Heidi Godman

Your well-being: more than just a state of mind

Americans are a diverse lot, so it’s no surprise they give different answers when asked about their well-being. But it seems that well-being differs from state to state, too. In the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which gauges the physical and emotional health of people in all 50 states, residents of Hawaii reported the best sense of overall well-being while West Virginia residents reported the worst.

“Sure,” you might say, “Who wouldn’t be happier in Hawaii?” As a graduate of West Virginia University, I admit that there were times as a student in Morgantown when I longed for sunshine and balmy breezes instead of gray winter days and rural towns covered in coal dust (although I loved my school and I loved those country roads). But well-being is not a simple matter of palm trees versus coal mines.

The index calculates overall well-being based on six quality of life categories, each of which is made up of several components:

  • Life evaluation (are you thriving, struggling, or suffering?)
  • Emotional health (such as happiness, worry, being treated with respect, stress)
  • Work environment (such as job satisfaction or supervisor’s treatment)
  • Physical health (such as obesity, feeling well rested, sickness)
  • Healthy behaviors (such as not smoking, eating healthy food, exercising frequently)
  • Basic access (such as to clean water, medicine, enough money for food, shelter, healthcare)

Poll respondents in Hawaii had the highest scores in the emotional health and work environment indexes, and were most likely to say they were thriving. People in West Virginia were most likely to say they were not thriving, and had the worst emotional health, the worst health habits, the most diagnoses of depression, and high rates of obesity. People in the other 50 states fell in between. Check out how your state fared online.

2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

Do people in low well-being states, like West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas, have to stay that way? Is it hard to change?

“There’s good news and bad news about our ability to change our sense of well-being or happiness,” says Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “It turns out that, just like for weight, we have genetically determined happiness set-points. So if we’re not taking steps to improve our sense of well-being, we tend to gravitate back to the same level.” Depending on your genes, that level may be pretty happy or pretty unhappy, says Dr. Siegel, who is also the faculty editor of Positive Psychology, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

About 40% of what determines happiness is under our control. In contrast, only about 10% has to do with good and bad fortune. “It’s not mostly events, but our responses to events, that determines our level of well-being,” says Dr. Siegel.

He offers several steps you can take to improve your emotional well-being, no matter what state you’re in:

1. Live in the moment. When you’re fully engaged in activities, you will enjoy them more and be less preoccupied by concerns about the past and the future.

2. Be grateful. Keeping a daily gratitude journal promotes positive feelings, optimism, life satisfaction, and connectedness with others.

3. Do things for others. Happiness comes most reliably from connecting with others and not being overly self-focused. Try to do things that benefit someone or something other than yourself.

4. Take inventory of your strengths, then apply them in new ways in your daily life. For example, if you count curiosity as a strength, read about a new subject. If you consider yourself brave, try something that makes you nervous, such as public speaking.

5. Savor pleasure. Reminisce about good times, celebrate good moments with others, be happy when you accomplish something.

Overall well-being also includes physical health. People who reported experiencing overall better health, such as those who live in Hawaii, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, and Vermont, tend to exercise more, smoke less, and like their jobs more than folks in other states.

If poor health or unhealthy behaviors are dragging down your well-being, addressing these issues is one way to improve well-being. That may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to.

“Two-thirds of all illness is the result of our lifestyle choices,” says Dr. Edward Phillips, founder and director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The Institute is dedicated to teaching health care professionals how to help their patients make healthy changes.

Dr. Phillips shared some of the key tips that help improve health one small step at a time:

1. Take responsibility for your health. That means going to your doctor and actually following his or her advice.

2. Apply your personal strengths to your health. If you’re a disciplined, organized professional, what can you apply from your work life to the change you want to make now?

3. Come up with reasonable and small first goals. “Find something that’s a 2% change, like walking ten minutes a day. Go for a walk at lunch, walk while you’re talking on the phone. What’s the smallest change you can make and be confident you can do it? I’ve met very few patients who can’t do that,” says Dr. Phillips, who is also the faculty editor for Simple Changes, Big Rewards, another Harvard Medical School report.

4. Be accountable for your changes. You’ll do much better if you track and report your progress to a loved one or friend, or to a program on a website or an app.

5. Pay attention to the benefits. The value of the change, such as sleeping better from exercising, can become the motivation to continue that change and make others. When you see that change is possible, you’ll be encouraged to make more changes.

Is it really that simple? Make a small change and your well-being will improve? “Absolutely,” says Dr. Phillips. “People can make reasonable changes and achieve them. And then improved behavior begets improved behavior.”

That’s a plan that can rank high on anyone’s list.

Comments:

  1. Alex

    I agree totally with this post. I think it is extremely important. Eating fruit and working out has made me feel a whole lot better. I also do my fitness videos online (I use live-life-better.co.uk) but there are plenty of others too :)

  2. ditributor jersey

    I think the tip “take responsibility for your health” is particularly important in this case, as many of my chronic pain patients have been suffering for YEARS without seeking treatment.

  3. percy

    This post is out of the ordinary, luck and I loved it.

  4. Bill

    I think if I lived in Hawaii, I would have more emotional health! haha.. :) – Bill

  5. Dorothy @ Healthy Living

    I totally agree with this post. Being completely healthy well-being, one must have a good state of mind and socially healthy.Visiting places like Hawaii is great for unwinding and recreation activities.Some other great places that are worth visiting for are Boracay and El Nido Philippines.

    Dorothy Joseph

  6. wahyu wibowo

    I find with osteoporosis that for me the most vital thing that I do is weight safety workouts which I get through strolling in my nyknyc weight vest.

    Since I utilize my vest while strolling I have re picked up 15% of my lost skeletal substance.

    My Specialist is stunned since I declined to take medicates for the bones simply doing weight strolls with my nyk vest and consuming a more plant based eating regimen truly has encouraged me feel and look better as well!

  7. לימוד אנגלית,

    Great article, this blog is good

  8. Mayank

    Hi,

    Daniel Gilbert along with other eminent Economists+Psychologists have done a lot of research on Well-Being, it is not directly related with what you have put up but on an individual level, they almost manage to answer all practical questions.

  9. Manolo Florista

    Creo que toda va unido, tanto la salud psicológica como la física, la verdad es que debemos cuidarnos más nosotros mismos. Si no nadie lo va a hacer por nosotros.

  10. Jack

    We are responsible for our health and I appreciated reading that our mental wellbeing is like a work in progress. We should always strive to improve our health in sensible ways that makes us feel good and I think this article had some awesome suggestions on how.

    I am always proud when the state in which I live in fairs well. Hawaii is truly unique and has many outdoor activities to offer along with plenty of sunshine. Hawaii also actively promotes outdoor pleasure activities and I think this may help with our ability to reduce stress with exercise. Also, crime is low and there are very few if any places one would feel unsafe.

  11. Laurence Caro

    Great blog post Heidi as health is now in a very high cost for some people. Would be great to see UK stats.

    Thanks for posting.

    Laurence

  12. anil

    Good Health is the first thing that every person should have to live a good life. so its necessary to take care of our health.

  13. Douglas de Oliveira

    Awesome work! Keep going! Congratulations!

  14. Murali

    hanks for sharing these thoughts!
    I think that exercise is an excellent way to practice the discipline it takes to succeed in this life !

  15. Charlotte Schmitz

    There is a strong correlation between percentage of population living in poverty and sense of well-being by state. In the face of poor nutrition and lack of opportunity, how does one get to a point where attitude adjustment is feasible?

  16. John

    Great article! I have enjoyed reading this article. Very informative, many many thanks! http://purearomatea.com/

  17. Michele Fortunata

    I find with osteoporosis that for me the most important thing that I do is weight resistance workouts which I get via walking in my nyknyc weight vest.
    Since I use my vest while walking I have re gained 15% of my lost bone.
    My Doctor is amazed because I refused to take drugs for the bones just doing weight walks with my nyk vest and eating a more plant based diet really has helped me feel and look better too!

  18. Biomagnetips

    Interesting article, Heidi. From the factors you mentioned, there might be a specific recipe for each one of us. Some can tolerate certain environmental situations as long as they have what they cherish the most.

  19. Anthony

    I enjoyed reading the article. I am always proud when the state in which I live in fairs well. Hawaii is truly unique and has many outdoor activities to offer along with plenty of sunshine. Hawaii also actively promotes outdoor pleasure activities and I think this may help with our ability to reduce stress with exercise. Also, crime is low and there are very few if any places one would feel unsafe.

    We are responsible for our health and I appreciated reading that our mental wellbeing is like a work in progress. We should always strive to improve our health in sensible ways that makes us feel good and I think this article had some awesome suggestions on how. Hawaii Psychologist

  20. Richard Morden

    Yes we have to take responsibility for our well being and by doing that we need to turn off the negative news in our lives. Shut the TV off or at least don’t watch the late night news as it reeks of fear and disaster. Then we can start to find little things that make us feel better or perhaps a little more socializing. Walk through the plant section at your grocery store or maybe even spend some time there and pretend at least that your buying something. We look for these big dramatic shift to make us feel better like a light switch but the reality is, it’s like eating an elephant- one bite at a time.

  21. Environmental Consulting Kentucky

    “About 40% of what determines happiness is under our control. In contrast, only about 10% has to do with good and bad fortune.” I like this thought….

    Thanks for sharing.

  22. Pfungwa Ndoro

    Interesting.

  23. Melinda

    How interesting to consider that we all have a happiness set-point. It’s comforting to think that by choosing appropriate thoughts, actions, and responses, each of us can positively impact our own state of mind and promote our overall well-being. The act of being accountable for our health for example, involves researching health care providers – paramount to treatment success, instituting some form of regular exercise, and buying nutritious foods at the grocery store. The positive effect on our well-being that can result from engaging in these small steps can change lives!

  24. Stephanie

    After my ex and I separated, I was in a very depressed state-of-mind. I think a lot of my depression had to do with more than just the break up. After trying everything to get my ex back, I decided he wasn’t worth having back. I ended up moving to Florida, and will say it “opened” my eyes. My state-of-mind has helped my well-being both on a psychological level but in a more body / healthy way as well.

  25. Richard

    Have to disagree with Tip #1:

    1. Take responsibility for your health. That means going to your doctor and actually following his or her advice.

    Going to the doctor and following his/her advice is NOT taking responsibility for your own health. It is putting your health into the hands of the doctor. The inherent contradiction in that statement is so obvious and laughable. But it is totally expected, because of course doctors want you to do what they say. They know you will remain unhealthy and will keep coming back to them so that they can profit from your illness.

    Truly taking responsibility for your own health means avoiding processed and refined foods, drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, exercising, reducing stress, and avoiding drugs, including OTC and prescription ones. And most importantly, staying away from doctors as much as possible.

  26. David

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I think the best would be for us to stay positive and happy at all times. Keep away from stress that is usually the reason for poor health and sickness.

    David

  27. Ritu

    Informative and encouraging article…thanks

  28. fred

    You are confusing me with too many reports at once.I don’t know what pre med advising has to so with a publication aimed at consumers.

  29. Dr. Anthony Weinert DPM

    Great article! As a podiatrist in Michigan, you wouldn’t think I see a lot of cases of depression- but those individuals dealing with chronic pain conditions are especially prone to depressive behavior. I think the tip “take responsibility for your health” is particularly important in this case, as many of my chronic pain patients have been suffering for YEARS without seeking treatment. Athletes are especially notorious for “playing through the pain”, with hugely detrimental effects; I’ve treated more than a few athletes with chronic pain who have been depressive and seeking treatment for that, rather than the pain they were feeling.