What does "wellbeing" really mean and how to achieve it?


they write: dr. Maja Fesel Kamenik and Matic Matjašič, B.Sc. Univ. psych.

When we talk about sustainability, we often first think of responsible management of the environment and forget about human sustainability. To sustainability, which is not only reflected in the length of an individual's life, but also in its quality. Human health is more than the absence of disease. It means that we live a satisfied and fulfilled life, successfully facing life's challenges and realizing our potential. What is described in psychological science is called well-being.

But what exactly does well-being mean? People imagine different things under this term. There are also many definitions of well-being in the professional literature. But all definitions have in common that the well-being or well-being of a person reflects a positive view of one's own life, a sense of fulfillment, physical health, social acceptance, meaningful and important work, close and loving interpersonal relationships and financial security. All this can be classified into three key aspects of well-being:

  1. Psychological well-being, which is connected to our thinking, feeling and interpersonal relationships,
  2. Physical well-being, which is associated with physical health, physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle,
  3. Social environmental well-being, which is connected by the circumstances in which we operate and the opportunities that enable us to develop, perform meaningful and important work, actively contribute to society, and provide financial security to create and operate outside of existential concerns.

The simplest and also the most common measure of well-being is the global assessment of satisfaction with life. But before we get to know in more detail the areas that contribute to well-being, let's first try to answer the two questions below.

Where are you on a scale from 1 to 10?

Imagine a ladder with rungs numbered from 0 (at the bottom) to 10 (at the top). The top of the ladder represents the best possible life, which you imagine for you, and the bottom the worst possible life.

  1. On which scale from 0 to 10 do you think you stand at this time?
  2. On which scale from 0 to 10 do you think you will stand in five years?

The task you just answered is called the Cantrill Self-Anchoring Scale, which is one of the most common metrics for assessing global satisfaction. Participants from more than 150 countries around the world take part in the life satisfaction survey every year. Answers can be classified in different ways, but for an easier representation, we can use Gallup's classification:

  • You are thriving in life (English thriving) those who answered the above two questions with "7 or more" yes the present tense and with "8 or more" for situation in five years, which means that you enjoy a high level of well-being according to the global results (27 % population on average, although the result varies from country to country). Individuals with this self-evaluation of their own lives typically report fewer health problems, while experiencing less worry, stress, sadness, and anger, and more happiness, pleasure, interest, and respect from other people.
  • You struggle in life (English stuggling) those who answered "6 or less" for the present tense and with "5 or more" for situation in five years, which means that you express the middle level of well-being according to the global results (58 % population). It is typical for such individuals to report a higher level of stress, a greater number of worries, as well as a greater amount of sick leave from work than the first group.
  • You suffer in life (English suffering) those who answered "4 or less" for the present tense as well as for situation in five years, which means that your well-being is low according to the global results (15 % of the population). Typically, such individuals lack basic necessities, are more likely to experience physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger.

Is happiness really the best goal?

As we speak on psychological well-being or to "wellbeing", our first thought is most likely happiness. "Being happy" is often the ultimate goal for most of us, but unfortunately, by its very definition, it is unrealistic. Happiness is not a permanent state, but rather an affect (i.e. a fleeting, short-term, intense emotional state) that we feel in a situation where our most important desires are fulfilled. The feeling of well-being is therefore closer to a positive attitude towards one's life than to happiness. A positive mood means a long-lasting, weak emotional state, which is associated with the judgment that we are already living a fairly full life, act engaged and motivated, cope effectively with the demands of life and fulfill our potential (so we are satisfied with where we are at the moment and we do not strive for much more). It also turns out that the pursuit of happiness as the ultimate goal paradoxically leads to a decrease in happiness and an increase in depressive symptoms. The reason is that people are often disappointed with their level of happiness, which in turn leads to its decrease.

It is also clear from the findings of the psychological profession that our expectation regarding the amount of satisfaction and happiness is often unrealistic and counterproductive, since even less pleasant emotions play a very important role in growth and development and, consequently, in achieving a high degree of psychological well-being. For optimal individual functioning, even a medium level of anxiety is recommended, rather than its complete absence, as it prepares us to invest effort in projects that are important to us. Likewise, the emotion of grief at a loss is entirely appropriate and helps us process the loss. When someone wrongs us, anger motivates us to stand up for ourselves and end the exploitation. So the goal is not to be happy all the time, because a balance between pleasant and unpleasant emotions is healthier for our functioning (footnote. All emotions have their own important function for human functioning and survival, so conceptually it is not entirely appropriate to define them as "positive" or "negative", but rather talk about "pleasant" or "unpleasant" emotional states).

But emotions are only part of our psychological well-being. They represent the part that colors our lives, while the other part refers to the positive psychological functioning of a person, or the mindset that encompasses the realization of potential, acting in accordance with our "why" and establishing positive relationships. Therefore, the pursuit of optimal psychological functioning, the realization of our potentials and the care of relationships are more important than the deliberate search for happiness. Happiness then seems to come as a side effect of a fulfilled life.

A healthy mind in a healthy body?

Although high psychological well-being does not necessarily mean good physical well-being or health or vice versa (so it is not a cause-and-effect relationship), longitudinal studies nevertheless confirm that a high level of psychological well-being acts as a protective factor against many mental illnesses, is significantly associated with biological indicators of physical health and longevity, and reduces the risk of various diseases ( such as Alzheimer's).

But what does physical well-being even mean? We are talking about the field of physical health, which does not mean only the absence of disease, but physical well-being, fitness and a high level of energy for various activities, functioning and engagement, which is contributed to by healthy lifestyle habits and health promotion activities (e.g. enough exercise or physical activity, healthy diet, adequate amount of sleep, contact with nature, exposure to cold water, morning exposure to UV light, absence of less healthy habits such as drinking coffee immediately in the morning, etc.).

It matters where you live and who you hang out with

Man is by nature a social being, as well as an inseparable part of the environment in which he lives. Even good psychological and physical well-being can be diluted in a bad and less stimulating environment. In order to realize his full potential, therefore, the individual urgently needs development opportunities in the environment. We're talking about social and environmental well-being.

What does a stimulating environment mean? Certainly, an important part of the stimulating environment is the professional or work field of the individual. Involvement in meaningful work provides a sense of usefulness and fulfillment, which is essential for well-being. The feeling of being adequately paid for work contributes to feelings of pride and self-respect. On the other hand, dissatisfaction with work causes negative consequences for mental and physical health. In order to achieve optimal well-being, we all need work that challenges and delights us and enables us to realize our own potential. In this area, in order to achieve higher people's well-being, it will also be necessary to change the paradigm of employer organizations from the position of "we provide you with work and pay you to do it efficiently (but we are not really interested in much more about you than that)" to the position of "" we take care of you holistically and create long-term added value together". 

But meaningful work and good working conditions are not enough. The "health of the world" around us is inextricably linked to our own health. Our surroundings strongly influence our thinking, emotions and actions. And not only the immediate surroundings where we spend most of our time, but also the state of our neighborhood, city, country and the wider planet.

The way we care for our environment and how we contribute to the community is an indicator of what we value as people and how broad our view of well-being is. The wider it is, the greater the likelihood of achieving the ultimate goal: a full, fulfilled life in which we realize our potential.

Optimize helps!

Optimism is a personality trait that correlates with and predicts levels of general well-being. We know that personality traits are relatively permanent characteristics of a person, but in the case of optimism, we can treat it as a way of interpreting and looking at the world. In this respect, optimism is closer to a learnable strategy than an enduring personality trait. In positive psychology, the term "learned optimism" is therefore used. There are several strategies for improving optimism, so below we describe the one that, according to research, has the greatest effect on improving general well-being.

The strategy is called “The Best Possible Self” (English "Best possible self"). The research found that just five (5) minutes of daily implementation of this strategy leads to an improvement in optimism both after the first implementation and in the following two weeks of implementation. The exercise or strategy goes like this:

"Think about what the best version of you would look like in the future, that is, if everything turned out as well as possible. If you worked hard and managed to realize all your dreams, goals, potentials. For now, focus on three main domains of life:

  • personal domain (goals in the personal area, e.g. physical and psychological development and skills),
  • relationships (relationships and contact with your loved ones, friends, colleagues and also joint activities, i.e. your social life) and
  • professional domain (e.g. career position, skills, knowledge, achievements, etc.).

Take 20 minutes to reflect and then write down the goals, skills and aspirations you would like to achieve in the future in these three areas. Based on these goals, briefly write down your ideal future in the form of a meaningful whole. Once you have formed your ideal future, the main part of the strategy follows: take 5 minutes and imagine in your mind as vividly and in detail as possible your ideal future, which you wrote down in the previous step. Repeat this 5-minute visualization several times.”

Research has shown that participants who did this exercise experienced positive effects on optimism and well-being after the first day and increased over time, so it's worth a try!


According to Gallup research, people today feel more anger, sadness, pain, worry and stress than ever before, which is why awareness of the importance of "wellbeing" is even more important. Psychological, physical and socio-environmental aspects of well-being integrally lead to better well-being and realization of potential. In many of these segments, we don't have to look outside ourselves for the key to a happy and fulfilled life. The answer is much closer, about many things we can find it in ourselves.


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