How to increase your wellbeing

Wellbeing is about the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities. Most importantly, it is about how these five elements interact.

The five essential elements of wellbeing are:

  1. Career wellbeing: How you occupy your time or simply liking what you do every day.
  2. Social wellbeing: Having strong relationships and love in your life.
  3. Financial wellbeing: Effectively managing your economic life
  4. Physical wellbeing: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.
  5. Community wellbeing:Sense of engagement you have with the area where you live.

These elements are universal. What motivates us to strengthen our wellbeing in these areas might be different( spirituality, a deep mission)  but the outcomes are the same. There are many ways by which we can strengthen these areas and these are within our control.

However, the single biggest threat to our own wellbeing tends to be ourselves. Without thinking, we allow our short-term decisions to override what is best for our long-term wellbeing. We do things that will satisfy us immediately. This is wired into our DNA for basic survival. But increase in the ability to delay gratification is an important thing that promotes our development. However our short-term self usually wins and it becomes difficult to effect long-term behavioural change.

The solution to this is: If we can find short-term incentives that are consistent with our long-term objectives, it is much easier to make the right decisions in the moment. When we can see an immediate payoff, we are more likely to change our behaviour in the moment. This aligns our daily actions with our long-term interests.

Short term benefit: Boosts our mood for the next 12 hours
Long term benefit: Improves our health.

Using such positive ‘defaults’ and making even small changes to our daily routines can have a major and lasting impact on our wellbeing.

Career wellbeing

Do you like what you do each day?

If you do not have the opportunity to regularly do something that you enjoy- even if it is more of a passion or interest than something you get paid to do, the odds of having wellbeing in other areas diminish rapidly.

Our wellbeing actually recovers more rapidly from the death of a spouse that it does from a sustained period of unemployment (> 1 year) when you are actively seeking employment. The work need not even pay you. What matters is being engaged in the career or occupation you choose.

If you are engaged in the job that you do, then happiness and interest throughout the day is higher and stress levels are lower. They enjoy both weekdays and weekends. Their work is aligned with their personal lives. It increases physical and mental health.

If your boss or manager is understanding and good, it also contributes to career wellbeing

If you have the opportunity to use your strengths every day, you will have more fun at work. But this does not mean you can work long hours(>60 hours a week) and still not feel exhausted. But you will want to work even if you are old(>60 years of age)

Three recommendations for boosting career wellbeing;

  1. Every day, use your strengths.
  2. Identify someone with a shared mission who encourages your growth. Spend more time with this person.
  3. Opt into more social time with the people and teams you enjoy being around at work.

Social wellbeing

Those who have thriving social wellbeing share these characteristics:

  • They have several close relationships that help them achieve, enjoy life and be healthy. The wellbeing of friends and their friends affect our wellbeing and even our health
  • They are surrounded by people who encourage their development and growth. They have friends at their work place and have more than one close friend.
  • They deliberately spend time – on average about six hours a day – investing in their social networks. This decreases the chance of having a bad day and also improves our health.
  • They make time for gatherings and trips that strengthen these relationships even more.

Three recommendations for boosting social wellbeing:

  1. Spend six hours a day socializing with friends, family and colleagues( this time includes work, home, phone, e-mail and other communication)
  2. Strengthen the mutual connections in your network.
  3. Mix social time with physical activity. For example take a long walk with a friend so you can motivate each other to be healthy.

Financial wellbeing

Consider these things:

  • Although money doesn’t guarantee happiness, being in a wealthy country certainly increases your odds of having a good life.
  • Money is essential for meeting basic needs.
  • Those who have a lot of money can do what they want when they want to do it. It can increase short-term happiness by giving us more control over how we spend our time.
  • Spending money on others boosts our wellbeing.
  • We spend the most when we feel the worst. A bad mood can lead to a cascade of poor financial decisions.
  • Spending on experiences and memories( like going out to dinner or taking a vacation) increases our wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.
  • The amount of money we make, the size of home we have and the possessions we have are less relevant than how they compare to others’ income and possessions. This is a never-ending race. If you have good career wellbeing and social wellbeing you are less likely to get caught in this comparison dilemma.
  • We are loss averse. It hurts more to lose $50 that it feels good to win $50.
  • We view money in relative-not in absolute terms. Finding $50 on street boosts our wellbeing than having $50 cut from our utility bill.
  • Having automated systems that deduct money directly from our paycheck helps us save more. These positive defaults increase our financial wellbeing.
  • Having a general sense of financial security and lack of worry is more important than the absolute amount of wealth accumulated.
  • Investing to minimize stress strategies- like paying your house early, conservative investment strategies that may give less total return increases financial wellbeing.

Three recommendations for boosting financial wellbeing:

  1. Buy experiences- such as vacations or outings with friends or loved ones.
  2. Spend on others instead of solely on material possessions.
  3. Establish default systems(automated payments and savings) that lessen daily worry about money.

Physical wellbeing

With every bite and drink we take, we make a choice: We can select something that is a net positive and benefits our health or we can choose something that is a net negative. To make major lifestyle changes we need to understand how these changes affect us today and what the incentives are in the short-term for us to change. We don’t change our decisions based on long-term consequences.

To a certain extent we can control the amplification or suppression of how our genes affect our health over a lifetime.

Your lifestyle choices can also influence the health of your children and grandchildren. This is called epigenetic inheritance.

The food that we eat has a profound effect on our health, daily experiences and how long we live. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids can protect against a wide range of cancers, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and a wide range of other conditions. They moderate symptoms of depression, decrease impulsiveness, and boost our daily mood. They decrease pain, asthma, diabetes and arthritis.Eating meals high in carbohydrates and sugars damages our appetite controlling cells and make us consume more. Healthier unsaturated fats such as those found in avocados, nuts and olive oil do the opposite.One simple way to sort through what foods are best is to look for fruits and vegetables that have darker tones of red, green and blue. Think about toppings, dressings, snacks and drinks that you eat as they often contain a lot of calories and convert a net positive effect to a net negative effect.

Exercising at least 20 minutes a day boosts our mood for 12 hours, makes us happier and less stressful. A lack of energy results from inactivity, not age. Exercise is much more effective at eliminating fatigue than prescription drugs. It makes us feel better about ourselves, our appearance and boosts our confidence.

Getting a good night’s sleep is like hitting a reset button. It clears our stressors from the day before. We need to sleep at least 7-8 hours a day. Sleeping less(5-6 hours) or more(7-8 hours) causes problems. If we sleep less, we move slower, have trouble concentrating, become forgetful, make bad decisions, are more irritable, and show visible signs of sleeplessness. If we sleep less or more we gain weight and also develop colds easily. Sleep helps to accelerate our learning. We learn and make connections more effectively when we are asleep. It is important for encoding information we learned the day before.

Set up positive defaults for your health: make healthy choices in the supermarket, eat out in healthy restaurants. If you make good lifestyle changes, it will lead to decreased healthcare spending as well.

Three recommendations for boosting physical wellbeing:

  1. Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity each day – ideally in the morning to improve your mood throughout the day.
  2. Sleep enough to feel well rested( generally seven to eight hours) but not too long( more than nine hours)
  3. Set positive defaults when you shop for groceries. Load up on natural foods that are red, green and blue.

Community wellbeing

Community wellbeing can actually be the differentiator between a good life and a great one.

A lack of security about the quality of water you rink or the air you breathe, or feeling safe walking alone in your neighbourhood without being harmed or assaulted are fundamentals of community wellbeing.

A ideal community has aesthetics( naturally beautiful places and the availability of parks, trails and playgrounds), social offerings( where people can meet, spend time with friends and enjoy the nightlife) and general openness to all types of people, regardless of race, heritage, age or sexual orientation.

You also need to be actively involved in community groups or organisations.

Giving back to society in various ways is well-doing that inoculates us against stress and negative emotions.

Make sure you find ways to opt into involving yourselves with community work. It is OK to do things for which you have an emotional tie to the organisation’s mission or cause.

If you have a good community wellbeing then your community will also have wellbeing.

Three recommendations for boosting community wellbeing:

  1. Identify how you can contribute to your community based on your personal mission.
  2. Tell people about your passions and interests so they can connect you with relevant groups and causes,
  3. Opt in to a community group or event. Even if you start small, start now.

Our lives are the composite of much more than our economic output. To create a life that is worthwhile, we need to find something that we love to do that benefits society. We need financial security, physical health and loving relationships. We also need to make better choices in the moment. Changing our daily routine a little to allocate our time in wiser ways can improve the quality of our life. Sleep well, exercise in the morning, engage with your job and use your strengths at work daily, get 6 hours of social time, set positive defaults and   give back to your community. You will feel good.