What is having mental well-being and why is it important?

by | Aug 8, 2023

Many of us are striving to increase our mental well-being in today’s demanding world. This can look like wanting to be happier, or not wanting to feel stressed or anxious all of the time. You might want things to go smoother in your day or just enjoy more of your life. Whatever that looks like for you, we’re all striving towards having good mental well-being. 

The problem is, it’s not always clear what having good mental well-being is and what it’s composed of. Anytime we’re unclear on what we’re striving to achieve and what it involves, we don’t have a clear target to aim for. This makes it much harder (if not impossible) to make progress and reach our goals. 

In this blog, we will get clear on what it means to have mental well-being and highlight its essential components. We’ll then explore why it’s so important to have good mental well-being and how it can improve nearly every part of your life. This will help you better understand your mental well-being (what you’re doing well and what’s missing) and set you on the right path to improving it. 

What is mental well-being?

If you’re unclear on what mental well-being is, you’re not alone. You may be surprised to know that there isn’t a single solid definition of mental well-being out there. Multiple disciplines and theories have offered various perspectives, which can leave you feeling confused on which one you should focus on or how to go about getting the results you want.

The reason for the different definitions and perspectives on mental well-being is that it’s not just one thing. Your mental well-being is a holistic way of being and living that includes your mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual functioning. Each part is important in it’s own right, and offers a different piece of your overall well-being. But what binds all of the different definitions and aspects of well-being together is that they’re all ultimately good for you. They work together to enhance your life in many ways. 

I’ll offer a few of the common definitions and components of your mental well-being from the field of Psychology below. As you read through each one, I invite you to think about which resonate most with you in terms of what you might need or want right now. 

Happiness: A common definition of mental well-being used in psychology and in everyday life is the state of being happy. This means experiencing more positive emotions (i.e., joy, excitement, calmness) and less uncomfortable ones (i.e., sadness, anxiety, anger, pain). This is often called having hedonistic well-being in psychology and some other disciplines. 

Purpose and Meaning. This aspect of your mental well-being is all about having meaning and purpose in life. This is where you experience personal growth and a sense of vitality and fulfillment in your life. In psychology, this is known as eudonomic well-being. 

Physical Requirements. When you visit your family doctor, or if you’re in the medical field, you may be familiar with the physical aspects of your mental well-being. This is usually done through a set of criteria that indicates the presence or absence of deficiencies or illnesses. Here, you make sure that your body has what it needs to be healthy and is functioning properly.

Having Peace and Balance. If you’ve tried meditation or yoga, you may also be familiar with yet another common definition and aspect of your well-being. More specifically, as having peace, balance and harmony in your life. In today’s demanding world, more and more people are noticing the importance of this aspect of our mental well-being. The field of Psychology has been adapting more to account for this and better support people in achieving it. 

Resilience, productivity, and contribution. There’s also the definition and perspective offered by The World Health Organization. Here, having good mental well-being includes 1) realizing your abilities, 2) coping with stress in a healthy way, 3) working productively, and 4) contributing to the community. It’s the essence of having resilience and functioning fully in your life.

Self-Determination. According to the most evidence-based theory of human motivation and personality in the field of Psychology, mental well-being is about being self-determined. This means 1) feeling like you have choices and agency in your life, and you’re in alignment with your values and interests; 2) feeling capable and confident in your abilities; 3) feeling connected and having meaningful relationships; and 4) having a sense of novelty and variety in your life to expand and grow. There’s been decades worth of evidence showing that having these criteria in place leads to greater happiness, fulfillment, purpose, motivation, physical health, greater productivity and performance, amongst other desirable outcomes. 

Although this may not be an exhaustive list of the different definitions and facets of mental well-being, it’s a great place to start to better understand your mental well-being and set you in the right direction to improving it. 

The recognition of the multifaceted nature of our mental well-being empowers us to explore different aspects of ourselves and our lives, and have them work together. Each area is important in its own right, and gets you closer to the overall whole. This is good news because it means wherever you start is a great place to start! And knowing the different definitions and aspects of your well-being will help you improve your quality of life in different ways. And the best news is that working on any area of your mental well-being will create a positive domino effect towards the others! 

From studying well-being for over a decade, I’ve come to realize that the different perspectives on well-being are often deeply interconnected and complementary. This is something that’s supported by research. This means when you improve one aspect of your well-being (ex: your happiness, having purpose, or physical health), you naturally benefit the others. For instance, when you feel happier, your body can function better and you’re less likely to experience illness. When you have more purpose, it’s easier to be happy. And so on. 

Why is mental well-being important?

Our mental well-being can be viewed as the foundation in which we build our lives. Your well-being impacts every part of your life. When you don’t feel good and you’re constantly stressed, it creates all sorts of problems in your life, doesn’t it? Whether that’s in your personal life, with family and friends, or in getting through the day, or working on your professional goals, it can affect every part of your life. This is why it’s so important to prioritize it. 

Research has consistently shown that good mental well-being is linked to:

Better physical health. Your body is healthier and more resilient to illness and diseases. You can move better, age better, and have a healthier life and live longer.

Less mental and emotional issues. This includes experiencing depression, anxiety, and overall low mood. This means you can be happier, enjoy your life more, and function with ease of mind. 

Better sleep. You can sleep better and feel well-rested. This means more energy and better mood.  

Higher productivity. Research has shown that mental well-being is a moderate-to-strong correlate of work performance (Ford et al., 2011). This means it has a significant and noticeable effect on how well you work and get things done. 

Better executive function. Research has also shown that better mental well-being is linked to better executive functioning. This means having a higher capacity for problem solving and for making decisions.

Higher empathy, better relationships, and higher altruism. Having good mental health is also good for the people around you. Research shows that higher mental well-being is linked to happier and healthier relationships.

To recap, your mental well-being is not just one thing. It’s a holistic way of being and living that includes your mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual functioning. Each part is important in it’s own right, and offers a different piece of your overall well-being. By nurturing our mental well-being, we empower ourselves to lead happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives. We set ourselves up to succeed both in our personal and professional goals. We’re able to become our best selves and do our best work. 

Action Step: Now that you have a better understanding of what mental well-being is, I invite you to choose the definition or piece that you feel you want or need the most right now. Think about which part calls out and resonates most with you. This will help you get more clear on what you can focus on to help set you on the right path to greater mental well-being. 

Leyla Bagheri
Leyla Bagheri
Founder of LB Well-Being Performance Inc.
Well-Being and Performance Coach
Psychology Research Advisor

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