Every aspect of your life influences your state of well being. Researchers investigating happiness have found the following factors enhance a person’s well being:
• Happy intimate relationship with a partner
• Network of close friends
• Enjoyable and fulfilling career
• Enough money
• Regular exercise
• Nutritional diet
• Sufficient sleep
• Spiritual or religious beliefs
• Fun hobbies and leisure pursuits
• Healthy self-esteem
• Optimistic outlook
• Realistic and achievable goals
• Sense of purpose and meaning
• A sense of belonging
• The ability to adapt to change
• Living in a fair and democratic society
Factors are interrelated
The factors that influence well being are interrelated. For example, a job provides not just money but purpose, goals, friendships and a sense of belonging. Some factors also make up for the lack of others; for example, a good marriage can compensate for a lack of friendships, while religious beliefs may help a person come to terms with physical illness.
Wealth is not the key
Money is linked to well being, because having enough money improves living conditions and increases social status. However, happiness may increase with income but only to a point.
Many people believe that wealth is a fast track to happiness. But it’s not true. Various international studies have shown that it is the quality of our personal relationships, not the size of our bank balance, which has the greatest effect on our state of well being.
Believing that money is the key to happiness can also harm a person’s well being. For example, a person who chooses to work a lot of overtime misses out on time with family, friends and leisure pursuits.
The added stress of long working hours may also reduce a person’s life satisfaction. Research shows that people who pursue ‘extrinsic’ goals like money and fame are more anxious, depressed and dissatisfied than people who value ‘intrinsic’ goals like close relationships with loved ones.
Well being can be elusive
Well being is important, but seems a little hard to come by. One American study into mental health found that, while one in four respondents was depressed, only one in five was happy – the rest fell somewhere between, neither happy nor depressed. A recent Australian consumer study into well being showed that:
• 58 per cent wish they could spend more time on improving their health and well being.
• 79 per cent of parents with children aged less than 18 years of age wish they could spend more time on improving their health and well being.
• 83 per cent are prepared to pay more money for products or services that enhance their feelings of well being.
Measuring national well being
Measuring well being in a population is difficult because the interpretation of well being is so subjective – how you feel about your life largely depends on the way you see it. Like the saying goes, one person’s problem is another person’s challenge.
Australian researchers try to measure well being in order to keep tabs on living conditions. A typical approach to measuring well being is to count the number of individuals affected by a particular factor. For example, it is helpful to keep track of how many people:
• Have cancer
• Are single, married or divorced
• Exercise on a regular basis
• Smoke or drink
• Are on unemployment benefits
• Are victims of crime
• Are unable to read or write.
Keeping track of a population’s well being helps governments to decide on particular policies. For example, knowing the average weekly income of a population helps to set the ‘poverty line’, which may then influence decisions on social welfare reform.
The result depends on what is measured
Survey results tend to differ depending on what was measured. For example, an Australian survey of young people found that eight in every 10 reported feeling satisfied with their lives, including how they felt about their work, studies, income and relationships.
However, this positive picture is contradicted by another survey, which found that about half of all young Australians are grappling with a difficult problem such as depression or alcohol abuse. Well being is a nebulous concept that is hard to pin down with graphs, charts and statistics.
How to achieve well being
• Develop and maintain strong relationships with family and friends.
• Make regular time available for social contact.
• Try to find work that you find enjoyable and rewarding, rather than just working for the best pay.
• Eat wholesome, nutritious foods.
• Do regular physical activity.
• Become involved in activities that interest you.
• Join local organizations or clubs that appeal to you.
• Set yourself achievable goals and work towards them.
• Try to be optimistic and enjoy each day.