The Elusive Quest for Well-Being

Are We On the Path to Relieve Our Pain?

Posted Jul 31, 2018

Maridav
Source: Maridav

What are we striving for in our quest for good health and wellness?  One way to look at it is to consider the World Health Organization’s definition of health as“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.  That’s not in our usual train of thought for many of us.  We sometimes get lost and lose track of this goal, focusing instead on getting rid of a particular symptom or set of symptoms. Then we’re disappointed and surprised when we don’t feel better overall. Maybe there’s another way.

The absence of symptoms, or getting rid of them, is often what most of us desire.  But that is not enough to feel well.  Well-being is not only freedom from the episodes of a mood disorder or depressive symptoms.  It’s an ongoing process that includes participating in the world around you, being in control of your life, making use of your skills and potential, and having key relationships that matter.  It means that you have a sense of competence and mastery in the things you do in your life and that you feel good about who you are.  Well-being occurs in the context of living in a safe, supportive environment and being able to meet your basic needs: food, shelter, clothing.  It includes caring for yourself physically with adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise and medical care as needed.  When this process falls into place, our stress levels go down as do many ailments.

Professor C. D. Ryff, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, wrote an interesting article on psychological well-being.  In the past, psychologists thought of well-being as happiness, satisfaction with life, and a positive affect. Thinking about well-being more deeply, Ryff describes its essential features in this way: 

·     Having a purpose in life, with meaning and direction.  This could be in your work or volunteer activities, as a student, parent, or in whatever role guides you.

·     Living a life based on your own personal convictions, beliefs, opinions, and principles. Being free to make decisions for yourself (called autonomy) without feeling controlled by another person.  Feeling respected for your thoughts, opinions, and decisions. 

·     Making use of your personal talents and potential. This could occur in your work, school, volunteering, or family life. 

·     Managing your life situations well, also called mastering your environment. We all experience the ups and downs of daily life.  The important thing is how we learn to deal with them. 

·     Having positive relationships, with deep ties to others such as friends or family members.  Close relationships are essential in maintaining our mental health. 

·     Accepting yourself, which means having knowledge and acceptance of who you are as a person, including your own limitations.  We all do better when we learn to accept and work within our own strengths and weaknesses. 

Now add to this the features of generalwell-beingdescribed by SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  They have identified eight overall categories with some similarity to those described by Ryff.  SAMHSA believes that achieving health and wellness requires a combined focus on both the mind and body. 

SAMHSA – features of general well-being

Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships

Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being

Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations

Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills

Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work

Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep

Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system

Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

As you can see from these two lists, the focus is on personal development and not on any one illness symptom or set of symptoms.  This is a pretty new wellness strategy for most of us.  

Looking at these lists probably feels overwhelming to you right now.  I agree it’s certainly not in the front of our minds when we’re struggling with a mental illness.  The key is to focus on one element at a time and don’t try to master all of these features at once!  Look to find the common areas of crossover between the two lists and see how they apply to your situation.

Perhaps you might start by looking at your purpose in life, the meaning and direction your path has followed or you want it to follow.  One could imagine that your chosen purpose or direction in life is based on the skills and interests you have.  This most likely gives you a sense of satisfaction.  Thus, thinking of your purpose in life ties in nicely with Ryff’s using your personal talents and potential and living a life based on your convictions, beliefs and principles as you take steps to achieve your purpose.  

Now see how all of that relates to SAMHSA’s features of well-being: intellectual (creative abilities, knowledge and skills), spiritual (purpose and meaning) and occupational (personal satisfaction from one’s work).  So, by starting with one feature to focus on (purpose), you have embraced several elements of wellness!  See how the two lists begin to merge and become smaller and more manageable.

Think about how you might feel about yourself and your life if you were to concentrate on a well-being train of thought in this way.  It might put things in a more positive perspective and help to feed your soul.

Stay well!