Well-Being Monthly Feature

Well-being…trendy term or science backed concept?

The term well-being is not new but it is only in recent years that the term has become more mainstream.  While there is no consensus around a single definition, there is general agreement that at a minimum, it includes the presence of positive emotions, the absence of negative emotions, satisfaction with life, a sense of fulfillment and positive functioning (1).  In 2010, New York Times best selling authors, Tom Rath and Jim Harter released their seminal book, “Wellbeing: The five essential elements”. In it, the authors define well-being as “the combination and interaction between our love of what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities (2).   This definition highlights the five domains of well-being: career, social, financial, physical and community.

Career well-being means liking what you do each day and of the five elements it carries the most weight when it comes to overall well-being (3).  People with high levels of career well-being find meaning and purpose in their work. They feel a sense of contributing to the overall mission of the organization.  They find ways to utilize their strengths, are more engaged and happier at work.

Social well-being means having strong relationships and love in our lives.  People with high levels of social well-being are significantly more likely to report having a best friend at work and more likely to report high levels of career well-being.  They socialize regularly and report having more good days than bad (3).

Financial well-being is about effectively managing our finances.  It is important to recognize that financial well-being and compensation are not one and the same.   Research from Gallup found that “financial security has nearly three times the impact of income alone on your wellbeing” (3).  Regardless of income level, spending money on experiences instead of material goods and spending money on others instead of ourselves produces significantly greater levels of well-being.

Physical well-being means having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.  People with high levels of physical well-being look better, feel better and live longer than those with lower levels of physical well-being.  Eating a healthy, whole-foods based diet, enjoying regular physical activity, getting enough sleep and effectively managing stress all contribute to physical well-being.  

Community well-being is about having a sense of engagement and pride in where we live and work.  People with high levels of community well-being are more likely to volunteer and be active members of their community.  This sense of belonging is a powerful buffer against stress and disease and has been shown to contribute to longevity (3).  

The research is clear.  Well-being is not just a trendy term but in fact is a science-backed concept.  Information from the Gallup-Healthways Well-being 5 will continue to provide great insight for years to come (1).  To stay up to day on the newest research, visit www.well-beingindex.com. To learn more about simple steps you can take to enhance your own well-being check out Rath and Harter’s book “Wellbeing: The five essential elements”.


  1. CDC. Wellbeing Concepts (2016, May 22).  Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm
  2. Rath, T. and Harter, J. (2010).  Wellbeing: The five essential elements. New York, NY: Gallup.
  3. Rath, T. and Harter, J. (2010).  The economics of well-being. Gallup. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/rschubert/Downloads/The_Economics_of_Wellbeing%20(9).pdf.