5 pillars of wellbeing and mental health

Research carried out by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) found that there are five core pillars to supporting our wellbeing and mental health – these are known as the Five Ways to Wellbeing.

According to their report, wellbeing hinges on two concepts—feeling good and functioning well in the world. NEF researched this in depth, with a view to taking an evidence-based approach and creating a list of accessible and actionable guidelines we can all follow to improve how good we feel and how well we function.

The report suggests that indicators of feeling good include people experiencing positive emotions such as joy, curiosity, and contentment, while functioning well might be evidenced by subjects having good interpersonal relationships or a sense of purpose, for example.

The research concluded that there are five key themes which contribute to someone feeling or functioning well. These are connecting with other people, being physically active, learning, giving, and being aware (mindfulness).

Thankfully, these Five Ways to Wellbeing are not expensive or complicated, nor are they intensive or demanding. They are simple adjustments that can improve our sense of self-worth, our mood, and our physical wellness. Here are a few suggestions of how we can build them into our everyday lives:

Connecting with others

Evidence showed that social connections are a basic human need. Connection gives us a sense of belonging and community, provides us with emotional support, and allows us to share our experiences, which enriches those experiences even further. The ways in which we connect with others can be varied. They might include spending time with loved ones, family, or friends; getting involved in community activities and events; sharing hobbies such as team sports, classes, or social groups; and can even be achieved by connecting remotely through technology like social media.

Being physically active

Physical activity is not only good for our body, but it is also good for our mental wellbeing. Exercise has the ability to lower depression and anxiety thanks to resulting chemical shifts in our brain, like the release of endorphins. And it doesn’t require an intense workout to be effective. Even gentle activity such as going for a walk, using the stairs more often, or stretching your body in the morning can have a beneficial effect.


While it is largely expected that we will go through intense periods of learning in our formative years, the research showed that continuing this process of learning throughout our lives can boost self-esteem and help us to develop a stronger sense of purpose. This learning doesn’t need to be academic or formal like an educational course, but includes anything the brain treats as a new experience. For example, everyday life skills like cooking a new recipe, taking up a different hobby, or even games and puzzles that stimulate the problem solving part of our brain, such as chess, crosswords, or sudoku.


While acts of charity and kindness benefit others, they can also be very positive for us. Research shows that giving fosters feelings of self-worth, helps us to connect with others, and leads to a sense of reward. And giving doesn’t always have to be charity or financial donations. Simple ways to give might be to show gratitude, to be supportive of people you know, or to offer your time or a friendly ear to someone who needs it.

Being mindful

Being present in the moment (mindfulness) heightens our awareness and self-understanding, which can help us to feel more positive and to make choices that better align with our true needs and values. We can be more aware by stopping to take notice of our surroundings and pausing to focus in on a particular sense. We often think of mindfulness or meditation as the absence of thought, but rather it is more like focussing in on one sense at a time—what can we see, hear, taste, or smell in that particular moment? This pause to focus our attention reduces the mental clutter of all our competing thoughts and senses. In effect, it temporarily helps to quiet our brain and give it a brief rest from its busy thinking, worrying, and problem solving.


Improving our wellbeing doesn’t have to be a big or expensive task. We can support these five pillars through simple everyday factors like being kind, trying something new, or simply taking a moment to pause and be more aware.

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