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Isn’t being happy enough, why is wellbeing so important?

Sheena Polese MSc Coaching Psychology / Professional Certified Coach.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the possibility of sustained happiness in the year of 2020 making it painfully clear to us that both our happiness and emotional well-being is critical, variable, and vulnerable.  Covid has challenged the possibility of achieving constant happiness as it would be an absurd possibility to achieve under the circumstances of a pandemic.  Perhaps the pursuit of wellbeing is a more realistic and attainable goal. 

Well-being was once thought of as a nice to have and to be achieved when all else is accomplished.  Now we accept the notion that wellbeing is a must have that enables us to navigate the complexities of life we are all dealt.  Recognising that wellbeing is not necessarily easy to attain or maintain.  It is possible to achieve a good level of wellbeing even in a pandemic when perhaps happiness may be more difficult to pursue and achieve.   The upside of working towards a higher state of wellbeing is it brings rewards for the individual while it also benefits the home and family environment, the workplace, and the community.

Isn’t Happiness enough?
But what about the allure of seeking happiness?  The master of positive psychology and well-being theory, Martin Seligman describes well-being as a construct compared to happiness which is a thing.  We are confronted in modern society by people asking how are you? Are you happy? I often hear mothers say, I just want my children to be happy. But happiness on its own which is often measured by a satisfying experience life at a given point in time is often determined by the pleasurable feeling or a mood at that specific moment in time rather than over time.  In contrast, wellbeing is multi factorial and considers both happiness and the presence of positive affect and the absence of negative affect, usually over time.  Happiness as a measure on its own is vague and doesn’t consider the broad range of emotions that one is likely to experience over a lifetime nor is the avoidance of negative feelings (affect) is a healthy or balanced approach to life. There are simply many situations in life where positive emotional responses are simply not appropriate, such as illness, death, tragedy.  This is not suggesting that an injection of humour is not helpful, but rather allowing for the usual range of emotions to be experienced.

Humans have an inbuilt baseline for happiness and once experiencing a positive or negative response, tend to return to the baseline again.  Think the purchase of a new car which evokes happiness on the day of delivery, the few weeks after and then the happiness returns to a baseline once again. 

Both wellbeing and happiness remain important as they have been shown to lead to many good outcomes in life including higher productivity, motivation about life and work, living longer and a more healthy and stronger immune system, making more money, being better leaders and better citizens in their workplace.  

An individual ‘s well-being is a more holistic measure which can be completed by taking the satisfaction with life survey (SWLS) which is a longitudinal view of one’s life, considering the expectations of life, the conditions of one’s life and a subjective view of whether the respondent has the important things from life they hoped for.  Distinct from happiness which is more about mood and sense of optimism in each moment.  The work of Martin Seligman in Positive Psychology helps demonstrate the more holistic nature of wellbeing with his handy mnemonic PERMA.   The variables of Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. Any of these elements could provide moments of happiness, particularly the first two as they are subjective, but it is the combination of the elements and interventions and tools that sit within PERMA that contribute to and someone’s wellbeing and also make it measurable.

When we look more closely at Wellbeing and go back to the example of the purchase of the new car, the sense of happiness might be so heightened for a weeks after the purchase, but then the elated sense of happiness diminishes over time.  However, if the owner of the new car is mindful about this acquisition and participates in the act of savouring and having gratitude for their ability to purchase and care for the new car, this creates a possibility to increase one’s wellbeing through sustained and finding continued joy from the new car purchase.  There are many interventions an individual can adopt to enhance one’s wellbeing and extensive work in the domain of positive psychology provides a scientific basis from which wellbeing can be dialled up.

While moments of happiness may be fewer during the pandemic, individuals have the capacity to manage their wellbeing once they have access to the knowledge of how accessible wellbeing interventions are and how they can easily adopt them.  Simple actions such as a gratitude journal, the three good things exercise, using signature strengths, a mindfulness and meditation practice, time in nature, savouring moments of joy as simple as making and sipping your morning coffee, reflecting on past positive experiences, naming the meaning behind activities, spending time with people who make you feel good and loved and give you a sense of belonging, while having a sense of achievement and accomplishment from small to big tasks, all contribute to make up one’s wellbeing.  All these interventions are acts of intention, are cost effective and accessible to all. 

Wellbeing has been widely written about, researched, blogged, and marketed.  It’s not a gimmick but rather an evidence-based way to shift and manage yourself during your life, with whatever is happening in the external world. 

Support for Wellbeing can be gained through coaching, wellbeing workshops, books, and apps. Sheena Polese is a co-designer and facilitator of Women’s Wellbeing One Day Getaway. Find out more on Instagram 

  • Link to Satisfaction With Life Scale
  • Flourish, Martin Seligman, 2012 Random House
  • National Differences in Subjective Well-Being Diener, E., & Suh, E. (1999).
  • Very Happy People, Diener And Seligman, Psychological Science, Volume 13, No 1 2002
  • SWLS Created by Ed Diener, Robert A. Emmons, Randy J. Larsen And Sharon Griffin, 1985
  • Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology, Tim Lebon, Hodder & Stoughton, 2014

Sheena holds an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School and a Master of Science, Psychology of Coaching from Sydney University, is a Professional Certified Coach and is President of the NSW International Coaching Federation, holds accreditations in various psychometric and 360 tools and has a strong focus on Adult and Leadership Development, Performance, and is a Wellbeing and Mindfulness facilitator.

Sheena has applied her learning’s in Motivation, Positive Psychology, Goal Theory, Mental Toughness, Mindfulness and Resilience, in both her professional and personal life to achieve a high level of performance in her corporate roles, working through a career pivot, and to aid her sporting endeavours in long distance running (Sheena has run the UTA 100, 6 ft track, many road marathons), rowing and other outdoor pursuits (crossing the drake passage to the Antarctic mid a hurricane, climbing Mt Kenya, trekking to Camp 2 at Everest on the Tibet side) and has used her learnings for coping with grief and trauma. Sheena believes living a values based life brings greater wellbeing and life satisfaction and helps people set and achieve meaningful goals.


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