How to Improve Your Psychological Well-Being

The phrase “psychological well-being” is used to describe an individual’s emotional health and overall functioning. The author of a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well‒Being describes psychological well-being as “the combination of feeling good and functioning effectively.”1

Researchers also have found that the absence of distress doesn’t necessarily indicate a person has high psychological well-being. High psychological well-being is about feeling happy and doing well. People with high psychological well-being report feeling capable, happy, well-supported, and satisfied with life.

Why Your Psychological Well-Being Matters

Studies have discovered that people with higher psychological well-being are more likely to live healthier and longer lives. They are also more likely to enjoy a better quality of life.2 Better psychological well-being also is associated with fewer social problems.

For instance, research has found that people with high psychological well-being are less likely to engage in criminal activity or abuse drugs and alcohol. In addition, positive psychological well-being tends to predict higher earnings and more prosocial behavior, such as volunteering.

People also are more likely to enjoy positive psychological well-being when they have their basic needs met. Living in a safe area, having enough food, and having adequate shelter are all important factors for emotional health.

If you’re looking to improve your psychological well-being, there are several things you can do to feel and function better. Here’s an overview of four things you an do to improve your overall sense of well-being.

Creating Purpose

Living a life with meaning and purpose is key to improving your psychological well-being.2 Your purpose doesn’t necessarily have to involve changing the world or finding a career devoted to helping others though.

Instead, you might make it your purpose to be kind every day. Or, your purpose might involve making the world better by encouraging others to take care of the environment or adopt pets from the shelter. Maybe your purpose is being an advocate for those who are hurting like bullied students, the homeless, or victims of abuse.

If you feel like your life lacks purpose, don’t worry. There are many ways you can find purpose in life and build a life that has more meaning. Begin by thinking about the legacy you would like to leave behind. Write down how you’d like to be remembered at the end of your life, or think about the impact you want to leave on the planet. Then, establish some objectives that can help you reach those goals.

Working toward your goals will give you a reason to get out of bed every day, beyond earning money.

Positive Thinking

Thinking positively also improves your psychological well-being. In turn, as your psychological well-being improves, it becomes easier to think positively and feel good overall. Fortunately, you can begin creating that positive cycle with a few simple strategies. Here’s an overview of the ways you can increase the positivity in your life.

Write About a Better Future

Take a few minutes and write down all the good things that could happen to you in the future. Imagine how you could be spending your time and who you would be spending it with if you were living your best life.

You also may want to devise a plan on how you can make that happen. Make small, measurable goals that will help you achieve that better future. Then, put a plan into place. When you’re working toward a better future—even if the steps are really small—it gives you a sense of purpose and something to look forward to.

Recall Positive Life Events

Spend time thinking about some of the best memories of your life. Whether it’s a family vacation you went on 10 years ago or an award you won at work two years ago, recalling the happiest times in your life can bring more positivity to your mindset.

Recognizing the good things that have happened to you over time—the people you have built memories with or the good times that you have experienced—is an important part of improving your well-being. They serve as reminders of the fullness life has to offer, especially when circumstances may be pulling you down.

Perform Acts of Kindness

Doing nice things for other people reminds you that you have the power to make a difference in the world. Giving to others also helps you think more positively and feel happier. Helping a neighbor in need, volunteering for a community activity, or raising money for a charity are just a few simple ways to improve your psychological well-being.

Also, look for ways to be kind to others in your everyday life. Doing so benefits you in a number of ways. In fact, researchers indicate that individual acts of kindness releases both endorphins and oxytocin—the feel good hormones—as well as creates new neural connections.3

Consequently, kindness can become a self-reinforcing habit that takes less and less effort to perform. There’s also some evidence linking kindness and healing.3 So, look for ways to be kind to others and your body and mind will thank you.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness, which means staying in the moment, has been linked to a multitude of benefits, ranging from increased happiness to better resilience.1 Although mindfulness is a skill that takes practice and dedication, over time you can get better at learning how to be present and in the moment. Doing so has a number of benefits too.

For instance, studies suggest that mindfulness helps people manage stress, cope with serious illnesses, and reduce anxiety and depression. In fact, people who practice mindfulness are better able to relax, have improved self-esteem, and possess more enthusiasm over life.4

What’s more studies have found a link between mindfulness meditation and changes in the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and emotion. This discovery is not surprising because mindfulness requires you to pay attention to your thoughts, your actions, and your body.4

Express Gratitude

Whether you send letters to people telling them how much you appreciate them or you write about the things you feel thankful for in a journal, expressing your gratitude will keep you focused on all the good things in life. You can even express gratitude on social media.

Learning to be grateful in everything you do will become a way of life. You’ll discover you can be thankful for little things like the beauty of sunset as well as the big things like a new job or a visit from friend. Finding things to be thankful for everyday is a simple but effective way to boost your psychological well-being.

Identify Your Strengths

Feeling capable and confident is important. One of the best ways to accomplish this task is to remind yourself of the things you’re good at or the character strengths you possess. Try reflecting on your past achievements and the qualities that helped you succeed.

Write down these things as a reminder of what you have to offer the world. And, if there’s an area that you feel needs improvement, don’t be afraid to list that too. Working on improving yourself is a great way to impact your overall well-being.

Practice Forgiveness

Letting go of past hurt and anger is key to good psychological well-being. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to allow that person to hurt you again. Instead, forgiveness is about releasing yourself of the anger that’s holding you back and keeping you bound to that person.

Forgiving another person frees you to put your energy into more positive things rather than ruminating on past hurts and offenses. If the person who wounded you is still a threat to your overall well-being, it also may help to erect some boundaries to safeguard yourself from further unnecessary pain.

Fostering Relationships

Studies show that loneliness takes a serious toll on your emotional and physical health.5 In fact, one study found that being lonely was as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Just being around people, however, isn’t the solution. Instead, it’s important to form deep connections with other people.

The quality of relationships matters more than the quantity when it comes to improving your psychological well-being.

While contact over social media can be a good way to keep in touch when you can’t visit a friend in person, there’s no real substitute for the benefits of face-to-face contact. Have coffee with a friend, eat dinner with your family, and call a loved one just to chat.

Strong social support also is important to staying psychologically healthy. If you lack a support system, take steps to meet more people. Join community activities, get acquainted with your neighbors, or reach out to old friends.

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