There are many, varied benefits of well-being. It might seem needless to talk about the benefits of well-being because well-being itself is a self-evident benefit. However, well-being is a complex and fluid mixture of factors, as well as benefits, and it is useful to know and value well-being for what it is, rather than for what it is not.
Well-being is different for different people but it encompasses a range of factors that all people have in common, that we can talk about. These factors – physical, emotional, intellectual, vocational, social and inner – make up a holistic system of well-being as outlined below.
Humans are motivated by needs. We can fulfil our needs in harmless, productive ways. We can also attempt to fulfil our needs in harmful, destructive ways. The psychologist Erich Fromm continually made the point that we are driven to use our human energies and powers because that is how we deal with being human i.e. highly intelligent, highly competent, self-aware animals. Being destructive is a way to express human ‘powers’ but it negates many of the other forms of well-being.
In good order
Our overall wellness is predicated on what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls an ‘ordered consciousness’ because inner conflict causes mental illness.
It is quite common for people to pursue one aspect of well-being and neglect others. This can cause inner conflict and feelings of guilt, resentment, frustration and anxiety. Genetic factors, trauma and stress also cause anxiety and depression.
The benefits of well-being
Physical well-being is when we are fit and able for the physical challenges of life, and safe from physical threats. If we are physically healthy, we are better able to avoid or ward off illness. We will have more energy and won’t get tired so easily. We can enjoy a wider range of physical activities. Also, physical wellness is an enabler of more well-being, for instance it gives us more confidence, clearer minds and we just ‘feel’ better about things in general. All of these things in turn provide greater emotional well-being.
Emotional well-being means we are mentally able to cope with the challenges of life and thrive in spite of uncertainty and perceived threats. As self-aware beings with a naturally wary disposition, emotional stability helps us fully function without having a constant primal fight, flight or freeze response. Emotions are largely driven by rewards on the one hand and threats on the other. There is a complex interplay between these motivations. There are two fundamental types of rewards – hedonic and eudaimonic. These can be summed up by saying hedonic rewards are things that ‘feel good’ and eudaimonic rewards are things that ‘feel right’. On the other hand, threats are things that feel bad or feel wrong.
Emotional well-being provides the foundation to build healthy and supportive relationships, and we are more able to help and support others which is good for social wellness. Good emotional intelligence is the foundation on which social well-being is built. Humans are social animals, our overall wellness can be considerably enhanced when we feel the love, fellowship and support of others. However, our well-being will be compromised if we live isolated lives. Many studies have proven that good, positive relationships increase life expectancy and overall life-satisfaction, including this 83 year study. All people have the need to belong and feel connected. It helps us cope with the challenges of life. Talk about empathy, altruism and mutual aid.
Vocational well-being happens when we are satisfied in our chosen vocation. Humans have an innate need for self-esteem and to feel respected. Self-esteem might come through any type of achievement but often it comes from being able to financially support ourselves and our families. Everyone needs to pay their bills and people will get stressed if they either can’t or if it is a difficult juggling act. However, that can come at a cost if we do work that isn’t fulfilling in other ways. The majority of people are not satisfied with their jobs for a variety of reasons. It is important that we consider work-life balance and ensure that work does not interfere with other forms of well-being. It is perplexing that parents will work long hours to provide for themselves and their children when what the children need the most is for parents to be around more.
Our intellectual well-being is based on the pursuit of understanding and wisdom. Intellectually, we also need to feel able to use and stimulate our powers for learning, imagination, creativity, self-expression, and developing our potential. These benefit our need to fully function and to ‘produce our Self’. One of the outcomes of a consumerist lifestyle is ennui. Ennui, or boredom, if the discomfort of being too comfortable. People will often choose hedonic rewards (sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc) to ward off boredom but these things are short-lived. Only by challenging ourselves on a regular basis can we achieve the eudaimonic rewards we get from personal development.
The benefits of inner well-being are the feelings of gratitude for life and peace. Our inner life relates to our existential self, or the experiencing self. It is the ‘I’ in ‘I am not my thoughts’.
One of the most common regrets of people on their deathbeds is ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’; so being true to your self will provide immeasurable benefits. People who choose simple living talk of the freedom and peace that comes from it. The proverbial rat-race is all too real and it is debilitating for some.
Sustainability is a benefit of well-being
As we have seen, well-being has considerable benefits for individuals but it doesn’t stop there. Well individuals support a well society and well individuals and society support a well environment. There is little doubt that modern affluent lifestyles not only harm individuals (lifetstyle diseases, anxiety and depression) they harm the environment (climate change, environmental degradation, and depletion of natural capital). At Econation we strongly advocate a move away from materialist-consumerist lifestyles as a way to achieve greater well-being for both people and planet.
“We all only have one life and one planet, we need to look after both”
– Michael Lockhart, Founder, Econation
The well-being that is touted by those who would profit from selling it is not real. It is literally manufactured. Well-being can be supported by needed goods and services but in the end human well-being is the reward for the pursuit of a wide range of wellness factors most of which cannot be acquired with money.