Just tell me how to have a good life already!


In my line of work I come across a lot of ‘wellbeing frameworks’.

A wellbeing framework is simply how an individual or organisation or group organises what they know about wellbeing for the purposes of communicating it to other people.

For example, a psychologist who works with individuals struggling with mental illness would have a framework in their head for how individuals with mental illness make a recovery and build a satisfying and rewarding life. That framework would consist of all the knowledge they have about mental illness and wellbeing and life satisfaction. They would use this framework in how they communicate with their clients and in making decisions about how to structure the therapy.

I have a wellbeing framework (mental fitness) that helps me organise what I know about wellbeing and productivity and self-improvement.

Mike Kyrios from the Orama Institute here at Flinders has the STREAM framework which he has talked about in the context of coping with being quarantined as we all currently are.

The team at the SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre, with whom we are collaborating to deliver wellbeing programs to students, have a Wellbeing Framework that underlies their assessment and training platforms.

Everyone has a framework!

Even you have a framework.

Yep, even though you’ve possibly never articulated it before, you have beliefs and experiences and knowledge about how to live a happy and productive life, and those beliefs guide the decisions you make and the way you live your life. Depending on how good your framework is, will influence how well you think your life is going.


Is there a wellbeing framework to rule them all?

Not really.

Any given framework will have its strengths and weaknesses.

Frameworks used by researchers tend to be more complex and detailed. They are harder to explain to a lay-person, but they are very useful for researchers who are trying to learn more about wellbeing.

In contrast, frameworks used by clinicians tend to be a little simpler but as a result, they are easier to explain to clients and easier for clients to apply to their own lives.

The thing is, there is so much information and knowledge about human wellbeing that trying to encapsulate it all in a single framework is difficult. Any given framework is always going to have limitations.

Therefore, the usefulness of a framework is based on how well it helps you make positive changes in your life.

For example, some people might be perfectly happy with a framework that basically says ‘regular exercise is good for your health and mental health’. A super simple framework that encourages them to exercise. The exercise makes them healthier and happier, and their life improves as a result. They don’t need any additional detail.

Other people (me included) like a more complex framework that describes how the different aspects of one’s life (work, relationships, hobbies, health etc) are related and how to build them.


What is your point Gareth?

Sorry, I got distracted crapping on about frameworks.

So my boss sent me a link to some wellbeing work being done by Wake Forest University (I like their name).

They’ve been developing a survey that universities can use to understand student wellbeing and develop effective programs and services to improve student wellbeing.

Underpinning their survey is something called the Adapted Engine Model.

This is it below. It is pretty.

If you aren’t familiar with the terms, this model might seem a little confusing or difficult to understand, but essentially it outlines the suggested ingredients for a life that is satisfying and rewarding.

So in the same way that a food recipe gives you guidance on the ingredients (and how to combine them) to make a delicious dish that will impress your friends, this model tells you what life components you need, and how to organise them to make you a delicious dish that will also impress your friends.


Sign me up oh wellbeing overlords.

Let’s break it down a bit.

The ultimate goal(s)

On the far right of the model are the suggested big picture outcomes that we are all (or should be) striving for.

  • wellness/wellbeing – feeling well and functioning well (e.g. doing well at studies or work)
  • happiness – significant periods of time where we feel happy (or probably any other kind of positive emotion)
  • life satisfaction – subjectively satisfied with our life (e.g. a feeling that the whole living thing is kinda OK!)
  • resilience – ability to cope with setbacks and adversity (cause there will always be bad shit happening)

Keep in mind, these are their suggested outcomes. You might not agree that these are the ultimate goals of existence. Like I said before, a framework never includes everything or caters for every possibility. But these are the big picture goals according to this framework.

Psychological needs

To achieve these ultimate goals, one needs to have core psychological needs met.

Meeting one’s psychological needs means having:

  • purpose – something or some things that are important for us to work towards – like a mission (e.g. ‘it is my job to provide for my family’)
  • meaning – a sense that one’s life is meaningful in some way (e.g. ‘by providing for my family, I raise kids that will be valued members of the community’)
  • belonging – a feeling of connection with others – to love and to be loved (e.g. feeling like a valued member of a group like family or friends or work colleagues)
  • engagement – a sense of connection and commitment to the things we are doing (e.g. basically being enthused and interested in what we do on a daily basis)

Pathways to getting those psychological needs met

Getting one’s psychological needs met doesn’t just happen magically (or maybe it does for attractive people) so we generally have to try to set up our lives in a way such that we are exposed to situations and people who can help us meet those needs.

The diagram gives us some clues as to what those pathways involve:

For ‘purpose’ we should dedicate time to setting and achieving goals and try to make those goals a little more ambitious and bolder as we go.

For ‘meaning’ we should spend time counteracting any negative beliefs we have about ourselves, the world, and our place in the world. This is often done in therapy. Basic therapy can even be done online.

For ‘belonging’ we should invest time in building supportive friendships. Notice that it is ‘friendships’ and not necessarily intimate relationships. A diverse range of friendships provides support across multiple different scenarios.

For ‘engagement’ we should regularly expose ourselves to new situations so we are constantly learning new skills (Note: having to work from home because of Coronavirus has meant I’m learning to use new software programs and stuff, which has made me more engaged with my work)

Strong foundations

The model suggests that all that juicy stuff above is harder to make happen if you don’t have a reasonably strong foundation on which to build. What does such a foundation consist of?

Financial stability – this doesn’t necessarily mean great wealth, but it does mean enough financial resources and knowledge to cover critical costs (e.g. housing, food, utilities, clothing etc). Financial stability is a real challenge for students at the moment and FUSA have been leading the way on implementing some financial support programs. Check out also the Matthew Flinders Scholarship Fund.

Health – Perfect health is an unrealistic expectation, but health needs to be good enough for person to be able to interact meaningfully with the world. ‘Health’ refers to both physical and mental health. A good place to start in building better health is a visit to the GP for a health check.

Substance use – Not being addicted to drugs and alcohol would be useful as addiction tends to be incredibly disruptive in terms of building good stuff in life.

Basic safety – Living and working in environments where one is relatively safe, physically and emotionally. This includes how we are treated by loved ones and family.


Super quick summary

For a satisfying, rewarding and happy life:

  • Get the basics in place (financial security, safety, good health)
  • Set yourself goals and make them increasingly challenging as you go
  • Surround yourself with good people
  • Expose yourself to new situations so you build a comprehensive and diverse set of skills
  • Monitor yourself for excessive negative thoughts about self, the world and your place in the world. If they get out of control, get into therapy.

Is this the only way to build a rewarding life? Not at all. But it aint a bad starting point!


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Mental Health Well-being

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