and attuned to themselves and the world around them. They are able to align their values with the well-being of others, not just themselves. They are able to activate (or live out) those values and convictions, assessing how things are going and adjusting when necessary. 

Thus, forms of contemplation are key to thriving. We need practices and relationships that help us pause—that help us become aware and attuned to ourselves and others. Contemplation allows us to align our efforts to our ideals, and motivates us to act on behalf of ourselves and others. Contemplation allows us to assess and adjust. 

Contemplative exercises—whether prayer, meditation, or mindfulness practices—should simultaneously ground us in ourselves and direct us beyond ourselves. Traditions and practices that focus on the self and surviving are not about thriving. Thriving involves bettering the lives of others, not just our own.

Pause, Attune, and Activate

Taking time to pause, to become deeply aware and attuned, to align our lives to what matters most, and to activate will bring the agility and strength that is needed to not just survive, but to enable one another to thrive.

With this in mind, choose a new contemplative exercise, and thrive on!


1. For more resources, see the science and innovation development led by Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds.

Pamela Ebstyne King Executive Director, Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science


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