“How are you?” they ask, not meaning we should actually explain much about our well-being. “Fine,” we respond, either wanting to get beyond polite social small-talk or to cut off the conversation. But reality is complex. We may not feel “fine” at all, or we may feel “fine” unrealistically. Our most common gloss, however, is to let some negative aspect of our circumstances define our whole condition.
Our sense of well-being is often unfairly diminished by our current condition. For instance, a toothache can eclipse everything else. A financial loss can make one suicidal. Winter doldrums can lead to debilitating depression. On the other hand a spate of good fortune can divert attention from one’s chronic illness or conflict with relatives. Success at sports can offset a student’s stumbling grades in academic subjects.
It is helpful, from time to time, to take a more holistic look at ones condition and try to put the current “big issue” into perspective.
WHAT CONSTITUTES WELL-BEING?
There are several factors that contribute to one’s sense of well-being. Consider these four: social (family/community), emotional (happiness/balance), one’s primary role (gauged by security and accomplishment), and physical (health/sexual fulfillment).
I have devised a simple test to calculate these factors:
Test of Well-being
In answering the following 8 questions use this scale 0 to 5:
0 none at all, zero
1 very little, hardly any
2 a barely significant amount
3 an OK level, tolerable, usually satisfactory and acceptable
4 a great deal, quite a lot
5 very much, maximum amount that is likely
1. Social satisfaction:
Question 1: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much ENERGY (effort, time, concern) do you spend handling your family and community interests and requirements?
Question 2: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much SATISFACTION (fulfillment, rewards) do you feel you derive from your family and community connections and involvement?
2. Emotional satisfaction:
Question 3: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much ENERGY (effort, time, concern) do you expend on your emotional life (your happiness, mental health, balance)?
Question 4: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much SATISFACTION do you feel you derive from the effort you are spending on your emotional welfare (how is that working for you)?
3. Satisfaction regarding your main role in life:
Question 5: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much ENERGY (effort, time, concern) do you put into your security and accomplishment as a productive person (e.g. as a professional, worker, student, parent – your main role at present)?
Question 6: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much SATISFACTION does this role provide for you?
4. Physical satisfaction:
Question 7: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much ENERGY (effort, time, concern) do you feel you are expending on your physical well-being (health, sexual, and nutritional aspects of life)?
Question 8: on a scale of 0 to 5, how much SATISFACTION do you get from your physical condition as it is (how do you feel about the results of your efforts to provide for your physical and sexual well-being)?
Assessing the results of this inventory:
A. There are 4 ENERGY scores which indicate your levels of stress or concern about that factor of your well-being. Assign those scores with a minus. Energy spent is the cost of satisfaction.
B. There are 5 SATISFACTION scores which indicate your sense that things in that area are positive. Assign those scores with a plus. This satisfaction is how much that effort was worthwhile.
C. Calculate the 4 minuses and the 4 plusses to arrive at a satisfaction score. Your overall satisfaction rating will be somewhere on a continuum between -20 and +20. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say any score lower than -10 indicates a serious sense of concern, whereas a score of more that +10 is an indication of celebration. The great majority of us will, at any one time, be feeling our well-being is somewhere in the middle, between -10 and +10.
D. Remember, these scores fluctuate all the time.
Despite our tendency to blame factors beyond our control, well-being is our own sense of how things are. The conclusion we draw is our own internal calculation or miscalculation.
This is not to dismiss the fact that circumstances do make an impact. For instance, being evicted, expelled, or attacked are real. But how those impact our sense of well-being, is not always all about those circumstances. “I’m a victim,” “I can’t control my attitudes,” or “I live in a messed-up world,” would not be all that needs to be said about one’s well-being.
Imagine you are anxious about how your retirement savings are going to run out. This tends to become a consuming worry. If you took time to factor it into a holistic picture you’d have a more realistic assessment. Your answers to the 8 questions and the resulting scores might look like this:
1. Family is most important. I give it a lot of energy. Energy spent is -4
2. Family is most important. They are the love of my life. Satisfaction is +5
3. I’m OK emotionally. I needn’t work at it very hard. Energy spent is -2
4. I’m OK emotionally. I am essentially quite happy. Satisfaction is +4
5. I planned my security wrong. I’m panicking. Energy spent is -4.
6. My retirement savings are gone. My worry isn’t working. Satisfaction is +0.
7. My health is good. I work at it. Energy spent is -3
8. I am energetic and fine. This is one worry I don’t have. Satisfaction is +5
You, despite your retirement worries, have an overall lack of concern about well-being. It is a level of +1 on a scale of -20 to +20, right in the middle of a bell-shaped curve.
Imagine two people have cancer. Why might one of them have a very negative sense of overall well-being while the other feels not-so-bad? Both patients are expending a very great deal of energy (almost all they have, -5) confronting their condition and they both feel they are not yet getting best results. Their score of benefits is only +1. In both cases the physical score is low (-4). Their well-being score, however, includes three other factors. Patient A has no financial worries nor job concerns (+4 for what we are calling “role satisfaction”), and the patient has to expend very little effort at maintaining that level of security (-0) = +4. Patient B is going to be bankrupted by this medical crisis (no “satisfaction” about security (+0) while devoting all sorts of effort to getting ready to handle this (-4 – a high sense of effort expended) = -4 score regarding the patient's sense of getting benefit from their main role in life right now. Patient A is a recluse and has little sense of social standing or community esteem and so concludes that’s worth about +2, but A doesn’t put much effort into it anymore (so the expended effort is “hardly any” for -1). Patient B, on the other hand, has been almost overcome with community and family support during this medical crisis (+4 for question 2), while having a sense of not contributing very much towards the community and family at present (-1). That is benefits +4 over effort -1 for a social satisfaction score of +3. As for emotional satisfaction, as hospital patients, they are needing to work rather hard to maintain their balance, so their energy and benefit from their effort cancel each other out (+3 and -3 = 0). Patient A’s overall sense of well-being, looked at holistically, is -4, +4, +1, and 0. Patient B’s overall sense of well-being is -4, -4, +4, and 0. As of today A is doing better than B.
Notice, it is not one factor (wealth, social support, emotional balance, or medical condition) that makes a difference in their sense of well-being, but their concern about these things. In fact, A’s financial reality might be dire without A knowing it. B might be about to learn that insurance is going to cover this and the present worry is going to go away. Hard reality is one thing, but a sense of well-being is what motivates us.
One’s sense of well-being may swing quickly, but it is the intuitive engine that tends to drive one’s action. The strength and duration of the sense of well-being are what determine the intensity of energy allocated to action. The goal of the action, of every one of our actions, is to enhance our sense of well-being. A basic human need is a sense of well-being
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.