Wellbeing is complex, hence why we measure it

The Student Wellbeing Survey provides us with detailed insights into the drivers of student wellbeing which we can use to better target support services and programs. In this post I explore the different aspects of wellbeing that the survey covers. Reading time ~ 8 minutes. 

As you might know we have a Student Wellbeing Survey running at the moment. It is running until the 7th October. Please take part if you haven’t already. You can go into a draw to win an iPad and other wellbeing packages.

The survey measures wellbeing and does so in a number of ways. This reflects the complexity of what we mean by the term ‘wellbeing’.

At the simplest level, I think of ‘wellbeing’ as the answer we give when someone asks us ‘how you doing?’.

The thing is, our answer to that question is influenced by many interacting factors: our mood, what is happening in our life, the person asking the question, our health and mental health, cultural and social norms and many more.

And often our answer is little more than ‘ok’, ‘good’, ‘meh’, ‘fine’. In fact, I swear it is a cultural thing in Australia to always answer the question ‘how are you?’ with the least informative answer possible. [As an aside, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to my parents  for only ever answering ‘eh’ when they asked how my day was during adolescence.]

But I digress.

Whilst our answer to the ‘how you doing?’ question might be brief and and uninformative, there is actually a lot sitting under the surface. How I (you) am (are) doing in any given moment is a function of many inputs, many of which are operating sub-consciously. Psychologists try to measure those inputs, so we can gain insights into how people piece together their ‘wellbeing’ in any given moment. Those insights then help identify targets for intervention, as we’ll see.

The Student Wellbeing Survey taps into many of those wellbeing inputs. It is the result of extensive work by Be Well Co on how to measure wellbeing and do it in a way that is detailed but also not incredibly time consuming.

So what is the survey tapping into? Let’s look quickly at each of the components.

– Physical activity – subjective rating of current physical activity levels

– Nutrition – subjective rating of current diet

– Sleep – subjective rating of current sleep

– Life satisfaction – overall, how satisfied you are with your life

– Positive emotions – the extent to which you experience positive emotions

– Self-acceptance – whether you like who you are and have positive attitude towards yourself

– Environmental mastery – extent to which you feel you can manage external or environmental influences when they come your way

– Positive relationships – the feeling that you have meaningful relationships

– Personal growth – the feeling you can continue to grow who you are

– Autonomy – whether you feel independent and in control of your actions and behaviour

– Purpose in life – having a sense of meaning in life and knowing the goals you want to achieve

– Social contribution – sense that you are contributing something to society

– Social integration – feeling like you belong to a community or social group

– Social actualisation – extent to which you feel society is a good place for everyone

– Social acceptance – extent to which you feel that other people are ‘good’

– Social coherence – whether society makes sense to you

– Work satisfaction – whether you are satisfied with your job

– Work relationships – whether you are satisfied with your work colleagues

– Vigour – energetic about your work

– Dedication – committed to your work

– Absorption – extent to which you get absorbed in your work

– Engagement – how connected you are with your work

– Resilience – whether you feel like you can cope with stress and stressful events

– Mood – feeling down

– Anxiety – feeling scared

– Stress – feeling overwhelmed

– Burnout – long term exhaustion


Whoa! That is quite a bit.

What I hope it illustrates though is that the survey isn’t just a basic ‘how are you?’ It is trying to dig beneath that to better understand what is contributing to your wellbeing (or lack of wellbeing) at this time.

Something I think is interesting is we don’t consciously think about all of these things when we are asked ‘how you doing’. I certainly don’t go through this list in my head when I am asked. But these things are contributing to our wellbeing. They’re just running more in the background.

So when your friend says they are doing ‘great’, there could be a number of things driving that – good mood, engaging work, new relationship, healthy lifestyle etc.

Conversely when your friend says they are struggling, there could be many things driving that – feeling disconnected, exhausted, self-critical, lacking direction etc.

By measuring it though, we can get clues to the most important drivers and then target those with interventions.

For example, say we look at the results of the Student Survey in a couple of months time and find high levels of stress and low levels of purpose in life. We could distribute resources or run sessions on how to develop life goals. Or maybe we find high levels of burnout and poor sleep. We could distribute resources on sleep hygiene as well as look at timetabling to see if we can support more effective study patterns. I am just spit balling at the moment, but the basic idea is sound. The more detail we have on what is contributing to student wellbeing, the more targeted we can be with our interventions. Rather than just running generic ‘stress management’ sessions, we can be more strategic about what those sessions cover.


Final words

I used deficit examples in the last paragraph (i.e. things going wrong) but we can just as easily explore strengths and build interventions around those as well. We might discover high levels of social integration or actualisation and see that those are contributing to high resilience. In which case we can build interventions that further promote events that build social connections. The survey will give us insights into what is going well and could be further leveraged, as well as what is not going well and could be addressed.

If you’ve done the survey and elected to get your customised profile, I hope this post encourages you to look at the report again and see what factors might be driving your wellbeing at the moment. A reminder that we have an Understanding Your Survey Results session on the 4th October to guide you through this process.

If you haven’t done the survey or are still thinking about it, I hope this post demonstrates that the survey will provide us with detailed insights into student wellbeing that we can use to fine-tune and innovate in terms of the provision of wellbeing supports services.

As I’ve indicated before, if you have any questions about the survey (staff or student) – email me – gareth.furber@flinders.edu.au

Posted in
Flinders Research Studies Flinders services and programs Well-being Well-being at Flinders

Leave a Reply