Everyone talks about well-being. But what is it and why does it matter? More importantly, how can you move closer to achieving it?
According to good ‘ol, Merriam-Webster, well-being is defined as the state of being healthy, happy, or prosperous. There’s less agreement on its definition in the research. In general, it includes having good mental & physical health, high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and an ability to manage stress. More generally, well-being is just feeling well.
Well-being is something sought by just about everyone, and rightly so! It includes all the good things we know about life: feeling happy, healthy, socially connected, and purposeful. Unfortunately, well-being appears to be in decline, especially amongst communities and populations that have been historically marginalized, terrorized, and oppressed. And increasing your well-being can be tough without knowing what to do and how to do it. So let’s untangle it.
Can You Actually Improve Your Well-Being?
Improving your well-being can be easy; there are tons of skills you can build. However, it can be challenging to figure out what parts of well-being are most important for you and to figure out how, exactly, to build those skills. If you’re like most people, you might need a little extra help in this area.
And that’s totally ok & expected.
It’s helpful to be in conversation about your well-being with someone you love like a partner, sibling, or friend. Or it may be someone you trust like a therapist, doctor, or coworker. Not only will this improve your social well-being (more on that later), it gives you your very own cheerleading squad. And who doesn’t love to be cheered on?!
How Long Does It Take to Improve Well-Being?
Honestly, it depends on how consistent you are. This is where you roll your eyes at me. I know.
Like everything else in life, consistency is key. Luckily, we live in the 21st century, and we have evidence-based techniques for enhancing well-being. With regular practice, people can feel better pretty quickly. Depending on your activities and consistency, many folks show notable improvements within days and most within 4 weeks.
Just remember - if you want to maintain the benefits you gain, you'll have to continue to engage in these new practices to maintain - or even grow - your well-being skills. So it's really helpful to have strategies and tools that help you stick to your well-being goals — for example, a self-care plan and an accountabilibuddy who shares the struggles and the celebrations of maintaining your well-being.
Where Does Well-Being Come From?
Well-being, in its complex form, comes from your thoughts, actions, and experiences — many of which you have control over. And just as we have distinct identities, our well-being has distinct components, each requiring a different set of skills. For example, when we practice gratitude or abstain from social media, we tend to have greater emotional well-being. When we prioritize meaningful relationships, we tend to have better social well-being. And when we lose our job — or just hate it — we tend to have lower occupational well-being. These examples start to reveal how broad well-being is, and how many different types of well-being there are.
Because well-being is such a broad experience, let's break it down into its different types.
6 Major Types of Well-Being
Emotional Well-Being. The ability to recognize, accept, and manage your inner state by identifying your feelings and moving forward in a way that honors your emotions without hurting or harming others along the way.
Physical Well-Being. The ability to love and actively tend to the functioning of your uniquely beautiful body through diet and/or movement.
Psychological/Mental Well-Being. The ability to keep your mind sharp by engaging in learning (or unlearning), creative, and mindfulness activities.
Spiritual Well-Being. The ability to connect to a higher sense of self through a foundation of beliefs and core values which inform how you show up for yourself and for those around you.
Social Well-Being. The ability to communicate, develop meaningful relationships with others, cultivate a sense of belonging, and actively participate in a thriving community, culture, and environment.
Occupational Well-Being. The ability to share your gifts, skills, & talents with the world through meaningful & rewarding work while maintaining appropriate boundaries for a well-balanced life.
How Do You Put These Together?
To build your overall well-being, balance is key. It’s super challenging to keep all six areas running smoothly at the same time (ask anyone with a family). Some days you might be great at it. Other days require you to pay attention to one area more than another. Consider the Standing Tree pose in yoga.
Standing Tree (or Vrikshasana) is a balancing posture that seems - but is anything but - basic. Achieving balance in this pose can be quite tricky, even for the experienced yogi. It requires attunement to one’s breath and mind as well as the many muscles that work together to keep one standing on a single foot. Some days, we get there quickly and without struggle. Other days, you might wobble a bit or even break the pose completely. Your knees may lock, you might be anchored on the wrong part of your foot, your thighs may be tight or your calves sore.
Life, just like yoga, is full of wobbles. And when we wobble (or break), it’s important to find out what’s causing it so we can direct our attention there. Because when one area of our life is wobbly, it can easily cause other areas to be affected, and you won’t feel as well as you want to.
How Do You Build Well-Being?
Because each part of well-being is important to your overall sense of well-being, let's talk about how to build each type of well-being:
Emotional Well-Being. To develop emotional well-being, we build skills related to our emotional state — like positive thinking, emotion regulation, mindfulness, or gratitude. Often, we need to build a variety of these skills because life’s stressors are varied. When we have built these emotional well-being skills, we can better cope with stress, handle our emotions in the face of challenges, and recover from disappointments more quickly. As a result, we can enjoy our lives a bit more, be happier, and pursue our goals a bit more effectively.
Here are some things you can do to practice emotional well-being:
Name three people/places/things you are grateful for ProTip: Start your day with a note of gratitude
Engage in therapy
Allow yourself a good cry every once in a while
Challenge your negative self-talk
Take a break from social media
Physical Well-Being. To develop our physical well-being, we figure out what our body needs to stay healthy, so that we can implement effective strategies in our daily lives to keep it that way. More than any other aspect of our well-being, this looks different person-to-person because our bodies are so beautifully unique.
Diet and exercise usually come to mind when we consider how to care for our physical well-being, and there are other things to try.
Take time off work when you’re sick (even mental health days are important)
spend time in the sun (with appropriate sunscreen, of course)
prioritize sleep & moments of rest (#NapMinistry)
Get medical care when you need it (stop putting off those important appointments)
When we improve our physical well-being, not only do we feel better, we help prevent many diseases, heal our guts, boost our emotional well-being, and limit the number of health challenges we have to deal with in our lives, especially as we age.
Social Well-Being. To develop social well-being, we focus on our social skills, like gratitude, kindness, and communication. Social skills make it easier for us to have positive interactions with others, helping us to feel less lonely, angry, or disconnected. When we have developed our social well-being, we feel more meaningfully connected to others.
Here are some ways to easily build your social well-being:
Schedule time to be with friends and family - and be present ProTip: Get an errand buddy to run errands with!
Ask for help when you need it (I know, it hurt even writing it - but trust me!)
Give someone a compliment
Send a “thinking of you” text to someone you love
It's important to know that building social well-being is one the best ways to build or boost your emotional well-being. When we feel socially connected, we also tend to just feel better overall, have more positive emotions, and we are able to cope better with challenges. This is why it's essential to build our social well-being.
Occupational Well-Being. To develop our occupational well-being, we build skills that help us pursue what really matters to us and how we can best share our gifts and talents with the world. This can include building professional skills which help us to advance more effectively, AND it also includes things like living our values and striving for that illusive work-life balance (see balancing reference above). These skills let us enjoy our work more, helping us to stay focused, motivated, and successful at work. When we pay attention to this part of our well-being, our work - and therefore each day - feels more fulfilling. After all, we spend most of our time working in some capacity. Therefore, building your occupational well-being can have an oversized impact on your overall well-being.
Here are some great ways to build your occupational well-being:
Take a break to eat during the workday, preferably with your coworkers ProTip: If you like your coworkers, employ a “No Shop Talk Rule” during lunches together
Have walking meetings (or phone meetings if you’re a remote worker)
Get regular supervision and/or coaching
Negotiate & advocate for your needs (salary, benefits, time off, etc)
Spiritual Well-Being. First, let’s not confuse this with religion. Sure, some people practice spirituality through religion, AND there are many other tools to experience spirituality. Spirituality is a sense of interconnectedness - it’s how you connect with something greater than yourself - maybe that’s a higher power, nature, music, art, or through service. It’s the core values and beliefs you form and hold onto throughout your life that form your own unique brand of spirituality.
To cultivate spiritual well-being, we build skills that make us feel connected to ourselves and to all things. For example,
spend time in nature
pray, sing, or meditate
read or write poetry
let go of whatever is no longer serving you
connect with a spiritual community
volunteer or contribute to causes you care about
There Is No Magic About Building Well-Being
Remember, it takes time and effort to build any new skill set — that includes well-being skills. It's important to be realistic with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish in a given amount of time. Having unrealistic expectations can lead you to give up before you've reached your well-being goals, and that ain’t cute. So create a realistic plan for your well-being, stick to it, and take small actions every day that add up to big improvements over time.
If you want a customized well-being plan, you can download this 30-page, fillable-PDF self-care workbook for just $9.99. Inside, you’ll find a self-care assessment based on these 6 dimensions of well-being and a self-care plan template that you can use again and again. You’ll also enjoy some poetry, affirmations, and a template for your personalized self-care emergency kit - for when $#I+ really hits the fan.
If you've read my earlier posts, you know that I too have struggled with aspects of my well-being, particularly with maintaining work-life balance. The truth is, we all struggle, and new struggles can and will pop up, even when you're doing well. But the longer you’ve worked on strengthening your well-being skills, the easier it is to be resilient, take the actions needed to bounce back, and continue moving forward.
Let me know how it goes! Leave your comments below and tell us what works, what doesn’t, your challenges and successes. Let us celebrate you!