What are the five pillars of wellbeing?

Back in 2008, the Government commissioned the Foresight Challenge Report on mental health. The report identified five main areas that contribute to an individual’s sense of wellbeing, namely the drivers that make people feel happier, more fulfilled and more resilient in life.


These five pillars of wellbeing were identified as:


  • Connecting
  • Being active
  • Taking notice
  • Learning
  • Giving


We’ll be taking a look at why each pillar can help our wellbeing, and how to ensure each one can be fulfilled in a realistic, everyday way.



Social relationships are vital for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health.


Research by psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman found that happier people have stronger social relationships. Being close to others and feeling valued are fundamental human needs, so it is no surprise that they are also important at work.


You don’t need to become someone’s best friend in order to ‘connect’ with them. These simple tips can help foster relationships:


Remember names – When you remember someone’s name and use it correctly, it is respectful and shows them that they matter enough to be remembered.


Help people – Be generous and on-hand to help. Although you shouldn’t do this to the detriment of your own wellbeing, sometimes small gestures can go a long way – even down to offering to make someone a cup of tea.


Be interested – It is better to be interested rather than being interesting. When somebody tells you about their family, friends, or what they did at the weekend, try to remember the details. It pays to be attentive, curious and non-judgemental.


Be honest – It can be tempting to put on a persona at work, where you behave how you think others want you to. In fact, it’s easier and more beneficial to let your guard down and be your true self.


Empathise – It’s only natural that people at work will go through tough times. When a colleague is in distress, make the effort to ask how they are and if you can help.


Being active

Exercise is vital for wellbeing at home and at work. It is important for both physical and mental health, productivity and resilience. Regular exercise has also been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety.


Studies into why exercise is so beneficial are generally split between biophysical response, where exercise allows our bodies to become physically more capable of dealing with stress, and psychosocial mechanisms, where taking part in exercise boosts our self-esteem, distracts us from negative thoughts, and helps us build connections with like-minded people.


Either way, both theories point to a more active lifestyle as being highly beneficial for our wellbeing.


Another positive side effect of exercise is the release of endorphins. These natural painkillers generate the feelings of positivity often associated with the ‘runner’s high’, helping to combat depression.


Any amount of exercise can help. You don’t need to run marathons or join a team; even a walk at lunchtime can get your heart rate up and muscles working. As long as you’re doing a little more than you were before, it’s all beneficial.


Taking notice

Being aware of your surroundings and appreciating the world around you will contribute to your wellbeing. It helps to ‘live in moment’ rather than dwelling on things that have happened in the past or events in the future that might never happen.


According to the Foresight Challenge Reports, research has shown that being trained to be aware of sensations, thoughts and feelings for eight to 12 weeks has been shown to enhance wellbeing for several years.


Either way, thinking about the here and now is better than worrying about events we have no control over.


Mindfulness can increase your ability to be in tune with your thoughts, emotions and senses in the present.


For example, in the morning, make a clear decision to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.


Your brain’s default mode is to be habitually lost in your own thoughts. Set hourly reminders on your phone or computer’s calendar for you to take in your surroundings and reflect on the present rather than thinking ahead.


Try to embrace the ‘gratitude attitude’. People in general tend to have a negativity bias – they focus on all that they think is wrong, rather than what is going right. Instead, take some time out from your day to recognise the good things at work and in life.



A willingness to learn is a positive influence on our mental wellbeing. It pays to try something new, as it helps you feel good about yourself, the world around you, and can even help you advance within your career.


The growth mindset theory was developed by Carol Dweck, who identified two types of people – those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset.


Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their character, intelligence and creative ability are static traits that cannot be changed. They believe that success comes because of that inherent intelligence, and any failure is a sign of weakness.


Because of this, they aim to maintain the illusion of success at all times. As a result, they’ll never improve and may plateau early.


People with a growth mindset view a failure as an opportunity to learn. Rather than seeing failure as a sign of a character flaw that cannot be changed (e.g., a lack of talent or intelligence), they’ll look at how they can improve themselves in order to succeed next time.


By doing this, they’ll reach ever-higher levels of achievement.



Doing good for others makes us feel good. This is known as altruism, where we put other people’s needs before our own. Research has shown that helping others can have a positive effect on our own wellbeing and mental health.


It can reduce stress, improve your mood, self-esteem and happiness. You don’t need to make major changes to your life either; good deeds don’t need to take up a lot of time or cost money.


Helping others stimulates the ‘reward’ areas in the brain. These physiological changes are associated with happiness and create positive feelings.


Helping and working with others helps us strengthen our relationships and build new ones. As we found earlier, connecting with others is a large contributor to wellbeing.  Giving also gives us a sense of purpose.


Perspective and self-awareness will help us become more resilient. If we open ourselves up to what’s happening in someone else’s life, we can see how fortunate we are in many cases. It can give us a more positive outlook on the things we have our own lives.


People who’ve received an act of kindness are more likely to help others as a result. Humans are hardwired to reciprocate acts of kindness, so good deeds will lead to wider happiness and wellbeing within a community.


If people are supporting each other and open to helping each other out, the world seems a better place. If this kind of culture is prevalent in a workplace, then the mood is lifted, work doesn’t seem quite so hard, and employees feel more optimistic.


What next?

In BounceBack’s Improving Workplace Wellbeing eLearning course, we begin by looking at why wellbeing is now so important. We then explore each of the five areas that can help us maintain wellbeing and prevent stress. Each module provides the theory behind each one, followed by practical tips and exercises to back them up.


To find out more about this course, please visit https://www.bounce-back.com/workplace-wellbeing-elearning/.

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