We need to talk about Well-being

The media is full of talk about happiness, well-being, and mindfulness. By now I think, surely we should all be enlightened well-being experts. But we’re not. In fact, very few of us know what well-being is and how to build it.

Most people have some idea of what to do to look after their physical health. They typically mention ‘five a day’ [eating vegetables and fruit], getting exercise and not smoking. When asked how they can look after their mental well-being many people draw a blank.

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So let’s talk well-being literacy – for schools, homes and workplaces. If we want to look after our well-being, we need to have a clear idea of what it is and how to build it. So let’s start a conversation with people in these places about “What do you do to support your well-being?”, “What works for you?”, “What builds well-being for people?” or “What do you do to cheer yourself up or change a bad mood?” We might get some great new ideas or just learn to stop giving ours to people who don’t want them.

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We have great models in NZ with Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā (the 4 walls of the house of well-being are physical, mental/emotional, social and spiritual well-being) [te whare tapa whā] and the Mental Health Foundation’s promotion of the UK’s New Economic Foundation’s 5 Ways to Well-being. As well as our physical well-being we all need social and emotional well-being and spirituality – a connection to something that gives our lives meaning and purpose. So what does that look like in practice?

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Connect: relationships are vital for well-being. From the day we are born ‘til the day we die we need a hand to hold. We all need to feel understood, seen and cared for. So do that for someone today.

Give: as well as building connection, helping others seems to be the simplest route to developing meaning in life and supporting our own well-being. Whether your meaning comes from religious or philosophical beliefs, your family, work, or recreation… what matters is to find meaning along the way. It doesn’t have to arrive with a lighting bolt. You might find it by following the breadcrumb trail of things that you love doing.

Take Notice: appreciate what’s good in your life – savour and be grateful. These are simple but robust strategies for enhancing emotional well-being. And, when you do this, it often makes you nicer to be around so as well as supporting emotional well-being you may get a bonus boost for social well-being [Remember, company hates misery, even though the opposite is famously untrue]. Take notice also refers to being present and noticing our lives as they are unfolding. Also known as mindfulness.

Keep learning: we are works in progress not finished products. When we continue to learn we continue to grow, we are more open to new experiences and joys. Life continues to surprise us. And that’s good for emotional well-being and probably makes us more interesting companions too.

Be active: yes, move your body and be physically active. And enjoy it. New Zealand former boxer and motivational speaker Billy Graham [not the US one] says “it’s better to go for a walk than not go for a run”. So don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can. Being active also means taking charge of your well-being – do what you can to move your mood when it’s low. Personally, I always allow myself at least a short wallow before I start trying to move it.

While it’s good to feel positive and happy in our days, it’s not the only thing. Dealing with the downs as well as the ups matters because sometimes ‘we just have to grind it out’. More about managing the tyranny of the positive next time.

Thanks for reading,


P.S. My commitment to you is to provide sporadic but hopefully interesting posts. [Don’t plan on setting your watch by the regular arrival of my blog or you’ll have a strange relationship with time].

2 Comments on “We need to talk about Well-being

  1. I feel better knowing that you were a late, great friend of my son Leo Geary in 1992. Reading your thoughtful, caring, instructive ways of caring for our well-being makes me glad.

    • Thanks Carol,
      I think you would be delighted to know how often Leo is still in my thoughts. I am writing this from Twizel where I’ve been looking at Mt Cook and thinking of him today.
      Thank you for your lovely words.

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