The concept of Well-Being: Five types of Well-Being
We all strive for happiness and well-being. But what does well-being really mean? What are the aspects of well-being and do you have them all in your life?
Five different dimensions of the concept of “well-being” can be identified:
1. Positive emotion
Normally short-term, “simple” pleasures such as food, watching TV, or sex. Positive emotions are subjective in the sense that we like different things - though some pleasures are universal (or at least very close to being so). Positive emotions are easy to observe and measure as increased activity in certain areas in the brain.
You probably know the feeling of being engaged in challenging activities where you forget everything that’s going on around you. Such a state of total absorption is also known as “flow” state. When we are in this state our abilities are often stretched to the maximum creating the feeling that we are exploiting our full potential.
This dimension is about social connectedness and having love and intimacy in your life through friends, family, and romantic partners. Well-being of this type is characterized by the fact that your own well-being is dependent of the well-being of others and the experiences and feelings you share and enjoy together.
Playing a challenging computer game (engagement) with good friends (relationships) while eating chips and drinking coke (positive emotion) can be awesome. But most people need something more to be truly fulfilled. Some kind of higher purpose that goes beyond the self. Something with meaning on a higher level.
This dimension is about accomplishment and success - competing and winning in some objective way where victory (or something equivalent) can be easily observed. Often (but not always) involves some kind of external recognition of what has been achieved.
Each of these dimensions is characterised by having the following properties:
- It contributes to the well-being of real human beings and is not just a theoretical abstraction.
- The dimension is pursued and enjoyed for its own sake meaning that it is not just a means to achieve one of the other types of well-being (for example, achievement can be pursued even when it does not result in positive emotion, brings no higher meaning, and does not involve positive relationships).
- It can be measured independently from the other four dimensions
What is most important to you?
We all need these dimensions in our lives in some way to be happy and content. But how important each dimension is varies a lot depending on your personality and preferences. For example, if you are very competitive, personal achievement is essential to you. For others it is a minor concern.
The better you know yourself and your preferences, the easier it is for you to create the life you want and reach a high level of well-being and happiness.
Other ways of categorizing the different levels of well-being and happiness
The concept of well-being described above is developed by Martin Seligman, an American psychologist who has been a pioneer in the study of happiness and positive psychology.
But there are other ways of looking at the concepts of well-being and happiness. Daniel Nettle distinguishes between three levels of happiness and the as far back as 350 BC the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified four different types or aspects of happiness.
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