Wellbeing is defined as “the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous”. The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” I would add a third opinion: wellbeing is a state of existence that allows us to achieve our potential and gain maximum fulfillment from our lives.
The five ways to wellbeing
In recent years, there has been a lot of research around how we can achieve this seemingly blissful state. My feeling is that wellbeing is not a utopia, rather, it is an ideology that we can aspire to and a journey we can take. Recent research has identified some measurable behaviours that we can implement that will allow us to work towards our wellbeing goals. These have become known as the five ways to wellbeing and are as follows:
- Be active
- Take notice
Connect is arguably the most important of the ways to wellbeing. As humans, we are inherently social beings. We all need that human contact, that feeling of connectedness and the sense of social wellbeing that connecting with others gives us. Within our day, we should all make the effort to make real connections with others; not just the polite pleasantries we may exchange, but a connection that has some meaning or purpose to it. Consider making a new connection with someone on a deeper level.
It is a well established fact that exercise has a beneficial effect on our physical and mental health. It goes without saying that we should all try and have a regular exercise regime but I believe being active goes further than that, in terms of being active in our community and amongst our peers. Take, for example, the student who gains a voice by being active in a school council, or the pensioner who leads a group fighting for equal rights. Does this kind of activity not also have some benefit for wellbeing?
This has I believe two components. Firstly, noticing your own body and sensations within and secondly, taking notice of your immediate environment and the sensory input you receive. Both rely on sensory input and awareness, taking notice of what your senses are telling you and allowing yourself to be “in the moment” and in touch with your senses. Practitioners of meditation are also very practised in these techniques.
Again, fairly obvious, perhaps. We tend to learn most when we are in the early stages of life but there is plenty of research to suggest that learning as a lifelong process does deliver wellbeing benefits throughout our whole lifespan. As young adults, we perhaps learn to achieve and fulfill societal and familial expectations, however, even as we get towards the end of our lifespan, learning can continue to provide a boost to our well being by keeping cognitive functions intact.
A very powerful tool. The act of giving has an enormous power to enhance our own wellbeing. Giving to others has an actual physiological effect: releasing hormones in our body which make us feel happy. Regular giving, e.g. random acts of kindness, repeats that hormone release, giving us a short term boost. Studies also show that repeated acts of giving improve our feeling of happiness and wellbeing consistently over time.
So, where does all this leave us? I believe that doing some or all of the above does lead to an overall increase in your state of wellbeing. These measures need to be incorporated into your daily lifestyle and most importantly, the measures you choose to implement must be done consistently. Even small changes can make big differences over time. Try just one or two of these methods yourself. See what a difference it can make!