What is Wellbeing?
While there are many descriptions of wellbeing, the fact that it’s important to all people is irrefutable. Wellbeing has many components, such as mental, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual.
Social Wellbeing is a sense of belonging to a community and making a contribution to society.
Emotional Wellbeing means feeling good. Being happy, experiencing positive emotions like love, joy or compassion, and feeling generally satisfied with life.
Spiritual Wellbeing can include feeling connected to a higher power, a sense of meaning or purpose or feelings of peace or transcendence.
The World Health Organisation describes ‘wellbeing’ as a “resource for healthy living” and “positive state of health” that is “more than the absence of an illness” and enables us to function well: psychologically, physically, emotionally and socially. In other words, wellbeing’ is described as “enabling people to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, form positive relationships with others and meaningfully contribute to the community” (Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008).
Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at Warwick University (UK) and wellbeing expert explains that wellbeing can take many forms but a useful description is “feeling good and functioning well and feeling happy is a part of wellbeing but far from the whole”.
There is a deeper kind of wellbeing, which is about living in a way that is good for you and good for others around you. Further to this concept of wellbeing:
- Feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement with their community, are characteristic of someone who has a positive experience of their life.
- Equally important to wellbeing, is our capacity to psychologically function well in the world. Maintaining positive relationships, having some control over one’s life and having a sense of purpose, self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult, but it does mean that you feel you can cope with tough times.
It’s important to understand that ‘wellbeing’ or ‘being- well’ as something you do, rather than something you are. The things we do and the way we think can have a big impact on our experience!
Benefits from Wellbeing
Hundreds of research studies have proven, wellbeing doesn’t just feel good – it’s important for happier, healthier living:
- Optimism and positive emotions can reduce the risk of a heart attack by up to 50%. Optimism can be learnt!
- Experiencing three times more positive emotions compared to negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things.
- Happier people live longer – potentially adding 7½ years to their lifespan.
- Our expression of positive emotions, such as happiness and optimism, influences the people we know, and studies show our positivity can be passed on to others.
- Having high levels of wellbeing has been shown to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of some mental health problems, reduce mental decline as we get older, and increase our resilience.
- A high level of wellbeing is as good for heart health and provides as much protection from coronary heart disease as quitting smoking does.
Research also shows that people who report higher levels of wellbeing tend to be:
- More involved in social activities and community groups
- Environmentally responsible
- Experiencing better family and social relationships at home
- More productive at work
- More likely to be working or studying full-time
- more likely to recover quicker from a range of chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes), and
- In young people, higher levels of wellbeing significantly influence alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use.
Evidence suggests that the whole population can benefit from being active to increase or maintain their psychological wellbeing. The diagram below (Keys 2002) shows that wellness and illness are not opposites, but rather are on two different measures. It explains how wellbeing can be improved for people who do not have a diagnosed illness but have low levels of wellbeing, and for those who do have a diagnosed illness.
Types of Wellbeing
Psychological wellbeing includes a number of different aspects:
- Autonomy: the freedom to make your own decisions
- Self-acceptance: satisfaction or happiness with oneself. This includes an awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It results in an individual feeling that they are of “unique worth”.
- Mastery: the ability to manage everyday situations.
- Positive relationships with family, friends or others.
- A sense of purpose or meaning in life.
- Personal growth: facing challenges that are manageable and lead to developing new skills or becoming a better person.
Influences on Wellbeing
While there are many influences, it is now broadly understood that the greatest influences on our quality and capacity for optimal wellbeing largely relate to the social and economic conditions of where our lives take place (World Health Organisation 2004).
These influences interact with one another and with other known biological and psychological influences. This makes health and wellbeing complex.
The 5 Ways To Wellbeing draws on scientific evidence about protective factors for psychological and emotional wellbeing operating at an individual level.
The most recent and extensive research evidence suggests there are 5 main ways all individuals can play an active role towards improving and maintaining a sense of wellbeing:
- Be Active
- Keep Learning
- Be Aware
- Help Others
- Diener E, Seligman ME. Beyond money. Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest2004;5(1):1–31
- Herrman HS, Saxena S, Moodie R. Promoting Mental Health: Concepts, Emerging Evidence, Practice.A WHO Report in collaboration with the Victoria Health Promotion Foundation and the University of Melbourne. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2005. http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/MH_Promotion_Book.pdf[PDF – 1.98MB]. Accessed Oct. 1, 2010
- World Health Organization. 1949. WHO Constitution. Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://www.who.int/about/en/.
- Ryff CD, Keyes CLM. The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology1995;69(4):719–727
- Keyes CLM. The mental health continuum: from languishing to flourishing in life. J Health Soc Res 2002;43(6):207-222.
- Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008, Final project report – executive summary, The UK Government Office for Science, London