This blog was written by Alexis C. Kenny, author of Married in Mission: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service

Ali Kenny
Ali Kenny
Source: Ali Kenny

This blog is for teachers, counselors, coaches, and psychologists who lead groups that foster awareness about human functioning. It describes an experiential activity that involves walking individuals through an exercise that enables them to develop a clear map of their well-being by drawing it out on a “Well-Being Wheel”. The exercise is conceptually informed by the Nested Model of Well-being, which provides a new and straightforward way to define human well-being that is grounded in an integrative, meta-theoretical view of the field of psychology (Henriques, 2011). The Nested Model includes considerations of not just being happy, but living the valued life. It aligns well with Immanuel Kant’s position that the highest good is happiness with the worthiness to be happy. As a society that tends to lean toward valuing happiness versus the worthiness to be so (e.g., How to be Happy: Or at Least Less Sad; How to be Happy, Dammit; How to do Everything and be Happy; How to be Happy in an Unhappy World; How We Choose to be Happy, etc.), we often skip over the meaning-making process that is part and parcel to what imbues life with integrity, dignity, and “w-holiness.” Being able to hold a clear vision of why your happiness is worthy in and of itself is crucial, and yet, quite complicated.

Gregg Henriques
The Nested Model of Well-Being
Source: Gregg Henriques

The experiential learning activity described below utilizes both the Well-Being Wheel and the Nested Model Well-Being Wheel, and functions as a bridge that connects the appropriate complexity of Henriques’ Nested Model of Well-Being and the more concrete application of this model to an individual’s own life and overall wellness. More specifically, it is the guided reflection, visual depiction, and psychoeducational elements that can help facilitate the clarification of the meaning-making process behind what constitutes one’s own version of well-being. The remainder of this blog post is the exercise itself, which is broken down into various steps for the sake of clarity.

I have found that this particular exercise can be used in both small (~10 people) and large (~40 people) groups, and can take between 60 to 90 minutes to complete. In terms of demographics, this activity has been used with emerging adults and “actual” adults from both North American and international contexts. Thus, its utility can span across age ranges and cultural boundaries.

Materials Needed: Whiteboard (chalkboard, butcher paper, large flip chart, etc.), writing utensils, and copies of the Well-Being Wheel and the Nested Model Well-Being Wheel for each participant.

STEP 1: Brainstorming. Gather your participants as a large group and begin with something akin to: “When I say, ‘well-being,’ what words come to mind? These words could describe ‘well-being’ in general as well as your own personal thoughts about the term.” Since this is a brainstorming process, write down all the words that your participants offer. Examples: happiness, balance, family, friends, sleep, pets, exercise, sex, money, leisure time, etc.

STEP 2: Brief Discussion. While there will be plenty of time for dialogue, you may want to make a comment about how the idea of well-being can vary from individual to individual, and yet there seem to be some underlying commonalities.

STEP 3: Well-Being Wheel. Hand out a Well-Being Wheel to each of your participants (see below). There are eight spokes comprised of numbers 1-10 with a blank line at the end. On these blank lines, group members are to write down something that they need present in their lives in order to feel like their best selves, fully functioning in roles and domains that are important to them. (Jump ahead one step to see my own well-being components.)While this step is to be completed as individuals, participants are more than welcome to use any of the brainstormed elements of well-being that were generated by the larger group.

Gregg Henriques/Kenny
FIGURE 1 – Well-Being Wheel: Blank
Source: Gregg Henriques/Kenny

STEP 4: Number Lines. Once all group members have filled in their Well-Being Wheels, each person is to assess all eight spokes. On a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being “poor,” 5 being “decent” and 10 being “excellent,” participants are to circle the number the reflects how they are currently doing in regard to the component of well-being in question. For example, if I labeled one of my spokes as “sleep,” I would circle “4” as I have 7-month daughter who is a night owl just like her father.

Gregg Henriques/Ali Kenny
FIGURE 2 – Ali’s WB Wheel: Components/Numbers
Source: Gregg Henriques/Ali Kenny

STEP 5: Connect The Dots. After everyone has ranked each of their well-being components, have group members “connect-the-dots,” linking one circled number to the next so that all of the spokes on their Well-Being Wheels form an enclose shape. I provide my own Well-Being Wheel below as an example of what the finished product should (could) look like. It is common that most group members have several of their well-being spokes falling quite short of the ideal 10 – “excellent.”

Gregg Henriques/Ali Kenny
FIGURE 3 – Ali’s WB Wheel: Lines
Source: Gregg Henriques/Ali Kenny

STEP 6: Pair and Share. Have group members break up into pairs to discuss the following:

  • Share your eight components of well-being and the reasons why they are a part of your definition of well-being.
  • What similarities exist in your Well-Being Wheels? Differences?
  • Which elements are in the higher range of functioning? Lower?
  • Why is this the case?

STEP 7: Large Group Reflection. Bring partners back together as a larger group, and ask what they shared or learned in their paired conversations. If more structure is needed, inquire about more general well-being components (e.g., “Who put sleep as one of their well-being components? Ok. Who circled a ‘6’ or higher? Alright. What about lower than a ‘5’? Would you mind sharing why your number is so high/low?”). As individuals talk about certain spokes that are not functioning at the optimum level, ask for feedback from other group members who have successfully managed similar kinds of issues.  

PAUSE. Before proceeding to the following step, we must become a bit more familiar with Henriques and colleagues’ (2014) conception of Nested Well-Being. According to the model, the four nested domains that constitute human well-being are as follows:

Domain 1 – the Subjective Domain, which is the first person, phenomenological, conscious experience of happiness (vs. misery) along with the self-conscious, reflected levels of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with life and its various domains.

Domain 2 – the Health and Functioning Domain, which can be further divided into two broad dimensions of functioning, the biological and the psychological.

Domain 3 – the Environmental Domain, which can also be effectively divided into two broad domains, the material and the social environment.

Domain 4 – the Values and Ideology Domain, which refers to the morals, ethical perspectives, and overall worldview of the evaluator.

 In “translating” the academic terminology of the aforementioned paragraph, I have simplified and expanded the four domains of Nested Well-Being into what constitute the eight spokes of the Nested Model Well-Being Wheel. Life Satisfaction corresponds with Domain 1, Physical and Mental correspond with Domain 2, Relationships, Living Environment, and Economic all correspond with Domain 3, and Vocation/Occupation and Values correspond with Domain 4.

Gregg Henriques/Kenny
FIGURE 4 – The Nested Model WB Wheel
Source: Gregg Henriques/Kenny

STEP 8: The Nested Model of Well-Being. This step takes on a more psychoeducational tone, which can be modified in terms of breadth and depth depending on the situation. Present the Nested Model of Well-Being Wheel image to group members (via PowerPoint, in hardcopy form, etc.). Offer a brief narration of what this model of well-being aims to do (comprehensively outline well-being and its definition as a value-laden construct), and then outline each of the Nested Model domains.

I offer concise summaries of what each spoke in the Nested Model Well-Being Wheel represents a component within the Well-Being Check-Up System (Henriques, 2014):

Life Satisfaction: This spoke refers to one’s experience of feeling states and is representative of overall life satisfaction. Basically, one is answering the question, What percentage of your life would you say is “positive” versus “negative”?

Physical: This spoke refers to one’s bodily systems and their level of functioning, which can include sleep, diet, exercise, physical ability, etc.

Mental: This spoke refers to one’s psychological functioning, which can include levels of stress, positive or negative feelings, and the capacity to regulate one’s self toward one’s goals.

Relationships: This spoke refers to one’s relationships with those in one’s family of origin, family of procreation, and, important communities, as well as romantic partners and close friends.

Living Environment: This spoke refers to one’s satisfaction with one’s living space, which includes the buildings and natural surroundings of where you live and work. 

Economic: This spoke refers to one’s financial stability, which includes the ability to meet one’s basic needs (i.e., food, water, shelter), feelings of safety, etc.

Vocation/Occupation: This spoke refers to one’s sense of fulfillment in regards to what he/she dedicates most of his/her time and energy.

Value Health: This spoke refers to the morals, ethical perspectives, cultural values, spiritual sensibilities, personal preferences, and general worldview of the evaluator.

Ask your group members to actively listen to the definitions of each domain, and categorize each of their own well-being components according to the Nested Model. For example, as previously mentioned, “sleep” is one of my well-being components, which corresponds to the Physical spoke of the Nested Model of Well-Being Wheel, so I would label it accordingly.

STEP 9: Feedback. Once you have read through each of the eight spokes of the Nested Model of Well-Being Wheel, dialogue with your group about any components of their personal well-being wheels that did not necessarily fit into a particular domain. More often than not, each individual will be able to identify all eight elements of their well-being using this model, which is a testament to the thoroughness of Henriques’ conceptualization.

STEP 10: Conclusion. A general conclusion to this exercise can highlight the importance of construct clarification and self-reflective awareness. The idea of well-being has not been clearly and systematically defined by psychology or other related fields. Henriques and colleagues (2014) do so in a way that comprehensively addresses the various facets that constitute happiness and its worthiness to be considered such. Moreover, this activity serves as an effective means by which to reflect on one’s life being lived. Here is some feedback from several individuals who have taken part in this exercise:

“I really enjoyed this activity. I was able to evaluate my own life and see what I need to work on. I also was able to look at my partner’s assessment and realize how they achieve their successes and cope with their hardships.”

“I liked this activity because I never really take a step back and analyze what areas of my life and well-being are lacking. It helped me to open my eyes and be more honest with myself.”

“I really liked this activity because it visualized what I value in my life and where I’m at with my well-being. It also showed me what I need to work on.”

“I found this activity interesting and simple. It was nice hearing how others related to me.”

I hope you, as a reader, are able to utilize this exercise as a means of experiential and effective education that informs your clients, students, athletes, group members, or whoever else about the importance of well-being. Choosing to have a being that is well is an active process, and one that calls us to a deeper consideration of what meaning we ascribe to various parts of our lives and why.


Henriques, G. R., Kleinman, K., & Asselin, C. (2014). The Nested Model of well-being: A unified approach. Review of General Psychology, 18, 7-18, doi10.1037/a0036288.

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