Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and peace activist
Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. It refers to the manner in which an individual’s life incorporates their desires, objectives, and needs, and so much more, to affect their entire world view.
Also, people may have different levels of wellbeing in the different aspects of their lives such as social status, emotional life, mental wellbeing, educational achievements, financial independence, physical health, identity coherence, sporting prowess, environmental values, relationships, etc.
In the end, wellbeing is a very personal idea and it is unlikely that any two people share the same views on it!
The Human Condition
I believe “the human condition” gives a good basis for discussing the myriad of approaches to wellbeing.
In all of human history, people have tried to achieve states of wellbeing based on many factors. But I find the narratives of the world have most to say about areas of wellbeing that give us the most in the way of guidance.
Working from the outside in, in terms of concentric spheres I see the following:
- Spiritual: Described as the Numinous and as being the “space that surrounds the universe”. Or as Aldous Huxley termed it, the Mysterium Tremendum. Even the atheist, Christopher Hitchens said, “Everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter.” It is a fact that I have difficulty describing exactly what it is even though I believe it exists.
- Physical: Coming in a layer in these concentric spheres is the physical universe that we live in. Here Physics has a lot to say about the world and Nature and how things work. It’s our environment. This is also closely related to creature comforts. They were actually explicitly being alive, including freedom from pain, tinnitus, hunger, heat, etc. (I wonder if freedom from emotional pain fits in here too?).
- Social: Coming in a layer even further we encounter our social groups, our community, our social environment. Here sociology has a lot to say, along with many of our cultural areas of knowledge. Social elements include knowing that my child was ok and my wife too as well as the wider community.
- Personal: Finally, we have the centre of our concentric spheres that contains ourselves. Here psychology has most to say, perhaps. It’s about who we are as individuals.
These four aspects of the human condition each contribute to our satisfaction, our fulfilment and our overall wellbeing in life.
Discover Your Wellbeing
You can do an exercise now to get your own ideas of wellbeing. This follows the advice of Eugene Gendlin discussing Focusing:
- Find a comfortable seated position
- Relax and calm your thoughts and breathing
- Let your attention drift down to your abdomen
- Ask yourself, “How do I feel when I experience wellbeing?”
- What feelings, images or words come into your mind? You can use the categories above if you wish too.
- Take your time and when you are satisfied that you have an answer to the question then stop and note it down.
- Finally, give yourself a score out of 10 on how close you are to your ideal wellbeing (10 being ideal and 1 being not good)
When I searched inside my own body for a sense of wellbeing I found a kind of tingling feeling in my “centre” and that felt good. It also felt rather physical like a smooth, firm golf-ball shape just below my stomach. I then came up with a description that began with:
- Physical aspects that mostly related to creature comforts. They were actually explicitly, being alive, then freedom from pain, tinnitus, hunger, heat, etc. I put freedom from emotional pain here too.
- Then the social aspects knowing my family are ok.
- Then spiritual aspects of being part of something larger than myself in eternity, despite the fact that I have little idea yet what that is.
- The personal aspect came next in still being able to think about things and being grateful for not having Alzheimer’s or similar brain diseases that might stop me thinking.