FLOURISH - Awareness, Connection, Insight and Purpose

February 25, 2024 Michael C. Patterson Season 3 Episode 7
FLOURISH - Awareness, Connection, Insight and Purpose
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FLOURISH - Awareness, Connection, Insight and Purpose
Feb 25, 2024 Season 3 Episode 7
Michael C. Patterson

Neuroscientist Richie Davidson 's research on well-being indicates that positive plastic changes to our brain occur around four dimensions of experience, each of which contributes to our ability to flourish. 


in this episode I review Davidson's definition for each dimension and explore how they can aid us to flourish as we age. 

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Neuroscientist Richie Davidson 's research on well-being indicates that positive plastic changes to our brain occur around four dimensions of experience, each of which contributes to our ability to flourish. 


in this episode I review Davidson's definition for each dimension and explore how they can aid us to flourish as we age. 

Support the Show.

Support our work to promote creative aging. Subscribe to the MINDRAMP Podcast.


Hi. Welcome to the Flourish As You Age podcast where we examine how to manage our minds to enhance our wellbeing as we grow older. I’m Michael C. Patterson. 

In this episode I’m going to talk more about a framework for well-being developed by  Dr. Richard Davidson’s and his colleagues at his Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This framework was outlined in a 2020 research paper authored by, Dr. Davidson, Cortland Dahl and Christine Wilson-Mendehall. It is called, The plasticity of wellbeing: A training based framework for the cultivation of human flourishing

As the title indicates, the scientific foundation for this training approach is the plasticity of the brain, its malleability. We can change the structure our brains and the functioning of our minds by being mindful about what we do, how we think and how we feel.  

Richie Davidson gives us guidance on how to achieve positive plastic changes with his  four dimensions of flourishing, which I introduced in previous episode, #6. 

Davidson’s four dimensions of flourishing are: Awareness, Connection, Insight and Purpose. According to Davidson, there is sound scientific evidence that cultivating these four conditions changes the structure of our brains and the functioning of our minds in ways that contribute to our wellbeing and to our ability to flourish. 

Just what we want to do. So, let’s explore each dimension and consider how we might cultivated these dimensions and use them to enhance our wellbeing. 

AWARENESS - Here’s Davidson’s definition for Awareness: “Awareness refers to a heightened and flexible attentiveness to perceptual impressions in one’s environment, as well as internal cues, such as bodily sensations.”

Awareness is an incredibly valuable asset. In fact, it’s all we have. We tend to take awareness for granted, but we shouldn’t. If you think about it, awareness makes up the content of our consciousness. We live within the world of what comes into our attention and are, essentially, blind to anything and everything that is outside of our consciousness, beyond our awareness.  So, we need to be mindful and selective about what gets our attention and what is excluded. 

With this in mind, it strikes me that there are three important aspects to training our awareness: the what, the why and the how.

First, we need to train ourselves to be aware of what we are aware of. What are we paying attention to? Where are we placing our attention? And, just as important, what are we choosing to exclude from our scope of awareness? Or, what are we failing to notice.

Second, why have we chosen to pay attention to this and not that? Have we, in fact, chosen; or has our attention been kidnapped by some outside force?  (Like television ads, text messages, social media, news alerts, domineering relatives, or outrageous politicians). And further, is attending to this particular thing enhancing our well-being? How does it make us feel and act? Do we like those feelings and actions? Are they helpful or hurtful?  If not, why are we attending to them?

The third aspect of awareness training is, perhaps, the trickiest. How are we attending? What is the quality of our awareness?  We want to be fully present, focused, open, and accepting. We want to receive the perceptions in a pure and unfiltered way. This becomes difficult when we are only half listening, when we are thinking about something else or are constantly distracted. The big danger is that we distort what our perceptions are by filtering them through our assumptions, biases, stereotypes and preconceived ideas. We want a straight, pure impression but often our awareness is muddied, muddled and misleading. 

I find it very helpful to consider the “what, why and how” of awareness in terms of the hemisphere hypothesis that I talked about in the previous podcasts. In broad terms, we are on much safer ground when we run our awareness through our sensory mind, our RH. We are more prone to distorting our awareness when it works through our conceptual mind, our LH.  Our conceptual mind gives us interpretations of what we experience, which often obscure the simple truth of what is happening. 

The second dimension is CONNECTION. 

The authors say that connection, ”refers to a subjective sense of care and kinship towards other people that promotes supportive relationships and caring interactions.” 

When we train our mind in Connection, therefore, we are learning to cultivate pro-social attitudes and to free ourselves from anti-social attitudes. We learn to connect with kindness and compassion.

Connection is an outward directed focus that orients the mind towards the well-being of others and, in its most expansive form, towards a feeling of universal unity.  We train ourselves to cultivate feelings like gratitude, appreciation, forgiveness and tolerance.  We can also go further and train our minds to be open to feelings of awe and even transcendence.

Part of the practice is learning to free ourselves from maladaptive mindsets that cause us to feel alienated and separate from ourselves and the world. We learn to resist the impulse to contract and separate ourselves from others. 

Instead, we cultivate mindsets that are expansive and welcoming.  Davidson has found that so-called “connection-based interventions,” like loving kindness, compassion meditation and positive psychology, decrease anxiety, depression and psychological distress while increasing positive emotions and overall well-being. 

These practices tend to suppress the fight-or-flight mechanisms in our brain, while activate brain circuitry that supports empathy and prosocial motivation.

So, that’s ATTENTION and CONNECTION. Davidson’s third dimension is INSIGHT, which he says refers to “self-knowledge concerning the manner in which emotions, though, beliefs and other factors are shaping one’s subjective experience.”

Insight helps us determine the “How” of awareness and connection. It helps us to recognize what kind of awareness and connections undermine our well-being and, conversely what kinds foster well-being and flourishing. Insight helps us to understand the specific types of mental states we need in order to cultivate well-being.

Further, training our insight helps us to gain some objectivity about the workings of our mind. It enhances our ability to understand that our thoughts and feelings are just products of our mind - often of our conceptual mind. They are not dictates from some higher being that reflect eternal wisdom and must be obeyed. No. Our thoughts are just our mind doing what it does - trying its best to understand what is going on and desperately hoping to offer some useful guidance on how to respond. 

Often, the advice offered by our mind is stupid and counter-productive. As a general rule, we get ourselves into trouble when we believe these constructs of our conceptual mind and ignore the direct experience offered by our sensory/experiential mind.  

We should see what we see, not what we would like to see, or what we think we should see. Insight helps us distinguish between skillful and unskillful thoughts and between helpful and hurtful feelings. 

The authors cite analytical meditation, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy as among the interventions that work specifically on developing insight into the workings of our mind.


Davidson’s final dimension of wellbeing is PURPOSE. 

This dimension, says Davidson, “refers to a sense of clarity concerning personally meaningful aims and values that one is able to apply in daily life.” 

Goals and values  that can be applied in real life. 

We experience greater well-being when we feel that our lives are guided by meaningful goals and when our actions reflect the values that we hold dear.  

Setting meaningful goals gives us targets to aim at. It helps us figure out what we want to do with our lives, where we want to focus our attention and what kind of connections we want to make and how we want to make use of our insights. 

Our values, of course, refer to our basic sense of right and wrong, of good and bad. When our actions are consistent with our values we feel good. When our actions conflict with our values we feel bad. 

As Davidson point out, “a growing body of evidence indicates that purpose and values can be classified and strengthened through purpose-based interventions and doing so increases resilience, promotes healthy behaviors and alters the brain and peripheral biology in meaningful ways.”

Davidson points to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), wellbeing therapy and various contemplative practices that promote a connection with a God or with something greater than ourselves. 

Values are tricky. I used to do a lot of acting and it was always instructive to play the role of the villain. Villains believe that their evil actions are justified and virtuous. They don’t think of themselves as evil or destructive. They are being virtuous and consistent within their unique but distorted or misguided value system. 

I think we have to agree that wellbeing and flourishing are associated with values that promote pro-social and self-transcendent feelings and actions. Davidson points out that, “while self-transcendent values serve to bolster well-being,  self-oriented materialistic values lead to negative outcomes.” 

We need goals that make the world a better place for everyone.

Alright. As we move forward with our inquiry into how we can flourish as we age  we can keep Richie Davidson’s four dimension in mind. To flourish we need to enhance our mental abilities in these four areas:  



Insight and 

Value-Driven Purpose

You want some homework? Consider Davidson’s four dimensions of flourishing. What role do these dimensions play in your thinking and your behavior? Are you using them well? How are they contributing to, or undermining, your sense of wellbeing? 

By the way, you can learn more about Dr. Richard Davidson’s work at: 


Davidson has a Healthy Minds app that works through his four dimensions. It can be downloaded onto your phone 


And, you might want to check out his book, co-written with Dan Goleman called Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes You Mind, Brain and Body.

Okay. Be well. Live well. Treat the aging process as a grand adventure of discovery.

Davidson's Four Dimensions of Wellbeing
Self-Transcendent Values
Conclusion & Homework