This Blog was originally developed for the Designed Wellness program (ACEC Life/Health Trust): Original Blog Our families, and the lifetimes that comprise them, provide a practical framework for both understanding and fostering well-being across the lifespan. This may be helpful during the holiday season, where we may interact with family or have a chance to contemplate our family situation. How do we contribute to the overall well-being of our family?; and how does our family (or its specific members) help us? Let's use a single image to explain a complex situation. Imagine well-being as a single thread or string that stretches from its beginning at birth and our first years of life toward its end and our last years of life. In general, greater well-being and vitality is conveyed when the string is stretched taut (not too tight and not too loose). Lower levels of well-being are shown when the string sags or becomes so limp that it can't be of any use. Also, if the string becomes too tight it could break during periods of challenge and stress. Working with this image, also consider that when our string is secure we can use it to hang and share positive memories from the different stages of life -- like colored garments along a clothesline. In general, it is at the two ends of the string (birth and old age) where we need the most support and in the middle years where we tend to experience the most stress, where our "string" may get pulled in different directions. With this image in mind we can both pose and answer the question: What helps to keep our string at that optimal level of tension? How can we maintain well-being across the lifespan? DEFINE WELL-BEING. But first let's define well-being. Actually, there is quite a range of definitions we can apply, so here are some to help us get started:
- objectively, we have a high quality of life and function well at work and at home (e.g., lack of illness, adequate income, meeting milestones in our physical and psychological development)
- subjectively, we cognitively evaluate that life is satisfying and has purpose and meaning, and emotionally we feel vitality, zest, pleasure and happiness
- functionally, we are making progress toward our goals, feeling connected to nature, feel supported by others, can recover from set-backs and failures, negotiate life challenges (e.g., school, career, marriage, aging).
- Child-birth and early childhood. What can you do to support self-care in the pregnant mother? How can you help (emotionally as well as practically) new parents prepare for a new child? What things in the home environment can be introduced to create positive early bonding experiences?
- School-age children. How can you promote an attitude toward learning that is positive and an ongoing life-long joy? How can you provide support (not criticism) when early childhood problems and challenges arise? How can you ensure that children are getting the right nutritional needs met? What about fostering positive contributions to the community, role modeling civic responsibility, and helping to support schools in their quest to have "whole school" well-being (see examples here and here)?
- Teens and Emerging Adults. What communications and skills can you give to help teens resist peer pressures toward negative behaviors? How can you promote self-reliance and self-control? What guidance and praise can you offer during key milestones: first romance, first job, school sports or other team/club experiences?
- Adulthood. How can you promote access to diverse sources of support to help with family and career? What skills can you develop for handling financial, work and career stress? What skills can you develop for supporting intimacy, passion, and commitment in marriage or close relationship? How can you cultivate positive healthy life-style behaviors and avoid tobacco, alcohol, drugs? How can you maintain a positive mental outlook?
- Transitioning. What plans have you had in place to support your transition to retirement? Is your mental and physical ability such that you don't have to retire or could re-start a new type of hobby, career, or mentorship? What does your family need from you that can help you?
- Older Age. What is your attitude toward the loss of physical and cognitive function? Are you willing to receive help and support? Do you realize that you can still have objective, subjective and functional well-being even as you approach the physical limitations associated with old age?