Well-being is a buzz word these days. Everyone wants a piece of it and there are endless suggestions on how to get it. How many people do you know that are dabbling in mindfulness and meditation? Earnestly colouring in mandala patterns or partaking in a body scan and breathing exercise after completing their sun salutations? Maybe you (like me) are one of these people!
Next time you walk into a shop, try and count the number of products on sale emblazoned with positive quotes, declarations of happiness and ways to improve your life. We are told that ‘self-love’ isn’t selfish and adverts and popular media encourage us to have ‘me’ time. There’s no doubt that there’s a growing market designed to cater to our interest in personal well-being. In this post we’ll dig a little deeper and explore the question of what well-being is from a positive psychology perspective …
Well-being and happiness
Positive psychology strives to scientifically answer the question ‘what makes life most worth living’. Within this, the terms happiness and well-being are often used interchangeably to describe feelings such as joy, contentment and a sense that life is meaningful.
There isn’t one solid definition of well-being that’s applicable across individuals or cultures. What gives us joy and brings a sense of satisfaction and meaning to our lives is unique to us. However, the feelings and emotions that both create and are produced by well-being are valued and coveted by people across the world. In addition to this, research has shown that, while happiness is desirable in itself, higher levels of happiness may increase desirable life experiences. People who are happier can enjoy better relationships, more success at work and improved physical and mental health. Luckily, happiness does not have a set point and we can work to consciously improve our well-being.
What contributes to your well-being – giving you a sense of joy, satisfaction and a sense of meaning? It might be time with family, challenge at work, volunteering to help others, walking your dog… there are endless possibilities. How do you feel when you have these experiences? If you take time to reflect on these points, or even write them down, you might be surprised by what you come up with.
Diener, a well-known American psychologist, has conducted prolific research on well-being and is responsible for the definition of subjective well-being (SWB) that is widely used in positive psychology today to assess an individual’s perceived life satisfaction. This is:
SWB = satisfaction with life + high positive affect + low negative affect
To put this into context, this means that people who have a high level of subjective well-being are more satisfied with their life, they experience higher levels of positive emotions/experiences and lower levels of negative ones. If you’re interested in exploring your subjective well-being, have a look at the ‘Satisfaction With Life Scale’ or the ‘Scale of Positive and Negative Experience’.
If these scales aren’t for you, why not just take a moment to think how you would rate your current level of well-being? Reflect on what contributes to your personal well-being and, on a scale of 1-10, think about how you would rate areas of your life e.g. relationships, family, work, health etc.
Are there any areas you are particularly satisfied with? If yes – fantastic – take time to savour and appreciate who/what you have in your life. Most of us will also have areas we would like to make changes to! If you find this applies to you, take time to think about how you could start this process. Some tips that may help include:
- Talking through your goal with someone you trust
- Chunking your goal into smaller, manageable steps
- Making small changes and trying to stick to them
Next time we’ll be looking at two pathways to happiness and enhanced well-being called hedonia and eudaimonia – exploring what these are and how they contribute to personal and collective well-being.
Thanks for reading!