Health experts advocate that one way of improving oour lives is through wellbeing which encourages resilient, building of social support, coping with adversity and self-efficacy. But how is wellbeing important to us? How do we get more from it?
WHAT IS WELLBEING?
WELLBEING- Living to Our Full Potential
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.
Wellbeing isn’t as straightforward as just being happy. Wellbeing looks at lots of different elements that make us complex humans tick. It considers how we:
- cultivate meaning and good relationships
- use our strengths
- contribute to a ‘greater’ cause
- find pleasure in losing ourselves in things we find challenging and enjoyable.
Wellbeing also explores the deep satisfaction we find in our social connections and in accomplishing things. Humans inherently want meaning and purpose in life. One way to achieve meaning and purpose is being a part of something greater than yourself.
Wellbeing helps us:
- stay resilient when times get tough
- build social supports and self-efficacy
- emerge from our challenges even stronger, knowing we have the ability to cope with adversity.
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. Mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness rather it’s a state of overall wellbeing.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’
Wellbeing is about making a life where we can contribute to a greater society. Where we can have a more fulfilling existence with meaningful and supportive relationships. Wellbeing gives us a way to discover and explore our strengths. Wellbeing helps us live life to our full potential.
WAYS TO WELLBEING
A pioneer of positive psychology, Professor Martin Seligman, tells us that wellbeing is made up of five main factors that contribute to human flourishing. He believes we should choose to maximise all five elements to achieve greater wellbeing, and in turn flourish. These ‘building blocks’ of wellbeing are easily remembered as the acronym ‘PERMA’ and as follow;
- Positive emotion;
Feelings of pleasure, happiness, satisfaction, comfort. We can take responsibility for our feelings, cultivating happiness and gratitude.
Living an engaged life, being absorbed and connected to activities to the point where we lose track of time and effort (flow).
Connections to other people and relationships give us support, meaning and purpose in life. Positive relationships have been found to have enormous influence on our wellbeing.
Being part of and working towards something that’s much larger than yourself rather than purely pursuing material wealth, it might be a political party, a charity, leading your local soccer team, helping your religious group, school council, or being a passionate bush regenerator, refugee advocate or volunteer in a shelter. Spiritual people have been found to have more meaningful lives, because they believe in something greater than themselves.
Pursuing success, achievement and mastery of things for their own sake can build self-esteem, self-efficacy (useful in tough times) and a sense of accomplishment.
Working on each of these factors (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment) can help us flourish in all aspects of life.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO IMPROVE OUR WELLBEING?
It’s good to know there are lots of things we can do to enhance our wellbeing. These skills are now being taught in some schools and to business leaders across the world. We can all learn new ways to feel more positive emotions, have stronger relationships, and find meaningful work.
The following elements all contribute to wellbeing and resilience:
(A) Finding your strengths and using them;
Positive psychologists have found that some of the happiest people on the planet are those who have discovered their unique strengths and used their strengths for a purpose that’s greater than their own personal goals or benefit. In wellbeing theory, there are 24 strengths that underpin PERMA. These fall under the following six categories:
- Wisdom (creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective)
- Courage (bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest or enthusiasm)
- Humanity (love, kindness, social intelligence)
- Justice (teamwork, citizenship, fairness, leadership)
- Temperance (forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-control)
- Transcendence (appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality)
Interestingly, these six categories are valued in almost every culture.
(B) Finding Flow;
Have you ever been so immersed in doing something that you looked up and had no idea of what time it was? Did you find you weren’t jaded or tired, even though you’d been doing it for a long time?
Flow is a state of complete immersion in an activity
Flow happens when you’re so absorbed by an activity that you’re no longer aware of time or worries, and even lose your sense of self.
One of the pioneers of the concept of flow is Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’s also one of the founders of positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi first developed the concept of flow when he was trying to understand when people enjoyed themselves most.
What does being in flow feel like?
Csikszentmihalyi describes being in flow as ‘being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’ Csikszentmihalyi’s factors to identify flow include:
- intense and focused concentration on the present moment and the activity itself
- merging of action and awareness
- a loss of reflective self-consciousness
- a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- a distortion of temporal experience
- experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarding
- losing all sense of time passing
- non-awareness of any physical needs.
Flow is a state of joy, creativity and total involvement. Our problems disappear, and there’s a feeling of transcendence. You’re usually applying all your attention to something challenging, and concentrating so much that you enter a ‘flow’ state. Flow happens when you’re quite challenged or doing something you love. It happens in different ways for all of us. Some sportspeople achieve a state of flow and describe it as being ‘in the zone’. Others experience flow whilst painting or playing a musical instrument.
What are the benefits of flow?
Csikszentmihalyi found that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of flow.
‘The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.’ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
When we are in a flow state of consciousness, we are so completely absorbed in an activity that we feel:
- effortlessly in control
- a loss of self-consciousness (forget yourself and all your worries)
- an expression of creative and higher order abilities
- a heightened sense of awareness of the present (also known as ‘being in the zone’)
- we are so focused
- here is no negative thinking or discomfort.
Flow can also improve our performance and helps us master new skills. For example, in a sporting performance, musical concert, teaching others, learning, pursuing a creative task, a work task, or exam situation.
Things you can do to find your flow;
Flow can happen in whatever it is that you’re completely absorbed in. Flow can happen while you’re studying a new topic or learning a new skill – something that requires you to extend/challenge yourself, such as:
- surfing, skiing, rock climbing, building, painting, gardening, inventing, solving puzzles, playing backgammon, chess or cards playing sport, doing yoga, playing music, playing an instrument, dancing, on a challenging bush-walk, writing, reading, drawing, designing at work – when you’re totally engaged in the task.
(C) MINDFULLNESS AND MEDITATION
Mindfulness is good for your health, happiness and wellbeing. Through mindfulness we can enhance our experience of the present. Research shows mindfulness can even have a positive effect on our brain function.
Mindfulness has been adapted for use in the treatment of depression, especially preventing relapse and assisting with mood regulation.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness training adapted from Buddhist mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment, without making judgment. It allows us to experience our body and feelings in each moment with acceptance, and helps free us of mental ‘clutter’.
When we are being mindful, we simply allow our thoughts to come and go. We don’t need to question or judge what’s happening in our thoughts. If we can cultivate this ability to observe our thoughts as simply thoughts without ‘buying in’ to them, we can free ourselves of our tendency to overthink and be critical of ourselves and others.
How does mindfulness help us?
Our lives are so fast and full of stresses and distractions, it’s easy to run on autopilot (mindlessly) and become agitated by all the conflicting thoughts and buzz in our heads. Mindfulness helps us stop getting caught up in thinking about the past or worrying about the future. It helps us slow down and be in the ‘now’.
Mindfulness can change the way our brain and nervous system function. It can allow our parasympathetic nervous system to take over and place us in a state of rest, healing and restoration. When people practice mindfulness, they are able to achieve lasting positive changes to their wellbeing.
Mindfulness can help improve:
– our concentration
– our relationship
– show we feel pain emotionally and physically
– how we deal with our problems
– our clarity – without all the negative thoughts cluttering our head, assisting decision making and higher order thinking.
Other benefits of mindfulness
– increase positive and how happy we feel about life
– help us manage stress
– increase brain function – improving memory and creativity
– improve how well we get along with others.
It can also:
– be useful in helping many health conditions that arise due to stress like anxiety and depression
– slow down ‘hypervigilance’, where we’re constantly stressed and ‘on guard’ for danger
– stop us dwelling on negative thought patterns about ourselves and others.
Mindfulness-based cognitive behaviour therapy
Mindfulness is now the basis of mindfulness-based cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. Our brains can become better at remembering negative things and start fixing on them – rather than focusing on positive thoughts and the good times. Rumination and dwelling on the negative can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. In CBT, people are taught ways to challenge their negative thinking patterns.
Mindfulness helps people learn to just observe their negative thoughts and accept that they are just thoughts. They learn ways to give them less energy and how to respond to them in different ways.
The key to increasing mindfulness is to keep trying. It can be tricky when you first begin. The more you practice mindfulness the easier it becomes and the more benefits are felt.
Try mindfulness meditation;
There are thousands of guided examples online and apps built just for this.
We can use our breath as an ‘anchor’ for our emotions.
Try this for a few minutes each day:
– find a quiet space
– spend a few minutes noticing your breathing
– feel your breath entering and leaving your nostrils
– feel the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.
BODY SCAN MEDITATION:-
Find a quiet and comfortable space. Start with your breath as a focus, and then slowly move through each part of your body starting with the tips of your toes, paying particular attention to the way it feels and whether there’s any tension there.
Take some breaths, and feel the muscles in that area relax.
Move onto the next part of your body until you work all the way up to your facial muscles and the top of your head.
It’s an excellent way to enter a deeply relaxed state.
HAVE A WALK OUTSIDE:-
- This is a good one to do on a quick lunch break.
- Take time to notice aspects of a place in detail.
- Feel the sensation of your feet as they strike the ground.
- Feel the air on your skin.
- Take some deep breaths.
- Notice the smell of the grass or people’s lunches. Look at the way a tree bends, notice something beautiful like the shimmer of water in a puddle or lake, notice the sounds of your surroundings.
- Try to stay in the present. Let other thoughts go and enjoy this moment.
BE OUTSIDE AND CLOSE YOUR EYES;-
Sit outside in the evening and simply close your eyes.
Notice the smells and sounds of your surroundings. Enjoy the beauty and feeling of taking this time out to just ‘be.’
Recognise that thoughts are just thoughts – you don’t need to react to them.
REMEMBER THE GOOD TIMES:-
Remember positive things that happened in your day, or recall a good memory when something great happened or you were appreciated for something.
Remember what it was like, the weather, the sounds, smells, the songs that were playing, how you were feeling – happy, proud, excited, calm or intense.
Take some full breaths as you remember the scene and how you felt at the time.
SAVOUR THE MOMENT:-
Savouring gives deliberate and conscious attention to pleasure and enjoyment. You might like to share an enjoyable experience with someone else. Tell them how much you’re enjoying it.
Listen to your favourite music. To sharpen your perception, close your eyes and savour the experience. Allow yourself to become completely absorbed.
Gratitude can have enormous benefits in all aspects of life. It helps us flourish at home, in relationships and at work. Gratitude is about giving thanks and celebrates life’s good things. It helps us build positive emotions.
Cultivating gratitude costs us little or no money, takes only small amounts of time and effort, yet it yields enormous benefits to ourselves and those around us.
When we make time to celebrate the things we love and are thankful for, we are also living more mindfully.
What are the other benefits of gratitude?
When we live with gratitude, we start to appreciate all the things that make us who we are. Our constant heartbeat, our ability to sing or stretch or laugh. The way our bodies move and carry us. Our friends and colleagues.
Respecting and being thankful for even small things around us can enhance our energy, mental health and overall wellbeing.
Gratitude spreads positivity;
When someone receives our gratitude, we not only make ourselves feel good; we spread happiness and strength to the recipient. When we recognise and appreciate the strengths in others it helps them feel positive about themselves too.
Gratitude strengthens relationships;
Showing gratitude in our personal lives can also strengthen our closest relationships, opening up better communication and trust. People with strong social supports tend to be more resilient when dealing with challenges in life.
Gratitude is good for workers;
Managers who simply say “thank you” and show genuine appreciation to their staff often find their staff want to stay on board and keep working hard. Some have even stated they’d prefer thanks and acknowledgment to financial incentives.
Gratitude improves psychological health;
Researchers have found links between gratitude and wellbeing. It can boost happiness and even reduce depression. Showing gratitude over-rides negative and destructive emotions like anger, envy, frustration and regret.
Gratitude helps you celebrate others’ strengths;
It reduces social comparisons – rather than feeling envy of others’ achievements, you can appreciate their success.
Gratitude can even help you sleep better;
Spending 15 minutes writing in a gratitude journal at night can enable people to sleep better and longer.
Gratitude can increase resilience;
Studies have shown gratitude has a role in overcoming trauma. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for, even at some of the toughest times in your life, can build your resilience.
An ‘attitude of gratitude’ makes us more optimistic;
Developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ makes us more optimistic and helps us celebrate all the things we can be thankful for, rather than focusing on the negative. Optimism makes us happier, healthier and can even increase how long we live.
Some things to think about
– What are some things that make you happy?
– What kinds of things inspire you?
– What are the things (or people) who nurture you?
– What experiences and thoughts do you want more of?
– How do you express gratitude?
Some ways to cultivate gratitude in your life include:
- slowing down and appreciate some simple things around you – like the coolness of a breeze or a steaming cup of tea or a wonderful song.
- saying thanks to others often – and do it with authenticity.
- writing a note to someone in your life who has done something helpful or special, who you’ve not thanked properly.
- connecting with the great outdoors – being outside in nature helps us de-stress and put things into perspective. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face and be thankful for the fresh air, tiny creatures on a leaf, or clouds scudding across the sky.
- counting your blessings. Each night for a week, write down three good things that happened that day. They might just be little things like “my mum called” or “a nice person smiled at me”, or “I was at work 5 minutes early” – or it might be something really big like getting a promotion or making a team.
- celebrating with family. Sit down as a family at dinner and talk about the three best things that happened to each of you that day. Ask why this good thing happened and how you can find more good things in the future
- learning to forgive. Holding feelings of regret, anger, jealousy and bitterness undermines our wellbeing. Learning to forgive can change these negative feelings. When we forgive, we can make these feelings neutral, and even sometimes feel positive and repair relationships.
- receiving thanks from others with grace, and allow yourself to be appreciated and loved.