Timothy So, Msc, is a PhD candidate in Psychology in the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry. He is a Research Associate of Cambridge University's Well-being Institute and a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Timothy is also responsible for both the Traditional and the Simplified Chinese PPND sites. Full bio.
Many of us realize the importance of a healthy diet and have started having 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. There is profound evidence about its benefits to our physical health. If I now tell you there are also 5 easy daily practices that will dramatically enhance your mental health (well-being), as much as eating fruits and vegetables enhance your physical health, will you be excited and take real action?
UK Government Project on Mental Well-being
In 2008, with the comission of UK Government’s Foresight Project, nef (New Economics Foundation) reviewed the inter-disciplinary work of over 400 scientists across the world in order to identify a set of evidence-based actions to improve well-being. The goal was to highlight those actions that individuals could build into their daily lives.
“A big question in mental well-being is what individuals can do. We found there are five categories of things that can make a profound difference to people’s well-being,” said Felicia Huppert, Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, who led part of the project. “There are two significant findings in this report. First, each of the categories has strong scientific evidence behind it. Second, each action is so simple that everyone should aim to do them daily.”
What are the FIVE ways to Well-being?
The report titled “Mental Capital and Wellbeing” suggests people should aim 1) to connect with others, 2) to be active, 3) to take notice of their surroundings, 4) to keep learning, and 5) to give to their neighbors and communities.
Connect with the people around you – family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Regard these people as the foundation of your life and spend time in developing these relationships. These connections will support and enrich you in your daily life.
Get your body moving in any way – go for a walk or run, go cycle, dance, play a game, etc. Exercise makes one feel good and grants you vitality. Which exercise? It is important to find a physical activity that suits your level of mobility and fitness, and that it’s one you really enjoy.
Be curious and aware of the world around you and of what you are feeling. Keep an eye out for the beautiful, observe the unusual, and catch sight of the surprising. Notice the changing seasons. Relish every moment, no matter whether you are walking to work, eating, or talking to friends. Reflecting on your own experiences will help you realize what matters to you.
Try something new or come back to an old interest, and challenge yourself with an aspiration that you will enjoy achieving – learn to play an instrument or to cook your favorite dishes. Sign up for a course that you are interested in, or take on a different responsibility at work. Learning new things is fun while boosting confidence.
Do something nice for a friend, or even a stranger. Thank someone who has done you a favor. Smile at others. Devote your time to community and voluntary work. Look out, as well as in. See yourself and your happiness. Linking to the wider community could be extremely rewarding and could help form bonding with the people around you.
Time to Enhance our Mental Well-being
We have been spending a great deal of effort and money advancing our physical health and longevity. It might now also be time to brace our mental capital and well-being, when over 16% of population is suffering from mental disorders. While GDP, household income, longevity are consistently increasing over the past 50 years, problems such as depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse have never been as serious comparing to anytime in the past. None of us wants to live a depressed and anxious longer life. We all want a happier, more fulfilling, and more flourishing life.
Enhancing our well-being could well have been a mystery, yet thanks to scientific research we now have better and clearer insights. Truly, I am NOT implying that one will have serious mental disorders if he/she does not follow the above suggestions, nor will a person suffer immediately from serious physical illnesses without 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily or without daily optimal exercise. As a scientist, I am also NOT trying to prescribe what kind of behavior you should take on, but I am descriptively reporting what science and research tells us about well-being. However, as an individual who cares about both physical and mental health, and who cares about well-being and flourishing of the community, I do suggest to my group of friends that it is time for action.
Mental Capital and Wellbeing (July 2006 – October 2008) UK Foresight Report
NOTE: “Well-being” is the US spelling, and “wellbeing” is the UK spelling.