Painting of a dancer taking a bow

Épanouissement is the French word for bloom, but this literal botanical sense is only one of the many uses of the word. It also comes closest to that elusive concept that the Declaration of Independence evokes as the right of every US citizen – the pursuit of happiness.

Having trouble finding a French word that immediately correlated with fun, as in wishing someone to “have fun” when they go out, I was intrigued. When I came across the word épanouissement I thought I had found a close relative, but then it’s not word you use casually, and I began to understand that there was a different point of view to the aim of “having fun”, as if that in itself was not a worthy objective because it lacked an element of growth. A rather worthier goal, it appeared, was to s’épanouir.

Épanuoissement is bigger in scope, it is a term that can be used to denote the achievement of full and comprehensive spiritual, moral, intellectual, social and physical development to the greatest extent permitted by an individual’s aptitudes and capacities in the light of the nature, philosophy and aspirations.

Just looking at a few United Nations documents, the word is translated in different ways. In a social sense, for example, it turns into flourish:

Civilisations, ainsi qu’entre les peuples autochtones, les sociétés et les États dans leur ensemble peut donner aux cultures autochtones les moyens de s’épanouir pleinement. (We believe that it is only through intercultural dialogue between generations, cultures and civilizations, as well as between indigenous peoples, societies and States at large that indigenous cultures can fully flourish.)

In another UN document, in a humanitarian context, the word takes on a development sense:

En parrainant un enfant vous lui offrez les moyens de s’épanouir au milieu des siens. (By sponsoring a child, you give him the means to develop in his environment.)

And in a further document, in an education context the translation goes even further and combines the two concepts of thriving and reaching one’s full potential:

Donner à ces enfants les moyens de vivre, de s’épanouir. (Enabling these children to live and thrive and to reach their full potential).

In other instances, s’épanouir can be translated as growing, developing,or allowing someone to reach their plenitude as in la maternité l’a épanouie (becoming a mother made her reach her plenitude).

So if we put all these together, to pursue your épanouissement is to actively move towards those things that help you grow, flourish and develop into your maximum possible state of well-being and to the peak of your potential. It is about happiness, it certainly has an element of fun, but goes a little bit further, to the harmonious and full development of the individual. That will necessarily mean a different thing for each one of us, and perhaps this is what the founding fathers had in mind.

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