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Understanding Wellbeing. And how we have been conceptualizing it.?

Understanding wellbeing.


It is important to discuss wellbeing and how we have been conceptualizing it.  According to the Merriam Webster dictionary wellbeing is “the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous.” To break this down further it refers to the absence of any physical, social, or psychological malfunctioning along with holding a positive worldview (Sinha, 2008, p 172).

Wellbeing has been conceptualized differently to a certain degree in different cultures, also culture effects this conceptualization. According to Charak Samhita, a healthy human being is strong, energetic, reputed, manly, knowledgeable, optimist, and capable of achieving what he wants to achieve, he is free from any physical or mental disorder (D. Sinha, 1990). Dr Sinha proposed, three broad conceptualizations: 

  1. Indian emphasis on self-realization (Journey from mundane and becoming spiritual).
  2. Maslow’s self-actualization by realizing one’s potential through a process of moving upwards in the needs hierarchy
  3. Eclectic approach shifting from hedonism to eudaimonic


1. Indian Conceptualization

Self-realization is a process starting with repetitive affairs, and then moving to spiritual, and finally aiming to achieve an ideal state beyond human capacity. This process is analogous to a journey with the final destination being at a state of sthitaprajna, nirdwandwa, and trigunatita (Chakraborty, 1987, p.107). Sthitaprajn is a state of “steady wisdom” which is neither swayed by the consequences of past or consequences that might arise in the future present nor affected by the present condition. The mind is stable and Viveka (faculty to decide) can focus and take rational decisions without getting disillusioned by self or the environment. Trigunaitita refers to three Gunas; Satwa signifying purity and enlightenment; raj (emotion, action, attachment, etc.); tam (inaction, darkness, stale, etc.). The mind operating at three different levels. They are

  • Observer (drashta)
  • Actor (karata)
  • Receiver (bhoagta- one who bears the consequences)

It refers to keeping a balance between body and mind as well as between the self and the environment. It is this balance that makes him healthy (swastha means ‘stable-me’).

2. Self Actualization (Maslow)

The western conception is somewhat different from the Indian conception. The most quoted theories like that of Maslow talks about a needs hierarchy which has more or less a structured movement from lower to higher needs. They are:

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety and security needs
  • Need for affiliation
  • Need for self-esteem
  • Need for self-actualization

Both conceptions are similar in the sense that the movement is from lower-order needs to higher order. However, Maslow’s self-actualization is little different, it refers to the psychological state which is actualized in some but not in other domains of life whereas Self-realization, on the other hand, influences all dimensions of human life. The process of the movement from one need to the next is linear according to Maslow, however, the Indian approach differs slightly.

  • Safety and security needs
  • Need for affiliation
  • Need for self-esteem

The movement of the above-mentioned needs are not typically linear but can be independent, interdependent or can be achieved parallelly.


3. An eclectic approach

An eclectic approach compares hedonic and eudaimonic views of well being. Eudaimonic refers to long-lasting happiness arising from the realization of human growth that produces a sense of well being, i.e., eudaimonia. This is similar to that of Maslow in conceptualizing well being as the experience of realizing one’s potentials (Hudson, 1996).


Wellbeing, the Ultimate goal of life

The overall goal of life is to have a healthy body and mind with a positive outlook. Based on the understanding from various literature on the concept of wellbeing, we may say that the path to wellbeing is comprised of milestones right from existential ones which a person surpasses moving on to achieve higher ones and achieving higher levels of growth. The zenith being, a human’s ability to actualize oneself, or attain sthitaprajna, nirdwandwa, and trigunatita characteristics, or completely shift to the eudaimonic way of life. All will bear similar fruits, giving rise to relationship based on the foundations of harmony between people, planet and profit.

The recent home quarantine on account of COVID 19 pandemic became one of the chief reasons for me to question the very basis of human wellbeing. I think we need to revisit our understanding of wellbeing, and the path on which humankind is. No matter whichever approach we choose to measure our success or failure, take measures to rebuild our societies, we have sufficient reasons to believe that we will arrive at similar results in future if we don’t try to solve the problems differently.  Going back to our understanding of wellbeing can give an insight as to how as societies, we want to prosper in future.

Reference: Sinha, J. B. P. (2008). Culture and Organizational behaviour. New Delhi: Sage.


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