Wellbeing: It’s The Law!

Wellbeing: It’s The Law!

Blowing up sparks for meagre heat”- Seamus Heaney

Over the next three blogs I shall share some thoughts about wellbeing: its importance to society, to each of us individually and then more specifically to health and social care.

Between the extremes of those people who are happily flourishing and those who are sadly languishing sit the rest of us- generally ok.  On the whole we should like to be a bit more up, a bit more often and, when faced with the challenging times, to get a little less down.  We read the exhortations of lifestyle gurus and smile at the seemingly whacky fads and extreme measures some celebrities appear to endorse and decide that it is all too far removed from our daily reality.  Such self-indulgence is to be scorned at and the snake-oil merchants who sell their happiness potions should be exposed as charlatans.

Professor Neil Frude, Consultant Clinical Psychologist from Cardiff University, who specialises in positive psychology is certainly no snake-oil merchant and at a recent workshop he challenged the popular myth: being rich, attractive, famous and/or thin is a often mistaken route to happiness.  He quipped its exponents are most commonly found in rehab! I will discuss the interesting lessons learnt in this workshop in the next blog. First I should like to us to suspend our scorn and to consider for a moment a very important link between our reasonable, moderate desire for a bit more personal wellbeing and the importance this has for others around us and society more generally.

The argument is well made by Professor Dame Sally Davies who published a seminal report last year, Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays1.  As Chief Medical Officer she has the responsibility to consider all aspects of health; all the big issues including dementia care, fast growing levels of diabetes, end-of-life multi morbidity etc and yet she chose to focus on the importance of building the resilience of children and young people. Her argument is to do more than extol  the benefits to each young person during their life but for the collective value to our society, including our economic prosperity.  By prioritising the early development of resilience as a society will get the greatest return on our investment: “The evidence base for the life course approach is strong. What happens early in life affects health and wellbeing in later life.

Professor Dame Sally Davies’s views and current thinking more widely has been greatly influenced by the publication in 2008 of the Foresight Report: Mental Capital and Wellbeing2.  If you haven’t read it I can’t recommend it highly enough- I have found it has shaped so much of my own thinking over recent years.  Its central message is: society is changing, the world beyond Britain is interconnected, complex and increasingly competitive and so our collective mental resources, not just functional skills, are vital. “Encouraging and enabling everyone to realise their potential throughout their lives will be crucial for our future prosperity and wellbeing.” The report reviews the evidence and reaches an astonishing conclusion: “Achieving a small change in the average level of wellbeing across the population would produce a large decrease in the percentage with mental disorder, and also in the percentage who have sub-clinical disorder.”  The report goes on to propose interventions which promote positive mental health for example; encouraging young children to learn good habits for looking after their own wellbeing, encouraging more employers to foster wellbeing for workers and an exhortation that we should, as a society, give priority to those key professions; teachers, doctors, social workers, nurses etc which have an impact on the rest of us.  There is also a suggestion which I increasingly like: to tap into the wisdom and proven resilience of older people.

In support of the report the New Economics Foundation were commissioned to identify the evidence for what improves wellbeing and to present this as personal actions we can all take; the wellbeing equivalent of five fruit and vegetables a day. For those unfamiliar with their findings they are:

Connect… with the people around us; with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours and invest time in developing our connections and in building new ones.

Be active… go for a walk, garden, take up dancing lessons; anything that is enjoyable, expends energy and we can sustain.

Take notice…pay more attention to the here and now, savour the meal, observe the person you are talking to, be more aware of your feelings and reflect back on experiences.

Keep learning…age is no barrier to trying something new or to rediscover an old interest.  Formal or informal learning are equally good so long as they encourage us to explore what is unchartered for us and not just reaffirm the already known.

Give …thank someone, smile, be helpful as well as freely giving time to others.  Apparently those who volunteer when they retire live longer than those who don’t!

If you are interested there are self-assessments on line and I will talk more about this in the next blog and will confess to my areas where I need to work harder!

The result of all of this…wellbeing is to become the law!  The main provisions of the Social Care Act 2014 come into force this April in England and it puts wellbeing as a guiding principle at the very heart of care and support.

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/chief-medical-officers-annual-report-2012-our-children-deserve-better-prevention-pays/cmos-annual-report-2012-our-children-deserve-better-cmos-summary-as-a-web-page

2, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mental-capital-and-wellbeing-making-the-most-of-ourselves-in-the-21st-century