The Science of Wellbeing
SARAH SCHIMSCHAL

What is Wellbeing?

In 1948, the World Health Organisation adopted the principle that “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.

There are several wellbeing related terms, which are often used interchangeably. Wellbeing can be described as physical health, mental health, social health, happiness, flourishing or thriving. This variation has evolved from 2 views on wellbeing—hedonic and eudaemonic.

Hedonic wellbeing is associated with happiness as a result of subjective wellbeing. This is measured by a person’s satisfaction with life and level of affect. Satisfaction with life represents the difference between a person’s present and ideal situation. Affect refers to moods and emotions associated with events.

So, hedonic wellbeing tends to focus on the present moment—the happiness we feel with social connections or the inspiration and awe we feel when surrounded by nature.

Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests the variation in happiness can be determined by a 50-10-40 formula. 50% of our happiness is genetically predetermined, 10% can be attributed to circumstances and the remaining 40% is determined by actions, thoughts and attitudes.

Happiness research has also focused on hedonic adaptation, a process by which people become accustomed to positive and negative experiences over time. For instance, if we suddenly have access to more money, the initial joy and excitement will dissipate if we stop paying attention to and savouring those feelings. This means to sustain and grow our wellbeing we need to slow down adaption to positive experiences, and speed up adaption to negative experiences.

“Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.”
Dalai Lama
Eudaemonic wellbeing goes beyond happiness and includes meaning and purpose. Many researchers argue this is a more holistic way of viewing wellbeing. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and believed eudaimonia was a result of virtuous or noble pursuits. Aristotle considered the pursuit of hedonic pleasures to be vulgar, and not all pleasurable desires should be pursued.

Improving Your Wellbeing

Wellbeing is multidimensional so there are several approaches you can take to improve your health. What path you choose will likely depend on your strengths and weaknesses. Below is a brief overview of two evidence-based models that encompass both hedonic and eudemonic wellbeing.

Wellbeing Models

Gallup Model

The Gallup model consists of 5 elements and is based on Gallup’s comprehensive study of people in more than 150 countries.

  1. Career wellbeing
  2. Social wellbeing
  3. Financial wellbeing
  4. Physical wellbeing
  5. Community wellbeing

PERMA Model

The PERMA model was developed by Martin Seligman who founded the positive psychology movement in 1998 after becoming concerned at the focus on treating mental illness, rather than proactively looking at human strengths to buffer and prevent illness. PERMA is an acronym for 5 wellbeing elements. Each of the 5 elements contribute to wellbeing and can be pursued, defined and measured independently of the other elements.

Positive Emotions

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishment

“Wellbeing cannot exist just in your own head. Wellbeing is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”
Martin Seligman
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