Improving well-being: the key to being happy?

Improving well-being: The key to being happy? Image of a cheerful young couple jumping together and celebrating success isolated over gray

Improving well-being!  Just a few short years ago I wasn’t even aware of well-being and now improving it is at the centre of nearly every personal decision I make.  Why?  Because when I became aware of the concept of well-being I realised how much power I held over my own sense of happiness, my own level of opportunity, my own destiny (cheesy I grant you, but we’ll go with it). 

This ‘improving well-being’ movement has been gaining momentum and is now far more mainstream.  Which is great news!  Once we all become fully aware of our well-being and begin to work on improving it, we all stand to experience multiple benefits.

But how many of us firstly really understand what well-being even is? And secondly, why improving it will lead to us to feeling happier?  

So let’s start by taking a look at the meaning of well-being…

When messaging somebody, I often say ‘hope all is well with you?’.  What I’m actually inferring – by the use of the word ‘well’ – is I hope they are healthy (both mentally & physically), and feeling generally happy and satisfied with their lives as they currently are.  Which in it’s broadest sense is actually what is meant by the term well-being.  

Improving well-being: The key to being happy? Image of diverse hands holding up the word well-being

Well-being is basically a measure of how satisfied we are within our lives.  We all have different values, beliefs, goals, circumstances – so how we measure our own satisfaction level is highly personal and unique to us.  And when we feel satisfied with our lives we could also describe ourselves as feeling happy, comfortable and/or contented.  Which explains how our well-being affects our happiness.  

How do I measure my well-being?

Although an amount of our overall well-being is reliant on external agencies, such as the government (when it comes to accessing things like health-care etc.), there are other areas of well-being that we can take a large portion of responsibility for and make changes where required.  This particularly relates to our psychological well-being.

As I mentioned earlier, well-being is largely based on how you feel within yourself so it really is determined by you.  However, there have been several studies outlining recognised and recurring factors that feature heavily when reviewing the subject area of well-being.  

Improving well-being: The key to being happy?  Image of 3 emoticon faces, unhappy, happy and unsure/OK a hand is held up about to select the happy emoticon

Dr Ylenio Longo of the University of Nottingham identified 14 areas that are often attributed to well-being*.  If all are present at a level we are satisfied with, in theory, the happier we will feel…

  1. Happiness – feeling happy and cheerful 

  2. Vitality – feeling energetic/full of energy 

  3. Calmness – feeling calm and relaxed

  4. Optimism – being optimistic and hopeful

  5. Involvement – feeling completely involved and engaged in what you do

  6. Awareness – being in touch with how you feel

  7. Acceptance – accepting yourself the way you are

  8. Self-worth – liking yourself

  9. Competence – feeling highly effective at what you do

  10. Development – feeling you are improving, developing, advancing 

  11. Purpose – having a purpose and a mission in life

  12. Significance – feeling what you do is worthwhile

  13. Congruence – feeling what you do is consistent with how you see yourself

  14. Connection – feeling close and connected to the people around you

Personally I see happiness as a result of a good level of overall well-being rather than an attribute of it.  But then I’m not qualified like Dr Longo – it’s just my humble opinion.   

If you have a good level of factors 2 through to 14 then perhaps it would be difficult not to feel generally happy and cheerful despite other events within your life (that we may not have as much control over).  

How do I go about improving well-being?  

I urge you to take some time to look at the list above and see if there are areas jumping out at you which potentially you might want to work on?  I know that up until last year I felt I was lacking in purpose, significance and congruence which spurred me on to address these areas and why in large part, I’m now sitting here typing and talking to you! (And side note, in general feeling much happier.)

The levels can shift and by improving the levels within certain areas, other areas are then highlighted for you to focus on (for a time).  For me in particular this year, I will be working on my current levels of acceptance and self-worth.  Which I’m pretty certain once I improve these,  development will then come asking for my attention.  See where I’m going with this?  

As you have probably already identified, some factors are interlinked and by working on one you automatically make a positive impact on another.  For example, if you don’t feel highly competent at what you do, working on increasing knowledge and ability by taking courses or putting in extra effort in other ways, will improve your feeling of competence whilst also increasing your sense of development.  

Improving well-being: The key to being happy? Image of happy fit senior couple exercising in park

Aside from this there are other ways to improve your well-being by ensuring sufficient sleep, a balanced diet and regular physical activity (and yes, before you ask, you can include sex as part of that – you’re very welcome).

The opportunity here for you is to identify and pursue the factors that you believe will contribute the most to you feeling you are experiencing a well-lived and fulfilling life. 

Isn’t focusing on my own well-being selfish?

As individuals, being able to maintain a higher level of well-being, we not only benefit ourselves but those around us and even wider society as a whole.  Did you know even governments often include improving well-being as one of their targets?  

I’ll often sit for one of my mindfulness practices and hear the teacher say ‘remember doing this is not only helping yourself but also everyone else you come into contact with’ and it’s completely true.  A more rounded, balanced, fulfilled and happier you can ONLY be a positive benefit for everyone around you.

If you’re still questioning whether working on yourself is being ‘selfish’ you might benefit from reading: Are you kind to yourself? The importance of kindness.

I know what I need to do but why don’t I do it already?

Improving well-being: The key to being happy? Image of a young woman posing with a thinking face as if considering the answer to a tricky question

You hold an awful lot of power within you, probably more than you even realised.  With great power comes great responsibility (who said that again?) and sometimes even though we know the steps we need to take to feel happier, it can be scary to take them.   

It’s often easier to live in what we know (even if we’re not happy) because it’s more comfortable for us, even if we suspect that by implementing changes our circumstances could become much better.  So I’m not suggesting you change immediately unless you feel you can (which if that’s the case, well done you!)  But for the majority, I would advocate just having an awareness (recognising what could be changed/improved) is a good first step.  Then take steps in a timescale that fits in-line with your brain’s adjusting process.

Believe me, there are a few things which I know I need to do this year, but are too overwhelming to progress with right now.  Even though I know they will be for the best and will improve my sense of well-being.  Let me clear though, that doesn’t mean I won’t do them – I will – but when I’m ready.  

So I guess what I’m saying is… don’t write it off because you can’t bring yourself to do it right now.  Park it and when you’re ready, go for it! 

As a side note, I do encourage you to recognise when you’re dragging your heels and procrastinating (read: Stopping Self-Sabotage – how to break the habit) and when it’s actually because the time just isn’t right.  

Will working on my well-being make me happy?

Only you can answer that, but it will certainly make you feel happier.

Speaking from personal experience, I’m much happier since I realised the value and importance of focusing on my overall well-being.  But life is unpredictable and you can never guarantee what is around the corner.  Bad news will always initially hurt.  

However, the difference is that you have the tools in your armour to better process these negative situations if they arise.  You’ll have built up enough strong positive beliefs and practices to be better placed to cope and minimise any potential damage. 

Improving well-being: The key to being happy?  Image of man wearing a flat cap and glasses, smiling, looking upwards and holding up his hands in a happy gesture

So, whilst a commitment to working on your well-being can’t guarantee to make your life a fairytale it will at least give you the key to begin unlocking your own happiness.


Time to start investing in you and your overall well-being?  You might find these articles helpful:

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*Source: Longo, Y., Coyne, I., & Joseph, S. (2017). The Scales of general well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 109, 148-159. (What exactly is well-being? Stephen Joseph Ph.D/Psychology Today)

What does well-being mean to you?  Was it something you were already aware of or is this a completely new one on you?  Do you agree that working on your well-being can increase your happiness levels? Get in touch by leaving a comment in the box below –  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  

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7 thoughts on “Improving well-being: the key to being happy?

  1. This is a great post Alex, and I could not agree more about wellbeing being of the most importance. I am a true believer in the saying work on yourself first. If we are happy and secure in our own skin, then no storm can destroy us, we have the strength to cope with most of what life throws at us. I wish more people would understand the importance of soul work xxx

    1. Thank you so much Kerry! Beautifully put and I love this term you’ve used – soul work. That’s a new one on me, but captures it brilliantly! xxx

    1. I couldn’t agree more Cristian – happiness is a by-product and yes when we realise it’s in large part defined by us (and we stop comparing to others) we really can craft out a meaningful and wonderful life! Thank you so much for your kind comment and for reading!

  2. Lovely post, Alex! I too have only recently learned the concept of well-being and I agree that working towards it may be a step closer to being happier 😊

    1. Thanks Kate! I’m so pleased you’ve brought the concept into your life too! Good luck on your well-being journey – learning more about yourself and your needs and values can only ever help! x

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