A crust eaten in peace
is better than a banquet
partaken in anxiety

– Aesop

Mental well-being

Mental well-being involves many interlocking factors. The hedonistic approach to well-being involves the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The eudaimonic approach focuses on meaning and self-fulfilment and defines well-being in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning.

The difference between the two can be explained by looking at parenthood. Surveys have shown that adults who chose not to have children are happier than adults who have children. In this case happiness is of the hedonistic variety but obviously there are deeper, more subtle satisfactions from having children or humanity would quickly become extinct! Whilst parenthood is often difficult, even painful, it provides benefits that add to mental well-being such as relationships, purpose and achievement.

Similarly, long-distance runners are prepared to go through all kinds of physical pain and mental anguish to achieve their goals which provides them well-being through meaning and achievement.

The positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish outlined five aspects to mental well-being:

Positive Emotion

For us to experience well-being, we need positive emotion in our lives. Any positive emotion such as peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity, or love falls into this category. The point is that it’s really important to enjoy yourself in the present, as long as the other aspects of well-being are in place.


When we’re truly engaged in what we are doing we experience a state of flow: time seems to stop, we lose our sense of self, and we concentrate intensely on the present. The more we experience this type of engagement, the more likely we are to experience well-being.


Humans are social creatures and good relationships are core to our well-being. Usually, people who have meaningful, positive relationships with others are happier than those who do not.


Meaning comes from serving a cause bigger than ourselves. No matter what it is, we all need meaning in our lives to have a sense of well-being.


Many of us strive to better ourselves in some way, whether we’re seeking to master a skill, achieve a valuable goal, or win in some competitive event. As such, accomplishment is another important thing that contributes to our ability to flourish.

From Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E. P. Seligman. Published by Free Press, 2011.

Mental well-being