Riccardo di Biase

Online Coaching and facilitation

Well being is a skill, and you can learn it

Well Being
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Today we can easily have access to a variety of tools, methods, and strategies that can help promote our well-being. There are effective practices, theories, and exercises that you can take into your daily life. You can apply them to improve you quality of life, reduce stress and anxiety and overcome challenges.

You can learn and practice the skills of Well-Being

Studies showed that you can learn how to enhance your mental state and emotional well-being. Feeling good is the best strategy to effectively manage your time and projects, and by acquiring these skills, you can also develop stronger relationships and unleash your creativity.

I have been studying and practicing the skill of well-being for a few years, and I want to start sharing it with you. By following me, you will gain the skills required to lead a happier and more fulfilling life. Everything I tell you is evidence based, and proved on myself first.

It can be challenging to make sense of the lot of available information about this topic. Researchers are still studying these concepts, as they are relatively new. I have lived a personal experiences of suffering and helplessness, and I have a medical background. This is what motivated me to study and experiment with these practices.

In the last 15 years, I have faced and overcome a psychiatric diagnosis. In 2018 I balanced my emotion and my mind: I was healed. Some health professionals have called it a miracle, I believe I just studied and applied the latest research on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and positive psychology to myself.

A doctor once told me that “normality is a moderate depression.” I didn’t believe him, and I never gave up on searching for ways to live a better life, exploring anything that could help me. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence played a fundamental role in building my life beyond mental health problems and traumatic events.

What you will read in my articles are the most important practices and concepts that have helped me learn the skill of well-being.

What you’ll find in this article:

  • A positive definition of well-being;
  • The Positive Psychology approach;
  • Why and how ow Mindfulness can help to take the new in your life;
  • Relation between well being, needs and emotions;
  • Journaling as a tool of change

I will provide you some background knowledge and practical exercises that you can immediately apply to feel better.

Follow me here and on my social accounts, I look forward to hearing your feedback!

wellbeing and happiness

What is well-being?

Over the last 30 years, researchers have made significant discoveries about well-being. Studies reframed emotions, learning, happiness, optimism, and other related concepts, and gave us practical tools to improve them.

Shawn Achor describes what is happening as a Copernican revolution:

Just as Copernicus discovered that the earth actually orbits the sun, recent advances in positive psychology and neuroscience have taught us that success actually revolves around happiness, not the other way around.” … “We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.”

Shawn Achor

The mainstream belief was (and still is) that we’ll be happy when we are successful. Recent studies demonstrate that it is the exact opposite: success is a consequence of well-being, not a prerequisite.

Who can focus on the good of today are the ones who can do what’s necessary to succeed. In other words, begin by finding the good in what you already have, and it will be easier for you to grow.

To pursue well-being, you first need to understand what it is, and why it differs from happiness.

A positive definition of well being

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines well being as

“… a positive state experienced by individuals and societies. Similar to health, it is a resource for daily life and is determined by social, economic and environmental conditions. Well-being encompasses quality of life and the ability of people and societies to contribute to the world with a sense of meaning and purpose. Focusing on well-being supports the tracking of the equitable distribution of resources, overall thriving and sustainability. A society’s well-being can be determined by the extent to which it is resilient, builds capacity for action, and is prepared to transcend challenges” (WHO well being)

And mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to contribute to their community.” (WHO mental health)

Well being is not just the absence of problems. It focuses on positive skills such as:

  • Knowing and utilizing our strengths and abilities.
  • The ability to contribute to the world with meaning and purpose.
  • Being able to form and maintain relationships.
  • Having the ability to make decisions and plans.
  • Being able to actively resilient cope with challenges.

Traditional psychology and psychiatry typically focus on problems. They can help us understand the flaws of our mind, which is a crucial step in knowing ourselves and making sense of our past.

If we only focus on the past, we can become stuck in our flaws. Be experts on the problems doesn’t give us ideas about the solutions. When you understand how anxiety and stress function, discussing them for hours could even amplify them.

Recent studies are shifting their focus towards identifying what is good in our lives and how we can build a better life.

Although reputable universities have conducted these studies, they challenge traditional beliefs held for over 100 years. Institutions and health professional view skeptically mindfulness, positive psychology and other new researches. This is why they are mostly advocates by coaches.

Well being for individual and society

Science says that you can experience well-being now, in the present moment, and cultivate it through various means. Well-being goes beyond happiness and positive emotions.

To access well-being, you need to better understand your reactions and behaviours and learn more about yourself. You can become familiar with your needs, strengths, and preferences. This can give you clear understanding of what well-being means to you. By doing so, you can make informed choices that align with what is best for you in every moment of your life.

It’s not just about you. The recognition of the importance of well-being is growing in politics and the economy. One example it’s role in initiatives like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) used for political agenda.

Well-being indexes can also be an alternative to the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is called Gross National Happiness (GNH): it takes into account mental health and overall quality of life. By focusing well being we can create a more sustainable and inclusive future that considers both individuals and communities.

Referring back to the WHO definition, the context plays a significant role. It makes possible or impossible to express one’s abilities, alleviate stress, provide good or bad jobs, and promote inclusion. Nevertheless, we can experience well-being in any situation, although the context can make it easier or more challenging.

Sensing and learning from your highest future possibility

A common thread links psychology and economy. Otto Scharmer describes it very well: we can imagine and sense the highest future possibility… and learn from it. This applies to ourselves, our lives, and society.

I believe that if success is not a requirement for well-being, this concept is. Scharmer’s “learning from the highest future possibility” refers to innovation and change. Both in society and the economy, as well as within ourselves.

A new behaviour, a new response to external triggers, a new achievement. The “new” comes from the ability to envision before it exist, and learn from that vision to make it real.

Can you envision your highest potential in the future? Are you prepared for the challenges that a positive outcome arises from taking action?

Martin Seligman began his career by studying “learned helplessness” – the idea that if we feel helpless, we won’t even try to make changes. He then conducted research on happiness and optimism, and ultimately shifted his focus to well-being. In 1998, he founded the field of Positive Psychology. Through his work at the University of Pennsylvania, Seligman made significant contributions to our understanding and ability to improve our lives.

His career and work exemplify the story and evolution of the scientific approach to well-being.

well being and Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology can help you change your thinking and provide you with a new perspective on your daily experiences. It enables you to focus on the positive aspects and provides techniques to intentionally cultivate them.

There’s a quote by Italo Calvino, in one of my favorite books called “Le città invisibili”:

“… seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space.”

Italo Calvino

This is what Positive Psychology is about: it provides evidence-based tools to find out what is good in you and in your life, and to make it grow.

Beyond happiness, to well being

Seligman initially focused his research on studying optimism and “authentic happiness”. However, how he explains in his book “Flourish”, he shifted his focus to studying well-being.

He realised that happiness is a limited concept. He looked for a more comprehensive understanding, an holistic approach that could go beyond happiness and positive emotions.

Well-being is not just about experiencing temporary joy or pleasure, it encompasses more profound and meaningful experiences.

He and his team developed the PERMA model, which identifies five essential elements of well-being. By considering these multiple dimensions, individuals can cultivate a more fulfilling and meaningful life:

  • Positive emotions: Experiencing positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, contentment, and hope. It involves cultivating a positive outlook and focusing on the positive aspects of life.
  • Engagement: Fully immerse in enjoyable activities that provide a sense of flow and enjoyment. It involves using your strengths and skills to accomplish meaningful tasks.
  • Relationships: Building and nurturing positive and meaningful relationships with others. It involves having social connections, support, and a sense of belonging.
  • Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It involves identifying and pursuing goals that align with your values and contribute to something greater than yourself.
  • Achievement: Setting and accomplishing goals that are personally meaningful and challenging. It involves experiencing a sense of accomplishment and growth.

These elements are essential components of well-being and can contribute to a more fulfilling and flourishing life.

Seligman is still conducting his research at the University of Pennsylvania. Over time he and his team refined frameworks and tools to understand and cultivate the wonders of human beings.

Know your character strengths

In his book “Character Strengths and Virtues”, Seligman defined 24 fundamental character strengths, grouped into 6 virtues. They stands in direct contrast to the DSM manual.

The DSM manual lists and describes all mental health issues, for the use of psychologist and psychiatrists. Seligman tells us about what is good in human beings, and invites us to know our signature strengths.

Character strengths are much more than something you own. They are your unique style and preference, the inner forces that naturally and effortlessly manifest through your behaviour.

They describe how you naturally approach life and problems, and how you seek fulfillment and self-expression. When you embody these strengths, you can experience a deep sense of satisfaction. Conversely, when you are unable to do so, you may feel frustration and emptiness.

You can find more information about them on the VIA Institute website. VIA stands for Virtues In Action, and in its website VIA Institute declines Seligman’s strengths in various ways and tools. I encourage you to take the Character Strengths Survey to discover your own signature strengths. If you’d like, you can share them with me.

This is just one of the many websites, tools, and practices related to Positive Psychology. Join me to learn more and apply these tools to enhance and maintain your well-being, support your goals, and build meaningful relationships.

When I first took the VIA character strengths survey, I began making notes in my journal about how I was applying my strengths. I started recognizing moments when I acted with bravery, or how my curiosity helped me solve problems.

The most important insight I gained was realizing how often I misused my strengths, causing unnecessary trouble. I would frequently employ courage in situations where it was unnecessary or inconvenient, putting myself in uncomfortable positions. There were also days when I wasted time trying to understand something of no use, driven by my curiosity.

I had been learning something about myself. In order to make it useful and apply it to my daily life, I had to learn another skill…

mnidfulness and well being

The skill of awareness

While Positive Psychology can help us build well-being, there are always obstacles that hinder our progress. These obstacles include stress, anxiety, boredom, self-criticism, toxic relationships, and so on. When we experience strong emotions, we are unable to use our brain effectively. Our automatic pilot, reactions, and habits can make it challenging to embrace change.

The automatic mindless mode is a life-saving and necessary mechanism. It prevents us to process every choice and action, but it makes it really hard for us to learn new behaviours.

Consistency is a necessary problem

It’s impossible to consciously consider every small choice we make and the response to every trigger and situation. Consistency and coherence create automatic responses and behaviours that enable us to streamline our thought process and take shortcuts.

Think about a recurrent or logical sequence of events: A→B→C→E→F.

Our mind and our behaviours will automatically associate A with F, creating consistency between them. Therefore, if we see anything that looks like an A, then we automatically react with F.

Cialdini explained well how difficult it is to challenge our own consistency. Someone can use it to deceive and manipulate us into doing something we may not want. Do you like pets? Yes or No? Think about it?

If you responded “yes”, you will tend later to be consistent with your answer, and you will likely donate to rescue dogs.

Consistency, instincts and unconscious reactions make our life possible. We should welcome them when they support us, and we must learn how to handle them when they become an obstacle to our goals.

What we can do is slow down, rewire our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and choose mindfully. We can do it again and again until the new behaviours become our automatic response.

well being and awareness

Choosing a new path with Awareness

I’m referring to Mindfulness. Meditation has been another essential tool in my healing journey. It has helped me change and deal with “the bad” and cultivate “the good” in my life.

You can learn the skill to control your attention and consciously choose your responses, rather than automatically reacting to your surroundings.

Discovering a new approach to life events is only useful if you can apply it when needed.

Mindfulness has many benefits. In this article I want to focus on why and how it can help you apply what you learn. You can train the awareness muscle, and be ready to use it when the chaos of life requires your full presence. You will be able to keep you brain and your consciousness active, even when facing strong reactions, and to choose your response to reality.

This is how you can turn new behaviours and intentions into reality: by being present. Mastering your attention is crucial for changing your life and improving you well-being.

Imagine yourself walking through a garden. You naturally follow the formed path. It has no grass, and you’ll probably walk on it, while thinking to something else.

What if you ‘d like to create a different path? You’ll need to stop, choose where you want the new path to be, and walk there every time you cross the garden again.

Eventually, the old path will fade away, the new one will form, and you’ll automatically follow it. Even when you’re distracted.

This is how you can rewire your behaviours.

Today’s world intense emotions constantly trigger and exploit your automatic responses. Mindfulness help to release and let go of habits of the past and desires for the future.

It allows you to choose how to behave here and now, in the present moment. You cannot change the past or the future. You can change the present, and embody who you really want to be. And you can repeat this effort until your new behaviours become an habit. You can embrace something new within yourself, and practice it until it becomes your natural response.

Awareness is the most important skill to learn, if you want to achieve and pursue well being.

Different types of Mindfulness Meditation

After I discovered Mindfulness Meditation, I went through Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR protocol. Since then, I had the opportunity to study and practice various approaches and understand of the science behind them.

Mindfulness can help to shape consciously your behaviour. However, it encompasses much more than that.

Greater Good Science Center defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”

Jon Kabat-Zin famously introduced mindfulness from eastern traditions into medical practice. He defines it as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

There are various types and protocols of mindfulness, particularly when considering more ancient practices in Asia. We can categorize them based on their effects and how they can help us:

  • Presence practices: improve your ability to focus and sense by training your attention on sounds and body sensations.
  • Perspective: enhance your ability to reframe your thoughts by training your awareness and the ability to change them.
  • Care: improve the quality of your relationships by training positive emotions such as kindness, compassion, and gratitude.

However, one of the best outcomes of meditation is the ability to distinguish reality, feeling and thoughts. It looks obvious, but it’s not easy.

“I see, I feel, I think”

Think of a time when you had a strong positive or negative experience. Now, take your journal or a piece of paper, and describe it in three sentences. Starting with “I see…”, “I feel…”, and “I think…”.

Describe what you observed without judging or interpreting, and try to distinguish between facts, emotions, and thoughts.

Strong emotion makes it really hard to do, these are some examples:

  • “I see him leaving me” vs “I see him walking out of the room.”
  • “I feel abandoned” vs “I feel alone.”
  • “I feel that it’s wrong” vs “I think that it’s wrong.”

Think about it…

Avoiding interpretations and judgments can be challenging. Take some time to journal about it daily, and you will notice how frequently it occurs.

Mindfulness and journaling improve your ability to observe facts, emotions, and thoughts as they are. However, connecting these elements to your needs is another valuable skill that can enhance your well-being.

Emotions are the language of needs

A small one cell organism moves towards areas with a higher concentration or food. He needs it, and he likes it! It can sense where there is more food, and it chooses to go there.

That’s essentially why we feel Emotions… with a few layers of complexity that have evolved over time. They drive us towards what we like and away from what we dislike.

Emotions are the language of our needs, and human needs are complicated. Sometimes our needs can be as basic as the need for a toilet. Other times more complex, like having an argument with someone we love. It is possible to desire both revenge and love simultaneously, and from the same person.

A satisfied need brings positive emotions, while unsatisfied needs result in negative emotions.

Understanding our emotions and needs is a fundamental skill to achieve and sustain well-being. It is the hardest to learn. It could lead us to question beliefs ingrained in us since childhood, and challenge social and cultural constructs. It requires openness, curiosity, and a willingness to explore new perspectives and possibilities.

Basic and Higher Needs

Maslow outlined the most famous framework of human needs. He grouped them from the most basic to the higher

This is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

  • Self-actualization: The need to fulfill one’s full potential and achieve personal growth.
  • Esteem/Prestige: The need for self-esteem, recognition, and respect from others.
  • Belonging and love: The need for social connections, relationships, and a sense of belonging.
  • Safety: The need for security, stability, and protection from harm.
  • Physiological: The most basic needs for survival, such as food, water, shelter, and sleep.

We don’t usually think about higher needs when we don’t meet the lowers. For example, we tend to sacrifice self-actualization in order to feel safer, sleep, or eat.

We tend to sacrifice higher needs in order to meet the lowers. For example, we don’t usually care about self-actualization when we need to feel safer, sleep or eat.

When we fulfill a need, we experience positive emotions. When we don’t, we experience negative ones. When something triggers them, emotions can vamp up like an intense fire. Then, they can linger for a long time, sometimes undetected by us. It is how our body and “instinctive” mind communicate to the “thinking” mind that something good or bad is happening. Even if we are not consciously aware of it.

Needs, emotions, and life itself are complex. The “thinking mind” does its best to guess and understand what triggers emotions, but it is not always effective. As we learned from the concept of “I see, I feel, I think”, we often become confused and misinterpret what is happening to us. Our evolution has prepared us to hunt and survive in a much harsher environment than modern society, and we have not yet adapted to it.

In addiction, as we age we develop a tendency to disregard our feelings. It’s convenient to prioritize studying over playing, or to prioritize work over the need for love. It is not when we neglect sadness or rage, and accept an unhealthy situation when we could change it.

It’s not a good long-term solution, and it threats our mental and physical well-being. We can learn to recognise our emotions and what we truly need.

Emotional Intelligence: make a good use of emotions

Emotional intelligence is the ability to effectively use our own emotions and understand the emotions of others. These four pillars define it:

  • Self-awareness involves being aware of your own emotions and understanding how they impact your thoughts and behaviour. It requires recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your values and goals.
  • Social awareness means using the language of emotions and being able to pick up on the emotions of others. It involves empathy, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and understanding their perspective.
  • Self-management is the ability to use your emotions for optimal decision-making. It involves managing stress, controlling impulses, and adapting to changing situations. It also includes being able to motivate yourself and maintain a positive outlook.
  • Relationship management is the skill of using emotions wisely in social interactions. It involves effective communication, conflict resolution, and building strong relationships. It also includes the ability to inspire and influence others.

These four points, by Daniel Goleman, highlight the importance of emotional intelligence in navigating relationships, making decisions, and achieving personal and professional success.

It’s all about awareness, recognition, and management of emotions, both in ourselves and in others. When we talk about others, we’re referring to empathy: the ability to interpret body and facial expressions. The first step towards empathy is experiencing what other people feel, and the second step is understanding why they feel it.

Using emotions wisely means understanding their meanings. This is the final learnable skill I will introduce in this article.

Emotions: how to call them and what they means.

There are two frameworks that talk about emotions: Ekman’s and Panksepp’s.

Ekman’s the one used in the Pixar movie “Inside Out”. He studied facial expressions, and deduced 6 emotions by it on observation and intuition. These are anger, surprise, disgust, happiness, fear, and sadness.

Panksepp’s work is more grounded in science. He referred to evolution to understand the essence of emotions. He pinpointed emotional pathways in mammals, and coined the term “affective neuroscience.” Panksepp’s framework supported by biology, and it includes seven emotions: SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF, and PLAY.

Each Panksepp’s emotion represents an emotion’s neuronal system, with its own pathways and responses.

  1. SEEKING: Curiosity, along with other motivations, drives our behaviour towards new and positive experiences, while avoiding negative ones.
  2. CARE: Makes us feel safe and loved.
  3. LUST: Goes beyond pleasure and includes feeling desirable and fashionable.
  4. PLAY: The joy of trying something new, even experiencing fear and competition in a safe way.
  5. RAGE: Arises when we witness or experience injustice and unfairness.
  6. FEAR: The need to feel safe and protected.
  7. PANIC/GRIEF: We experience it when we lose something or someone we relied on. We can consider it as sadness.

CARE, LUST and PLAY are positive. RAGE FEAR and PANIC negative. While SEEKING has it’s own mechanism and it can pair with others, in humans and in other species. In humans and few other animals, also other emotions can mix together, creating complex and ambivalent feelings.

Using emotions in a positive way starts with recognizing them in ourselves and others, and understanding what caused them. This cause could be an event, a memory, a thought, or even just a sentence.

Once we know how we feel, we can investigate and find out what needs underlie it. Then we can come up with a plan to meet it, or ask others for help. You can refer to Marshall Rosenberg about how to link observation, emotions, needs and requests in his Nonviolent Communication.

I haven’t come across a single source that covers all the different aspects of what I’m telling you as a whole. There are plenty of different authors who only touch on a few aspects of emotions and emotional intelligence. It’s a pretty new field that still needs more development in the future.

Emotional intelligence skill is about considering our and others emotions in everyday life and work. When we’re in a group, fear and anger should a reason good enough to change plans, even if it only affects the minority. For example.

well being and journaling

Journaling as a tool of change

I already referred to journaling. It is a powerful tool and it has greatly improved my well-being. It has increased my self-awareness and helped me understand the reasons behind my actions and experiences.

I started daily journaling six years ago. Since then, I have encountered it in various courses and books, with some variations.

It allows you to reflect on your day, assess what is happening, and how you are responding to it. Keeping track of events, changes, and behaviours is a crucial step in making personal growth. It help to identify positive and negative patterns. You can raise your awareness, and find out how and when you can incorporate the changes you desire into your life.

Here are some journaling examples:

  • Daily listening assessment, in Theory U. This type of journaling involves assessing your interactions and communication with others on a daily basis. You observe how well you listen to others, understand their perspectives, and empathize with them. By reflecting on your listening skills, you can improve your communication and build better relationships.
  • Improve emotional awareness. As we already saw, this journaling practice focuses on enhancing awareness about emotions and thoughts. Describe a situation or event by noting facts objectively (I see…), emotions (I feel…), and thoughts (I think…). This helps you connect between them, and promotes self-reflection and self-awareness.
  • Seligman’s 3 Blessings (“What went well”). This journaling technique involves reflecting on the positive aspects of your day or week. You identify three things that went well, big or small, and explore why they happened and how they made you feel. This practice cultivates gratitude, positivity, and a focus on the good in your life, contributing to overall well-being.

The 3 blessings exercise is a powerful Positive Psychology tool that originates from Seligman’s research. The short-term benefit of this exercise is to acknowledge the positive aspects of your life.

Our minds often fixate on problems and tend to overlook the good things. We constantly scan our environment for areas of improvement. We unconsciously search for flaws in ourselves and our surroundings, disregarding the positive.

This survival mechanism helped us evolve, but it comes at the cost. A single negative event con overshadow an otherwise wonderful day.

The long-term benefit of this exercise is to build a substantial collection of positive experiences. This collection will include detailed memories and instructions on how to recreate those positive experiences.

Conclusions

Well-being has been a driving force in human behaviour and culture for a long time. Recently, it has gained recognition in various fields like science, economy, schools, and society as something achievable. It is not a myth or a childish wish, but rather a goal that humanity is starting to prioritize.

As individual, what you can do is be aware of what is happening inside and outside of yourself. You can consciously start to observe your reality, your emotions, and your thoughts. And change them.

You can take control of you behaviours, instead of merely reacting to the environment. Start to pay attention to your inner and outer world. Become familiar with human needs and emotions. Learn to recognize them in yourself and others.

You can train our awareness with Mindfulness meditation. To be ready to focus on how and when you act and create well-being in the present moment.

By Journaling you can reflect on events, dynamics, changes. You will gaining perspective on your life, and track your progress and intentions.

I will speak more about relationships in future articles. They are a significant part of human lives, and they deserve more attention.

However, you can only control or change yourself. Others will follow your lead into the new. You can be a role model by being the first to introduce something new into relationships. Additionally, you can offer help and support through your questions and experiences, fostering life changes and processes.

We should discuss more about what is well-being. Today, the digital world is used to exploit our attention and emotion, and influence our behaviors. We must start to design technology mindfully, in a positive manner. There are movements and theories promoting of technology to enhance well-being, such as the Center for Humane Technology,

I will tell you about this and much more in future articles.

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