What is wellbeing?
Good question! Thank you for asking! This is my take, my thoughts on what wellbeing is. It is not a scholarly appraisal, it’s opinion rather than fact. I hope you find it useful and it nudges some thoughts that help you along the way.
Here are some metaphors, so it’s like this but not this…
- Wellbeing is an interface between the environment and how we receive the environment.
- It’s a relationship, a process, a constantly changing dynamic.
- It is a constantly changing energy that we can influence to a greater or lesser degree but not permanently control.
Wellbeing is the art of receiving Life, engaging with Life in the moment
and what we bring to that mixing bowl.
From philosophy to the hard edges
So, by way of example let’s say you go into work and your immediate boss is being a dick (this is a technical term these days). Let’s just say that he is genuinely treating you badly and is acting out his/her own dysfunctional stuff in a way that is unpleasant to you. It happens everyday to millions of people and many company cultures do not care that much – after all, if you don’t like it you can always leave…
Except you can’t.
So how do you receive that?
(And for the sake of this example I am assuming that the boss is behaving badly and that going to the HR department and complaining is not realistic). Imagine this happened to you and then ponder your answers to the questions below:
- How do you receive that moment?
- What thoughts, feelings and impulses to action come, unbidden to you?
- How do you (unconsciously perhaps) evaluate your ability to cope with this idiot’s demands against the pain of the demands?
- Where at this moment is your thinking and feeling experience coming from?
- What do you do with this in the short term and the longer term?
- What context do you put this incident within?
Your responses to these questions are the places from which wellbeing is being created for you / by you.
How do I receive the moment?
Anger, frustration, probably lots of thinking and feeling about the boss and my opinion of them. What do I do with this anger and frustration? Can I recognise it as feeling in the moment (which will pass) or do I act on it, project it out into the world by fighting back or bottling it up?
By the way I am not suggesting any of these responses are correct or incorrect in general. They are questions about how conscious you are to your own thinking and feelings in the moment and how much space you have between thinking and feeling in the moment and reflex reactions.
That space, or lack of it shifts the level of wellbeing we experience. The more reactive our lives are, the less wellbeing we will experience in my view.
How do I evaluate my ability to respond to the situation?
Perhaps not well. I am frustrated by not having the power to control my own time, by having to ‘suck it up’ once again. It’s both a short term and a long term lack of power to control my world.
Your appraisal of your ability to cope positively with a situation affects your wellbeing (and interestingly can be quite inaccurate and one area where coaching or therapy may be very useful).
Where do I think my feeling and thinking are coming from in the moment?
Grrr! Obviously from the boss because without his ‘contribution I wouldn’t be having these thoughts and feelings!!
The boss and his idiocy are the environment within which your thoughts and feelings are occurring. Environment makes a difference and nurturing environments vs toxic environments can evoke very different responses within us. My individual thinking and feeling is a stream that emerges from me as a result of how the kaleidoscope of my entire life history coalesces in the moment in response to / in relationship with, this trigger.
The trigger is not the bullet.
The behaviour of the boss is not a gun sending those thoughts and feelings of anger and frustration into my/your brain. It’s certainly a part of the recipe, it’s one of the ingredients of the final dish which eventually emerges from us in the moment. Our response in the moment is our experience in the moment and that comes from however the mix is in the moment. It’s a little like (but not) the Freudian free association. I say ‘fish’ and you respond ‘chips’, but another moment you may respond ‘no thanks I’m a vegetarian’, another moment, ‘not this week we’re over budget’, another moment ‘good idea, you are cooking aren’t you…’.
This is all to say that we are living our experience in the moment and that is created within us and from us. Our thinking and feeling in the moment is a snapshot of our life history and who really knows which ‘slide’ will be in the foreground from moment to moment.
AND… our personalities are constructed from the conditioned, more regular responses that we have ‘wired in’ over time, so even though it is all made up it can also be more or less regular. Which means although I get angry and frustrated pretty reliably by this boss there is a sense that this is a created / made up reaction – and therefore could be made up differently.
What do you do with this in the short term and the longer term? What context?
For me this follows on from the ideas of ‘psychological space’ between us and our thinking and feeling, ie to what extent are we identified with our thinking and feeling in the moment, and our self appraisal of our ability to cope with the situation.
The less reactive we are, the better we will manage and regulate our thinking and feeling in the moment and, at the very least, the less mess we will create by acting on the potentially insanely intense feelings we are having. The more positively we appraise our ability to cope with the situation long term, the more we can put this individual incident in a context which is generally moving in a direction we want it to, or the more we can accept a context not moving in a direction we want it to because we understand Life is also like that some times. It’s about how we ‘frame’ the short term and long term in relation to our overall view of how Life works and how we navigate our own discomfort!
Wellbeing in a nutshell
Wellbeing is a on going process made up of different factors.
The ingredients include:
- ability to have space from our thoughts and feelings and be present with them rather than reflexively act on and from them
- embodied understanding of where our experience (thinking and feeling) is coming from in the moment and the relationship of that experience in the moment with environment
- overall view of how Life is and works and how both ‘stuff that sucks’ and ‘stuff I like’ are placed within that view
Wellbeing as skill and ‘innate quality’
There are some approaches, such as the Three Principles, that might see ‘wellbeing’ as an innate quality and as such we do not need to do anything specific to experience more of it. I have no idea if there are such things as innate qualities that exist at some deeper level. I just don’t know. That a quality being innate means it cannot/should not be trained is wrong in my view, but only completely…
What I do know (which sounds so much better than ‘my opinion is’, but means much the same!) is that the ingredients of wellbeing that I have identified are all amenable to cultivation.
Skills training will make a difference and the tools to use are widely available. You supply the effort over time…
Wellbeing – last thoughts
- Wellbeing can be developed.
- It can be developed in whatever situation you find yourself and will improve your ability to navigate whatever situation you find yourself in.
- It is a dynamic process and some days will be better and some worse and that’s the ride
Where to start?
This is up to you. One way to look at it would be to consider which of the ingredients outlined above do you suck at most, and then strengthen that first. My own bias is to meditation, I see that as an invaluable cauldron of skills and insights. Another way would be to consider a situation where you are not doing too well and evaluate what you are currently doing to cope that is working or not working and notice how you relate to the thoughts and feelings that typically occur.
Start again – and repeat.
Please leave your thoughts, comments and questions in the comments section and in the Facebook group