Who is Responsible for Wellbeing?

Jessica Taylor

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We all have the right to be well. We all seek to be well. We have a responsibility to ourselves to be well. A responsibility to engage in activities and approaches that can build, nurture and sustain our wellbeing. Positive Psychology has advanced our understanding of how to do this and posits that by proactively taking care of one’s mental health, mental illness can be less severe, or even prevented. Further to this, not only do we have a responsibility to support our own wellbeing, but we all have the responsibility to support the wellbeing of others. We are all interconnected and as a result, my wellbeing is actually connected to others’ wellbeing. Subsequently, you are responsible for my wellbeing. However, that responsibility remains unfulfilled without increasing our awareness and our capacity to take action.

Given that we learn first by seeing, in order to truly harness our collective responsibility, we must notice and be curious about our responsibility to wellbeing. Using an inquiry approach can be helpful to assist this exploration, as you begin to consider the questions: What is wellbeing? What does wellbeing look like in my life? How can I support my own wellbeing? Positive Psychology researchers and practitioners have supported the translation and application of this wellbeing inquiry, by drawing on science and designing evidenced-informed strategies an individual can use to enhance wellbeing and to prevent illbeing (Rusk and Waters, 2013). For example, noting things that went well each day cultivates a habit of noticing and appreciation for the good things in your life (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Engaging in this simple practice regularly not only enhances wellbeing, but it may even help to counteract our natural human bias to focus on what went wrong.

Positive Psychology has been adopted into practice in schools, referred to as Positive Education. Positive Education explicitly and implicitly teaches students about character strengths, relationships, emotions and similar skills that support awareness of, and the practical ways that an individual can build and enhance their own wellbeing (Norrish, Williams, O’Connor and Robinson, 2013). However, whilst Positive Psychology and Positive Education assist people to develop an awareness of wellbeing, and the ways to support their wellbeing, there is an increasing criticism that Positive Psychology, and as an extension Positive Education, could be too focused on the individual (Slemp, et al., 2017). This criticism calls the field to push the boundaries beyond the individual wellbeing-way of-thinking-and-acting, towards exploring the interconnected nature of wellbeing, resulting in harnessing our responsibilities for, and towards, each other.

One such example of this shift in awareness and perspective, is the work by Ashely Buchanan and Dr. Peggy Kern, with their development of the Benefit Mindset (2017). The Benefit Mindset builds upon Carol Dweck’s Mindset Theory (2006) by pushing the boundaries of how we can use our mindset to not only reach our potential, but to do so in a way that positively contributes to the wellbeing of all. This simple, yet significant shift in mindset allows us to consider wellbeing beyond just the individual and recognises the interconnected nature and responsibility that we can have to effect positive change for everyone’s wellbeing. Further supporting our shifting awareness and action, is Dr. Aaron Jarden’s, Me, We, Us framework, which supports individuals and organisations to, at a minimum, be aware of the language that is used in fostering collective responsibility, in exploring ways to build and seed the enabling conditions for collective, high-level wellbeing.

As we start to build awareness and construct an understanding for our own wellbeing and the actions we can take that support wellbeing, this can then inform how we best might support the wellbeing of others. When we do this, we begin to embrace not one, but two, strands of responsibility: the responsibility of the individual to support, enhance, or sustain his or her own wellbeing, and the shared, collective responsibility we have to support, enhance, or sustain others’ wellbeing. In shifting our awareness from me to we, we begin to consider: What does wellbeing look like for others? How am I contributing to another’s wellbeing? How can I support others’ wellbeing? We use our knowledge and awareness to help guide, and even push the boundaries of our awareness to the role and responsibility we have for others’ wellbeing.

As our understanding and awareness of wellbeing continues to evolve, we are beginning to see that our wellbeing is connected to everything and it is very difficult to separate and isolate. As a relational species we do not exist or thrive in isolation, we need each other in order to achieve high-level wellbeing. As conservationist Jane Goodall says: You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

References:

Buchanan, A., & Kern, M. L. (2017). The benefit mindset: The psychology of contribution and everyday leadership. International Journal of Wellbeing7(1).

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

Jarden, A. (2015). Introducing Workplace Wellbeing to Organisations: The “Me, We, Us” model – International Positive Psychology Association, newsletter, Issue 1.

Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O’Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Well-being, 3, 147-161.

Rusk, R. D., & Waters, L. E. (2013). Tracing the size, reach, impact, and breadth of positive psychology. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 207-221.

Slemp, G. R., Chin, T. C., Kern, M. L., Siokou, C., Loton, D., Oades, L. G., & Waters, L. (2017). Positive education in Australia: Practice, measurement, and future directions. In Social and emotional learning in Australia and the Asia-Pacific (pp. 101-122). Springer, Singapore.

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Jessica Taylor


Jessica Taylor is a senior Trainer and Content Developer for the Institute of Positive Education. Jess has completed the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology, and has extensive teaching experience across all school levels, both within Australia and Internationally.