What does well-being mean to you?  How do you measure it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about these recently.  I mean how will I know when I have good well-being?  How do I know if I am healthy in that way?

I mean with physical health and fitness it is quite easy to set a tangible target but what exactly am I aiming for with my mental health recovery?

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and an online course around this to try and explore these ideas.  There are objective and subjective ways of measuring well-being.  Objective tends to be measure like income, level of education, life expectancy etc.  However, it is the subjective ways that interest me most.

Hedonistic v Eudaimonic

Subjective can be divided into two types: hedonistic to do with happiness and satisfaction and eudaimonic which is to do with the fulfilment of a purpose in life.  For example a nice tasty meal would satisfy you but wouldn’t really be fulfilling a purpose in life so it would be considered a hedonistic form of well-being.  An example of eudaimonic well-being would be helping other people out.

In fact it has been shown in scientific studies that eudaimonic acts actually alter our physical bodies and have been shown to raise the level of antivirals in our bodies!

Carol Ryff

Carol Ryff is a psychologist that came up with another way of measuring psychological well-being.  Ryff split it into six different areas: self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life and personal growth.

  • Self-acceptance – possesses a positive attitude toward the self; acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, including good and bad qualities; feels positive about past life.
  • Positive relations with others – has warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; understands give and take of human relationships
  • Autonomy -is self-determining and independent, able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways, regulates behaviour from within, evaluates self by personal standards.
  • Environmental mastery –  has a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment, controls complex array of external activities, makes effective use of surrounding opportunities, able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values
  • Purpose in life –  has goals in life and a sense of direction, feels there is meaning to present and past life, holds beliefs that give life purpose, has aims and objectives for living
  • Personal growth –  has a feeling of continued development, sees self as growing and expanding, is open to new experiences, has sense of realizing his or her potential, sees improvement in self and behavior over time, is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness

Holistic Approach

I have heard of this one before. In a holistic approach four dimensions are considered: physical, personal, social and spiritual.  Each dimension must be considered in balance, too much or too little emphasis on each one can cause problems.


Martin Seligman came up with another new model:

  • P- Positive emotion
  • E – Engagement
  • R – relationships
  • M – Meaning
  • A – Accomplishment

Personal Definitions

The other definition some researchers use (which I think is the most useful for me) is the personal definitions of the people involved.  Although I find this useful it is also quite difficult for me to define what well being means to me.  Here goes…

  • I would like to wake up each morning with a positive attitude
  • I would like to love myself and share this love with close ones.
  • I would like to forgive myself for the mistakes I have made
  • I would like to learn something new each day
  • I would like to have a good social life an group of friends
  • I would like to sleep well each evening
  • I would like to spend more time in the present rather than worrying about the past and future.
  • I would like to have a fulfilling purpose in life through work and voluntary work
  • I would like to appreciate the natural world in which we live

I like this quote from the online course:

“well-being is much more than living a perfect and happy life without pain and misfortune. Well-being means practising an ‘art of living’, with an eye for the positive aspects of life and opportunities that emerge, but without denying the suffering and decay.”