New Research on Wellbeing: How to Enjoy Each Day and Get More Out of Life

by Diane Berenbaum

Chances are, we have experienced some change in the last few years that has affected our quality of life. Perhaps it’s time to take stock and ask , "How am I doing?" Fortunately, there is now a way to literally measure "how you’re doing," thanks to Gallup Inc.’s new research.

In their book, Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath and Jim Harter reveal the results of Gallup's global study on wellbeing. And, they share recommendations for boosting those factors that shape our lives. As an added bonus, you get access to their online survey, the WellBeing Finder, so you can assess your current state and track your progress.

What is wellbeing? Most think "wellbeing" is just about being happy or healthy. Turns out, it is much more than that. And, some of Gallup’s findings on what makes life worthwhile might surprise you. 

What are The Five Essential Elements of Wellbeing?

According to Gallup, the following elements "differentiate a thriving life from one spent suffering:"

  1. Career Wellbeing:  Liking what you do every day or how you spend your time

  2. Social Wellbeing:  Having strong relationships and love in your life

  3. Financial Wellbeing:  Effectively managing  your economic life

  4. Physical Wellbeing:  Having good health and energy to get things done

  5. Community Wellbeing:  Sense of engagement with the area where you live

Many of us tend to focus on a select few factors that we deem most important. Consider those with a laser focus on their careers, spending hours on their jobs, often at the expense of their personal relationships. Or those who are the life of the party, yet neglect to consider the impact of their socializing ways on their physical health. 

Gallup notes that 66% of people are doing well in at least one of the categories. That’s the good news. But thriving in one element is not enough. It is the combination of all five that is most important. And just 7% are thriving in all five. 

Key Findings from Gallup’s Research:

Career Wellbeing

  • This is the most essential and most underestimated of the five elements. If you don’t have a passion for something you do on a regular basis—even if you are not paid for it—your chances of having a high wellbeing in the other areas will decrease. And the bad news is…only 20% of people like what they do each day.

  • Your manager has a profound impact on engagement and wellbeing. If your manager ignores you, there is a 40% chance you will be actively disengaged or filled with hostility about your job. But, when your manager focuses on your strengths, the chance you’ll be actively disengaged goes down to 1%.

  • People who have the opportunity to use their strengths every day are more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.

Social Wellbeing

  • It may be intuitively obvious, but having strong friendships is a good thing. We have more energy, less stress and generally feel better when we have close friends. And, when we don’t have these friendships or have strained relationships, we have nearly twice the risk of dying from heart disease and are twice as likely to catch a cold.

  • The amount of social time matters too. Each additional hour of social time—up to six hours—improves our chances of having a good day.

  • Having a "best friend" at work is powerful—those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and produce higher quality work. 

Financial Wellbeing

Does money make us happy? Gallup discovered that how we spend our money is more important than how much money we have.  They found that:

  • Spending money on ourselves does not boost happiness. But, spending on others is as important to wellbeing as the amount of money we make.

  • Spending money on experiences—vacations, dinners, family gatherings—produces two or three times the level of wellbeing as material purchases.

  • Our mindset about our finances has the biggest impact of all—a sense of financial security has three times the impact as income alone. A strong focus on just getting more money (wealth accumulation) can actually reduce our wellbeing.

Physical Wellbeing

  • Sleep plays an essential role in our physical wellbeing.  Most of us get 6.7 hours of sleep on a work night, and that’s not enough.  To improve health, memory, appearance and wellbeing, we need seven to eight hours.  Getting less than this amount on a regular basis leads to poor concentration, bad decisions, irritability, weight gain as well as increased risk of illness and even…death!

  • Most of us do not get enough exercise.  People who exercise two times a week are happier and have less stress.  Even 20 minutes of exercise during the day can boost your mood for the rest of the day.

  • Eating healthier choices will curb our hunger for a longer time and boost our energy. When we adopt healthy habits, we feel better, look better and live longer.

Community Wellbeing

This can be the differentiating factor between a "good" life and a "great" life. It includes basic elements like safety and security, but also active involvement in community groups and organizations.

  • The highest levels of Community Wellbeing are found in people who are actively involved in their community and receive recognition for making a difference.

  • When we give back in this way, we feel enhanced meaning and purpose in our lives. It’s even been shown to increase longevity as it helps us ward off stress and negative emotions. 

  • Community Wellbeing builds directly on the other four elements. Just increasing your well being in the others will mean your community wellbeing will dramatically increase as well.

And the Survey Said…

After reading the book and taking the online survey, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I just made it in the "thriving" category. That bit of news certainly boosted my confidence and perhaps my overall "wellbeing," at least for that moment in time! I also know I have some opportunities for improvement. And the survey provides food for thought on how to boost my scores and get more out of life.

The Choice is Yours

But the most powerful message of all from the book was that I have a direct impact on the well being of others… more than I realized. And you do too. All five elements are within our control. So, we can all choose how we spend our time and what we do with our lives. It takes work and accountability, but we can develop a "thriving" wellbeing with the choices we make. And, when we demonstrate that we care about others, it can help strengthen their wellbeing and their family’s wellbeing, and make a positive impact on the world around us. Now that’s what makes life worthwhile.


Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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