Séamus Ruane, community pharmacist and certified positive psychology practitioner, looks at the importance of wellbeing and how the concept has been undervalued and misunderstood

I was delighted to unexpectedly run into an old colleague recently. After discussing various aspects of our lives and careers since the last time we met many, many years ago, the topic turned to our present-day exploits.
“I see you have gone into all that wellbeing lark,” he commented.

I am not sure exactly what the comment meant, but I do suspect he thought the whole area was a little airy-fairy, hippy-dippy, and shall we say less than scientific.

It always amazes me that as pharmacists, we have no difficulty accepting that it’s possible to study, describe and research sickness, illness and poor health, but seem to find it harder to accept that their positive counterparts can and should also be widely researched and studied.

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A bad rap

Wellbeing often gets a bad rap, because the term itself is widely used and abused, to such an extent that the word itself could refer to just about anything even remotely related to health. Wellbeing could just as easily be referred to in an article on tarot cards, as it could be in a peer-reviewed article in a medical journal. No wonder there’s a level of confusion and unease about the topic.

It turns out there is a science-backed, research-based model we can follow with full confidence

A simple, accurate, and widely-accepted definition of wellbeing is as follows: ‘Wellbeing is the ability to feel good and function effectively.’ Now, nothing airy-fairy there, and with that as a working definition, the topic takes on a whole new level of meaning, relevance, and importance. Surely we all want the ability to feel good and function effectively, because this essentially also reflects not only our level of wellbeing, but also our life satisfaction, and dare I say it, happiness. In this context there is little, if anything, more important to any of us.

However, with all the focus, most especially in a healthcare setting such as community pharmacy, on issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety, issues we deal with day-in, day-out, most of us rarely if ever stop to consider issues such as life satisfaction, happiness, and wellbeing either for ourselves, our colleagues, our families, or indeed our patients.

From various discussions with colleagues on this topic, it is clear to me that yes indeed, we do recognise the importance and value of our own wellbeing, but often times fail to follow through with concrete action to address it.

When I quiz people as to why this is, the usual response is, ‘I’d love to improve my wellbeing but I wouldn’t know where to start’. People are bombarded with information, tips, tools, and techniques from a myriad of sometimes less-than-reliable sources that they just don’t know who or what to believe or trust.

If this sounds like you, then join the gang. Time is precious, and we all lead busy lives. We want to be sure the time and effort we invest in making wellbeing interventions will actually be worthwhile and yield tangible results.

Evidence base

It turns out there is a science-backed, research-based model we can follow with full confidence. Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, the scientific study of wellbeing, proposed what has since become a widely-accepted model of wellbeing known as PERMA.

Subsequent researchers have modified this framework to PERMA V or PERMA H. PERMA V details six pillars of wellbeing, six areas of our lives that contribute to our overall sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction. In this model, ‘P’ represents Positive emotions, ‘E’ represents Engagement, ‘R’ represents Relationships, ‘M’ represents Meaning, ‘A’ represents Achievement, and ‘V’ represents Vitality.

How can you apply this model to your life as a community pharmacist?

Positive emotions: How can you introduce more fun, excitement, and enthusiasm into your working day? Work really doesn’t have to be boring or stressful. Are there routines we can incorporate into our days to introduce some humour and fun?

Engagement: Are you just going through the motions, clocking-in the hours until the shutter comes down, or are you present, mindful, and invested in the task at hand?

Relationships: How do you interact with your colleagues and those close to you? Do you spend time and effort improving connections with other people? Humans are inherently social by nature, and the number-one determinant of our wellbeing is the quality of our relationships.

Meaning: Does your work feel meaningful to you? Can you connect to the benefits that accrue to others as a result of your hard work and effort?

Achievement: Do you regularly set meaningful goals for yourself and your team? What positive healthy habits could you incorporate into your day to boost your wellbeing?

Vitality: On a scale of 1-to-10, how would you rate your energy levels? What will you commit to today to improve that number?