Scientific evidence points to five steps that we can take to improve our mental wellbeing. If you give them a try, you may feel happier, more positive and able to get the most from your life.
Your mental health is important. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are common. If you have such an illness, it's important to get the right treatment. Read more about mental health.
However, there's more to good mental health than avoiding or treating mental illness. There is also positive mental wellbeing.
This article explains:
Why is mental wellbeing important? First, we all want to feel good – about ourselves and the world around us – and to be able to get the most from our lives.
There is also evidence that good mental wellbeing is important for our physical health, and that it can help us achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
What is mental wellbeing?
Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says that when we talk about mental wellbeing, we mean more than just happiness.
“It’s useful to start with the idea that overall wellbeing involves both the mind and the body. And we know that physical and mental wellbeing are closely related.
“Of course, feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it is far from the whole. There is a deeper kind of wellbeing, which is about living in a way that is good for you and good for others around you.
“Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too.
“So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.
“Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”
Mental wellbeing can take many different forms, but a useful description is feeling good and functioning well.
Wellbeing and society
Over the last 50 years, we in Britain have become richer. Despite this, evidence from population surveys – in which people were asked to rate their own happiness or mental wellbeing – shows that mental wellbeing has not improved.
This suggests that many of the things we often think will improve our mental wellbeing – such as more possessions, more money to spend or expensive holidays – on their own do not lead to a lasting improvement in the way we feel about ourselves and our lives.
The message is clear: it’s time to rethink wellbeing.
Evidence and wellbeing
Over the last 20 years, new evidence has emerged about what really causes lasting improvements to mental wellbeing.
“Some of this evidence comes from observational studies, in which scientists look at the behaviour and wellbeing of certain sections of the population,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. “Other evidence comes from trials in which scientists take a group of people and ask them to change their behaviour or participate in a treatment or other intervention – such as an exercise programme – and then watch what happens to their wellbeing.”
To gain evidence on wellbeing, scientists have to find ways to measure it.
Often, scientists measure wellbeing using a series of questions that ask subjects how they feel about themselves, their lives and the world around them.
Find out how happy you are: use our interactive Wellbeing self-assessment tool.
Wellbeing in your life
Many factors influence our wellbeing. Evidence shows that the actions we take and the way we think have the biggest impact.
It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.
“The first thing you can do for your own wellbeing is become curious about it,” says Professor Stewart-Brown.
“Start to think about what you’ve done in the past to promote mental wellbeing, and whether it worked. Then think about new things that you can try.
“Remember, no one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action.”
Five steps to mental wellbeing
Evidence suggests there are five steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing.
If you approach them with an open mind and try them, you can judge the results yourself.
- Connect. Connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships. Learn more in Connect for mental wellbeing.
- Be active. You don't have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find the activity that you enjoy, and make it a part of your life. Learn more in Get active for mental wellbeing.
- Keep learning. Learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike? Find out more in Learn for mental wellbeing.
- Give to others. Even the smallest act can count, whether it's a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks. Learn more in Give for mental wellbeing.
- Take notice. Be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”, and it can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges. Learn more in Awareness for mental wellbeing.