I recently re-read “Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements,” by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, published in 2010. I found the book easy to read and informative, and it prompted this post.
The book summarizes and synthesizes the results of several world-wide Gallup studies on the nature of well-being. The authors conclude that well-being consists of balance among five different areas of life focus: career, social, financial, physical, and community. The findings are based on the response of representative populations to a series of surveys.
As most demographic surveys do, this study relies on statistics, thus a relatively small number of people were queried (around 350,000 across the studies used as the basis for the book.) According to the statistics presented in the appendix, the sampling represents 98% of the world’s population, distributed across 150 countries.
Appendix D, Technical Report: Research and Development of Gallup’s Well-Being Metrics reviews how the study measured well-being: there are objective and subjective categories of measurement. Subjective measures of well-being are subdivided further into those measures that are based on how people evaluate their lives, and those that are based on how people experience themselves in the moment. These subjective measures approach what I consider to be the foundation of well-being.
As a result of working with clients over the past five years, I’ve gathered data on well-being, and agree with the Gallup researchers that well-being is both a consciousness based on logical perceptions, and an individual experience of life. Yet the foundation of well-being carries three distinct themes not mentioned in the study. From my perception, wellbeing is personal, ever-evolving, and holistic.
In being personal, well-being becomes a state that each individual can define for themselves. What constitutes well-being for me may not reflect well-being for you. I may factor health, supportive relationships, and a work of service in the world as my well-being, while a friend may put family, a satisfying career, and a comfortable lifestyle as the personal foundation of their well-being. Your own well-being is likely to be different still, as you have your own way of combining the many aspects of life into an experience of personal well-being.
And this personal well-being evolves, as each of us experiences life, and grows and changes as a result. Our paths are all unique and different, thus the experiences we encounter are dissimilar. How we respond to these experiences also varies. Each step along our path becomes more and more an evolution unique to us.
The characteristics of well-being change as a result of personal decisions, and in response to the changing scenery along a life path. For example, the clients I work with currently put the ability to handle life stresses at the forefront of their well-being; in the past, the most important part of their well-being may have been running a successful business, or parenthood, or being an educator or a public servant. Many of those attributes of well-being still figure into these peoples’ lives; the focus on each attribute has evolved and changed as they perceive its importance differently.
Finally, well-being is holistic. Well-being includes having positive experiences in all the roles one plays in life. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the value or importance placed on different aspects of well-being will change, but the desire to have experiences of well-being in all the areas of one’s life remains. To experience well-being, most people say they have to feel a degree of competence or capability in all aspects of their life. The Gallup organization’s studies support the importance of balance across areas of life as foundational to well-being.
When we make sure our well-being has, as its foundation, a recognition that it is personal, evolving, and holistic, we are affirming our value as individuals. The diversity of life on this planet assures us that there are as many perspectives of well-being as there are human inhabitants. It’s encouraging to each of us to live out the unique slice of consciousness and experience that we represent in the whole of humanity.