Personal wellbeing is a broad concept encompassing a variety of different aspects of wellbeing, these being its social, spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical, and subjective aspects. When researchers talk about personal wellbeing they’re looking at how satisfied we are with our lives, how resilient we are, our levels of self-esteem and positive functioning, and how our vitality is. In short, personal wellbeing has to do with our happiness!
Personal wellbeing considers our personal experience of life and, in a large sense, how satisfied and how happy we are with the quality of our lives. But, personal wellbeing is vastly different depending on where we are in the world. This is because, according to much research, personal wellbeing is determined by many contributing factors, such as one’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, income, housing, partnership status, family life, professional work, social relations, recreation, national gross domestic product (GDP), and ethnic identity. Unsurprisingly, a body of research suggests that people from higher-income countries report higher levels of satisfaction in comparison with lower-income and developing countries. What’s more, is that people who spend their lives living in corrupt countries report lower levels of life satisfaction than people living in less corrupt countries.
This is why wellbeing needs to be considered when creating policies. In fact, Bhutan, the UK, and Chile have already got the ball rolling by changing policies that take collective and individual wellbeing into account. An ever-increasing body of research aims to emphasize how our focus needs to shift from looking at GDP to wellbeing, suggesting that nations must prioritize wellbeing over economic growth. The research is telling and eye-opening: “Hungary is richer per capita than Poland, and yet life satisfaction is 1.3 points lower on a 10 point scale, while Denmark, which often scores highest in Europe on wellbeing, has lower GDP than Ireland or the Netherlands”. The data provided reflects that high GDP doesn’t equate to life satisfaction. Simply put, economic growth rarely equals happiness. This shows how priorities need to shift away from a country’s GDP to personal wellbeing.
One way researchers discover a country’s personal wellbeing is by measuring a population’s life satisfaction. In one study, researchers used a Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) to measure personal wellbeing across 7 disparate categories: standard of living, health, life achievements, relationships, safety, community connectedness, and future security. The sample of research participants was from Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia. The results show Australia scored the highest in life satisfaction. All seven categories shown above contribute greatly to life satisfaction, but how individuals across countries experience this phenomenon varies from location to location. So, how can we individually improve our personal wellbeing?
Let’s look at the PWI previously mentioned as a framework to explore how you can improve your life satisfaction:
Consider Improving Your Subjective Wellbeing
Personal wellbeing is highly connected to the concept of subjective wellbeing (SWB). Professor Edward Diener, the original pioneer behind the idea of SBW, describes the term in context as, “a person feeling and thinking his or her life is desirable regardless of how others see it”. Simply put, it’s how we evaluate our lives based on our personal life experiences. Scientists use the construct of SWB to refer to the concept of overarching happiness. In his body of research, Diener outlines three components that make up SWB: life satisfaction, positive feelings, and low negative feelings.
- Life satisfaction refers to how satisfied we are with our lives. This has a causal effect on job satisfaction, income, and self-esteem.
- Positive feelings refer to how much we enjoy our lives. This has a causal effect on our social network, friends, and even our personality.
- Low negative feelings refer to the frequency with which we experience negative emotions. This has a causal effect on our outlook on life.
Diener describes the benefits of having high levels of SWB:
- Better physical health and longevity: Happier people are more likely to experience increased immune function and live longer lives.
- Strong social relationships: Happier people tend to have a health-promoting social network and experience reciprocal support from their social circles.
- High levels of productivity: Optimistic people are, on average, also more satisfied, productive, and better able to achieve success in the workplace and within other environments.
- Altruism: Happier people are more likely to be good citizens who are able to generously give their energy and time to help others in need.
Both Diener’s conceptualization of SWB and the many benefits of experiencing high levels of SWB correlate with Professor Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions. Fredrickson is a psychologist and leading researcher on positive emotions. Her theory and its associated framework outline how we can all benefit from increased personal wellbeing via the following positive cycle. Positive emotions have a desirable influence on our personal psychological and physical functioning. These then have an equally positive and strengthening influence on our surrounding society and economy. This cycle repeats seamlessly, like a feedback loop. For example, an individual who experiences positive emotions such as joy and satisfaction is more likely to contribute meaningfully to society, resulting in the latter becoming more socially integrated. Societies that are more socially integrated tend to take better care of the individuals within them, which then leads to better overall health across the entire collective. What this means is that when personal wellbeing is prioritized within a nation, a significant and positive effect can be produced, whose ripples are felt by every person in the society. In this way, every member of a given group is taken care of.
The benefits of personal wellbeing within society include:
- Higher life expectancy and improved overall health.
- Higher levels of employment and income.
- Improved productivity and quality of work.
- Better social behaviors and social cohesion.
- More engagement in environmental health.
What Can You Do to Enhance Your Personal Wellbeing?
- Enhance your social connections: having healthy, positive, and meaningful connections improves your overall wellbeing. It’s especially beneficial for improving our SWB. Human beings are social by nature and need relationships to thrive in society. Large bodies of research point to how supportive social relationships have been related to higher self-esteem, successful coping, better physical health, and fewer psychological problems. So it definitely won’t hurt to become more acquainted with your neighbors, make new friends, and spend quality time with your family and friends.
- Be charitable: Engaging in acts of kindness for others taps into our core human altruistic nature. In short, humans feel happier when giving to others. What’s more, is that, “altruism – doing things for others – has an enhanced power to improve SWB” according to research. Partaking in generous deeds — i.e. volunteering, donating, and giving back to your community – builds not only a healthier community, but also a happier individual.
- Build trust with others: when we have trust in each other, we feel more connected to others. One researcher named Putnam said it best: “where there is a climate of trust, people are more willing to reach out and make connections with others”. This applies to our communities as much as our workplace. Establishing trust with others enhances our life satisfaction.
- Establish belonging: Feeling like we belong to a group, organization, family, or friendship group is fundamental to the human experience. One researcher writes: ”a good part of the strong life-satisfaction effect of trust in neighbors is mediated through a sense of belonging to the local community”. When we feel like we belong, whether that’s in our workplaces, our local community, or within our friendships, we strengthen our wellbeing. Simply put, we thrive when we feel we belong. Brene Brown succinctly says, “a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong”.
While it certainly rings true that better policies need to be put in place to improve personal wellbeing, we can begin engaging with these concepts and brainstorm within our communities about how we can help improve the lives of others, and build towards a society with stronger personal wellbeing.