Well-being—that subjective quality of how each of us experiences our life, has long been of interest to philosophers. With advances in neuroscience over the past decade or two, it has also become a hot topic for scientists. And the good news from research findings: Well-being is a skill that can be cultivated!
At the outset, let’s double click on the meaning of well-being. Well-being is a dynamic process describing how people feel about their lives across ever-changing circumstances and activities. It includes both an individual component, as well as a social component.
Because of its’ dynamic nature, high levels of well-being allow us to do our best work . It allows us to engage with others and to better navigate and respond in difficult circumstances.
Based on the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson, well-being includes four scientifically investigated components:
- Resilience – the rapidity with which we recover from adversity. It’s inevitable in life that stuff happens. How fast do we recover from it?
- Positive Outlook – seeing positive in others and in situations. Ability to see the opportunity in challenges
- Attention – ability to bring and maintain focus. It is said that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Can we turn down the distractibility just a bit?
- Generosity – this altruistic and other-centered behavior activates circuits that foster well-being.
In his research, Davidson has been able to identify discreet neural circuits in the brain that are important to each of these elements. Further, his research has demonstrated that these circuits can be shaped and strengthened through training and experience. The take home message: Well-being is a skill, and each of us can be intentional about increasing our own sense of well-being.
[Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.]