Most of us hear “total wellbeing,” and our minds immediately go to sweat sessions in the gym, tossing out the Oreos, and making an appointment for our long-overdue annual checkup. But while our physical state is an important piece of the puzzle, fixating on it is missing the larger picture.
In order to construct a comprehensive measure of individual wellbeing, Gallup conducted a global study in 2010. Looking at more than 150 countries, and asking hundreds of questions about health, wealth, relationships, jobs, and communities, the research provided a lens into the wellbeing of more than 98 percent of the world’s population. It found that when evaluating their lives, people often give disproportionate weight to income and health.
Are those the two topics dominating your resolution list this year? We thought so. Unfortunately, even if you fit back into your pants from high school, and finally get that pay raise you’ve been deserving for months by the end of 2017, you still won’t be even halfway to achieving total wellbeing. In the New York Times bestseller Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter, Ph.D., delve deeper into this idea of “total wellbeing.” Using the findings of the Gallup study, their goal was to summarize what makes most people’s lives and days fulfilling, and they were able to identify five universal elements that differentiate a life spent thriving from one spent suffering.
In order to achieve the ultimate definition of “wellbeing” this year, here are the five distinct statistical factors you should devote space for on your resolution list:
1. Career Wellbeing: How you occupy your time, or simply liking what you do every day.
Arguably the most essential of the five elements, the authors found that those with high Career Wellbeing were more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall. Which isn’t surprising, since we spend more time at our desks than we do at home or with our friends and family. So, you may want to consider making your happiness at work a priority this year. Those that have mastered career wellbeing wake up every morning with something to look forward to, have an opportunity to do things that fit their strengths and interests, and feel they have a deep purpose in life, and a plan to attain their goals. They’ve also mastered work/life balance, taking more time to enjoy life outside of the office, which results in them loving the work they do everyday.
2. Social Wellbeing: Having strong relationships and love in your life.
Our social networks play a large role in our overall health and happiness. Yes, we’re telling you that scheduling more time with friends is a totally acceptable resolution. The authors found those who rank high in Social Wellbeing have several close relationships that help them achieve goals, enjoy life, and be healthy; they deliberately spend time investing in the networks that surround them; they’re more likely to make time for vacations and social gatherings with friends and family, which strengthens their relationships; and they report having a lot of love in their lives, which gives them a positive outlook.
Don’t save relationship building for after hours: The authors found that employees who have a best friend at work were seven times more likely to be engaged with their job, produce higher quality work, and were less likely to get injured on the job. Those who don’t have a best friend at work have just a one in 12 chance of being engaged.
3. Financial Wellbeing: Effectively managing your economic life.
When it comes to our happiness, it’s not a huge number in your savings account that increases wellbeing, but instead financial security that seems to be key. Those with high Financial Wellbeing manage their personal finances well, spend their money wisely, buy experiences instead of material items, and give to others instead of just spending on themselves. These strategies result in a financial security that eliminates daily stress and worry about debt, and also provides them some degree of freedom to do what they want, which aids in social wellbeing by granting them the flexibility to spend time with others.
4. Physical Wellbeing: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.
Those who have high Physical Wellbeing have mastered those healthy habits that we’ve had beaten into us by doctors, Google searches, and our mothers. They exercise, eat healthfully, and get adequate sleep, all which boosts their energy and productivity. While managing our health has obvious benefits in how we feel and operate on a daily basis, committing to implementing healthy habits also has less obvious ties to all other elements of wellbeing. A healthy lifestyle gives us the tools to strengthen relationships and engage with our communities, provides the energy required to invest in a fulfilling career, and saves money in the long run, supporting our financial security.
5. Community Wellbeing: The sense of engagement you have with the area where you live.
At a basic level, to achieve Community Wellbeing, we need safety, a home that meets our needs (you know, the opposite of your first apartment that had no heat or hot water), and a community we take pride in. When this criteria is met, people tend to want to give back and make a lasting contribution to society. Altruism is a trait that has consistently been linked to happiness. The researchers found that more than 23,000 people surveyed reported an emotional boost from doing nice things for other people. The contributions of those who have high Community Wellbeing may start small, but people tend to get more and more involved over time. (You may start by gifting a plant to your elderly neighbor, and end up helping to build a community garden for the entire neighborhood to enjoy.)
Getting Out of Your Own Way
Think you’ve got a pretty good handle on all of the above? You’re probably wrong.
“While 66% of people are doing well in at least one of these areas, just 7% are thriving in all five,” reported Gallup. “If we’re struggling in any one of these domains, as most of us are, it damages our wellbeing and wears on our daily life. When we strengthen our wellbeing in any of these areas, we will have better days, months, and decades. But we’re not getting the most out of our lives unless we’re living effectively in all five.”
Yes, we know. You’ll sleep once you finish your MBA. You’ll spend more time with friends once you get the promotion. You’ll cleanup your diet after the string of birthday parties you have coming up (you never say no to lemon drop shots, or Carvel ice cream cake). The good news is that each one of these elements is an aspect of our lives that we have control over. The bad news is we often get in our own way. We are impressively good at making excuses to partake in activities that will make us feel good today, versus investing time in things that will benefit us in the future. You know, like skipping the gym to binge watch The Bachelor, or canceling plans with friends to stay late at work and catch up on emails.
There are so many short-term pleasures tempting us that it can make our long-term goals and intentions blurry and intangible. “It is, after all, in our nature to do things that will provide the most immediate reward. This is wired into our DNA for basic survival. For decades, psychologists have described increases in the ability to delay gratification as a cornerstone of human development from childhood to adulthood,” wrote Rath and Harter.
The Trick: Create Short-Term Incentives for Long-Term Goals
“As long as we allow short-term desires to win, it will be difficult to effect long-term behavioral change,” reported Gallup. That’s why, in the pursuit of total wellbeing, it is essential that we create short-turn incentives for committing to our long-term goals. When we are able to grasp an immediate payoff, it’s more likely that we’ll change our behavior in the moment.
Real life application: the long-term health risks of binge-drinking might not be enough to convince us to turn down that last round, but the short-term reality that knocking another one back will lead to a serious hangover that will have you bedridden tomorrow just might. Or you may decide to get to bed an hour earlier today, not because sleep deprivation increases your risk of disease, but because it will boost your mood and energy for that important meeting in the morning.
See what you just did there? You aligned your daily actions with your long-term objectives. With that framing tactic in your back pocket, you may just ring in 2018 as the master of your own wellbeing.
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