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Why Wellbeing Is Harder Than It Looks

Interview with Dr. Peggy Kern

Are you struggling to maintain your wellbeing? Let’s face it we all know that we should be moving regularly, eating wisely and sleeping deeply but if wellbeing was that easy we’d all be flourishing by now. And we’re not. But what if it didn’t have to be so hard?

In its simplest form, wellbeing is your ability to feel good and function effectively. It gives you the resources to confidently navigate the highs and lows of life, whilst enabling you to intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically ‘flourish’. Studies suggest when you have higher levels of wellbeing you are more likely to be more engaged and energized at work, more resilient, healthier, more charitable, better liked by others, more creative, more productive and happier.

So what’s the easy way to maintain your wellbeing, no matter what’s happening?

“Often people fall into a trap of seeing improvements in their wellbeing as a quick fix” said Dr. Peggy Kern, a researcher, author and senior lecturer in the Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education when I recently interviewed her. “We look for one single practice as the answer, instead of recognizing that wellbeing is shaped by the habitual mindsets and behaviors that uplift us and others as well.”

“For example, if you think about visiting the gym just once in an effort to improve your physical health, you might be a little sore the next day and you probably won’t be a lot healthier,” Peggy explained. “Yet if you build up a habit of staying physically active over time, then this will just become part of your lifestyle and begin delivering consistent benefits. Even small actions such as reflecting on the good things that happen each day, making meaningful connections with others, and taking regular breaks in your day can help to improve your wellbeing when done consistently.”

Peggy’s research suggests by using the five pillars of Professor Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of wellbeing — positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment — as well as physical health, you can sustain your wellbeing over the long term by balancing your focus across these different areas depending on what’s happening in your life at the moment.

So how can you improve your wellbeing when you have so many other things competing for your attention and energy?

Peggy suggests three simple steps to create small, successful wellbeing habits:

  • Find what already works for you (and what doesn’t) – take time out to consider your existing habits, and determine what currently undermines your wellbeing. Where can you re-focus some of your attention and energy? What actions already work well for you when it comes to developing successful habits? How can you build upon the things you’re motivated, committed and have the resources to do?
  • Measure how you’re doing – One of the most effective ways to create lasting changes in your habits is to record what you’re doing and monitor the progress you’re making. If you’re curious about how you’re doing across Seligman’s wellbeing pillars try the free PERMAH Workplace Survey which allows you measure each pillar, set small manageable wellbeing goals and create a personal wellbeing plan from more than 200 evidence-based wellbeing interventions that can be used as regular habits. Rather than shooting for one number that suggests you’re flourishing, the advantage of this tool is that it helps you uncover which wellbeing pillars have the most impact for you and the outcomes you’re wanting to improve.
  • Prioritize your wellbeing – with all the demands on your time, it can be hard to find time to fit in your wellbeing habits. But let’s be honest, no matter how busy you are when your body tells you it needs to go to the bathroom you make time. Why should looking after your wellbeing be any different? Given a growing body of evidence suggests that investing in your wellbeing can lead to success in nearly every domain of your life, including relationships, health, citizenship, and especially in your career, surely it’s worth prioritizing a few minutes each day to feel better and function more effectively.

What can you do to develop habits and mindsets that will improve your wellbeing?