When was the last time you considered your personal well-being? Or that of your family, community or even environment? As a buzzword of the moment, I notice it being used increasingly in surveys, reports and marketing. But what does it really mean? How hard is it to find? Is it something to be bought or does it come from within?
The word wellbeing is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy”. It can be applied to mental or physical comfort or health; the lack of either may result in unhappiness, either personally or socially. Many us in the UK could be described as comfortable and healthy, to a greater or lesser degree, but are we happy?
As I browsed the marquees of a “Wellbeing” event, held locally this weekend, I pondered how the word has become highjacked for a myriad of purposes. A programme of fitness demonstrations promised to take care of our physical wellness, as did stalls trading in alternative therapies, herbal medicines and “free-from” snacks. In our consumerist state, we swap our unhealthy buying habits from one market to another, swayed by fashion or fad. But does any of this really bring the contentment or satisfaction that we all crave?
Various, recent international surveys have found that young people in the UK come only second to Japan for the worst mental well-being. They listed money, getting on in life and the rise of terrorism among their greatest concerns. In comparison, Indonesia, India and Nigeria scored highest on the wellbeing scale. One would expect people in relatively underdeveloped countries to depend on financial health for happiness even more, yet it seems that the populations with less material wealth have a more positive outlook and are less dependent on money for their well-being. If basic human needs are fulfilled, it would seem, one may be content with less.
Having “downsized” in recent years, shedding most of my household goods to fit everything I own into a floating home, I can vouch for the sense of freedom this divestment bestows. Focusing on what items are essential or most precious, and having the excuse to divest oneself of items dutifully displayed, is positively liberating! Not everyone would choose my lifestyle or choice of abode, but there is a lot to be said for the happiness of a simpler lifestyle.
However, if you have read this far hoping for hints and tips to improve your own or your family’s wellness, and you are not thinking of relocation to Indonesia, India or Nigeria, here are some ideas to consider to boost your mental well-being:
Connect – with your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Not only does having social ties improve cognitive well-being, it also improves psychological health, so invest some time in improving these relationships.
Get active –Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Daylight, fresh air and the natural environment can work wonders for how well you feel. Find an activity that you enjoy and make time for it in your daily routine.
Never stop learning – acquiring new skills can give you a sense of achievement and confidence. Think of something you have always wanted to be able to do or a pastime you once enjoyed but have let go along the way and sign up for classes, find a group to join or a tutor to help you.
Help others – whether it’s simply a smile, a thank you or a kind word, giving or sharing little things counts a lot. Larger acts, such as volunteering, can help you build new social networks, improve skills or confidence and give a sense of satisfaction and self-worth.
Be mindful – be aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Sometimes called “mindfulness”, this can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
Wellbeing may be something you could spend a lot of money on, but at the end of the day it must truly come from within you. Be kind to yourself and those around you, take time out to contemplate your life, breathe and relax. What you send out positively will surely come back to you reinforced.