One way we can bridge the gap between ‘common sense’ or everyday ideas, pop psychology and academic knowledge is to look at working (operational) definitions of key concepts – in this case, ‘wellbeing’ – to put us on the same page.
In the following short video, I discuss how we define wellbeing and how the psychological approach differs from everyday chats about wellness. And a transcript of the video follows.
Transcript of the video How do we define wellbeing? And what does it mean to you?
Some years ago, I had a comical stay at a bed-and-breakfast guesthouse. And on greeting the owner with ‘Good morning. How are you today?’ he replied, ‘Do you really care?’
And, at first, I was taken aback. But it is a valid point. In our routine chats about wellness, how DO we tell genuine interest from social ritual?
As more of us now spend more time thinking and talking about wellbeing, it’s crucial to ask what it is. Because if we can’t define it, then how can we understand it to improve it?
I’m Gary Wood, author of The Psychology of Wellbeing, which uses self-reflection and storytelling to explore what makes a ‘good life’.
It begins by looking at our everyday exchanges on wellness, to reveal a complex process at play. Each time, we tap into OUR definition of wellness and edit pre-existing scripts to tell our life stories as we go. And these accounts vary by our mood, by setting, by time, and with different people, as we choose to give the full story, the headline news or a just stock reply.
Now this vague approach might not matter in everyday chats, but in academic research, clarity is vital. Our goal is to study wellbeing in a systematic way to isolate the personal view from the general principles, if we can. So, a working definition puts us all on the same page.
At its most basic, wellbeing is just ‘feeling well’. It’s your experience of ‘health, happiness and prosperity’. And it includes your mental health, life satisfaction, meaning in life and how you cope with stress.
It is useful to think of wellbeing as a state of balance. That is, how well your personal resources meet your life challenges.
Also, at the centre, we need to define the thing that’s being well – the self. It’s that constant and predictable sense of you as a ‘separate, experiencing being’. Because in psychology, our sense of ‘who we are’ plays a crucial role in social interactions, motivation and our decisions around wellbeing.
Now as you unpack YOUR personal definition of wellness, it describes a widening circle from self to others. You might start with health, wealth, leisure, work-status, and relationships. Then extend your view to where you live, and community. And then wider still to the economy, the state of the environment, and the trust you put in governments.
Now, we’ll all have varying degrees of control on these aspects of wellbeing – from a lot to almost none. And much of our experience is shaped or framed by various intersecting factors, such as age, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
The Psychology of Wellbeing offers a subtle nod to a self-help book and uses mindfulness in a more critical way. It invites you to reflect on what wellbeing means to you? What factors confer a wellbeing-advantage for you, the knock-on effects for others, and what impedes your wellness story? And crucially, it helps you to explore what to do with these insights.
About the author
Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered psychologist, solution-focused life coach, advice columnist and broadcaster. He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has more than 20 years’ experience teaching and applying psychology, in universities, in corporate settings and in the media for magazines, radio and television. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK.
Get in touch to discuss life coaching for wellbeing: