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Can Five Simple Habits Improve Our Wellbeing?

The new economics foundation (NEF) developed ‘the five ways to wellbeing, a range of evidence-based practices that have been proven to help reduce the effects of stress and mental health problems, (Mahony, S. (2011)). They were designed to resonate with the familiar ​’five a day message for fruit and veg, so they are simple, memorable and brief enough to carry on a postcard or mobile phone.

They are a reminder to:

  • Connect more with the people around you, including family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.
  • Be Active; an example would be going for a walk or running in your lunch break, stepping outside, doing some gardening, or playing a game with your children.
  • Take Notice this means being more mindful of your surroundings, noticing the unusual, being aware of the changing seasons, and seizing the moment.
  • Keep Learning, try something new, begin a course or a new responsibility at work.
  • Give, do something nice for someone, show gratitude, give your time and attention to others.

Research from 400 scientists into the causes and consequences of mental capital and wellbeing has gone into developing these five simple ways that can help to boost resilience and enable people to thrive more in today’s society (Mahony, S. (2011). And, it is not just individuals that are beginning to realise the impact our health and wellbeing have on our happiness. Many employers, Counsellors, Schools and work establishments recognise the importance of supporting their staff. Some implement the five ways to help their employees thrive more in the workforce (New Economics Foundation, NEF). Such companies may also offer gym memberships or healthcare plans as a work incentive. These practical approaches used in establishments where good work ethics support work gives people some control, offer a fair reward for people’s efforts to engage staff in crucial decisions, offer security, and support colleagues and managers.

In a quest to promote this, the consulting team at NEF created wellbeing @work, a measurement tool that employers can use to encourage staff who support their staff and promote the five ways to wellbeing, both inside and outside of work, are more likely to have a team that is more productive at work, (The Open University, 2014). They included ideas such as taking a walk in a lunch break and offering gym memberships as part of a work incentive

According to Stuckler and Basu, 2013, a predictor of life expectancy is our postcode because much of what keeps us healthy has to do with our social environment. We only have to look towards the office for National statistics to see annual comparisons of people’s life satisfaction showing that UK regions have different results to other countries. Communities and health care providers can help to improve health and wellbeing approaches. Seeing where the weaknesses lie in some areas that score low could mean that projects and funding can create resources in communities that need them the most.

As part of a task, I set myself the goal of practising the five ways for one week and journal my

observations. I discovered; when I consciously made an effort to connect with others around me, pass the time of day, being friendlier and more open, I found that the people closest to me responded in ways that seemed to create a deeper connection, this seems to strengthen the bond I have with them.

I also found that people in general, acquaintances, people at work, friends and strangers

seemed to pay attention to what I said, and this was reciprocated. I noted having more energy and feeling good. Although Learning is already a prominent aspect of my life, the task enabled me to have more self-awareness; I found myself more conscious during my time studying. I felt less tired and more mentally stimulated. By boosting my physical activity and going to the gym early in the morning before work or study, I was not putting it off; and this left me feeling good for the whole day.

Other observations were improved mood, sleeping well on a night, and healthier eating choices. Being kind to others is something I have always endeavoured to do. However, when I reflected on this after my week of observations, I realised just how much daily stress could dampen my efforts of carrying out acts of kindness. By consciously putting this in action daily, it is incredible how good it feels to lift the spirits of others with simple acts of kindness. And finally, paying more attention to the present moment, thoughts and feelings, and the world around me has helped me feel more grounded and much more productive.

I found that putting the five ways into practice was beneficial; I made a pact to maintain them and turn them into long-term habits. It has allowed me to understand this model’s value profoundly and provided me with some insight into sharing this message with my service users. However, I did recognise that although I consider myself a resourceful person and my environment is supportive of my needs and wellbeing, not everyone is fortunate enough to be in the same position.

The Dynamic Model of Wellbeing (reference) illustrates this well, as it provides a visual tool for distinguishing a link between situations and personal identity.

For example, suppose a service user, who is unemployed and experiencing issues around his identity, is introduced to this model by his health worker. He might notice a link between being unemployed (his external circumstance) and his feelings of inadequacy (Identity). The five ways to wellbeing could have a more substantial impact when combined with this dynamic model. It would build on realisation and offer practical ideas for him to apply to his life. There could be further knowledge that by pushing through any barriers he has to find work, ‘connecting with others and ‘keep learning’ (perhaps by him seeking resources to begin a course), might change his outlook on finding employment, improve his self-esteem and confidence, and could result in him applying for more work.

The five ways model might have limitations because it is too idealistic; Jennie and Renee (2014) describe the harsh reality of living in poverty. It was highlighted how issues such as damp and mould could cause health problems, and unsafe neighbourhoods can make it challenging to feel safe outdoors. Additionally, the whole world has faced health and wellbeing challenges as a result of the Covid pandemic. These are real-life issues that can hinder wellbeing goals. Illustrating some external circumstances are not within a person’s direct control and practical solutions will not always resolve issues like poverty, inequality and global disaster, all examples of external forces that are potentially detrimental to mental and physical health.

Unfortunately, the five ways to wellbeing are not a magic wand, and you could argue that practising them will not tackle some of these harsh realities people face. However, making behavioural and attitudinal changes can improve resilience and creative thinking, leading to productivity, for example, adapting exercise to indoors, connecting with telephone support, or letter writing, identifying where lifestyle choices are lacking in fundamental strengths that, if addressed, may prompt seeking the proper support and resources.

Evidenced-based models such as NEF’s Five ways to wellbeing can encourage people to think and behave differently. By taking proven tested, more complex ideas and simplifying them into practical and memorable ways to improve health and wellbeing, people can be reminded to focus on some simple vital principles and ideas. Companies may also utilise these to play a part in the health and wellbeing of staff, and as a result of happier and healthier staff, this could strengthen a workforce and reduce sickness. Communities and health care providers can also use the ideas presented in the models and strengthen community projects and decision-making on where funding is needed the most. Personal stories from people who have tested these models out could encourage more individuals to apply them. The evidence is clear that collectively, the five ways to wellbeing approaches are proven to improve health, wellbeing, and resilience when applied in manageable and obtainable ways for each individual. At the very least, they provide hope and a positive focus to work towards, helping people notice where they might gradually change the things within their control.

References

Mahony, S. (2011) ‘What a difference five ways make’, The NEF Blog, 23 May [Online]. Available at http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/what-a-difference-five-ways-make (Accessed 1 Nov 2018). [TA1]

Overell, S., Mills, T., Roberts, S., Lekhi, R. and Blaug, R. Provocation Paper 7: The employment relationship and the quality of work (2010) published by The Good Work Commission/The Work Foundation p. 12–18.

Roberts, G., Bora, R., Hoerning, E., Ley, A. and Long, M. ‘Five ways to wellbeing: how do you get the message across? A report for Devon Partnership NHS Trust: Clinical Cabinet’ Devon Partnership NHS Trust (2013) [Online]. Available at: http://www.devonpartnership.nhs.uk/uploads/tx_mocarticles/Learning_about_the_5_ways_to_wellbeing.pdf (Accessed 1 Nov 2018).

The Open University. (2018a). Learning Guide 1: Health and wellbeing matters. In: K118 Perspectives in health and social care. 3rd ed. Milton Keynes: The Open University. 7-38.

The Open University. (2014b). Learning Guide 2[TA2] : Health and wellbeing in place. In: K118 Perspectives in health and social care. 3rd ed. Milton Keynes: The Open University.43-73.

The Open University. (2014c). Learning Guide 3: Health and wellbeing and work. In: K118 Perspectives in health and social care. 3rd ed. Milton Keynes: The Open University. 78-108.

 [Video 1.1] Renee. Poverty is a miserable state [Online].