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Dr Pam King speaking on Purposeful Lab Podcast.
Purposeful UniverseFebruary 27, 20242 min read

Purposeful Lab: What Does it Mean for Humans to Thrive?

Did you ever wonder what makes humans truly thrive? Dan and Catherine welcome Dr. Pam King to the Purposeful Lab to answer that very question. Dr. King is a professor of applied developmental science and the executive director of the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Seminary. With evolutionary psychology and theology as a guide, Dr. King equips one with the tools and inspiration to find purpose and thrive in today's world.


How Psychology and Theology Help Us Thrive 

Dr. King’s work centers around the meeting points of psychology and theology, particularly how they demonstrate how humans thrive. Dr. King believes that by understanding both disciplines, we can enable people to be who God wants them to be. Fields like theology and philosophy grant us knowledge of more ultimate claims about the nature of the universe, such as the telos or the purpose of aspects of reality. Whereas psychology, as a descriptive scientific discipline, enables us to understand the nuance of the human person and how we act. When the ultimate statements of theology are combined with the descriptive nature of psychology, a more profound image of how humans can thrive is painted. 

What Does it Mean to Thrive? 

According to Dr. King, to thrive means living life on purpose. Humans naturally have adaptive growth towards living purpose in life, in that we are naturally oriented towards thriving. However, much of Western psychology is only concerned with the individual development of the person but fails to give due diligence to relational development. 

Yet, relational development has proven to be more instrumental for humans to thrive than simply autonomous development. Human interactions with each other lay the bedrock for how we interact with the rest of the world and experience ourselves. The stronger our relationships are at a young age, the stronger our ability to thrive becomes. 

Evolutionary Psychology and Thriving 

Evolutionary psychology is the study of how biology impacts how we think, develop, and feel. What the field has shown is that we are born hardwired for relationality and that relationships are essential in order for us to thrive. Children need connection at a very young age in order to develop properly and gain a proper understanding of the nature of the world. 

How it is Hard to Thrive in the Modern World 

The modern world is flooded with superficial relationships. According to Dr. King, most people can manage about 15 truly close relationships, and anything beyond that is typically uncommon. In the grand scheme, most people can only know about 150 acquaintances. This paradigm becomes challenged when people can have hundreds of virtual friends who supply them with artificial feedback through likes and posts. Studies have shown that young people need to intentionally reflect on abstract beliefs in order to repurpose their default neural networks and lay down maps of meaning in their brain. In order to thrive, young people need practical, relational, and belief-building. Social media often poses a challenge to purposeful belief building due to its artificial nature. 

Take a Listen 

Today's episode demonstrates how the enterprise of understanding being human and how to thrive involves the ultimate claims of theology and the descriptive science of psychology. The more we understand what it means to thrive, the more we see that purposeful belief building through interpersonal relationships is essential in order to create thriving persons. We need more than simply individual development in order to thrive; we need relationships built upon pursuing the ultimate purposes in life.  


Purposeful Universe

The Purposeful Universe seeks to explore and present, through award winning videos, the abundant order in nature that funnels biological systems toward increasing levels of complexity and sophistication—suggesting that human life is the purposeful outcome of a complex, ordered system.