Improving Your Wellbeing

See also: Coping Skills

The word ‘wellbeing’ is used a lot at the moment, especially about our mental health. In recent years, huge attempts have been made to reduce the stigma about talking about mental health. The focus on improving wellbeing has encouraged a move from focusing on symptoms of illness and towards helping people feel well.

The word wellbeing suggests a life without stress or challenge, where everything is easy. However, the reality is obviously very different for most of us. In other words, wellbeing does not just ‘arrive’, it needs nurturing.

This page explains why we should take time to increase our wellbeing. It also sets out how we can do so.

What is Wellbeing?

wellbeing, n. state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy

Oxford English Dictionary

Personal wellbeing has been described as having various elements. For example, expanding on the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, the New Economics Foundation suggests wellbeing is linked to emotional wellbeing, leading a satisfying life, resilience and self-esteem, vitality and positive functioning.

All of these factors affect how we feel we are doing. They are therefore sometimes referred to as subjective wellbeing. This means that they affect how we define our wellbeing ourselves.

The UK’s Office of National Statistics has been recording the nation’s wellbeing since 2010. It uses a series of questions and a number of categories to work out what that means. They include:

  • A subjective wellbeing assessment, such as asking people about how they feel; and

  • Objective factors or facts, such as whether people are employed, the state of their social network, and whether they have a house and family.

These objective factors are often called the social determinants of wellbeing. They are the parts of our life and environment that have a huge impact on how we feel.

This page largely discusses subjective wellbeing. However, Skills You Need contains many pages about how to improve the more objective factors affecting wellbeing too. For example, you can find more about improving your employment status or salary in our pages on transferable skills and personal development.

The Importance of Wellbeing

Personal wellbeing is essentially about health and happiness. Feeling well and being happy with yourself have a range of benefits. For example:

  • Our relationships with others improve if we are content and calm.

  • Feeling angry and stressed creates tension. It often means that we put up barriers and are unforgiving, and this can affect our relationships with others. There is more about this in our page on managing anger.

  • Low self-esteem can lead to fear of failure. This, in turn, makes us defensive and can make us overly controlling to prevent things from going wrong. You can find more about this in our page on self-esteem.

  • Being under stress can make it harder to regulate our emotions. It is harder to cope with the normal stresses and strains of life if we are not resilient or if we have low self-esteem. We tend to function better if we engage more with others. You can find out more about this concept in our pages on emotional intelligence.

Wellbeing is about reaching our potential and being the best versions of ourselves, but without judgement. It is not about reaching a specific set of goals that applies across society. Instead, it is about recognising our successes and working out what it is that makes us happy, so that we can live in a contented way.

Happiness is personal

It is important to stress that what works for one person, and gives them meaning and purpose in life may be very different from what works for someone else.

It is therefore easier to improve your wellbeing if you are self-reliant, rather than relying on external validation from others.

Evidence shows that people who achieve good standards of wellbeing at work are likely to be more creative, more loyal, more productive and provide better customer satisfaction than those with poor levels of wellbeing at work. This means there are real benefits in employers supporting staff wellbeing beyond an ethical imperative.

Five Ways to Wellbeing

One approach for improving wellbeing that has been advocated and validated is the Five Ways to Wellbeing.

This sets out five areas to consider to improve your wellbeing:

  • Be active

    Physical exercise is good for mental health. However, you do not need to take up marathon running. Joining a gardening club or getting an allotment, walking with friends, or taking up yoga can have huge benefits, as can just moving around more. At its simplest, get up from your desk and walk around and stretch several times a day.

    There is more about this in our page on the Importance of Exercise.
  • Give

    This is about giving of yourself, rather than material gifts. It can be hard to do this if you are feeling low or struggling, but paradoxically, it is even more helpful to make the effort at these times. Giving can be something as simple as calling a friend who is lonely, or more formal like regular volunteering. The principle is that doing something for someone else often stops us over-focussing on our own problems.

    There is more about this in our page on Generosity.
  • Keep learning

    Learning new skills has many benefits. It can lead to increased potential at work. Doing new things can also expand our understanding, making us more interesting and interested people, and giving us new perspectives. It need not be formal learning but could be watching a video to learn how to make something, or paint, or taking up something completely new or that you have always wanted to try.

    For more about this, you may like our pages on Personal Development and Lifelong Learning.
  • Take notice

    Taking notice of how you feel and what is going on around you is crucial to improving wellbeing.

    There are many tools out there to help develop this habit. Breathing exercises, yoga and mindfulness techniques help the body and mind find a quietness that is often absent from our day-to-day lives. Creating this space allows us to recognise how we feel. Doing it regularly helps us notice when things change or develop so we can spot potential indicators of stress or a need for change. Journalling or gratitude diaries can help us see the good things around us and create a sense of balance and positivity, which feed directly into our emotional wellbeing.

  • Connect

    Connecting with friends and family, or in other social groups is beneficial for wellbeing. This might involve regular calls to someone close, meeting up with a friend or joining an online book club with people you have never met before. The crucial aspect is to make and build human connections.

Small steps…

Doing all of this at once may sound overwhelming, which is of course not helpful in improving wellbeing!

The key to success is therefore to take small steps in one or more of these areas. Above all, do not put yourself under pressure to meet an unrealistic goal. Instead, celebrate any success, however small, and just be kind to yourself and others.

A few minutes at the beginning or end of the day is far better than trying to redesign your whole day.