Jaime Cundy

Jaime Booth Cundy BSW, MAPP

The Beauty in the Beast

EDM and Well-Being: What is Well-Being?

What is well-being, and what factors influence it?

Posted Mar 08, 2013

As I start to delve into my ultimate question of the relationship between Well-being and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) I thought that a good place to start would be to define both Well-being and EDM. Both seem to be topics that people think they should inherently know the meaning of...but when really pressed they struggle to define them.

So what exactly do I mean when I talk about 'Well-being'?

I should start by clearly stating what well-being is NOT. 

Well-being is NOT simply the absence of illness. That would be like saying that I am healthy simply because I DON'T have cancer. That isn't the case.

Well-being is NOT a 'secret'. You can't just sit around and make a board and all of a sudden experience well-being. While vision boards and the like are useful tools...simply having them doesn't mean that you will have well-being. There is a certain amount of hard work and effort involved. If you don't have the work it is like having a hammer, nails, and wood, and thinking really really positively that they will turn into a house. Unlikely. The same goes for well-being.

Well-being does not mean that you sit around and ignore the fact that bad stuff happens. In fact it is quite the opposite. Well-being is being able to experience negative events, and not only overcome them...but grow from them as well.

Now that we have a brief understanding of what well-being isn't...we are still left with the question of what it IS.

According to wikipedia well-being is:

"a general term for the condition of an individual or group, for example their social, economic, psychological, spiritual, or medical state; high well-being means that, in some sense, the individual or group's experience is positive, while low well-being is associated with the negative."

While that is a decent general explanation of what well-being is....it doesn't really help to give us an idea of how it is measured or what factors influence whether well-being is considered 'high' or 'low'. For that we turn to Dr. Martin Seligman and his well-being theory.

What started as a conversation with his young daughter spun into Authentic Happiness theory and a whole new area of research in the psychology world. Seligman spent the early part of his career studying the very opposite of well-being. Learned Helplessness is the learned condition of essentially giving up, or to behave helplessly, even if opportunities to help oneself exist. One day while gardening with his young daughter she stated 'If I can learn not to whine so much, you can learn to not be such a grump!'. What was an innocent statement by a child spurred Seligman's mind. If it was possible to learn how to be helpless, could you also learn to become more positive? Learned Optimism was Seligman's first foray into positive psychology, and he hasn't turned back. Seligman is colloquially known as the 'Father' of positive psychology, and his theory of well-being still sets the standard for the field.

When he became the president of the American Psychological association Seligman looked at what psychologists did well. He concluded that the field of psychology was extremely adept at looking at a disease model. In other words psychologists were really really good at figuring out what was wrong with a person, and helping them to overcome that difficulty. What he found lacking in the field was a study of what was RIGHT with humans. What contributes to making life worth living? He felt that psychology should be just as concerned with human strengths as weaknesses. Seligman began rigourous research into the science of human flourishing and was able to develop Authentic Happiness ...or 'happiness theory'.

After developing Authentic Happiness Seligman was plagued by the smiley face. The initial theory did focus on 'happiness' which has proven to be a difficult concept to measure. Much of it is subjective and varies greatly form individual to individual. Indeed when I mention that I have a Masters of Applied positive psychology the misconception is still that I deal exclusively in 'Happiness' and somehow turn a blind eye to reality. Contrary to what people may think positive psychology is not a Zoolander-esque happiness brainwash. 

Since the original theory came out in 2002 Seligman has learned a lot and adapted his theory to be less centred around happiness and more focused on the more general term of 'Well-Being'. In his recent publication Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being Seligman summarizes well-being theory as follows:

"Well-being is a construct; and well-being, not happiness, is the topic of positive psychology. Well-being has five measurable elements that count towards it."

Those five elements, as defined by Seligman, are:

  1. Positive Emotion: These are the emotions that we feel that could be defined as 'positive'; Happiness, Joy, and Life Satisfaction would all be considered aspects of positive emotion.

  2. Engagement: The concept of 'flow' would be a perfect example of engagement.

  3. Relationships: More and more evidence is coming out everyday showing how our relationships, and our social networks affect our well-being.

  4. Meaning and Purpose: For many people religion and spirituality would fit under this element; for others it may be the feeling of being connected to something greater than oneself.

  5. Accomplishment: Some people achieve goals simply for the satisfaction that they get from completing the goal. This is an important element of well-being that was missing from the original happiness theory.

In order to be classified as an element of well-being theory Seligman decided that each element had to have three properties:

  1. It contributes to well-being
  2. Many people pursue it for it's own sake, not merely to get any of the other elements
  3. It is defined and measured independently of the other elements

Seligman is quick to state that no one element defines well-being, but each contributes to it in it's own way.

The aim then of positive psychology and well-being theory is NOT to make you all happy and oblivious to the world around you. Instead it is interested in taking what it has learned about the elements that contribute to well-being and focusing on how to build upon and improve each element. Positive interventions that draw on people's individual strengths, and focus on broadening and building have proven to be very effective in staving off the negative effects of trauma, and depression.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what I mean when I talk about well-being; I will start to answer the next questions of "Why is well-being important?" and "What is EDM"?

Copyright @Jaime Booth Cundy 2013

Writing Soundtrack: Songza Playlist - "Love 'n' Bass"

Want to know your Signature Strengths? Take the test here - http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

For more information on Positive Psychology: http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html

For more information on Well-being theory and human flourishing:

http://www.amareway.org/holisticliving/01/martin-seligman-on-flourishing-us-zeitgeist-2010/