Think about this: What is wellbeing for you? How do you know when you’ve found it? How do you know when you’ve lost it?
In today’s world we as a society are facing extremely tough challenges in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, trauma, racial inequality, unemployment, economic recession, climate change and so much more. So where really is this space in our current lives for wellbeing? And does the concept even exist? Even before all this started and personally having come from a background of trauma, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with the idea of the ‘good life’ - wellbeing, happiness, growth and fulfilment so much so that it drove me to study it. Now more than halfway into my Master’s Programme in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, I still continue to be in awe of this phenomenon of wellbeing and how it fits in with our modern-day agenda. I’ve been putting my heart and soul into its study and research and I look forward to sharing some thoughts here. Firstly, if you didn’t know, the science behind wellbeing is called positive psychology – factors that test, research, discover and promote individuals and communities to thrive and flourish. Or in simple terms – the science of what makes people happy. Positive psychology, a relatively new discipline has been able to offer individuals, societies and the scientific community empirical evidence to support this phenomenon of wellbeing and human flourishing.
So, then what does Positive Psychology say about wellbeing or happiness? Current research on wellbeing is derived from two theories - the hedonic approach which defines wellbeing in terms of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance and the eudaimonic approach which focuses on meaning, fulfilment and self-realisation and defines wellbeing in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning. There is really no best or right approach to wellbeing and more often individuals at different stages of their lives seek one or the other. At this stage, you are probably wondering if everybody can be happy or seek wellbeing. Researchers like Tellegen, Sheldon and Lyubomirsky have been studying happiness for decades and say that after genetics (50%) and life circumstances (10%) approximately 40% of our happiness levels are in our control. I suppose like many of you out there, there was a time I thought that life circumstances controlled our levels of happiness and wellbeing but a large chunk of it, 40% is in our hands.
Five ways to wellbeing: As you can imagine, there have been numerous studies conducted on wellbeing but for today’s post I’ll focus on the findings from the Foresight report and the Gallup’s most recent world poll. Both these reports suggest five crucial elements for wellbeing.
Connection: Research shows that meaningful relationships play a massive role in our wellbeing. More and more countries are beginning to look at Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of national health, in addition to Gross National Product (GNP). The stronger our relationships, the higher our wellbeing and resilience in the face of adversity. I often asked my clients during lockdown what their biggest struggle was and many shared that they missed the human connection – inability to meet family, loved ones, to go out together, to hug and share a meal together. This I think has been the single most important lesson for us during this pandemic, in a world that has lost much of its old patterns we need to establish some new structures. And perhaps the most important structure is setting time aside each day for deep, meaningful, heartfelt conversations with the ones we love.
Being active: Did you and your kids show up every morning to do P.E with Joe Wicks during the lockdown? How many of you went out once a day for exercise during the lockdown? If one thing kept me sane during that whole period was my runs and I am so grateful as it did wonders to my mental wellbeing. Research has shown that physical activity plays a crucial role in our mental health and wellbeing. Being active has tremendous psychological benefits to our overall wellbeing and moving the body can have a massive effect on our mood and cognitive functioning. In these times when stress levels are high, physical activity can not only enhance physical functioning but it can also make us happier, energised, confident and self-regulated individuals.
Taking notice/savouring: This concept of savouring is getting more relevant by the day in our present times. As a nation, community and as individuals we are going through tremendous turmoil. Now more than ever it’s crucial to pause and reflect. Savouring, a positive psychology intervention can be defined as the capacity to attend to, appreciate and enhance the positive experiences in one’s life. Savouring enhances wellbeing and helps us appreciate the big and small things in our life. You may have been hit badly by this pandemic but every day think of the small things you are grateful for and savour the special moments. I’ll share one of my moments with you. Last week I went for a walk with a close friend I hadn’t seen in ages because of the lockdown. Just seeing her and talking to her made me feel so grateful and savouring that moment helped me stretch the experience. Appreciating life in the present moment helps us slow down and attend mindfully to our surroundings, feelings and experiences.
Learning: This is my absolute favourite. By engaging our brains and challenging ourselves to keep learning we can enhance our levels of wellbeing and this I can vouch for personally. This is my second year into my Master’s programme and I’ve seen a boost in my wellbeing, self-esteem, self-confidence and a higher sense of purpose. Research has shown that learning new skills, gaining knowledge and having new experiences can enrich our lives. According to the charity MIND – “Learning can take many shapes and forms including new educational or vocational course, refining existing skills, challenging ourselves to develop new Broadening our minds helps us gain insight into life, ourselves, and the world around us, which are all good things for our mental wellbeing.”
Giving: People who engage in random acts of kindness, altruism and being of service to others are shown to have high levels of wellbeing. Have you ever noticed how good you feel when you do something nice for another person? Research shows that random acts of kindness can increase serotonin levels and that works to regulate your mood and balance your body’s healing system. The rush that you experience after performing an act of kindness is followed by a sense of calm and overall wellbeing. Over the past three months, we have seen unbelievable acts of kindness and volunteering on both individual and community levels.
So there you have it my friends, five evidence-based approaches to wellbeing. Some of you may be engaging in all the above interventions and that’s great but if you have been feeling overwhelmed lately with everything that’s been going on and want to start somewhere, I’ll just say pick one and focus on that. Start by getting active and decide to go on a walk everyday or take some time to build meaningful connections. If you are looking for deeper work on wellbeing and growth after trauma, please get in touch.