Flourishing: An F-word to strengthen Army Readiness

By Ms Mikie PerkinsFebruary 5, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORSCOM’s top Chaplain, Col. David Bowlus, is on a mission to improve the overall health and well-being of Soldiers, and he wants Army leaders to recognize the importance of flourishing.

“It’s an F-word the Army needs in its vocabulary to improve warrior readiness,” said Bowlus.

Being a well-trained, well-equipped, and physically fit fighting force is, and always has been, key to the strength of Soldiers on the battlefield. That’s why Bowlus says human flourishing provides a strong paradigm for Soldier readiness, because it includes human dimensions that often go unaddressed by society.

“Human Flourishing research is a growing movement in educational institutions and leading medical centers,” said Bowlus. “Yale, Duke, Harvard, Baylor, Johns-Hopkins Medical, and the Mayo Clinic, are examples of newly established Human Flourishing programs, and they’re recognizing that flourishing encompasses a comprehensive state of well-being where vital aspects of a person’s life are fundamentally good,” he said.

Bowlus explained that a flourishing life includes six essential domains: Happiness and Life Satisfaction, Meaning and Purpose, Virtue and Character, Close Social Relationships, Mental and Physical Health, and Financial and Material Stability.

“What’s key about human flourishing is the Happiness, Life Satisfaction, Meaning and Purpose domains,” said Bowlus. “These are vital aspects of a resilient life and require individuals to take a deeper dive into areas that may go unaddressed,” he said.

Soldiers are often required to carry out tasks the average citizen would never understand or have the courage to do, and some of those tasks are often incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically. Bowlus refers to Soldiering as a “full contact sport.” That’s why it’s so necessary they have not only strong bodies, but spiritual convictions and personal understanding of their own worth and purpose…that their lives have meaning. If a person has a strong, healthy, sense of self and some kind of spiritual anchor, research and life-experience overwhelmingly demonstrates they will enjoy significant protective factors in life. Bowlus says suicide should never be a viable option for those who are struggling emotionally because a flourishing life has a greater life purpose.

He referenced a book titled, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” written by Viktor Frankl, a WWII death camp survivor. The trauma Frankl witnessed and experienced while imprisoned was horrific, and he argued that we can’t avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. According to Frankl, “the primary human drive in life isn’t pleasure but the pursuit of what we, personally, find meaningful.” It’s a mindset that struck Bowlus so profoundly, he said he hopes Army leaders will make the book required reading for Soldiers.

“There are certain values in life that lead to a life worth living despite the trauma,” said Bowlus.

Knowing the responsibility leaders have when it comes to caring for their Soldiers, it’s important they consider all domains that directly contribute to resilience. Army Chaplains strive to help develop meaning and purpose in Soldier’s lives by helping Soldiers and Families develop personal spiritual readiness. Bowlus believes when Soldiers learn to demonstrate positive coping skills, a greater sense of personal agency and purpose, and a strong sense of belonging, it can only be a good thing.

Unit Ministry Teams are the subject matter experts of spirituality, and Bowlus said whatever ways and programs can integrate spiritual readiness into Soldier’s lives is incredibly important for their well-being and the readiness of our Army.

“Human Flourishing will develop leaders of character who are worthy of trust,” Bowlus said, “and I can’t stress enough that flourishing is an F-word that could even save lives.”