Defining Wellbeing and Explaining How We Can Achieve It

Many of us want to obtain wellbeing. But how? What exactly is wellbeing? And why does overall wellbeing seem so elusive?

Wellbeing, as it turns out, can be broken down into five “essential” elements. These elements include:

• Career well being

• Social wellbeing

• Financial wellbeing

• Physical wellbeing

• Community wellbeing

Authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter outline wellbeing in their 2010 book, “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.” According to Rath and Harter, the abovementioned elements of wellbeing remain important because they are things “we can do something about” (my emphasis). Wellbeing, as it turns out, is not an abstract, “pie-in-the-sky” idea but is a practical way of living.

Rath and Harter claim that “[w]hile 66% of people are doing well in at least one of [the five abovementioned] areas, just 7% are thriving in all five.”

If true, is the United States suffering from a wellbeing deficiency?

“The single biggest threat to our own wellbeing tends to be ourselves,” the authors write. But the key to wellbeing, the authors claim, is this: “As long as we allow short-term desires to win, it will be difficult to effect long-term behavioral change.” In other words, wellbeing is mostly about focusing on the long-term goals . . . and sticking to them.

Throughout the book, Rath and Harter breakdown in more detail the five elements of wellbeing. Although it remains outside the scope of this article to highlight all of these elements, there are some important takeaways. For example, with regard to financial wellbeing, Rath and Harter make clear that if confronted between spending money on objects or material good and spending money on experiences, based on survey data, most people tend to report high levels of wellbeing if they choose the latter.

Also, with regard to physical wellbeing, the authors explore the importance of eating healthy and getting enough hours of sleep. They write: “One study found that short-duration sleepers and long-duration sleepers have more health problems [compared to those who get just the right amount of sleep].”

Finally, with regard to career wellbeing, Rath and Harter make clear that “. . . [i]f your career wellbeing is thriving you are able to have good weekends and good weekdays, and the time you are at work is as enjoyable as the time you spend away from work.” In other words, the way in which an individual’s career contributes to their wellbeing is not how much money is in their paycheck but how meaning their work is. This concept appears especially difficult for Americans, who tend to always use salary as a sole marker of career success.

There are other ways in which Rath and Harter breakdown wellbeing, but these are some of the more important areas. Wellbeing does not appear to be an unreachable, abstract idea. Wellbeing, on the other hand, remains the pursuit of five essential elements that an individual can mostly take control of.


Rath, T., and Harter, J. (2010). Wellbeing: The five essential elements. Gallup Press, New York, NY.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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