Only two to three people out of every 10 are likely to be flourishing – experiencing optimal mental health and functioning within their professional and personal lives. Understanding more about the characteristics of flourishing and 5 simple ways how to increase well-being can help individuals, organisations and communities.

Earlier this year I attended the 4th Australian Positive Psychology & Well-being Conference at Melbourne University. It was fascinating to learn more about the evidence-based practice being undertaken in these fields and how it is really beginning to influence social, economic, education, health and business policy and outcomes.

A key takeaway for me however was from a presentation by Professor Felicia Huppert, Founding Director the University of Cambridge Well-being Institute and now of the Australian Catholic University. Felicia talked about the recent research in well-being and mindfulness and work that she has been involved with to define, measure and promote flourishing within the population. The findings add tremendous value to my work as a coach and facilitator but I believe they are equally relevant to parents, managers, teachers, workplace colleagues – in fact anyone who wants the very best for those around them!

The operational definition of flourishing requires a person must have the following core features: Positive emotions; Engagement & interest; Meaning & purpose. A person should also possess at least three of the following additional features: Positive relationships; Self-esteem; Optimism; Resilience; Vitality; Self-determination.

Although I don’t have any figures specifically for Australia the likelihood is that many of us will also be falling short of meeting the requirements for flourishing. The majority of people will have moderate levels of mental health and be functioning fine but still falling short of making the shift into that optimal state of being and feeling their very best. Some will be languishing – a sad, hollow state of little positive emotion. Some will be seriously struggling and suffering from levels of anxiety and stress that create risks of leading into clinical depression. So, the big question is what can we actually do to increase levels of well-being and flourishing?

Felicia reminded us of her work overseeing the research findings on the UK Government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital & Well-being. In partnership with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) this project started in 2008  reviewed the  inter-disciplinary work of over 400 scientists world-wide with the purpose of identifying the 5 most effective evidence-based actions to improve well-being. A major finding for example was that ‘Taking Notice’ – being mindful and in the moment, being grateful and savouring what is around us, is a key contributor to well-being. Felicia went as far to say that the science shows that Mindfulness should be the actual foundation upon which we build well-being in our home, school and work lives.

The idea is that these 5 activities can be easily adopted by people within their daily lives and also inform government, social and corporate strategy to increase levels of flourishing within the community and the workplace.

Ok, so in addition to eating your 5 portions of fresh fruit and veg each day here are the 5 evidence-based ways you can increase your well-being!

1.Connect Positively – with people around you in positive ways! Think about the way you interact with family, friends, colleagues and your community and make efforts to increase the amount of positivity in those relationships.

2.Be Active – exercise makes you feel good and increases energy and vitality. Do something you enjoy that’s right for you, but do it every day!

3.Take Notice – appreciate what is around you! Savour the moment – the tastes, smells, sights, sounds and sensations. Be mindful, take notice of and be grateful for what you have such as your environment, opportunities and relationships, rather than what you think is missing in life.

4.Keep Learning – try new things, take on new roles or develop new interests. Set some goals to challenge and stretch yourself regardless of age or ability. Step outside the comfort zone and boost that confidence!

5.Give – think of the bigger picture. Do something for people beyond your immediate circle. Give gifts of time, do acts of kindness, enjoy helping others and benefit from the unconditional rewards and connections you will make.

So if you want to flourish and be in that top 20%, along with your family, friends, colleagues and community there you have it. 5 ways to increase well-being on a daily basis!

This all may sound like common sense, but is it commonly applied?

Think about how often you practice each of the above  – probably not as much as you could?!

It takes effort to make positive change but there’s evidence that it works and there is help out there if you need it. Good Luck!

References:

Huppert, A.F. et al (2009). Measuring well-being across Europe: Description of the ESS Well-being Module and preliminary findings. Social Indicators Research, 91, 301-315.

http://neweconomics.org/projects/five-ways-well-being

Keyes, C. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health & Social Behaviour, 43, 207-222

So, T.C. & Huppert, A.F. (2009). What percentage of people in Europe are flourishing and what characterises them? Presentation to First World Congress on Positive Psychology, Philadelphia June 18-21, 2009