How do we define wellbeing? Is it a balanced state of mind, a healthy lifestyle, feeling happy and healthy and content in life, or is it a mix of all of the above?
Based on a couple of very distinct views of human nature, there are two popular theories surrounding what really contributes to our sense of wellbeing. These two theories are termed the hedonic approach and the eudaimonic approach.
The hedonic approach to wellbeing focuses on happiness and the pursuit of pleasure via the human appetite and sensation for the body and mind. This approach to well-being places value on the avoidance of pain and can be evaluated by three components of subjective well-being (SWB) which includes a combination of:
- Life satisfaction
- Presence of a positive mood
- Absence of a negative mood
Basically, if you are in a good mood and feeling satisfied in life, you are happy and have an overall sense of well-being. This approach is often linked to our ideas of happiness in life and how to achieve such a state, but it doesn’t focus on the factors that might contribute to such end result feelings such as a sense of purpose in life, which brings us to the next approach to well-being.
The eudaimonic approach (championed by the likes of Aristotle) focuses on meaning and self-realisation in life. It is an expression of virtue, of finding value in doing things that are truly worth doing, and even though an outcome may not always be valuable, it doesn’t have to bring happiness to deliver a sense of well-being, as subjective happiness does not equal well-being. Rather, in order to achieve a sense of wellbeing according to this approach, life’s activities should align with one’s personal values, authenticity, and one should truly be who they are—a concept called personal expressiveness (PE). This approach to well-being is more related to personal growth and development, as well as being challenged to stretch and grow.
As you can see, the idea of wellbeing isn’t so cut and dry. There are a variety of nuances to this concept and the various dimensions and facets include a mixture of both theories. One thing that well-being is not is the absence of mental illness. Especially today, as more and more mental health disorders are on the rise. Mental illness doesn’t take away one’s ability to experience a sense of well-being in life. It merely presents an additional hurdle to overcome on the path toward well-being.
WHAT ARE THE AREAS THAT INFLUENCE WELL-BEING?
There are a variety of factors that contribute to each unique individual’s personal sense of wellbeing each day. These include:
- Personality and other individual differences
- Physical health
- Attachments and relatedness
- Goal pursuit
Personality and other individual differences, such as our level of extraversion, ability to interact with others socially, and our level of conscientiousness and agreeableness are all important contributions to our well-being. These factors positively influence our subjective wellbeing through an increased level of self-acceptance. Our openness to experiences also has a positive impact on us as it helps stimulate personal growth—influencing our wellbeing in a completely different way. Neuroticism, on the other hand, is a negative personality trait that can have a detrimental impact on our subjective wellbeing.
Emotions influence our level of well-being as they relate to our level of emotional intelligence and ability to manage and self-regulate our emotions and recognise the emotions of others. The nature of our emotions also plays into our level of well-being as in general, the more positive experiences and emotions we have, (in both frequency and intensity) the greater our sense of wellbeing will be. On the flip side, if we are to suppress our emotions, withhold them, or try to mask them, it will have a negative effect on our sense of well-being.
Physical health is another important component of our overall sense of well-being. This factor is not so easy to determine in terms of its impact on our sense of well-being as our perception of health has more of an impact than the state of our health as it relates to well-being. For example, a person with a terminal illness may be assumed to have a negative sense of wellbeing but this isn’t necessarily true. This is more personal and subjective of a factor than one may think. Our subjective perceptions of our health are important as are our energy levels, vitality, etc.
Attachments and relatedness with warm, supportive, and trusting individuals with whom we’ve formed solid relationships are of fundamental importance as it relates to our sense of well-being. Some researchers say that this is even the most important influence on well-being. It is not about how many people we are connected with, but the quality of the connections that we have. This is very much a quality over quantity factor. And while connectedness has a positive impact on well-being, loneliness has a detrimental effect on well-being. It is by feeling understood by others and engaging in meaningful conversations and having fun with those we care about that contribute so significantly to our overall well-being in life.
Goal pursuit involves the level of motivation that we put forth toward pursuing and achieving our goals. This component of well-being is so important and has so much useful and valuable information surrounding it that it is going to get its own blog post at a future date, so stay tuned.
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