Happiness At Work #62 ~ considering the disciplines, habits and practice of self-mastery

photo credit: Nasser Nouri via photopin cc

photo credit: Nasser Nouri via photopin cc

Self-mastery: the ability to take control of your life without being blown off course by feelings, urges, circumstances etc (Collins English Dictionary)

I take self-mastery to be the dynamic and shifting balance between knowing and playing to our strengths – doing the things that come ‘naturally’ to us in the ways that feel right and easy for us – in combination with practising and honing those things that are not our preferred way of working, but which extend our range, reach and influence and so are vital to both our professionalism as much as to our success.  Over time, and with enough practice, these less easy skills become so automatic and honed that they grow into what we can call our second nature responses.

Peter Senge includes Personal Mastery as their first of five essential disciplines for constantly adaptive and evolving Learning Organisations – the other four being Mental Modelling, Shared Vision, Team Learning and the all important 5th Discipline, Systems Thinking.

And I tend to think that all learning starts and centres around self-awareness and expanding our repertoire of different things we can deliberately choose to do and things we can deliberately choose to do differently.

And so it follows that any consideration of how we might become happier, or more resilient, or more creative, or more successful, must also begin and centre around ways to expand, practise and ultimately master new ways of thinking, doing and being.  And this calls upon our discipline – by which I mean all of these connotations (taken from Collins English Dictionary):

  1. training or conditions imposed for the improvement of physical powers, self-control, etc
  2. systematic training in obedience to regulations and authority
  3. the state of improved behaviour, etc, resulting from such training or conditions
  4. a system of rules for behaviour, methods of practice, etc
  5. a branch of learning or instruction
  6. (vb.) to improve or attempt to improve the behaviour, orderliness, etc, of by training, conditions, or rules

Discipline is foundation stone of self-mastery just as practise is the foundation stone of discipline.

The following articles from this this week’s new Happiness At Work collection #62 are all related to this theme of self-mastery:

  • what motivates and drives us to want to learn more?
  • what are some of the elements and aspects of disciplined practice?
  • and how can we get a better balance between playing to our strengths and preferred ways of acting and developing new less easy ways of doing things?
photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business

The psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation is 70 years old but continues to have a strong influence on the world of business. William Kremer and Claudia Hammond ask: what is it, and is it right?

In 1943, the US psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he said that people had five sets of needs, which come in a particular order. As each level of needs is satisfied, the desire to fulfil the next set kicks in.First, we have the basic needs for bodily functioning – fulfilled by eating, drinking and going to the toilet. Maslow also included sexual needs in this group.Then there is the desire to be safe, and secure in the knowledge that those basic needs will be fulfilled in the future too. After that comes our need for love, friendship and company. At this stage, Maslow writes, the individual “may even forget that once, when he was hungry, he sneered at love”.  The next stage is all about social recognition, status and respect.

And the final stage, represented in the graphic as the topmost tip of the triangle, Maslow labelled with the psychologists’ term “self-actualisation”.

It’s about fulfilment – doing the thing that you were put on the planet to do. “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy,” wrote Maslow. “What a man can be, he must be.”

While there were no pyramids or triangles in the original paper, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is now usually illustrated with the symbol. And although the paper was written as pure psychology it has found its main application in management theory.

photo credit: pshegubj via photopin cc

photo credit: pshegubj via photopin cc

…In the second half of the 20th Century, bosses began to realise that employees’ hopes, feelings and needs had an impact on performance. In 1960, Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise, which contrasted traditional managerial styles with a people-centred approach inspired by Maslow. It became a best-seller.

Some managers began to move away from a purely “transactional” contract with a company’s staff, in which they received money in exchange for doing a job, to a complex “relational” one, where a company offered opportunities for an individual to feel fulfilled, but expected more in return.

…But critics point to dozens of counter-examples. What about the famished poet? Or the person who withdraws from society to become a hermit? Or the mountaineer who disregards safety in his determination to reach the summit?

Muddying things slightly, Maslow said that for some people, needs may appear in a different order or be absent altogether. Moreover, people felt a mix of needs from different levels at any one time, but they varied in degree.

…after Maslow’s death in 1970, researchers did undertake a more detailed investigation, with attitude-based surveys and field studies testing out the Hierarchy of Needs.  “When you analyse them, the five needs just don’t drop out,” says Hodgkinson. “The actual structure of motivation doesn’t fit the theory. And that led to a lot of discussion and debate, and new theories evolved as a consequence.”

In 1972, Clayton Alderfer whittled Maslow’s five groups of needs down to three, labelled Existence, Relatedness and Growth. Although elements of a hierarchy remain, “ERG theory” held that human beings need to be satisfied in all three areas – if that’s not possible then their energies are redoubled in a lower category. So for example, if it is impossible to get a promotion, an employee might talk more to colleagues and get more out of the social side of work.

More sophisticated theories followed. Maslow’s triangle was chopped up, flipped on its head and pulled apart into flow diagrams. Hodgkinson says that one business textbook has just been published which doesn’t mention Maslow, and there is a campaign afoot to have him removed from the next editions of others.

The absence of solid evidence has tarnished Maslow’s status within psychology too. But as a result, Lachman says, people miss seeing that he was responsible for a major shift of focus within the discipline.

“He really was ground-breaking in his thinking,” Lachman says. “He was saying that you weren’t acting on the basis of these uncontrollable, unconscious desires. Your behaviour was not just influenced by external rewards and reinforcement, but there were these internal needs and motivations.”

Unlike the psychoanalysts and behaviourists who preceded him, Maslow was not that interested in mental illness – instead of finding out what went wrong with people, he wanted to find out what could go right with them. This opened the door for later movements such as humanistic psychology and positive psychology, and the “happiness agenda” that preoccupies the current UK government.

Maslow’s friend, management guru Warren Bennis, believes the quality underlying all Maslow’s thinking was his striking optimism about human nature and society…

Link to read this original BBC World Service article in full

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

5 Leadership Tips for Introverts

Thinking about ways for Introverts to play more to their strengths in a highly extravert-favoured world, Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader, explains how to turn solitary tendencies into business strengths:

Most of the time, the business world is no place for shy folk. As Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leaderexplains on LeanIn.org, “Many organizational cultures support those who talk about their accomplishments, who spend more time out and about networking instead of alone deep in thought, and who make sure they are the first to get their ideas heard.”

…you can learn to make your love of solitude and keen observational skills work for you. Kahnweiler offered some helpful tips on how introverts can use their unique strengths to excel.

1. Spend Solo Time Thinking About Strategy

Your desire for time away from people can useful, if you can use the space … to deeply consider where others are coming from, what their secret motivations are, and how you can influence them or help them achieve their goals…

2. Use the Power of One-on-One Conversations

Big meetings, which can be intimidating for introverts, aren’t the only place to get things done. … Consider placing an emphasis on smaller conversations, which can be a powerful force…

3. Notice Who the Other ‘Quiet Influencers’ Are

When people are constantly talking or at the center of the conversation, it’s easy to miss the quiet influencers lingering on the edges. … Use your highly developed observational skills to find those who may not speak the loudest, but who … may have some of the most interesting, well-developed opinions and ideas….

4. Identify What You Want to Change

…One of Kahnweiler’s clients realized that she needed to change how others were perceiving her, so she incorporated techniques from actors. “She slowed her breath down, raised her voice a level and increased her eye contact with others throughout the day,” writes Kahnweiler, which helped people see her as “a highly competent and strong contributor.”…

5. Make the Most of Social Networking

…Introverts may take more naturally to social media, where “others can get to know as much about you as you care to share. Developing a robust online presence “also helps you to achieve visibility that might be difficult to gain in person,” Kahnweiler concludes. …

Here is the link to read this article in full

photo credit: Zarko Drincic via photopin cc

photo credit: Zarko Drincic via photopin cc

Happiness In Meditation: how does it happen

by Tina Ranieri

…People usually come to meditation and or prayer long after they have found their own life and mind out of control, being blown here and there and unable to find happiness. People know they want happiness but they may not know if it is inner peace or outer peace they seek. People are so used to filling up the space in their lives with “stuff” that to meditate and make space, to be able to create clarity and to make room for spirit in their lives is a whole different ballgame.

When meditation doesn’t seem to be going well

In the beginning when meditation seems pointless and going nowhere you should remember that by applying effort to train in meditation you are creating the mental karma to experience inner peace in the future. If you train in meditation your mind becomes more and more peaceful, and you shall experience a purer form of happiness. Eventually you are able to stay happy all of the time, even in the most difficult situations.

Gradually you develop mental equilibrium

Meditation is like having the space to create a garden. What you do with that space is what will grow there. If you leave it unattended, anything can grow there and becomes wild and out of control. Taking the time to plant the correct seed and tending to your mind’s space which leads to spirit’s space, is the source of all happiness and just how important meditation is…

At first the mind is so very busy

Even as you begin to train in meditation and find the calmer aspects of life you will find those around you will still try to suck you into their dramas, wishing for you to go on the roller coaster ride of madness with them like you always did before. It is easy to get caught up in the old cycles, but you will come to realize these are not areas you wish to wander any more. … There will always be people with their distractions and turbulence, with their minds all aflutter demanding you come into that “twitch” too.

Experiencing the calm that comes with meditation and the knowing of the answers to your questions in life, gross distractions disappear, you feel naturally warm and well disposed toward all people, you are of a lighter heart and mind, and your relationships will improve.

Things like being detached and not clinging are things that happen as you meditate. It is so much not a need to practice non-attachment as it just becomes a part of your life naturally. Things begin to fall away from you as you learn to see through different eyes. Through meditation what is necessary to focus on and give your attention to comes to the forefront and is no longer unclear to your minds eye.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Susan Pearse & Techniques For A Clear And Happy Mind

by Susan Pearse an acclaimed leadership expert and co-author with Martina Sheehan of Wired for Life. She also co-founded with Martina Mind Gardener.

…On an average day we have around 50,000 thoughts and 12,000 internal conversations. A busy mind can be detrimental to your happiness. It leads to clutter, mistakes being made and opportunities being lost, not to mention stressed individuals with a work/life balance out of whack.

The good news is that you can train your mind to slow down and declutter and the result will be a boost in your happiness. Here are three exercises that you can do to tame your busy mind and get some clarity and focus in busy times …

The power of the pause 
…The pause is a simple mental pause where you rest your attention on one of your senses. Stop what you are doing, sit down close your eyes and take three long breaths, focusing on nothing but your inhalation and exhalation. The pause is usually only a few seconds but can change your day. Pausing often throughout the day is a way of ‘clearing the slate’ so you can focus. Here are some ways of doing it:

Pause at the end of each task just before you start another task.
When the phone rings while you are working on another task, pause and listen to the phone ring for a few seconds before picking it up. Alternately, touch the receiver before answering.
Pause whenever you are interrupted in the middle of a task by feeling the feet on the floor for a few seconds before you turn your attention to the person interrupting you.

The magic of mindful listening
…Mindful listening is listening with full attention. This means that we listen without comment, distraction or anticipation of what will be said. Here are some ways you can do it:

In a discussion that seems to drag on simply bring your attention to the sound of the speaker’s voice without judgement or comment.
When you are talking on the phone stop doing all other tasks and focus attention on the sense of hearing.
When interacting with people whom you have formed strong ideas and opinions about, put these aside by directing attention away from your thoughts about that person and onto what they are saying.

The charm of connecting with your senses
…Your five senses are your gateway to the present because they are always in the ‘here and now’. Connect to your senses throughout the day to keep your mind fully in the present and attend to the activity or task you are doing. Here are some ways you can try this:

Use the sense of touch to bring your attention to a project you are working on – be aware of the pen in your hand or your finger tips touching the keyboard.
When you are eating, connect your mind to the sense of taste.
Whenever you are doing anything – cleaning, washing up, gardening – stay present with the sense that you are using most at the time.
When you are driving, feel your hands on the steering wheel and focus on being fully present through sight.

All of these exercises train your mind to be clear and present focused. Before long you will notice that you are taming your busy mind and your happiness will greatly benefit!

Link to read this article in full

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

photo credit: TheJCB via photopin cc

photo credit: TheJCB via photopin cc

6 Amazing Neuroscience Discoveries That’ll Help You Work Better

by Joel Willans

Neuroscience isn’t just the domain of hard working biologists in labs: it’s a multi-disciplinary field that embraces philosophy and psychology as well as chemistry and mathematics. What’s more, the scientists’ discoveries have repercussions well beyond laboratories and textbooks. The workplace can also benefit from the revelations of neuroscience. After all, where do we often really put our brains to the test? Why, at work, of course! So we’re fascinated by how neuroscience can be applied to our work-lives to make us better, smarter and more productive.

1.  Feed your intellect

…Experts reckon our brains use up about 20% of our body’s energy. Most of this energy goes to the prefrontal cortex—the bit of your brain that’s responsible for conscious thought. So when you’re thinking particularly hard and making tough decisions, you’re depleting your limited supply of blood glucose…  Eating well and having regular and, most important, healthy snacks while you’re working is a good way to do this, and the easiest way to know what does the job? …

2. Finishing things and crossing them off our checklist

We humans love to finish a task: whether that’s reading right to the end of that door-stopper by Tolstoy, getting the final letters in a crossword or wrapping up a huge management project at work. If we leave loose ends, we get a nasty niggling feeling: our minds won’t let it go and we burn more precious energy worrying about it. Close that cognitive loop by finishing the task, though, and not only are we more relaxed, but we’re also free to redirect that energy towards a new project…

3.  Your “towards” and “away” head

If you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, and altogether not in the right state of mind to think creatively, consider this: scientists say that the brain has two basic mental states—’toward’ and ‘away’. ‘Toward’ is what they call it when you’re feeling open and engaged, and ‘away’ is what they call the opposite: feeling negative, withdrawn and defensive. If you’re feeling stressed, your ability to think well will be compromised. And sometimes you’ll be stuck in the middle of this slump when your working life really needs you to be in the ‘towards’ state. The solution? Keep track of how you feel on a given day and figure out how what you’re doing is affecting your state of mind. Then apply this knowledge to switch things around when you need to feel better and work smarter.

4.  The Goldilocks Brain

There are definite times where you feel on top of the world, productivity-wise: when everything slots into place and you’re metaphorically on fire. Dr David Rock calls it the ‘Goldilocks Brain.’ If you want to trigger this ‘just right’ condition and achieve peak performance, then there are two things you need: a positive state of mind (see ‘towards’, above!) and the stimulation factor of a potential reward or threat. This motivational approach gives you that extra nudge to transform your positivity and openness into action and success.

5. Problem solving machine  

Neuroscience says: don’t over-think! That prefrontal cortex we met earlier only takes up a tiny part of our brains; the bulk of the work is actually whirring along in your subconscious. So coming up with the grand solution … isn’t just a matter of thinking very, very hard: you have to relax, to let it go, and allow the background machinery of your brain to get problem-solving. The parks of your working day that are set aside for breaks and less intellectually taxing tasks are hugely important, because it’s at these times that your brain’s energy levels recover and all the nifty subconscious labour gets done.

6. High on multitasking

Finally, to multitask or not to multitask? Getting busy on several jobs at once might make us look tremendously productive, and we certainly get a little dopamine kick as our brain thanks us for answering yet another email or tweet, but the downside is that we’re not actually getting more done than if we did the tasks sequentially, and, in fact, we’re probably under-performing, as none of these tasks get done as well as they would do if we tackled them one at a time.  Neuroscience tells us that we’re sequential creatures.

Link to read this article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Amy Poehler on Taking Advice From Your Future Self

Amy Poehler … says she used to get so worked up over things that, in hindsight, didn’t matter. And now when she feels in crisis, she asks older-her for a future perspective.

Sometimes when I feel in crisis or down, I try to give myself advice that the older me would give, I try to think about what a 90, 80-year-old version of myself would say. [I’d say], “You’re beautiful, you’re great, it’s fine.” Right? It would always be “you’re fine, you’re fine, look at you, you’re walking, everything is fine…” 

[Older people] just aren’t that interested in feeling sad. When you’re in your twenties you can spend the whole f***ing day feeling bad about yourself… But when you’re old, you just don’t have the time.

Listen to the rest of the (hilarious but R-rated) podcast here.

photo credit: Through Painted Eyes via photopin cc

photo credit: Through Painted Eyes via photopin cc


Amy McGonigal: How To Make Stress Your Friend

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.  She tells us that believing that stress is bad for us makes it bad for us, but believing that stress is good for us actually makes us healthier.


Debunked: ‘Right-Brain’ and ‘Left-Brain’ Personalities


Evidence from over 1,000 fMRI brain scans finds no evidence people are ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’.

There’s a popular assumption that ‘right-brained’ people are more creative, while ‘left-brained’ people are more analytical and logical.

The idea behind this is that these two distinct types of personalities are a result of one half of the brain being more active than the other.

The evidence for this has always been very weak but now researchers have done much to debunk this idea…  this doesn’t mean that some people aren’t more creative, while others more analytical and logical, just that it’s not accurate to say that creative people are more ‘right-brained’. It’s not their over-active right-brain that’s making them more creative; it’s their whole brain.

This finding also does not contradict the idea that some of the brain’s functions are biased towards the left- or right-hand-side.  For example, language processing is biased more towards the left-hand-side of the brain (in right-handed people), while attention is biased towards the right…

Despite having no solid basis in science, the expressions ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ will probably survive because it’s an easy way to talk about two aspects of personality.  But be aware that the expression is flawed: it’s far better to talk about people’s creativity or their analytical skills separately, rather than in opposition—especially since many people have plenty of both.


photo credit: vaXzine via photopin cc

photo credit: vaXzine via photopin cc


Using Character Strengths in Sports and Performance


We have become fans of the 24 VIA Character Strengths, which match to the 6 Virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence, and Wisdom

The more we know about what our natural strengths are, the more we can play to these, and in this will come a large amount of our happiness and success.  But it is also valuable to know which of these qualities we less inclined to use and to practice these to grow and extend our range of capabilities and influence.

In this post Todd Dilbeck shares some ways that he uses these character strengths to help sports players and performers to become masters of their play:

…As a Sport and Performance Coach, I have found that working with clients from a position of strengths is a fundamental part of growth.  This has been an underlying tenet of sport psychology for a long time.  We take many of the innate cognitive and behavioral things people do and modify them with a “positive” twist.

Innate cognitive skills such as visualization, internal dialogue, and goal setting can be honed skills that lead to high levels of achievement.  For example, the mental ability to visualize becomes guided imagery, internal dialogue becomes positive self-talk, even goal setting is broken into manageable scaffolding segments that help athletes and performers maintain focus and motivation as they measure progress.  Dancers can be taught to use imagery to successfully incorporate new and difficult steps into their routines.  Students can shift from self-defeating statements after receiving a disappointing grade to positive reflection about effort and improvement, and anticipating making more progress on the next assignment.  Athletes can learn to overcome disappointing games by setting high performance goals of personal growth that encourage them to train hard for the next opportunity.

These skills enhance performance in all sorts of arenas from sport competition, to the arts, to academics.  And the focus on growth and challenge is also why I often incorporate Character Strengths into my work with clients…

In recent work with a collegiate soccer team, such character strengths training became an important factor in our work together…

At the start of our work, each player completed the VIA Survey and were then asked to spend a week reflecting on moments when they were aware of their strengths being utilized during games and practices (an application of the “What Went Well” exercise).

Once individual players were familiar with their own strengths, the team incorporated a process of sharing and recognizing one another’s strengths.  This began with players spending time sharing their personal reflections during team meetings. Players were also encouraged to share observations of their peers when they felt something was noteworthy.

This activity promoted a sense of confidence and cohesion among them that the use of strengths contributed to individual and team play, as well as built a common language about Character Strengths among them.

here is a link to read Todd Dilbeck’s article in full

and this link will take your to VIA Me website where you can complete their free online survey to discover your own top character strengths

photo credit: Jesus de Blas via photopin cc

photo credit: Jesus de Blas via photopin cc

Predicting Wellbeing

Jenny Chanfreau, Cheryl Lloyd, Christos Byron, Caireen Roberts, Rachel Craig, Danielle De Feo, Sally McManus

Prepared for the Department of Health

This is an important report and so we have highlighted some of its key findings and their implications:

Some of the Key Findings

Subjective wellbeing analysis is sensitive to the measures used. Validated measures of wellbeing have only recently been included in surveys, so the opportunity to carry out longitudinal analysis is just beginning. This report contributes to an emerging evidence base on what predicts wellbeing.

  • Levels of wellbeing vary across the life course, dipping in the mid teenage years, at midlife, and again among the oldest old. Older women emerge as a priority group due to their very low levels of wellbeing. Differences in life circumstances explain much of this life course variation in wellbeing.
  • Social relationships are key. This is evident in two ways. Firstly, people with higher wellbeing have more positive relationships: with less shouting and bullying, and more eating together and feeling supported. Secondly, people with higher wellbeing tend to have parents, partners, and children who also have higher wellbeing.
  • Different aspects of environment play a role. Higher wellbeing is linked with positive neighbourhood social capital, living in a more affluent area, and having a well-maintained home. With relevance for the fuel poverty agenda; cold homes were strongly linked with lower wellbeing.  An over-demanding job and a disruptive school environment both predicted lower wellbeing.
  • Wellbeing is part of the public health agenda. Good self-reported health is one of the strongest predictors of high wellbeing, and health behaviours matter to general health. Some health behaviours are also directly associated with wellbeing. For example, substance use and excessive gaming predict lower wellbeing among children. Adults with higher wellbeing eat more fruit and vegetables, and are less likely to smoke.
  • Untangling cause and effect. Many of these associations between predictive factors – like relationships, environment, and health – and subjective wellbeing will be better understood when more longitudinal data on this topic is available for analysis. 


Which groups in our society are flourishing?

Are there inequalities, and if so, what are they and when in the life course do they emerge?

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Wellbeing matters

For a long time social research and policy have been focused on counting negative outcomes and deficits, rather than measuring and developing positive assets. Not only is a high level of wellbeing a positive end in itself, it has also been found to predict living longer and living without disability.

Making change happen

This report focuses on factors that are amenable to policy intervention. We know that genes and very early childhood experiences are critical to wellbeing in later life. However, policy makers need to know what factors to prioritise now, to help people function well and feel good throughout their lives.

Young children: family and neighbourhood

…Primary school context and friendships emerge as important, but the data suggests that homelife and relationships with family are even more so. Seven-year-old children were happiest where they got on well with siblings, reported fun together with family at weekends, and had parents who did not shout or smack them.

…Enjoyment in being together and engaging in a variety of activities in moderation were positive indicators. But young children’s assessments of their own wellbeing were also clearly and strongly associated with the wider neighbourhood in which they lived. After controlling for other factors, children as young as seven were more likely to feel unhappy and worried if they live in a deprived area. These findings support the continuation of public health policy focused not only on the family, but also on the wider neighbourhood.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Young people: school and teenage years

As young people go through their secondary school years, child wellbeing progressively declined. This is a critical stage in the life course, when there are many physical, emotional and social adjustments to be made. Between age 11 and age 15, the proportion of young people with low levels of subjective wellbeing almost doubles. It would be easy to dismiss this as the inevitable consequence of hormones and physical change. However, when controlling for social and environmental factors, associations between wellbeing and age are no longer significant. This suggests that the very real dip in wellbeing in the teenage years, that is strongly evident in unadjusted analyses, is the result of social context and therefore responsive to changes in circumstance.

Substance use and excessive computer gaming become more common as children grow into young people, and both of these activities were also associated with lower levels of wellbeing. Disruptive behaviour at school continued to be linked to low subjective wellbeing. This was the case both for the young people who were being disruptive, and for those who witness the disruption. A secure environment at school – free from bullying and classroom disruption – remains important to this age group.

Home dynamics also continue to be critical to positive wellbeing. …What mattered were things such as feeling supported and sharing meals together as a family. In recent years there has been increasing focus on the early years, with the establishment of Sure Start and Children’s Centres across the country. There is also a clear rationale for support to address needs throughout childhood, including through the difficult teenage years as children increasingly start to feel low.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Ups and downs – across the life course

Data from young people pinpointed the middle teenage years as a risk point where wellbeing declines. Understanding Society data from adults supports the widely held view that wellbeing again reaches a low point in midlife; from around the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties. The Health Survey for England (HSE) also finds a third and final stage of age-related decline in wellbeing: a tailing off of wellbeing among the oldest old. This decline being a much more pronounced problem for women than for men.

While a U-curve in wellbeing is evident among working-age adults, a life course perspective reveals a journey with even more ups and downs. When considering what it is about midlife that might place wellbeing at this stage at risk, it is important to note that this dip remains even after controlling for the wide range of significant social, environmental and economic factors included in the final model presented here.

Jobs, homes, friends

The school years continue to be felt into adulthood, with higher wellbeing found to be associated with higher levels of educational qualification in data from adults taking part in Understanding Society. Public Health England (PHE) has identified it’s priority areas as jobs, homes and friendships because these are important social determinants of health. They are also predictors of subjective wellbeing. It is startling how – even after controlling for other factors – so many aspects of people’s lives were found to be linked with their level of wellbeing. This includes employment, deprivation (especially fuel poverty) and the condition of the home, and the relationships people have with those around them.

Not just having a job: having a good job

Being in a stressful job – where employees don’t feel able to cope with the demands made on them – is very strongly associated with low levels of wellbeing among both men and women. Other aspects of income and work had resonance for wellbeing among one sex, but not the other. For example, while employment status strongly predicts wellbeing in men, household income was a stronger predictor of wellbeing among women. Other characteristics also behaved differently for men and women.  For example, after controlling for other factors being Muslim was associated with higher wellbeing in men, but not in women.

The physical condition of where people live matters

Those who said that they could not afford to maintain their property in a decent state of repair had lower levels of wellbeing. This is likely to affect wellbeing through many mechanisms. A home in poor state of repair may indicate financial insecurity and contribute to residents’ feelings of stigma and shame. A reluctance to invite others into the home has been found to contribute to possible social isolation. The fact that being able to keep one’s home warm is so strongly predictive of wellbeing provides support for schemes aimed at reducing fuel poverty.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

At every age – social relationships are key

…relationships with family members inside and outside the home and with local friends and neighbours …have emerged as key predictors of wellbeing in adults. Just as spending time with parents and siblings was so important to child wellbeing, so is spending time with children – whether young children living at home or adult children living elsewhere – also associated with higher wellbeing among adults. Different aspects of social interaction with neighbours are also significant. There is evidence to support investment in neighbourhood renewal schemes that focus on building up both bonding social capital (the links between people who are similar to each other) and bridging social capital (linking those who are different).

The quality of people’s relationship with their partner, and the subjective wellbeing of that partner, also affected wellbeing for better and for worse. Likewise, children’s wellbeing was affected by their parent’s level of wellbeing. While adults in happy and harmonious relationships unsurprisingly had higher wellbeing, it is also apparent that those in an unhappy relationship report lower wellbeing than those not in a relationship at all. Availability and affordability of relationship counselling services such as Relate may, therefore, also have a role to play in improving national wellbeing.

Healthier tends to mean happier

We know that healthy behaviours matter to wellbeing later in the life course, and we can hypothesis that this is because its outcome – being healthier – is the key driver of feeling good and functioning well. The data on children from MCS and Understanding Society indicate that we should not expect healthy behaviours in and of themselves to have a significant and direct impact on wellbeing during childhood. Few health behaviours were found to be directly associated with subjective wellbeing among children and young people. The rationale for promoting healthy behaviours in childhood may need to focus on the benefits for general health in childhood – as well as both general health and subjective mental wellbeing in adulthood.

Perceptions of general health remains one of the strongest predictors of subjective wellbeing in adults. Several aspects of health behaviour were also found to be key for wellbeing among adults. For example, people with high wellbeing, after controlling for other factors, ate more fruit and vegetables and were less likely to smoke. The health-related factors that are relevant to wellbeing are not all the same for men and for women. While hypertension was identified as a specific health condition significantly associated in these analyses with lower wellbeing among men, digestive system problems were associated with lower wellbeing among women.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Two other important issues emerged in this review, and influence the structure of this report:

  • There are strong life-course influences on wellbeing: levels of wellbeing change according to life stage and the predictors of wellbeing also change as people age.
  • Men and women may experience wellbeing differently, both in terms of what predicts wellbeing and in terms of the nature of wellbeing.


photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #62

For all of these stories plus many more see our latest collection of stories in this week’s new Happiness At Work #62

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s