If you could have anything in the world, what would that be?
Money, a big house, a luxury car, power, the American Dream. How about becoming president of the US?
Me, I would wish for a sense of well-being. Why might you ask? Because with a sense of well-being, I can accomplish all the above if I want and more.
Furthermore, a sense of well-being leads to healthy behaviors, longevity, and increased productivity. People feel great about their life. People without a sense of well-being feel lousy and fearful despite a clean bill of health and wealth.
So what is well-being?
Well-being is an individual’s perception of their life. It is a subjective measure, based on emotions, feelings, and thoughts. If you feel great doing dastardly deeds you have a sense of well-being doing your job.
Different yardsticks define and measure well-being. The five elements described here come from longstanding research.
- Career defined as what you do daily. It could be formal employment or how you spend your day. Studies show it is important to like what you do to have a good sense of well-being.
- Social defined as stable relationships or connections. Humans are social beings. We need to connect to feel fulfilled.
Studies show at least 4-6 hours of social time daily is essential for social well-being.
- Financial defined as how you manage money to prevent future problems or stress. It is not a measure of wealth.
People who manage their money to build financial security have a sense of financial well-being.
- Physical defined as how you manage your health so that you have the energy to do things you want. Sleep, exercise, nutrition, and mental health are important parts of physical well-being. Research shows less than six hours sleep a night affects mood and health.
- Community defined as your environment, where you live. Do you like or feel safe in the community in which you live?
Majority of people, about 2/3 thrive on one element, and only 9% have a sense of well-being on all five elements.
How do you get a sense of well-being?
A healthy environment helps you thrive with a sense of well-being leading to healthy habits and a positive ripple effect. A toxic social environment leads to difficulty in thriving and unhealthy habits. When people do not thrive or struggle an environment, they also don’t have a sense of well being.
The environment is a powerful influence on well-being. It is also a determinant of many factors that affect the quality of life. Genes and brain neurons interact and change with the environment. Your brain and genetics change as you engage with the world.
A study done on monozygotic twins — identical twins with the same DNA — with the schizophrenia gene(s) showed the expression of schizophrenia was about 40%. If the expression of schizophrenia was purely genetic, there should be close to 100% concordance, meaning both twins should have schizophrenia in over 99% of cases. The fact that there was less than 50% concordance suggested the environment played a more crucial role in the expression of schizophrenia. The environment has more impact on who we are than our genes. The study answered the question of nature versus nurture. Nurture is more important than nature. We can’t change genetics, at least, not yet, but we can change nurture.
Healthcare seems to ignore that fact. The healthcare system created to get help for mental illness loaded with gaps and delays results in pervasive harm, and a profitable revolving door that has not boded well for healthcare delivery to those with mental illness.
The importance of the environment to health and well-being is not earth-shaking news. It has been known for decades. We see that knowledge used to disrupt and manipulate, changing the trajectories of cultures from upwardly mobile to downwardly spiral filled with fear and violence. Take mass incarceration, putting innocent people or people with minor violations in cages and treating them like animals serve no purpose other than to create conditions that turn them into criminals, increase recidivism and community contagion of profound social ills.
Prisons are factories that manufacture more anti-social behaviors. The deplorable conditions in prisons are such that to survive it is near impossible for one to develop healthy habits or rehabilitate to life without crime.
It’s not rocket science. Changing the prison environment could drastically reduce recidivism and crimes. The boost to society would be exponential. Educational studies showed that most cost savings from early education were due to reduced incarceration that increased productivity. Spending more on education, and less on prisons produce financial savings and increase productivity. Those savings benefit families, not the rich or big businesses that profit from mass incarceration. The nonfinancial benefit to families and communities would be astronomical and an area of research that deserves more attention.
Create an environment to use prisons for the genuinely dangerous and guilty of serious crimes. Not to over-punish and over-surveil the innocent or uneducated poor who can’t afford a competent lawyer. That alone could improve the collective well-being of our society. It would reduce the backlog of court cases. It would help police departments utilize their officers for crimes that serve and protect communities.
In addition, create a rehabilitative environment for those imprisoned and a therapeutic environment for the vast number of incarcerated with mental illness. The confined and the mentally ill receive poor and often harmful care, especially, when they are people of color.
Creating a culture of well-being for all could be the solution. Using it to measure community services, finances, job satisfaction, health, public health, and relationships may be good starting points to build on.