What is wellbeing?
It is easy to think that good health means just the absence of disease, injury or pain. But is that really what we are all aiming for? Wellbeing takes things a few steps further. The New Economics Foundation describes wellbeing as “how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”
So it’s more than just being healthy. It’s also more than having material wealth: “Some people believe that wealth is a fast track to happiness. Yet various international studies have shown that it is the quality of our personal relationships, not the size of our bank balances, which has the greatest effect on our state of wellbeing.” (Better Health Victoria). Wellbeing may be linked to the deep satisfaction we find in our social connections.
It might relate to a persons social, economic, psychological or medical state. The Black Dog Institute says “In positive psychology, wellbeing is a heightened state that’s beyond just feeling happy or having good health. It’s a condition of flourishing, where we thrive in many aspects of our lives.”
Why does it matter?
“…perhaps few subjects are more crucial to understanding the world, and our place in it, than understanding what it means for human beings to flourish” – Happiness and Wellbeing Research
Wellbeing isn’t just about attaining some heightened happy state. It is also about keeping us resilient in the face of stressors. “A strong sense of wellbeing contributes to good mental health. It also helps to protect us from feelings of hopelessness and depression, acting as a ‘guardian’ of our mental health” says the Black Dog Institute.
How do we find wellbeing?
Wellbeing is found through having many helpful elements present in our lives. These may include (but not be limited to):
- feeling relatively confident in yourself and have positive self-esteem
- feeling and express a range of emotions
- using our strengths
- building and maintaining good relationships with others
- feeling engaged with the world around you
- finding pleasure in losing ourselves in things we find challenging and enjoyable (aka attaining ‘flow’)
- contributing to a ‘greater’ cause in a way that creates meaning
- connecting with feelings of gratitude, satisfaction and contentment
- being stimulated ‘enough’ by challenges, new experiences and learning
- living and work productively
- coping with the stresses of daily life
- adapting and managing in times of change and uncertainty
Wellbeing takes ongoing focus and care
Wellbeing is not a static state where we achieve it once and for all and can then forget about it. Instead we may need to revisit the things in life that help us feel well, and do this again and again, especially in the face of challenges. One new definition is that wellbeing is the “balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders 2012).
“Wellbeing is not a beach you go and lie on. It’s a sort of dynamic dance and there’s movement in that all the time and actually it’s the functuality of that movement which actually is true levels of wellbeing (Nic Marks, Radio 4, 7 January 2012)
Setting up some regular practices, or habits, and some social structures that embed our wellbeing activities might help.
- making a regular catch up date with friends that help you feel engaged, confident, and free to express a range of emotions
- finding paid or volunteer work where you can use your strengths and contribute to a greater cause
- signing up for a new course or class where you can meet people and learn new skills
- deciding to call key friends or family members for a chat on a regular basis rather than relying mostly on social media for contact
- having some ‘go to’ activities or resources that you can use in times of stress
- having some hobbies or activities that you can immerse yourself in and that are both challenging and enjoyable
- doing volunteer work as a way to extend your social networks
- working on your self image with a counsellor or coach
- having a counsellor, therapeutic group or support group where you can deepen skills in relationships and express a range of emotions
- practicing acknowledging and accepting stressors and challenges through journalling, meditation, or other forms of reflection and self acceptance
- attending to any social, economic, psychological or medical issues in your life that may be reducing wellbeing, including getting help where needed
Of course the activities that help might look different for everyone, and we may draw on some of these resources more at some times than others.
How does revisiting the concept of wellbeing help in your situation? Which aspects of a flourishing life might you want to attend to going forward?
[Note: text in bold /emphasis in text by this author, not the original sources].
Black Dog Institute ‘What is Wellbeing?’ https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/general-wellbeing
Better Health Victoria https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing
Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders (2012) ‘The challenge of defining wellbeing’ International Journal of Wellbeing http://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/viewFile/89/238?origin=publicati
Edinburgh Napier University https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-environment/research-themes/wellbeing
Mind UK www.mind.org.uk
New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Wellbeing: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation.
Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines. Saint Louis University. Wellbeing Research FAQ http://www.happinessandwellbeing.org/wellbeing-research-faq
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