In recent years the concepts of wellness and wellbeing have taken on increased importance in public discourse. More than ever before we are encouraged to be mindful of what we eat, how well we sleep, and to open up about our problems to those around us. While this increased focus on mental health is undoubtedly a positive development, it’s also opened the door to all sorts of quick fix products and self-appointed social media influencers employing the language of wellbeing to capture our money and attention.
As our emotional wellbeing becomes commercialised it can become harder and harder to discern what is worthwhile advice, and what is merely superficial lifestyle content. Social media tells us that wellness is arrived at through self-care. Yet self-care is presented as everything from constructing an aesthetically pleasing granola bowl for breakfast, to buying new clothes, to cutting off contact with old friends and family members, a two-hour evening meditation or a seven-mile run every morning.
Some of this is undoubtedly helpful and true, while much of it is not. Especially for younger generations of social media users, the main takeaway from all this tends to be that if we want the perfect lives depicted on-screen, we need to imitate, emulate, and copy what we see and hear. However, with a more conceptual grounding in what makes for true wellbeing we can make more informed choices about what we allow into our own lives, nurturing an active and independent sense of self rather than being drawn in by the crowd.
Back in 2008, the New Economics Foundation assessed over 400 peer reviewed scientific papers in an attempt to discern the common factors that create the conditions for human wellbeing. The resulting report, titled Five Ways to Wellbeing, identified five key areas where our mental health could be impacted for the better based on our activities and relationships. Rather than offering a list of specific actions to undertake, the report was designed to offer a broad structural framework that could accommodate the lifestyles of diverse individuals.
In this next series we’re going to take a look at each of these five areas, thinking through some of the ways we might begin to implement them in our daily lives, without attempting to be someone we are not.