What is Well-being?
Well-being can be thought of as a broad description of your overall sense of fulfillment and contentment, which in turn determines our emotional and mental health. The CDC summarizes “well-being” as judging life positively and feeling good. A state of well-being can be achieved even after major life setbacks, like the diagnosis of a chronic disease, making well-being an essential component of the healing process.
Why is Well-being Important for Health?
The health-related benefits of well-being include disease prevention, faster recovery times, better immune functioning, and even a longer life. Our emotions can have a very real impact on physical functions, for example blood pressure, heart rate, sleep, and digestion, to name a few. We know that mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are more common among people with long term illnesses and serious medical conditions. Very real, biological pathways between the brain and the immune system exist; a harmful emotional or mental state can damage our bodies on the cellular and molecular levels. Additionally, negative emotions and poor mental health often manifest themselves in adverse behaviors, such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use, which are obviously counterproductive to the healing process.
On the other hand, a healthy emotional and mental state may manifest itself in not only a positive mood, but in improved physical functioning, both of which contribute to improved quality of life.
How can well-being be created or improved?
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Healthy Minds study the science behind happiness and well-being. They have identified four core components that contribute to a sense of well-being. The good news? They view these components as learned skills, that can be honed with practice. Here are the four components and some tips for how to improve in each area:
Put simply: being present in the moment and not letting our minds wander. Research concludes that when people live in the present moment, they are happier.
To enhance your awareness, take part in mindfulness practices, like meditation or yoga. Even just taking a minute or two to pause, take in your surroundings and focus on your breath can be a healthy mindfulness practice to improve awareness and contribute to an overall sense of well-being.
The connection componenet is our emotional ability to have successful relationships with others. Having meaningful relationships with others substantially contributes to a sense of well-being. Relationships are created and flourish based on emotional attributes like appreciation, gratitude, kindness, and compassion.
The good news? These attributes can be learned through practices such as showing generosity and compassion – we can make ourselves feel better by helping others! One great way to do this is by volunteering, which research has shown results in health benefits for the volunteer. Regularly reflecting on what you are grateful for and practicing forgiveness are other strategies to boost your capacity to establish and nurture healthy connections and improve well-being.
An understanding of how our own self works. Basically, the story we tell ourselves about…ourselves. A healthy self-narrative begins with the belief that we are flexible, evolving beings who can adapt to change and are capable of happiness, despite setbacks. This belief promotes resilience, which is especially important when facing a long-term illness.
What is resilience? According the American Psychological Association, it is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. In the simplest of terms, it means our ability to bounce back.
Research has found several factors that are associated with resilience:
- The ability to make realistic plans and take the necessary steps to carry them out
- A positive self-image; confidence in your strengths and abilities
- Communication and problem-solving skills
- Impulse control and the ability to manage strong emotions
Building resilience is an ongoing process. Here are some strategies to help you along the way:
- Make connections and nurture relationships
- Don’t view any challenge as impossible
- Accept change as part of life
- Develop realistic, bite-sized goals
- Take decisive actions
- View challenges as an opportunity for self-discovery
- View yourself in a positive light
- Maintain perspective
- Have a hopeful outlook
- Practice self-care
The information contained on this page is adapted from The Road to Resilience Guide (American Psychological Association). Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
A bounty of research points to having a sense of purpose as being a significant contributor to well-being and happiness. Purpose can also be thought of as what inspires us, what we live for, or our ultimate motivation in life. By reflecting and focusing on your purpose, and aligning it with your daily behavior, you can nurture your own sense of well-being.
For more information on purpose, visit the Motivation tab on The First Step page of this website.