Worried there must be something wrong with you as you are not ‘happy’ all the time? Or, conversely, always protesting you are happy and fine?
It is a common oversimplification that happiness and psychological wellbeing are the same thing. Happiness can be part of wellbeing, yes. But you can actually be happy in moments but have poor wellbeing, for example.
What is psychological wellbeing?
Mental wellbeing is less about always feeling great, and more about being at ease with yourself and the world around you, and feeling you can cope with whatever comes your way. So it’s about your capacity to function and stay balanced.
Better adjectives to attach to wellbeing are things like:
In fact psychological wellbeing is now connected to better physical health. You will sleep better, and be less likely to suffer endless flus and colds. You might even live longer.
How can I know my level of psychological wellbeing?
You can take the test! Here in the UK there is a test often used by psychologists called the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS), named after the universities where researchers created it.
It asks questions such as, how optimistic do you feel about your future? How useful do you feel? And it asks about things like your energy levels and clarity of thought.
Just like we can improve our physical health with things like exercise and diet, there are tools you can use to improve your mood.
And before you say ‘it won’t work’, it’s now been shown we can train our brains to feel better. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain and its neurons to reorganise and create new connections. When we repeat activities, we are more likely to create these new and more beneficial connections.
You probably already know several things that help you feel better.
But remember, it’s not just about ‘feeling good’. It’s also about feeling connected with the world, and like life has purpose.
It can help to group your wellbeing activities so that they create a healthy balance. The NHS refers to the 5 evidence-based steps of “get active, connect with others, keep learning, be aware of yourself and the world, give to others”.
But you can create your own way of grouping activities, with headings like the following:
travel, hobbies, taking a class, learning a new skill, learning a new language, etc.
But I already do those things and still feel low?
Ask yourself the following questions:
In the last week, how many of these activities have I actually done?
Are they activities I actually enjoy, or what I think I should enjoy, or my friends/partner like?
When did I last try a new wellness activity?
Do I tend to start such activities then get distracted by work or helping others?
Do I actually prioritise other things before my wellbeing?
Remember, neuroplasticity works with repetition. Many of us ‘think’ we participate in wellbeing, but it’s something that comes last on the list, or when we have time.
True wellbeing requires commitment. It means scheduling in your wellbeing activities and making them as non-negotiable as things like work deadlines.
And if my score is low enough I feel overwhelmed?
If your wellbeing score is very low (under 32 on the WEMWBS), it’s time to seek support. If you have a trusted friend you can talk to, that is wonderful. But our friends, despite their good intentions, are often invested in our choices.