The word wellbeing gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s often misused and as a result it’s misconstrued. Despite a lot of research and discussion, there’s no universal consensus on how it should be defined. And this isn’t surprising given it would be hard to agree on one definition of wellbeing for every person on the planet. In fact, there is a 44 page document that covers a whole range of different descriptions.

My first post from May 2018 covered this topic, and now over 70 posts later, I will take another deep dive into wellbeing – what it is, what boosts it, why it’s important to prioritise, and what well workplaces look like.

What is wellbeing?

In the past, wellbeing may have been thought of as the absence of illness i.e., you’re not unwell so you’re well. But this is only part of the equation, wellbeing is also the presence of positive qualities in our lives. Things like living a life of meaning (known as eudaimonia). This idea was spoken about by one of the most well-known philosophers Aristotle, who suggested that this pursuit was more important than chasing happiness or in-the-moment pleasure (known as hedonia).

Wellbeing is more than happiness (although this does make up part of it), it’s not just about mental health (yet wellbeing forms part of having good mental health) and it shouldn’t be confused with wellness, which is much more focused on your physical health.

A quick google search states that wellbeing is a “state of being comfortable, healthy or happy”. A better definition from the New Economics Foundation (2012) suggests that “wellbeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.” So it’s about feeling good and functioning well.

Although a number of models or frameworks exist that can guide us on some of the common ingredients that make-up wellbeing, these will be different for each of us as our wellbeing is also influenced by our cultures, personalities and experiences, and the systems to which we belong like our workplaces, sports clubs and schools. Additionally, we can look at wellbeing through a number of different lenses including physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual and economic.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that wellbeing seems complex, which it is. But in some ways, it’s simple so it can be a bit of a paradox.

How can we improve our wellbeing?

Wellbeing is something we need to put effort into. Just like getting fit and strong to run a marathon, strengthening your wellbeing takes time.

Research has uncovered some of the factors that make-up our wellbeing, which are listed below. Intuitively, they make a lot of sense but often we don’t focus on them or we make choices that actually undermine our wellbeing instead.

Some wellbeing factors include:

  • Sense of meaning and purpose
  • Strong relationships
  • Challenging and fulfilling career
  • Having a pet
  • Financial means
  • Physical health
  • Optimistic and hopeful outlook
  • Goals and working towards them
  • Being grateful
  • Learning and development
  • Connections with nature
  • Positive emotions and experiences
  • Self awareness
  • Hobbies that make you feel good
  • Time in solitude
  • Coping skills to deal with challenges and stress
  • Self-care practises.

These elements are common to most people but the specifics of each will differ for every person. Although each is supported by evidence, research only tells us what works for some people some of the time. Unfortunately there is no cookie-cutter approach to wellbeing so you need to try out the activities and learn what works best for you.

Your wellbeing will also ebb and flow during the course of your life depending on what’s going on, so it won’t be on an upward trajectory all the time!

Why do we want greater wellbeing?

Wellbeing has been linked to some really positive life outcomes.

Those who have greater wellbeing, tend to be healthier and happier, they’re more satisfied with life, liked by others, energetic, productive, and they tend to live longer. Those with higher wellbeing are better friends, employees and citizens.

It doesn’t mean you never experience challenges or difficult situations but having higher wellbeing means you can cope better during tough times.

Given these benefits, we should all want to boost our wellbeing, and to be aiming to thrive in our lives.

How does wellbeing differ from resilience?

Resilience was without a doubt one of the top buzzwords of 2020, and speaks to being able to bounce-back from challenges.

Resilience and wellbeing are strongly related. The factors that increase our wellbeing, boost our resilience too. What this means is that when you have greater wellbeing, you’re most likely going to be very resilient, and vice-versa.

When we focus on our wellbeing, we’re actively building our mental health account, which can be drawn upon when needed. Because everything is easier to tackle when you’re at your best i.e., you can’t pour from an empty cup!

What is workplace wellbeing?

At an organisational level, wellbeing is about creating an environment where people and performance thrive. Well organisations have a positive culture and are places where people want to come to work. Workers are satisfied with their jobs, can use their strengths, they’re engaged and enjoy their work, they’re better performers, more motivated, creative and productive, and they work better in teams. These workplaces understand that prioritising wellbeing has positive impacts on their bottom-line (Deloitte; KPMG; PwC; WHO) from reduced mental health costs, less turnover, better productivity and performance, and the recruitment of talent etc.

Some of the ways organisations can support the wellbeing of their workers include:

  • Enabling job crafting
  • Leveraging strengths
  • Sharing a strong vision and purpose
  • Providing sufficient resources to meet demands
  • Leaders offering support including providing regular feedback
  • Strengthening relationships amongst workers
  • Providing training and development
  • Celebrating successes
  • Ensuring psychological safety.

The aim should be to build organisations where employees are better off having worked there.

So if you’re keen to improve your wellbeing, the first step is to work out what wellbeing means to you. Secondly, you should measure where your wellbeing currently sits, and you can do this by completing this free 5-minute questionnaire. Lastly, set a meaningful wellbeing goal for yourself, which can be big or small, over the short or long term, and then take action.

And remember wellbeing requires consistent practise and effort!