When was the last time you checked in with yourself to see how you’re going? Really going…

Often we focus on those around us and their wellbeing, yet we forget to take the time to ask ourselves “how am I?”

Perhaps you could do it now. So, “how are you?”

The answer we’re trying to find isn’t the one you give to the barista in the morning, or your colleague on Slack, or when responding to a friend’s text… It’s the one that might take a few attempts to uncover. And you may even have to peel back a few layers to find it.

If you need some help, consider giving yourself a score out of 10. Or coming up with the words or a state to describe how you’ve been feeling lately. Or you could find an app or complete a short survey (like the one here).

Tracking how you’re going should be something you do regularly. And know that your wellbeing will ebb and flow depending on what’s going on around you. But the point of working out where you are at, is so you know what is needed to feel better and function at your best. And the great news is that research has uncovered a whole lot of ways for us to take better care of our wellbeing!

What supports wellbeing? 

Wellbeing is everywhere. I see it advertised in the windows of chemists, on loaves of bread, on boxes of tissues and in yoga studios. Not that this is wrong, but it can make it confusing to work out what wellbeing is and what it isn’t.  

Some incredibly smart people have been researching wellbeing for centuries, and they’ve uncovered what the majority of us need, the majority of the time, to be on top of our game. And it’s not just one thing but a whole range of factors. 

Although wellbeing is subjective, there are frameworks out there that leading researchers have developed to help people understand what boosts wellbeing including my favourite PERMAH. Developed by one of the world’s leading researchers in Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, the PERMAH model suggests that when the following is present in our lives, we thrive:

  • Positive Emotions – experiencing heartfelt positivity
  • Engagement – being interested, energised and excited in your work and life
  • Relationships – feeling supported and connected to others
  • Meaning – contributing to something greater than ourselves
  • Accomplishment – achieving the things that matter
  • Health – resting, eating and moving well.

I like this model for many reasons. It’s an acronym that’s easy to remember, it typically resonates with people, it offers choice, it’s simple to understand and to action each of the different elements. It can also be applied in a range of different settings – by teachers in schools, leaders in workplaces, parents at home, coaches with their sporting teams, therapists in 1:1 sessions etc.

Additionally, PERMAH debunks the idea that wellbeing is largely about us feeling physically well. Although health is one pillar, there’s five other areas that are equally important when it comes to our wellbeing.

The model has been likened to a pilot’s dashboard. Just as there are multiple dials and buttons to fly a plane, there’s lots we need to run well too.

How do I action wellbeing?

I use PERMAH to regularly check-in with myself. If I’m not feeling my best, I refer to the six elements, and do a quick gauge of where each is at – where I’m doing well and where I might be lagging. This then tells me where I need to focus my efforts. There’s no use exerting energy on an activity that doesn’t meet your needs and won’t provide the outcome you seek.

So which is it for you? Just pick one or two. And it doesn’t have to be the element/s that you’re not doing so well in. To make sure you’re motivated, you should choose the factor/s that you want to focus on (and not somebody else). The one/s that you believe will help you to feel and function better. 

Then it’s about creating strategies to improve those factor/s by doing more of the following: 

  • Positive Emotions – what sparks positivity in your life? 
  • Engagement – what brings on flow for you?
  • Relationships – who makes you feel like you belong?
  • Meaning – how are you living out your purpose?
  • Accomplishment – what are you hoping to achieve this week or month?
  • Health – what makes you feel healthy? 

For each of the above, there’s a whole lot of activities that you can do that have been shown in research to boost wellbeing. But know that you’re probably doing a lot of them already!

How often do I need to focus on wellbeing?

Wellbeing is something we need to be regularly and intentionally putting effort into. And lucky it’s not something that requires us to add hours and hours to our already full schedules.

There’s a great saying in wellbeing science that “tiny is mighty”. It’s the small and consistent efforts put towards wellbeing, which have the biggest positive impact over time. So rather than dedicating four hours a week to wellbeing, you’re better off doing something for five minutes every day over the longer term. Just like going for one run doesn’t mean you’re suddenly fit! This is typically reassuring for people who don’t have a lot of spare time (who does?). But consistency is the key here.

I’m a firm believer that everyone has some capacity to focus on wellbeing each day (maybe by swapping time spent on social media). And those that do, are more able to thrive, and will reap the rewards.

What else needs to be considered?

Although there’s a lot within control when it comes to our wellbeing, there’s also plenty outside of our control. Things like our work, our family and friends, our communities and our governments can contribute to the way we feel and function. And each of these can have either a positive or negative impact on our wellbeing.

For example, you could be doing everything as well as you could to care for your wellbeing but if you’re part of a toxic workplace, this could cause your wellbeing to dip. If we look at the happiest countries in the world, Denmark, Finland and Iceland consistently record higher rates of wellbeing compared with Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sierra Leone, which might have something to do with the people that run them and the political state they’re in.

Despite there being things outside of our control, there’s still so much within our own hands to action. So, as we head into a long weekend and a few well-deserved days off, I hope you give your wellbeing a boost in whatever way you need!