Wellbeing is multifaceted

Looking after ourselves and our families isn’t always easy. Some days doing things that normally make us feel better just don’t work. Our wellbeing is a multi-faceted aspect of our overall health, which is shaped during our development in the womb, our social and physical environments, and can fluctuate on a daily basis. So, it makes sense that keeping our wellbeing tip-top can sometimes be a complex task, especially for all the different members of our families.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sure-fire ways to boost our wellbeing, even on those days when we seem to be completely off-kilter? Or when we want to bring the whole family together and do something to nourish us all? Well, enter the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and their work developing the Five Ways to Wellbeing for the UK Government’s Foresight programme in 2008.

Archie and I spending time together, learning about fish at Bristol Aquarium.
Archie and I spending time together, learning about fish and other marine life at Bristol Aquarium.

Feeling good and functioning well

Our wellbeing encompasses our day-to-day good feelings, happiness, and overall satisfaction with our lives: whether we feel good and whether we function well. However, wellbeing is also tied to our mental capital, which includes aspects of ourselves such as our cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and importantly our self-esteem. According to NEF, the evidence suggests there are particular actions we can take to improve our wellbeing and bolster our mental capital, and these work by enhancing how well we function within our lives. NEF distilled these down to five action themes – the Five Ways to Wellbeing (wording for each taken from NEF’s report):

  1. CONNECT with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
  2. BE ACTIVE Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy; one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
  3. TAKE NOTICE Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are on a train, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
  4. KEEP LEARNING Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun to do.
  5. GIVE Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly  rewarding and will create connections with the people around you.

NEF developed a model (below) showing how wellbeing and mental capital interact with the five ways to wellbeing by enhancing how well we function. While the five ways may not necessarily be sufficient to ensure great wellbeing all the time, practicing them reinforces the positive emotions, satisfaction, resilience, self-esteem, etc., that lead to better wellbeing in the longer term. Each way promotes good functioning, which boosts wellbeing and mental capital. These then boost each other and better functioning, and so the system goes on! Are you dizzy yet?! The great thing about these ways is that they interact. Go for a walk (be active) and be mindful (take notice) or go with a friend (connect). Do a course (learn) and then apply your new skills as a volunteer (give).

A model for how the Five Ways to Wellbeing contribute to good functioning, which influences wellbeing and mental capital. The two latter components interact with each other and feedback into function to create a complex feedback loop. Taken from NEF's report: Five Ways to Wellbeing, NEF 2008.
A model for how the Five Ways to Wellbeing contribute to good functioning, which influences wellbeing and mental capital. The two latter components interact with each other and feedback into function to create a complex loop. Taken from NEF’s report: Five Ways to Wellbeing, NEF 2008.

Gimme nature

These five were the short list – there was a slightly longer list that included (drum roll please) NATURE!!! While the short-listed actions do pay lip service to key aspects of nature connection that boost our wellbeing (such as being active and taking notice), The Wildlife Trusts explore this in greater detail in their report. My next post in this series will look at the evidence The Wildlife Trusts present, and highlight some of the best ways we can all connect with nature via the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Until then!

If you’d like to read my introductions to nature for better health and wellbeing, check out my previous posts here: Part 1 and Part 2.

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