The majority of us strive to be happy. If you are a parent or carer, you more than likely spend a lot of time, energy and perhaps money looking for ways to increase your wellbeing and general family happiness. So what is wellbeing all about? And what do the research findings suggest that we need to focus on to get there?
There is so much out there claiming to be beneficial to wellbeing- so when you think about your family’s wellbeing what sorts of things do you include? Developments in the area of psychology can help us to develop a better picture of what contributes to happiness and wellbeing- helping us to focus in on the things that really matter and that really contribute to our sense of wellbeing.
What is wellbeing?
The concept of wellbeing has been through changeable times. Not so long ago, being ‘well’ simply meant not being ‘unwell’. Shortly after that wellbeing was seen to almost solely reflect the idea of happiness (i.e. the hedonic side of life, pleasurable feelings, etc). Nowadays, wellbeing is a more complex concept, perhaps matching our complex lives!
One of the most widely accepted theories of wellbeing (The PERMA theory of wellbeing; Seligman, 2011) suggests that wellbeing consists of several key and measurable elements- all of which contribute to wellbeing but none of which can define wellbeing by itself. The theory suggests that there are five core elements to wellbeing:
This element is all about the 'pleasant life'- the positive emotions that we experience in our day to day lives. Think about all of the feelings of joy, excitement, pleasure, comfort, interest, warmth, love and pride that your activities, environments and interactions might bring about. These positive emotions lead us to feel good... and to feel that life is good! Positive emotions are essential to wellbeing, however, living a purely pleasant life would still leave us wanting and not quite experience the sense of wellbeing that we are after.
This element is all about being engaged and experiencing a sense of flow in our lives. Think of the times when you are so engrossed and absorbed in an activity that time seems to stop (or you lose track of it at least!), you lose any sense of self-consciousness, and you quite possibly don't find yourself thinking about very much at all (no thoughts of shopping lists, pick up times, appointments, etc). You probably find yourself in deep concentration on the current moment and the activity that you are engaged in. That experience right there... is flow! The specific type of activity needed in order to experience such deep feelings of engagement are idiosyncratic and will vary from person to person. It's likely that 'flow inducing' activities will need to tap into your personal strengths and talents.
When you think about the last time you experienced strong positive emotions the chances are that someone else was present too! Having people with whom we can share the ups and downs of life is key to wellbeing. As social animals most of us don't tend to flourish and grow if we are forced down a solitary path in life. Being with people tends to make us feel good- and helping other people makes us feel good too!
With all the positive emotions and engaging activities in the world we are still a little adrift without a sense of meaning and purpose. A sense of meaning comes from being part of something bigger than the self. This sense of meaning and purpose might come via religion, it might be environmental or ethical causes, it might be a political party, family, charity, social enterprise or some other institution or cause. It's all about having the sense that you are serving something bigger than you... that you are part of a bigger picture.
We may well find ourselves engaging in activities not for the positive emotions that they bring about, the social connection nor the sense of engagement or meaning that they yield. We might engage in some activities purely or partly to gain a sense of accomplishment, success, achievement, competence and the like. Achieving for the sake of achieving- because mastering new skills and achieving something or excelling at something feels good.
Boosting happiness and wellbeing...
So... can you increase your wellbeing?
The five elements outlined above are said to each independently influence wellbeing (although they are not necessarily exclusive of one another) and are often pursued for their own sake rather than some other purpose. It therefore follows that by engaging in activities and behaviours that tap into these five elements you can increase your sense of wellbeing.
Giving each core element a boost can involve surprisingly simple actions and there are lots of things that you can do alone or together as a family that could tap into some of the above core facets of wellbeing. What works for you and your family- in terms of linking to the core elements of wellbeing- is going to have a unique element to it.
Take some time to think about the sorts of activities that you can start or just increase in order to spend some time laughing and having fun, spend quality time together and strengthen your bonds as a family, encourage deep concentration and a sense of flow, learn new skills, or make you feel like you are part of something with a great cause! When you begin to map some ideas out you will see why each of the five elements are not exclusive of one another- many activities tap into multiple elements simultaneously!
Simply being aware of what these five elements are could help you to notice which element or elements your chosen family activities tap into. Taking time to reflect on these core aspects of wellbeing and the types of activities that link to them for you and your family could change how you prioritise activities and look for new ones!
You should find that the specific changes often involve small and simple things that you can add to your family’s upcoming plans or even to your daily or weekly routine! For example:
-Could you bring more positive emotion into your lives by spending more time in nature, growing some flowers or your own herbs and vegetables, or even mindfully sharing a tub of ice cream together every now and again?
-Could you find ways of engaging in prosocial activities as a family in order to increase your sense of meaning?
-Could you start a daily routine that ensures that you all engage in at least one creative activity each day in order to boost positive emotion, flow and general flourishing?
These are just a taster of the types of practical activities that research suggests feed into our sense of wellbeing! There are so many more!
Psychological research, and particularly Seligman’s wellbeing theory, is at the forefront of our minds when we develop each of our Happy Little Bundles activity packs.