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Just What Is Psychological Well-Being and Why Does It Matter?


Psychological well-being is not only about our subjective happy feelings but also the feeling that what we are doing with our lives has some meaning and purpose.


Think about this: People with higher psychological well-being are likely to live healthier and longer lives, and are more likely to enjoy better quality of life.



Psychological wellbeing (PWB) is a term used to describe a positive mental state such as happiness or satisfaction, the type of happiness that is based on meaning, purpose, and fulfilling one’s potential. It is “the combination of feeling good and functioning effectively”[1].


Do not worry about the definition because you surely know it when you feel it!


Psychological well-being consists of our positive relationships with others, personal mastery, autonomy, a feeling of purpose and meaning in life, and personal growth and development[2].


If I tell you that I’m happy, or very satisfied with my life (if I am being completely honest and truthful) you can be quite sure that my psychological wellbeing is very high!


 


Why Does Psychological Wellbeing Matter?


People with higher psychological well-being are more likely to live healthier and longer lives. They are also more likely to enjoy a better quality of life. Better psychological well-being also is associated with fewer social problems [3].


Individuals with high psychological well-being are less likely to engage in criminal activity or abuse drugs and alcohol. In addition, positive psychological well-being tends to predict higher earnings and more prosocial behaviour, such as volunteering.


However, …now hear the other side of the story.....


People also are more likely to enjoy positive psychological well-being when they have their basic needs met. Living in a safe area, having enough food, and having adequate shelter are all important factors for emotional health.


Hmm. Did you just recognise how complex understanding the mind, feelings and actions is?



Psychological Wellbeing has two important facets.


The first of these refers to the extent to which people experience positive emotions and feelings of happiness. Sometimes this aspect of psychological wellbeing is referred to as subjective wellbeing [4].


Subjective wellbeing is a necessary part of overall psychological wellbeing but on its own it is not enough.



To see why this is so, imagine being somewhere that you really enjoy, perhaps sitting on a yacht in the sunshine, with your favourite food and drink and some good company – or alone if that’s how you’d prefer it! For most people that would be very enjoyable, for a week or two but imagine doing it not just for a week but forever! There are very few people who would find that prospect enjoyable. The old saying may be true, you can have too much of a good thing. What this example brings home is that to really feel good we need to experience purpose and meaning, in addition to positive emotions.


So, the two important ingredients in psychological wellbeing are the subjective happy feelings brought on by something we enjoy AND the feeling that what we are doing with our lives has some meaning and purpose.


Did you get that? A happy feeling underpinned by meaning and purpose!


Carol Ryff developed a theory which determines six factors which contribute to an individual’s psychological well-being, contentment, and happiness. Ryff's model is not based on merely feeling happy, but is based on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, "where the goal of life isn't feeling good, but is instead about living virtuously" [5].


The six factors considered key-elements of psychological well-being as measured on a scale:

  1. Self-acceptance: High scores reflect the respondent's positive attitude about his or her self. An example statement for this criterion is "I like most aspects of my personality"

  2. Personal growth: High scores indicate that the respondent continues to develop, is welcoming to new experiences, and recognizes improvement in behaviour and self over time. An example statement for this criterion is "I think it is important to have new experiences that challenge how you think about yourself and the world".

  3. Purpose in life: High scores reflect the respondent's strong goal orientation and conviction that life holds meaning. An example statement for this criterion is "Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them".

  4. Environmental mastery: High scores indicate that the respondent makes effective use of opportunities and has a sense of mastery in managing environmental factors and activities, including managing everyday affairs and creating situations to benefit personal needs. An example statement for this criterion is "In general, I feel I am in charge of the situation in which I live".

  5. Autonomy: High scores indicate that the respondent is independent and regulates his or her behaviour independent of social pressures. An example statement for this criterion is "I have confidence in my opinions, even if they are contrary to the general consensus".

  6. Positive relations: with others High scores reflect the respondent's engagement in meaningful relationships with others that include reciprocal empathy, intimacy, and affection. An example statement for this criterion is "People would describe me as a giving person, willing to share my time with others".


 


Contributing Factors of Psychological Well-Being


Positive contributing factors

Positive psychological well-being can come from different sources e.g., a happy marriage, a satisfying job or a meaningful relationship with another person [6]. When marriages include forgiveness, optimistic expectations, positive thoughts about one's spouse, and kindness, a marriage significantly improves psychological well-being [7].

Positive illusions such as unrealistic optimism and over-exaggerated self-evaluations can be useful. These are especially important when an individual receives threatening negative feedback, as the illusions allow for adaptation in these circumstances to protect psychological well-being and self-confidence [8] Optimism also can help an individual cope with stresses to their well-being [9].


Negative contributing factors

Psychological well-being can also be affected negatively, as is the case with a degrading and unrewarding work environment, unfulfilling obligations and unsatisfying relationships. Social interaction has a strong effect on well-being as negative social outcomes are more strongly related to well-being than are positive social outcomes [10]. Childhood traumatic experiences diminish psychological well-being throughout adult life, and can damage psychological resilience in children, adolescents, and adults [11]. Perceived stigma also diminished psychological well-being, particularly stigma in relation to obesity and other physical ailments or disabilities [12].



How Can I Have a Positive Mental State?


Psychological well-being is attained by achieving a state of balance affected by both challenging and rewarding life events [13]. Early experiences and underlying personality lay the foundation for PWB however, everyday experiences help to keep a good level of PWB (if they are positive) or, if they are negative, decrease levels of PWB, resulting in poor health outcome.



Recall Positive Life Events


Recognizing the good things that have happened to you over time—the people you have built memories with or the good times that you have experienced—is an important part of improving your well-being. They serve as reminders of the fullness life has to offer, especially when circumstances may be pulling you down.


We tend to remember bad, traumatic experiences better than the good ones but holding onto our good memories - and leaving the bad ones behind - helps us to deal with unpleasant situations and retain a positive outlook on life.


Spend time thinking about some of the best memories of your life. Whether it's a family vacation you went on 10 years ago or an award you won at work two years ago, recalling the happiest times in your life can bring more positivity to your mindset.


Recognizing the good things that have happened to you over time—the people you have built memories with or the good times that you have experienced—is an important part of improving your well-being. They serve as reminders of the fullness life has to offer, especially when circumstances may be pulling you down.



Perform Acts of Kindness


Doing nice things for other people reminds you that you have the power to make a difference in the world. Giving to others also helps you think more positively and feel happier. Helping a neighbor in need, volunteering for a community activity, or raising money for a charity are just a few simple ways to improve your psychological well-being.


Also, look for ways to be kind to others in your everyday life. Doing so benefits you in a number of ways. In fact, researchers indicate that individual acts of kindness releases both endorphins and oxytocin—the feel good hormones—as well as creates new neural connections.


Consequently, kindness can become a self-reinforcing habit that takes less and less effort to perform. There's also some evidence linking kindness and healing. So, look for ways to be kind to others and your body and mind will thank you.


Remember, psychological well-being is not only about our subjective happy feelings but also the feeling that what we are doing with our lives has some meaning and purpose.


Happiness starts with a smile!



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Life can be complicated, yes I know, and I also know it can be hard to ask for help. Take a step and talk to me.


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References


  1. Huppert, F. A. (2009). Psychological well-being: evidence regarding its causes and consequences. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‒Being, 137–164.

  2. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1069–1081.

  3. Kubzansky, L. D., Huffman, J. C., Boehm, J. K., Hernandez, R., Kim, E. S., Koga, H. K., Feig, E. H., Donald, M. L-J., Seligman, M. E. P., and Labarthe, D. R. (2018). Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Disease: JACC Health Promotion Series, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 72, 1382–1396.

  4. Diener, E. D (2000). Subjective wellbeing: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. . American Psychologist, 34-43.

  5. Seifert, T. A. (2005). Assessment of the Ryff scales of psychological well-being. Assessment Notes.

  6. Diener, E. D (1994). Assessing subjective well-being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research, 103–157.

  7. McNulty, J. K. (2012). Beyond positive psychology? Toward a contextual view of psychological processes and well-being. American Psychologist. PMC 4112753. PMID 21787036., 101–110.

  8. Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103(2), 193–210. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.103.2.193Jackson, S. E. (2015). Obesity, perceived weight discrimination, and psychological well-being in older adults in England. Obesity, 1105–1111.

  9. Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1992). Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 16, 201-228. doi:10.1007/BF01173489.

  10. Rook, K. S. (1984). The negative side of social interaction: Impact on psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1097-1108.

  11. Nurius, P., Green, S., Logan-Green, P. & Borja, S. (2015). Life Course Pathways of Adverse Childhood Experiences Toward Adult Psychological Well-Being: A Stress Process Analysis, Child Abuse & Neglect, 45(6).

  12. Jackson, S. E., Beeken, R. J., & Wardle, J. (2015). Obesity, Perceived Weight Discrimination, and Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults in England, Obesity, 23, 1105–1111.

  13. Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International, Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235. doi:10.5502/ijw.v2i3.4.


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