Principles of Wellbeing – 7 basic steps

Girl meditating next to waterWellbeing, happiness, contentment, and resilience, relate to everyday lived experiences. These experiences are all connected and influence each other, with wellbeing firmly in the centre of it all.

Wellbeing is quite a buzz word at the moment, but what is the actual basis of wellbeing?

There is of course physical wellbeing, which is an important contributor to emotional wellbeing. In turn, emotional wellbeing helps us sleep, digest, and even move better – which again contributes to our physical wellbeing. See what I’m getting at?

When we’re blocked from meeting our emotional needs, we tend to suffer. On the other hand when we have overall balance we tend to feel happier. The extent to which we meet our emotional needs correlates strongly with our overall wellbeing.

In order to be truly happy it is important to achieve greater overall wellbeing, because lots of small healthy pleasures add up to a greater sense of meaning in, and enjoyment of life.

Here are a few steps that you can follow to achieve a greater sense of wellbeing:

1. Practise mindful calm

Mindfulness is when you watch your thoughts without trying to control or banish them. Relaxing and being “in the moment” rather than projecting your imaginations into the past or future has all kinds of potential benefits, from alleviating depression and anxiety, presumably because it lowers stress and helps us get a handle on ruminating thoughts (thinking about the same thing over and over again, feeling as if your mind is stuck), to slowing the effects of aging and improving overall health. It quiets your mind and helps you to “just be”.

I’d recommend aiming for at least 10 minutes a day of a deeply calming activity, for example meditation or just being still by yourself. When we’re calmer, we feel safer and also gain a greater sense of control. Safety and control are two important emotional needs. Relaxing regularly can help you get back to a state where you feel calm more often.

2. Move every day

Exercise has been shown to lift a person’s mood, particularly morning exercise. If the exercise is intense it can also complete the fight-or-flight circuit, meaning we’re less likely to feel anxious or panicky. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. In addition, when we exercise, the hippocampus of the brain undergoes neurogenesis, a process that is naturally antidepressant.

If all that weren’t enough, exercise also aids sleep, which is key to physical as well as mental health. Exercise can also help you feel some level of self-control and a sense of autonomy. You may not be able to control everything in life, but by exercising you can increase the sense of control you have over your body and therefore your mind.

If exercising seems too daunting for you at this stage, just try moving more. The more you move the better. The benefits are endless.

3. Get out into nature

Getting out of the house and into nature is an important part of improving wellbeing. Research has found that being outside in natural surroundings increases markers of wellbeing such as mood. Evidence also suggests it can even enhance immunity. It may be that breathing in airborne chemicals produced by plants stimulates production of white blood cells, that helps your body fight off diseases and infections.

To get out into nature doesn’t mean that you now have to go camping or walk around in the woods. A park or even your garden can have similar benefits. Also it doesn’t have to take up all your time. Research has found that two hours a week is the magic amount of time needed for wellbeing, and this holds true whether you go for a two-hour walk or run in natural surroundings once a week, or break it down into small daily chunks. I’d recommend getting out in nature every day if you can, even if it is just for a few minutes.

And if you combine it with your exercise you get a 2-for-1 deal.

4. Cultivate gratitude

It can be hard to see any positives when times are tough, but developing what we call “positivity sensors” in the mind can greatly enhance wellbeing.

Over the years many philosophers have talked about the benefits of gratitude. Just think of Buddha or Cicero. All the world’s greatest religions including Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism have stressed the idea that being grateful encourages reciprocal kindness and individual as well as collective wellbeing.

Research shows that gratitude exercises increase alertness, enthusiasm, optimism, and energy. People also reported experiencing less depression, they exercised more regularly, and made more progress towards personal goals. Cultivating gratitude can result in you feeling more loved and respected. See how everything works together?

As part of an overall strategy, at the end of the day write down three simple things to feel grateful for. Journaling can help focus your mind in such a way as to invite these wellbeing benefits into your life.

Even if it seems that there is little to be grateful for right now, start with the small things. Write down anything just to get you going. As you continue your gratitude sensors will sharpen up and you will begin to see things to be grateful for that you previously might not have noticed.

5. Connect with others

As people we are social beings. By socialising and connecting with others we focus less on ourselves and more on others. It helps us to be more creative and it brings joy into our lives. And there is nothing better than joy and laughter for your mental wellbeing.

So if you are able to connect with others regularly (and safely, because you know the pandemic and all) it will put you well on your way to achieve overall wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that you now have to become a social butterfly or start partying all night, it does however mean that you might have to have a cup of coffee with a friend every now and then.

And as a bonus, connecting with others will not only help you, but it will help them as well.

6. Engage in acts of kindness

Daily acts of kindness doesn’t just give others something small to be grateful for, they help you too. People who regularly engage in acts of kindness have reported being happier, feeling younger, being in less physical pain, and having more energy.

Kindness not only helps us connect with others, it also takes focus away from ourselves. Feeling needed contributes to a sense of wellbeing, it makes you feel good about yourself. Therefore kindness relates to multiple emotional needs.

Simple acts of kindness can include giving someone encouragement or a sincere compliment, giving time and effort to a charity, or helping out in any way we can. Just giving someone a big smile or a comforting hug can make their day, and brighten yours too. It is the small things that matters.

7. Stimulating your mind

An under stimulated mind can cause havoc with our wellbeing. When we are under stimulated or not focusing on real or immediate challenges, our imaginations are more likely to go haywire and worry and anxiety kicks in.

What if this happens? What if that happens? What if? What if? What if? The mind is good at creating scary scenarios, especially when it is underutilised.

So how do you stimulate your mind? Reading, learning, doing courses, and thinking in solution-focused ways can all help the brain stay healthy. Having meaningful conversations with other people will also keep your mind active and stimulated. The old saying “Use it, or loose it!” applies here.

Do you see how all these ideas to improve wellbeing fits in together? It all makes sense. I do however want to stress that there is no “quick fix” for happiness, but the principles of cultivating wellbeing is a good starting point to help you on your way to living your best life! You have to put in the work, no one else can do it for you.

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