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Defining wellbeing and resilience

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

According to research there are ways we learn how to flourish in life, despite challenges we might experience. Let's take a look at how this is possible.

Like art or creativity, wellbeing can be a difficult term to define. This is because there are multiple, complex factors that make up wellbeing and many different theories about how it can be best understood. I refer to a definition by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2014), and positive psychology (Seligman, 2011) to describe wellbeing:

Wellbeing can be described as a positive state; a state that is not simply a lack of disease or infirmity but rather the thriving or flourishing of an individual.

Wellbeing is so much more than our own self-described version of feeling happy. It’s our sense of engagement in life, of meaning, having good relationships and experiencing accomplishment. So, where does mental health come into play? Well, mental health is state of wellbeing—so your mental health makes up part of your own wellbeing, just like your social and physical health.

Something that helped me understand wellbeing better was this diagram, developed by a group of researchers (Dodge et al., 2012). Here, wellbeing is visualised as a see-saw that can be influenced by the multiple factors that I mentioned before (now called resources or challenges). These factors can be psychological, social or physical.

Resources and challenges can increase and decrease throughout the duration of our lives, but wellbeing is what we achieve when we find some sort of ‘balance’ between the two. Some researchers (Schultze-Lutter et al. 2016) propose that this see-saw figure also helps describe resilience.

Resilience can be defined as a process of negotiating for resources and navigating to additional resources so that we can bounce back from and even thrive through hard times (Ungar & Liebenberg, 2011).

When we have the resources needed to manage or overcome challenges in our lives, we might be better equipped to manage—and even protect—our mental health and wellbeing. And the great news is, we can be taught resilience (Duening, 2008). So why not teach resilience and wellbeing at university, where a lot of Australian artists (Throsby & Petetskaya, 2017) go to train? Food for thought!

For further reading, see:

Dodge, R., Daly, A. P., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. D. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235.

Duening, T. N. (2008). Five Minds for the Entrepreneural Future: Cognitive Skills as the Intellectual Foundation for Next Generation Entrepreneurship Curricula. Journal of Entrepreneurship, 19(1), 256-274.

Schultze-Lutter, F., Schimmelmann, B. G., & Schmidt, S. J. (2016). Resilience, risk, mental health and well-being: associations and conceptual differences. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 25(5), 459-466. doi:10.1007/s00787-016-0851-4

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.

Throsby, D., & Petetskaya, K. (2017). Making Art Work: An economic study of professional artists in Australia. Retrieved from Australia:

WHO. (2014). Mental health: a state of well-being. Retrieved from

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