What is wellbeing? (and why does it matter?)

What is wellbeing?

It is easy to think that good health means just the absence of disease, injury or pain. But is that really what we are all aiming for? Wellbeing takes things a few steps further. The New Economics Foundation describes wellbeing as “how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”

So it’s more than just being healthy. It’s also more than having material wealth: “Some people believe that wealth is a fast track to happiness. Yet various international studies have shown that it is the quality of our personal relationships, not the size of our bank balances, which has the greatest effect on our state of wellbeing.” (Better Health Victoria). Wellbeing may be linked to the deep satisfaction we find in our social connections.

It might relate to a persons social, economic, psychological or medical state. The Black Dog Institute says “In positive psychology, wellbeing is a heightened state that’s beyond just feeling happy or having good health. It’s a condition of flourishing, where we thrive in many aspects of our lives.”

Why does it matter? 

“…perhaps few subjects are more crucial to understanding the world, and our place in it, than understanding what it means for human beings to flourish” – Happiness and Wellbeing Research

Wellbeing isn’t just about attaining some heightened happy state. It is also about keeping us resilient in the face of stressors. “A strong sense of wellbeing contributes to good mental health. It also helps to protect us from feelings of hopelessness and depression, acting as a ‘guardian’ of our mental health” says the Black Dog Institute.

How do we find wellbeing?

Wellbeing is found through having many helpful elements present in our lives. These may include (but not be limited to):

  • feeling relatively confident in yourself and have positive self-esteem
  • feeling and express a range of emotions
  • using our strengths
  • building and maintaining good relationships with others
  • feeling engaged with the world around you
  • finding pleasure in losing ourselves in things we find challenging and enjoyable (aka attaining ‘flow’)
  • contributing to a ‘greater’ cause in a way that creates meaning
  • connecting with feelings of gratitude, satisfaction and contentment
  • being stimulated ‘enough’ by challenges, new experiences and learning
  • living and work productively
  • coping with the stresses of daily life
  • adapting and managing in times of change and uncertainty

Wellbeing takes ongoing focus and care 

Wellbeing is not a static state where we achieve it once and for all and can then forget about it. Instead we may need to revisit the things in life that help us feel well, and do this again and again, especially in the face of challenges. One new definition is that wellbeing is the “balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders 2012).

“Wellbeing is not a beach you go and lie on. It’s a sort of dynamic dance and there’s movement in that all the time and actually it’s the functuality of that movement which actually is true levels of wellbeing (Nic Marks, Radio 4, 7 January 2012)

Setting up some regular practices, or habits, and some social structures that embed our wellbeing activities might help.

For example:

  • making a regular catch up date with friends that help you feel engaged, confident, and free to express a range of emotions
  • finding paid or volunteer work where you can use your strengths and contribute to a greater cause
  • signing up for a new course or class where you can meet people and learn new skills
  • deciding to call key friends or family members for a chat on a regular basis rather than relying mostly on social media for contact
  • having some ‘go to’ activities or resources that you can use in times of stress
  • having some hobbies or activities that you can immerse yourself in and that are both challenging and enjoyable
  • doing volunteer work as a way to extend your social networks
  • working on your self image with a counsellor or coach
  • having a counsellor, therapeutic group or support group where you can deepen skills in relationships and express a range of emotions
  • practicing acknowledging and accepting stressors and challenges through journalling, meditation, or other forms of reflection and self acceptance
  • attending to any social, economic, psychological or medical issues in your life that may be reducing wellbeing, including getting help where needed

Of course the activities that help might look different for everyone, and we may draw on some of these resources more at some times than others.

How does revisiting the concept of wellbeing help in your situation? Which aspects of a flourishing life might you want to attend to going forward? 


[Note: text in bold /emphasis in text by this author, not the original sources].


Black Dog Institute ‘What is Wellbeing?’ https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/wellness/general-wellbeing

Better Health Victoria https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing

Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders (2012) ‘The challenge of defining wellbeing’ International Journal of Wellbeing http://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/viewFile/89/238?origin=publicati

Edinburgh Napier University https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-environment/research-themes/wellbeing

Mind UK www.mind.org.uk 

New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Wellbeing: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation.

Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines. Saint Louis University. Wellbeing Research FAQ http://www.happinessandwellbeing.org/wellbeing-research-faq


Image by leninscape on Pixabay

Year in Review – Prompt #5 Kind gestures

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.
Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….

Kind gestures

If you’d like to join me again this week reflecting on the year we have had, take some time to reflect on kind gestures that stood out for you this year. I designed this week’s exercise with the idea of overcoming negativity bias (the way our minds can focus on the things that went wrong rather than the things that went right), and as a way to gently reconnect with feelings of gratitude and connection to others.

Q. What were the times this year that someone made a kind gesture to you that you really appreciated? Look for the warm glow around the memory that tells you that it was special and you felt lucky to receive their kindness.

For each one you can remember receiving, pause for a moment and write a few sentences capturing what the gesture was, who did it, how it made you feel, and why it was especially meaningful for you at that time. See if you can describe the moment in some detail, it may help with remembering the feelings that went with it.

See if you can come up with 10. This might mean you have to dig around a bit to remember them, or it might come easily.

  • Did someone unexpectedly buy you a coffee?
  • Did someone make you dinner?
  • Did someone give you honest feedback from a place of love?
  • Did someone lend you an outfit for a big night?
  • Did someone help you move house?
  • Did someone send a heartfelt message at a tough time?
  • Did someone listen when you really needed it?
  • Did someone include you or invite you somewhere?
  • Did someone forgive you?
  • Did someone give you kind words about something you did?
  • Did someone go with you when you had something hard to do?
  • Did someone share some of their optimism and encouragement with you?
  • Did someone show patience and loyalty?
  • Did someone surprise you with a kind gesture big or small?

The kind gestures really can be big or small! Please try not to judge yourself or the memories you come up with. Nothing is ‘too small’ or ‘silly’ for the purposes of this reflection. This is an exercise in honouring our emotional landscape and the things that matter to us, even if they don’t make sense to our rational minds. Even if they might not have ‘meant much’ to someone else, they meant something to you and that is important.
Once you’ve remembered and described the 10 acts of kindness, see what you can observe about the values that are important to you, the people who are important to you, or even what you might feel inspired to do more for others going forward.

If you’d like to share one of the moments that sticks in your mind with us feel free to do so in comment below (perhaps keeping the other people’s identity’s private, eg ‘a good friend said….’, ‘a stranger at the supermarket did…’, ‘a person at work offered to…’).

How does it make you feel to remember these kind gestures?

What does it make you think about?

If you would like to work on your vision for 2019 and start to implement a project close to your heart please get in touch. I am available for coaching and my rates are listed on the coaching link above.

Year in Review – Prompt #4 Giving

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.

Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
Around this time of year lots of people exchange gifts. Gift giving traditions can be fraught and tied up with issues with overconsumption, debt and more. But they are also deeply connected to reciprocity, social ties and acts of care.
Lets think gently and with curiosity about the act of giving. Grab a journal and a cup of tea and explore this one with me.
Journaling and reflection prompts (spend 5 minutes on each):
Beyond formal gift giving, what did you give this year with no expectation of payment or return?
What time did you donate to someone’s project or cause?
What random gifts did you give to those you love?
What funds did you give to charity?
What objects did you give freely to new homes?
Which of your gifts and talents did you share with others?
What small acts of kindness did you try to foster through the year?
Now looking across your answers above, spend 15 minutes with these questions:
What feelings arose in relation to giving this year? What themes can you see?
What was easy to give?
What was harder to give?
What felt great to give?
What would you like to give more of next year?
And if something comes to mind that you’d like to share in comments below feel free to do so!


PS If you live in Australia a great giving opportunity this time of year is Share the Dignity‘s “It’s in the Bag” campaign. It’s easy – simply find a handbag in good condition that you are no longer using and fill it with toiletries and personal care items such as deodorant, face wash, pads and tampons, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Include a brief affirming note or Christmas card, and then drop off at a Bunnings store before or on Sunday the 2nd December.

Year in Review – Prompt #3 Self-care

Let’s review the year that was and celebrate what we did!
Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.
Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….

This week let’s celebrate self-care. Grab a blank journal and a cup of tea or glass of water and get started. the whole process will take 30-60 minutes depending on how fast you write.
Consider your ‘MEEPS’. What are MEEPS?
They are the:
factors that help you keep healthy and well.
M – How you cared for your mind
What did you read or listen to or discuss that stimulated your mind? What ideas really excited you this year? What topics did you learn more about? What healthy new thought patterns did you cultivate?
E – How you cared for your emotions
What difficult emotions did you make room for and feel? What emotions did you notice having more or less of this year? What emotions were hard to feel or express? Which ones were easy? What emotional support did you give yourself? How did you nurture yourself when you had strong emotions that were hard to handle?
E – How you cared for your environment
What changes did you make in your workplace or home? What new or familiar places did you go to because they feel good? What did you do to make your home feel more organised, light, welcoming or fun? What caring actions did you take for our planet, the broader environment, or community?
P – How you cared for your body
What did you do to care for your physical body this year? What small or big acts of prevention, repair or kindness did you do for your body? What healthy habits did you establish or continue? What small gestures brought pleasure, ease or comfort?
S – How you cared for your social connections
What social contact did you make this year to give yourself support, inspiration and connection? What people in your life contributed to your sense of wellbeing? What kids of social activities felt especially nourishing?
Pause, breathe and celebrate all these things and more that you’ve done for your wellbeing this year.
#selfcare #yearinreview #reflections #newyear

Year in Review – Prompt #1 Books

Through the last two months of 2018 I’m sharing some end of year reflection prompts to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling good about yourself, your journey, the year that was and the year that’s coming up.

Here is the first Year in Review reflection and journaling prompt….
What books/ articles/ blogs did you read this year?
Take an hour this week to sit down with pen and paper (or laptop and coffee) and jot down all the books you can remember that you read this year.
1. What themes interested you most?
2. What kinds of characters inspired you?
3. What kinds of feelings/ experiences were you looking for in your reading?
Write for 10 minutes about each of these questions (or another question that feels like it needs answering).
4. Wrap up: what have you learnt about yourself and your year based on what you read? Write freehand for 10 minutes on this, without editing or judgement. Put whatever comes to mind.
5. Wish for next year: What would you like to read more of next year? Write for 5 minutes about this, let it be impulsive, free and creative, steer clear of guilt or shoulds.

That’s it!


And remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect and write – accept and be kind to yourself about whatever you read, whatever you felt, whatever you were drawn to.

Let’s celebrate our positive impacts

Today I want to celebrate the positive impact we can have by just being ourselves, gloriously, messily, unashamedly ourselves.

I read somewhere that for each person who reads our blog and leaves a comment, another 3 or 4 or 5 or however many have probably also read it and been inspired by it. Similarly if we work 1:1 the ideas we share may influence or inspire that client and how they work with their own future clients. The techniques or tools we share may then be shared to their friends and colleagues.

It’s easy to discount these little ripples. So if you are a health professional, social worker, blogger, coach, therapist or wellbeing practitioner and feel like you are having only a small impact – listen up!


We make positive impacts…

Each time we show up and the person who has not yet found their voice is inspired to do so too.
Each time we own all our parts and someone still struggling to feel OK with their shadow feels a small opening up of their heart towards their own messy human self.
Each time we make friends with our creativity and model that it is safe and enjoyable to write, or make art, or to sing or to create great projects we pave the way for someone else to step more fully into themselves.
Each time we make an inclusive space and connect people we help combat loneliness and disconnection.
Each time we talk without shame about money, or perfectionism, or about self-doubt, or sexuality, or the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, we help make this space safe for others.
And for those of us who speak also about recovery from mental health challenges, or burnout, or childhood neglect or abuse, we help others accept themselves more fully and wholly.


So today I want to celebrate the positive impact we all don’t even know that we are having. The small ripples, often unspoken.
Our most meaningful contributions may be the small gestures, and quiet words as much as the large followers and giant projects. Keep offering with good intentions, commitment to ethical practice and quality, loving observations of our own needs and boundaries, and hope for the best!

Why graduating is the start not the end

I recently hit a milestone that many people reach when they’re quite young. Can you guess what it was? I got my drivers license.

Now what took me so long and how I finally did it that’s another story. But for now what I want to share is the way that reaching our milestones or goals can be kind of underwhelming. The day I actually passed my driving test I didn’t feel excited or elated. I felt kind of numb. Surprised I guess and a bit tired. Certainly relieved, relieved that I will no longer need lessons, relieve that getting my license could finally be crossed off my To Do list. But not excited.

It kinda perplexed me until I later reflected and realised that in fact I’d had 20 years of my adult life as a non-driver and only a couple of days as a driver. The identity is new and it might take a little while for it to feel familiar and comfortable or even real.

Not only that but when we’ve been working hard to achieve something and we finally get there Instead of feeling a rush of joy we can just notice the absence of the hard slog. And that we need a little rest.

In a sense when we pass the test, graduate from the course or whatever the thing is we’ve been aiming for we realise that it isn’t the pinnacle, it isn’t the end. We realise that we are at a new point of beginning.

My journey with driving doesn’t stop now that I have my license. Is the start of a new learning experience, polishing some of the skills I still find tricky: how to drive alone, driving at a different speed, night driving in different weather conditions, learning to navigate while on the move, and many more.

Similarly when where re-training prior to a career transition we can become so focused on gaining the qualification that when we get there we can be shocked to realise rather than being finished we are actually right at the start.

We still have to learn how to demonstrate our skills and land our first job, how to network, how to do ongoing learning, how to reflect on our practice. We need to learn how to make ourselves visible to peers and potential employers, or even how to start our own business. These are not small things, and they need energy and focus just like studying did.

So if you have just finished a milestone or are getting to one, be kind to yourself! Celebrate. Have a little rest. Get ready for the next stage of the journey.

The yin and yang of creation

Sometimes people want to push and force the creative act.

“Make it happen NOW!” They say.

“Of course you have time!” They say.

Force myself with productivity hacks!

Override all doubts and protestations!

Deny myself down-time and work around the clock to Make. This. Thing. Happen.

But in my experience sometimes waiting has a purpose.

Maybe this creative act needs me to do a few more things first, gather more skills and experience until the time is right.

Maybe I am waiting for the right collaborators, or sense of possibility.

Maybe I am waiting for something else to come to an end before the new thing starts.

Maybe I’m waiting to rest and restore so that my energy levels fill back up and bring more ease to the task.

Maybe something in another aspect of my life has to shift and alter so the new creation can take place.

To me, many coaches take a mechanical view of us as human beings – push this lever, pull that, prod and hey presto! The thing is made! We are Successful!

To me though humans are more like a tree in a garden unfolding. There are deep depths subterranean truths hidden in soil. There are fabulous rich connections between ourselves and other organisms that feed us, pollinate us and shelter in our arms. There are seasons. There is maturing, that takes time. There are signals that tell us when it is safe and productive to bare fruit.

Creativity to me is a whole self endeavour.

I have learnt that bossing and forcing is not the way to satisfying productivity.

I am growing to trust the fallow seasons, and learning to understand that all trees look different, and need different things to grow. And so do we as creative beings.


How do you honour your own rhythms and seasons of creativity? Do you trust your instincts about when to bring your projects into the world?

Highly sensa… what now?

Highly sensitive person (HSP). The phrase gave me the heebie jeebies when I first saw it.

Not another category! I thought.

Not another ‘them and us’ I mourned.

Not another label that whiffs of ‘oh I’m special and you’re not’ I huffed and puffed.

I also thought it sounded a bit like ‘highly complainy people’.

That was until I read about it more.

And then I thought ‘thank F- that someone has written about this, and it’s not just me’.

It gave me a lens (the concept of sensory sensitivity) to see myself and better understand myself through.

I mean I was pretty comfortable identifying as introverted, I knew I needed time alone (or around very safe feeling people) to recharge, but I’d never really thought about how sensory input overlapped with social-emotional inputs to overwhelm me.

As an introvert I couldn’t figure out how an hour’s train ride by myself on an almost empty train didn’t feel relaxing, or why time around people could be extra exhausting if I was in a loud bar compared with sitting around a quiet dinner table.

For me, I realised that I am very sensitive to some noises. That faint beeping of an appliance two rooms away, I can hear it and it’s bugging me while you try to speak with me. The tv on in the ‘background’ while we try to have a conversation? It’s like two conversations shouting simultaneously in my brain. I find it hard to ignore many sounds and they don’t really fade into the background for me. Working in a busy open plan office was extremely stressful for me, because even with ear plugs I could hear the spontaneous standing meeting happening in the cubicle over and the phone call behind me, and , and … You get the idea.

I’m also sensitive to smell, and will sniff out offending smells or get distracted by smells I can’t place. I frequently recognise what my chef husband has cooked during the day just by the scents on his work clothes (he doesn’t super love it when I sniff him and guess!).

So now I know that being in loud, strongly smelly, ‘jangly’ environments is not relaxing for me, even if there are no people there.

Does that mean I’m special or extra finely tuned? I don’t imagine so. I guess it just means that my senses are turned up LOUD so the info comes in at full blast.

It also means that if it comes all at once I tense up and find it harder to process.

A schreechy train with strong oil smell and gusts of cold air as the doors open at each station is a lot to take in. Especially if there’s someone sitting near me and facing me.

A quiet cosy non smelly train with a double seat to myself and an almost empty carriage – another story!

Sitting with my back to a walkway in a cafe where knives and forks are being dried and clanged into a box, with concrete floors and screechy acoustics and stressed staff bitching about a coworker feels very different to sitting with cafe music and coffee machine white noise in a dark corner where the staff are chilled.

What this means is that I absolutely can be an annoying person to go to a cafe or restaurant with (“Let’s sit here, ooh no, hang on what about here, oh no actually THIS table!”) BUT what it also means is that I pay a lot of attention to setting up spaces that are calm feeling for my clients, that have nice light, smell fresh, look pleasant, feel peaceful.

The book that I really enjoyed on this* was written by an occupational therapist. She describes people with severe sensory issues, where the slightest touch hurts for example. It made me think more deeply about the full spectrum of ways that people experience sensory input.

Sensory sensitivity is often associated with autism, and some parents and advocates have been trying to make changes to how public spaces cater to the diverse needs of customers who can find their spaces overwhelming.

“Imagine going to a concert but being unable to block out any of the noises, touches, smells and movements happening around you. The volume of each of these sensations is turned way up: Whispers become yells, the odors of hot dogs and popcorn are stomach-churning, flashing lights are blinding. This can be the experience of people with sensory processing issues — since they can’t filter out sensory input like those with neurotypical processing systems, they feel bombarded by every piece of sensory information occurring in a space all at once.” – Hailey Reissman 

I’m really interested in how developmental experiences, including trauma, also affect our sensory experiences. The child who never got to explore diverse tactile sensations through growing up in neglect, who now finds sensory stimulation overwhelming. The teenager who grew up around violence and now startles when hearing loud noises. It makes me wonder how each of our experiences of senses are shaped by our childhood environments and relationships, as well as genetic factors.

So, on balance I’m glad the concept exists and I’m interested in research going on to explore it further. I think it creates a framework to help some people understand themselves better and create environments that suit them best.


*‘Too Loud Too bright, Too Fast, Too Tight” by Sharon Heller, 2002 HarperCollins