We can think of wellbeing as a state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. The psychologist and founder of the positive psychology movement, Martin Seligman goes a little deeper by outlining five key components of wellbeing. His wellbeing theory can be remembered by the acronym PERMA, which stands for:
Positive emotions: which lead to contentment.
Engagement: for a more connected life.
Meaning: giving purpose to life.
Accomplishment: a sense of achievement in life.
Seligman’s theory is one of several but it provides us with a useful basis for considering just some of the main blocks to achieving a sense of wellbeing. The four I’ve selected are:
Negativity. Humans have an innate ability to tune into potential dangers. From an evolutionary perspective this makes perfect sense as we wouldn’t have lasted very long otherwise. As we’ve evolved this same bias towards sniffing out the dangers have changed somewhat. These days we give weight to negative rather than positive emotions. An insult or criticism can hurt for days, weeks or longer whereas praise, enjoyable though it is, seems much more short-lived. One praiseworthy issue about another person does not cancel out a negative comment about them. On the contrary we are more likely to focus and give credence to the negative.
Ending on a Down Note. Because of our tendency to focus on the negative it follows that the duration of good experiences is actually less important than the intensity of them. A great vacation can be soured by a bad journey home. The message here is even if a vacation or a work task has been dull it’s always good to find ways to end on a high note. When things end favorably that’s what we tend to remember.
Comparing yourself to others is always problematic. There will always be people richer or cleverer, or who seem to be happier and lead richer lives. You may in fact be healthy, fit and well nourished but the gnawing aspects of wanting what ‘they’ have, or wanting to ‘be’ them can become a barrier to your own wellbeing. You’ve only got to stand back and see just how unhappy some people are who seem to have it all.
Self-control isn’t something most people would associate with wellbeing until they consider what’s involved. A lack of self-control is actually associated with lower wellbeing so it makes perfect sense to pay attention to aspects of life that involve self-control. Rather than fill your trolley with sugary snacks, exercise self-control over diet. Similarly, if you’re overweight and feeling sluggish, increase your movement. If you’re in debt, take control over your finances and budget more effectively.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.