What is well-being?
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
What exactly is well-being?
Well-being exists in two dimensions, subjective and objective. (World Health Organisation)
Objective well-being is defined by external assessments of what you have, and how you behave.
This could involve high levels of education, physical fitness, close friends, or how much money is in the bank.
There are many different views on what objective ‘areas of life’ are required for well-being and what constitutes for it to be ‘good’.
Is it education? Health? Close friends?
Subjective well-being is defined by your own individual assessments and feelings.
Academic researchers have determined there are three major dimensions that define ‘subjective well-being’. (OECD)
Satisfaction: How content you are with your life.
Experience: How you feel when living your life.
Purpose: How meaningful your life seems.
Recent research has shown that it is possible to collect meaningful and reliable data on subjective well-being.
At Levell, we help you measure and understand your experienced well-being.
We focus on this dimension of subjective well-being as our daily experiences and feelings are most critical for our health and performance in work. And yet, until now, they have not been effectively measured.
What influences the feeling of well-being?
Today’s theories about what defines the feeling of well-being are derived from two philosophies about what it means to live a good life. These are the hedonic and eudaimonic theories.
The hedonic theory and approach
The hedonic approach defines wellbeing as happiness. It focuses on life satisfaction and positive emotions. (Zuo et al)
The hedonic theory comes from the idea that well-being is derived from satisfying one's material or physical needs and having a good time. This is achieved by amassing resources and finding pleasure in life.
The eudaimonic theory and approach
The eudaimonic approach defines well-being as meaningful. This focuses on the meaning in life and the realization of potential. (Zuo et al)
The eudaimonic theory of well-being posits that the good life is not defined by pleasure or satisfaction per se.
Instead, the eudaimonic theory takes the view that true well-being and the good life require a life of purpose.
The eudaimonic theory comes from the idea that well-being comes from living one’s life committed to or pursuing a duty, goal, or craft that lets one feel purpose and meaning.
Recent research has started to show that these theories are interconnected and complementary. (Huta, Veronika)
In fact, true subjective feeling of well-being most likely requires having some balance of both the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches.
This includes feelings of:
Satisfaction with what you have in life.
Good experiences and feelings day-to-day.
A sense of purpose and meaning.
What do we mean by well-being at work?
Well-being at work is important because we spend 8+ hours of our day in or at work.
How we feel day-to-day in work dramatically influences our overall well-being, through both the hedonic and eudaimonic lens, and thus impacts our performance and health outcomes in life generally.
For example, job satisfaction is a big contributing factor to overall satisfaction in life. Your sense of purpose in work contributes to purpose and meaning in life. And your positive and negative experiences in work impact your overall life experiences.
Your experienced well-being in work also impacts your desire to either want to stay or leave a company. (Levell Survey 2018)
At Levell, we help measure how people feel at work, and what they experience day-to-day, which is a critical measure of well-being.
These are the key states that Levell measures:
Energy, versus fatigue.
Joy, versus negative emotions or mood.
Calm, versus stress.
Motivation, versus boredom and disengagement.
Experienced well-being impacts health, improves the speed of recovery, and adds years to life expectancy. (Department of Health)
So, focusing on how you are really feeling day-to-day is extremely important to your quality of life.
Is well-being the same as mental health?
Subjective wellbeing is NOT the same as mental health.
Mental illness and subjective wellbeing are independent dimensions.
It is possible for someone to have a mental disorder and high levels of subjective wellbeing.
It is also possible for someone to have low levels of well-being without having ill mental health. (Weich, Scott)
That said, certain ways of measuring and monitoring experienced well-being can be used as an indicator of early warning signs of positive vs. ill mental health.
The indicators used to measure subjective well-being (i.e. frequency of high mood, or high stress) directly map to the same indicators or questions used by clinicians in screenings or diagnostic questionnaires to diagnose issues with ill mental health.
These also map to the dimensions of experienced well-being that Levell measures:
Questions that ask individuals to assess the frequency of their feelings of exhaustion, negative emotions, such as, frustration, or stress, are part of the questionnaires used by academics to diagnose burnout. (Maslach)
Questions that ask individuals to assess the frequency of their feelings of worry, stress, and irritation are part of the questionnaires used by clinicians to screen for or to diagnose anxiety. (Locke et al)
Questions that ask individuals to assess the frequency of their feelings of low energy or negative emotions, such as sadness, are also part of the questionnaires used by clinicians to diagnose depression. (Dr. Spitzer et al)
How to achieve experienced well-being and wellness in life and in work?
Subjective and emotional well-being is easy to improve.
Make up for bad days
Positive emotions can undo the negative effects of negative emotions on health. (De Neve et al)
Peers and colleagues can help
A nearby friend who becomes happy increases your probability of becoming happy by 63%. (Fowler & Christakis)
Health influences overall well-being, but well-being is also a predictor of future health. (World Health Organization).
A recent study from the US suggested that monitoring and managing well-being in work can reduce 120,000 deaths per year by $120-190bn of costs to United States employers. (Goh et al)
What can you do to improve your own well-being?
Focus on learning what’s holding you back
Why do you not yet feel well?
Think about what’s making you feel tired, sad, frustrated, or disengaged?
Likewise, when you have great days, it’s just as important to focus on what’s driving those positive experiences day-to-day and to remember them for the future.
For example, maybe, treating yourself to your favorite coffee shop drink or calling a favorite friend in a short break might boost your mood for the rest of the day at work.
Be more intentional about how you organize your life
This involves thinking about:
How you choose your job.
How you organize your work.
How you vary and plan your tasks throughout your day.
How you invest in building your financial wealth.
How you take care of your personal physical and mental health.
How you develop strong interpersonal relationships you can rely on for support.
Make changes in work to improve your experiences day-to-day
This can have a lot of many positive effects, including:
Staying in work
Physical and mental health
Longevity and mortality
How everyone does this is different, and it is super interesting to learn about what blocks you or drains you, or even what drives you.
While you're making changes in work, give yourself a reason to celebrate by seeing if what you’re doing is working.
To share and compare what you learn with others is important, as what positively or negatively affects others could be just like you.
How can you support or help others to improve their well-being?
There are a few simple, easy and efficient ways to support others’ well-being in work:
Helping people understand that measuring experienced well-being is important in work. Show them this blog, so they can understand why it will benefit them.
Help them see what to measure and why.
Use measurement as a trigger to reflect.
Capture what drives positive states and feelings; or what blocks you from improving.
Use this information to make better decisions about how to organize your work, what job to take, and also habits for health so you can always be at peak performance in the workplace.
If you’re a manager of a team, recognize that understanding your team and listening to their feedback will help accelerate the speed with which your team and colleagues can improve their well-being at work.
What is good for others is good for everybody! When others improve their experienced well-being around you it increases the likelihood that you will too.