I love reading The Shrink & The Sage in the Financial Times (though I’ll freely admit that it’s one of the only sections of the paper that I read). I found an old one from May this year entitled How can we improve our wellbeing? Wellbeing is more or less used interchangeably with happiness and is notoriously difficult – or, at least, controversial – to measure. The Shrink referred to the ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’ from the New Economics Foundation and here they are, the solution to all our problems and the secret to happiness. Or…?
1. Connect: It’s hardly surprising that the first route to wellbeing is connecting with other people. Our relationships are what drive our happiness more than anything else in life. There is the obvious: a family that loves you, friends you can confide in, a partner who wants to spend the rest of his life with you. There is also the joy and personal growth that comes from connecting with a stranger: empathising with their situation, putting your own troubles into perspective, discovering a different outlook and an alternative way of life. Connecting with other people is what life is all about.
2. Be active: Exercise releases endorphins and gives us more energy to do everything else that we want to do. Taking a walk down a country lane, training for a 10k, playing in the park with our children… these activities bring so much more than burning calories. Being active might also mean getting involved in the local community, volunteering, joining a club – keeping things interesting, letting you meet new people, ensuring you don’t stagnate in your old routines. Get off that couch and go and do something!
3. Take notice (be aware): Mindfulness has come to be such an over-used concept but the truth is that becoming more aware of what we’re doing really can bring a lot of benefits. Living in the here and now, indulging slowly in that piece of chocolate cake instead of stuffing our faces, listening to what the other person is saying rather than distractedly flicking through our Facebook newsfeeds, being aware of what’s happening now and not worrying about what might happen later. Living in the present means listening to our true needs and desires and enjoying life right now. Say it with me: Ommmmm…
4. Keep learning: One of my favourites – stay curious, always ask questions, never stop learning. Whether it’s studying a foreign language, practicing a musical instrument, taking a presentation skills course at work or simply reading a book, learning keeps your brain active and your mind open, giving you new things to talk about and often leading to new opportunities or encounters that you never would have expected. The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. There is always more to learn.
5. Give: An oldie but a goodie. Giving makes you feel good, it’s that simple. I knew I was a grown-up when I started to look forward more to giving gifts at Christmas than to receiving them. Putting thought into what people would like, wrapping it beautifully, and seeing their joy on opening it – it’s a great feeling. Likewise when it comes to charitable giving, whether it’s sponsoring someone to do a triathlon, donating your old clothes to Oxfam, or giving your time as a volunteer. Giving makes you feel all gooey inside.
What do you think? Do these five aspects of wellbeing ring true? Have you been inspired to try to do something differently from now on? Are there other core elements that are missing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.