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Well Being - Book Review

1 October 2017
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

Well-being: The Five Essential Elements, by Tom Rath and Jim Harte, both Gallup executives, was published in 2010. Grounded in extensive studies and surveys conducted at Gallup over several years, the book draws upon research from renowned universities. Its primary focus is personal well-being.


The book explores the following key areas:

  1. The concept of well-being and its research foundation.

  2. Career well-being.

  3. Social well-being.

  4. Financial well-being.

  5. Physical well-being.

  6. Community well-being.


In addition to elucidating the concept and presenting statistical research, the book provides numerous citations to offer a deeper understanding and additional insights. It is written in an easily accessible style and comes highly recommended. Nevertheless, it is advisable to refrain from confining oneself to this excerpt but to delve into the entire book for a comprehensive grasp of its content.


The concept of well-being and its research foundation

The authors of the book advocate a holistic approach as their central concept. They argue against exclusively investing in one aspect, such as diet or career development, recognizing that personal well-being requires harmonizing the five components detailed below. This is not merely a theoretical idea; it is firmly grounded in extensive research encompassing a diverse range of studies conducted in numerous countries, involving an impressive 22,000 individuals across over 150 nations. While it may not cover every intricate detail, the research identifies these five fundamental components as pivotal to human well-being.


For those curious about the role of belief in this model, the authors propose recognizing faith as a foundational element, with spirituality in its various forms influencing behavior across the different components. What is the most significant obstacle to personal well-being? Ourselves. In many respects, we hinder our well-being by prioritizing short-term gains over long-term benefits, such as our dietary choices or financial decisions.


Reading the book can profoundly impact your perspective on the feasibility of making enduring personal choices. It's not just a general principle; substantive evidence supports it. Additionally, individuals can establish a set of options, referred to as "default decisions" by the authors, which foster a long-term preference. Examples include selecting restaurants with healthy menus or allocating a portion of income as savings, among others. The book offers numerous such examples in relevant chapters, which can guide each of us in enhancing our well-being.


Occasionally, it's possible to make choices that offer advantages both in the short and long term. All of this culminates in the book being not just a source of enriching knowledge but also a source of motivation for taking action. It encourages us to promote our well-being more effectively. Furthermore, the book is organized by the degree of influence, beginning with the most influential factors according to the survey and progressing to the least effective. This structure also prompts contemplation on the essence of humanity.


Career well-being

Career well-being emerges as the most crucial aspect of our overall well-being. However, it's essential to clarify that the term "careerist" doesn't exclusively pertain to individuals engaged in traditional work settings; it equally applies to those who define their daily pursuits, whether as homemakers, retirees, students, or in other roles. An intriguing study underscores the significance of work by revealing that statistically, recovering from unemployment lasting over a year takes longer than coping with the loss of a spouse.


But what exactly constitutes career well-being? It encompasses how much we value our daily activities, how beneficial they are to us, the joy, satisfaction, and happiness we derive during our workdays, and our overall proficiency in our tasks.


So, what factors influence all these dimensions of career well-being? Essentially, it boils down to our engagement with the workplace. When we delve into the sub-factors shaping this engagement, we find:

  1.  Managers who prioritize the growth and development of their employees as an intrinsic goal rather than merely a means to the organization's success.

  2. Organizations that genuinely care about their employees, including their well-being and that of their families. Interestingly, having a manager who disregards your well-being is worse than one who doesn't actively contribute to your comfort.


What do individuals with a high degree of career well-being experience? Research illustrates that:

  •  Those who feel connected to their work and enjoy "career well-being" tend to be happier on workdays and off-days, such as weekends.

  • Conversely, individuals who lack this connection to their workplace are twice as susceptible to depression.

  • People with a positive relationship with their jobs tend to report fewer sick days.


For those seeking to enhance their career well-being, here are some valuable tips:

  •  Regularly tap into your unique strengths and qualities.

  • Establish connections with individuals with similar visions and can encourage your growth and development. Spend quality time with them.

  • Foster social interactions with colleagues and teams you genuinely enjoy working with.


Social well-being

Social well-being centers around nurturing solid social bonds and fostering love in one's life. Genuine social well-being doesn't arise from having many friends on social networks, characterized by weak connections, but rather from cultivating close friendships with those we can rely on during distress or when we need support.


What do individuals with social well-being tend to experience?

They tend to enjoy:

  • Increased happiness: The likelihood of experiencing joy rises by 15% when someone in our immediate social network is happy, and even those indirectly connected to us (through a friend) can influence our happiness.

  • Enhanced commitment to physical activity (including diet and sports): Engaging in activities alongside a friend triples the likelihood of maintaining consistency in these pursuits.

  • Reduced risk of heart attack (by 50%).

  • Lower susceptibility to catching a cold (by 50%) despite being exposed to more bacteria due to proximity to more people.


What else is vital to consider? As mentioned previously, the degree of closeness in our relationships matters. Additionally, factors such as physical distance (how geographically close we live), the amount of time spent with friends (a minimum of six hours a day with individuals with whom we have social connections), the number of friends (favoring a few close friends, each contributing uniquely based on their character and our needs), and the quality of contact with friends all play a role.


Here are some tips for enhancing social well-being:

  • Dedicate six hours daily for interactions with friends, colleagues, and family through in-person meetings, phone calls, or digital channels. It's worthwhile to leverage communication tools like email to foster social connections.

  • Cultivate multiple close friendships, including those within your workplace.

  • Invest effort in strengthening your connections on social networks.


Financial well-being

Financial well-being goes beyond mere monetary wealth; it encompasses the emotional security derived from our financial resources and revolves around effectively managing our economic lives. While numerous renowned studies assert that money doesn't directly correlate with happiness, this assertion requires nuance. This study demonstrates that countries with solid economic well-being, characterized by higher GDP, tend to have happier citizens. In such nations, the prospects for personal financial and overall well-being are more favorable. This can be explained by more incredible wealth as to pain and hunger, impacting happiness and well-being.


A Gallup study reveals that financial security, where we possess more money than we require, yields a threefold impact on overall well-being compared to a mere positive income. It is advisable to prioritize investments in the future and long-term financial security.


Here are some tips for enhancing personal well-being from a financial perspective:

  •  Consider investing money in purchasing gifts for others, as this investment yields greater satisfaction than buying items solely for ourselves.

  • Invest in ourselves by acquiring positive experiences and creating lasting memories, such as planning a trip rather than purchasing material possessions.

  • Make long-term financial investments in our economic security. Establish mechanisms like automatic savings deductions from our income, eliminating the need for explicit requests each time.

  • Exercise caution when considering investments to generate income and financial gains, mainly when the required investment induces stress that impacts day-to-day life.


Physical well-being

Physical well-being encompasses good health, abundant energy, and the strength to carry out daily activities, ultimately enhancing our overall quality of life. It hinges on several factors, including our dietary choices, sleep patterns, and exercise habits. While heredity does play a role in shaping our physical well-being through inherited genes, we possess a significant capacity to influence these genes for the better or worse. By adopting proper behaviors, we can impact the expression of these genes, keeping genes that contribute to diseases dormant and preventing or reducing the development of various illnesses.


When it comes to physical well-being, most of us know what's needed: avoiding smoking, engaging in regular exercise (at least twice a week, for a minimum of 20 minutes each session), and maintaining a balanced diet, among other things. The challenge often lies in implementing these necessary changes, as we tend to favor immediate gratification over making choices that benefit us in the long run. Research highlights that engaging in physical activity is more effective in preventing exhaustion than relying on drugs designed for this purpose. Additionally, adequate rest offers numerous benefits, including revitalization, disease prevention, and improved learning retention.


Here are some tips for maintaining proper physical well-being:

  • Prevent unhealthy eating by stocking up on healthier food options (when unhealthy choices are not readily available, we tend to consume fewer). Choose restaurants that feature healthy items as their main menu offerings. Research suggests that having a single healthy option in an otherwise unhealthy restaurant increases the likelihood of making healthier choices, not the other way around.

  • Engage in regular physical activity, aiming for at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, preferably in the morning, as it positively impacts mood throughout the day.

  • Prioritize rest and aim for optimal sleep duration, around 8 hours per night, to reap the full benefits for your physical and mental well-being.


Community well-being

Community well-being is centered around our level of engagement with the environment in which we reside. It encompasses various aspects, including our concern for the physical environment's safety, environmental protection, and responsibility, as well as our involvement in groups pursuing common goals, whether social, educational, religious, or otherwise. At first glance, one might assume that community and social well-being are synonymous. However, these are distinct components, each holding its significance. An individual may shy away from social connections yet actively participate, even passively, in their community or a group they belong to (emphasizing the vital importance of a sense of belonging for humans, as underscored by M.L.). At its highest level, community well-being extends to contributing to society as a whole. It can also entail contributing to a smaller group or its members. Offering support to someone close to us whom we know holds significant meaning (and maybe more accessible to some individuals). Donations can take the form of financial contributions, but dedicating one's time carries even greater significance, and a combined effort can be even more impactful (at least in specific scenarios detailed in the book). When we engage in altruistic actions for others, we recognize our capacity to make a meaningful "difference," instilling confidence in our ability to effect change. Throughout our lives, contributing to the welfare of others fosters deeper social connections and imbues our existence with greater purpose and meaning. How can we cultivate positive habits related to contributing to our community? Here are some steps to consider:

  •  Become part of a community or group where you can actively contribute. It's often easier to engage in acts of contribution when you're embedded within a supportive organization.

  • Identify areas where you can offer assistance. Make your intentions known to friends or community members, expressing your willingness to donate or help in any way required.


In conclusion, each component is individually important, but they also work together synergistically. Combining these elements can lead us toward personal well-being and fulfillment. Importantly, these aspects are adaptable and can be improved, making it worthwhile to embark on this journey today rather than postponing it to tomorrow.


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