I love to question, research, ponder and discover. Yes, I am unashamedly a lover of learning and there is one question I've been asking for the past two years:
Surely that is pretty simple to answer - right? You might be wondering how I could take two years to work out the answer to that, but before I give my response, I would be interested in your definition of wellbeing and how you came up with it. So pause, and take a moment to consider your own definition before reading on.....
Wellbeing is a word that is often used to describe multiple things and is therefore often misunderstood. Perhaps you define wellbeing as being in good health and it is about eating well, taking vitamins, being fit and getting to the gym, doing yoga or having health checks. Or perhaps you see it like wellness, imagining a retreat from the busyness of your fast paced life, filled with massage therapy, or restorative relaxation practices to recharge your batteries. How about being healthy, happy and prosperous? Or you could define it as having a healthy mind and is the opposite of ill-being. How about being stress free? Or resilient, satisfied, engaged, thriving or flourishing? Yes, wellbeing just like life, is complicated and messy and so has multiple definitions, depending upon the angle you approach it. My angle is looking at the science of psychological, emotional and social wellbeing and building my definition from this. I admit it can be messy and has multiple parts which from a scholarly point of view, is difficult to get agreement on what it means. So let me unpack Wellbeing based on what I've learnt.
Wellbeing = feeling good (happiness) + flourishing (living a meaningful life of virtue).
Feeling good is about happiness and experiencing positive emotions such as love, joy and doing things that put positivity into your day. This is an important as they make us more open to new thoughts, growth and creativity as well as increasing our likelihood to be positive towards other people and build positive relationships.
Flourishing is associated with living a life of virtue, based on a lifelong pursuit of meaningful goals. This looks at wellbeing as a goal in our daily actions to go beyond seeking happiness and live authentically, virtuously and with purpose. What this looks like is different for each individual, is subjective (only you can rate your level of wellbeing) and changes from day to day and in the different domains of our life.
Martin Seligman describes wellbeing as a construct, just like weather, that is made up of a number of elements that make us mentally healthy and well. A strength-based development approach underpins this foundation. Martin Seligman’s wellbeing theory, known as the PERMA model, describes the elements essential to our wellbeing and life satisfaction. Wellbeing is when we
P - experience positive emotions,
E - undertake activities we find energising and engaging,
R - have strong relationships with others,
M - belong and connect to a larger group vision to have a strong sense of meaning and purpose, and
A - when we accomplish things or build competence.
Felicia Huppert recently described wellbeing consisting of 10 parts: Marty's PERMA made up 5 and she added resilience, optimism, emotional stability, self-esteem and vitality.
So defining wellbeing can be messy - it has multiple parts which from a scholarly point of view, is difficult to get agreement on what it means. What is agreed is wellbeing is more than seeking happiness or being positive all the time. It is also important to look at the full spectrum of emotional health and acknowledge the difficulties in our lives. Enhancing our wellbeing is not the answer to all problems, but it is a way to build resources to make us more resilient to stressors and work on ways to move from coping to flourishing.
As wellbeing begins to creep into our daily language and gain greater attention, particularly in the workplace, it is important to define what we think it is, why it matters and then we can agree the best way to build it, sustain it and measure it in the specific context.