After several months of taking the Wellbeing Finder assessment provided by Gallup, I have learned a few things about my overall wellbeing. The first is that days where I have a great amount of social interaction, I tend to have higher wellbeing scores. This may not be a surprise, but it is important to note. Second, I learned that I tend to have a higher average wellbeing score on days that I am not at work. In turn, those generally are weekend days or times when I am away from the office. The most beneficial finding from the assessment has been that I tend to have higher wellbeing scores when I am able to lead with my Strengths.
It is not an automatic element of the assessment that one can discern based off the assessment questions. There are no direct questions related to use of Strengths or even the activities you engaged in while at work. Instead, it takes a more reflective approach to identifying what occurred throughout that day and how those interactions, accomplishments or experiences contributed to that day’s overall wellbeing.
For example, the week that I spent at the University of Georgia while attending NHTI was the highest overall week of wellbeing since I started the assessment. Since the experience was career-related, I still consider it to compare to the experience of a regular week of work. The days were long and the sessions were packed, but I found that I was actively embracing my Strengths throughout the week. My Developer element came out through the engagement in the sessions and the self-reflection I went through in the evenings. My Relator and Empathy elements was prevalent through the interactions, connections with new colleagues and sharing of experiences. My Responsibility element was gleaming from the experience of feeling like I was back in graduate school and embracing the educational interactions and homework.
While NHTI was a special case, I have found this true during a regular week as well. The week of August 5th was one of two different sides. The first half was filled with preparations for the start of training and few interactions outside of a couple of meetings. Starting with Wednesday afternoon, a handful of our student leaders came back and we started training. My Developer, Empathy and Relator elements all began to shine again because I had an opportunity to connect with and affect the development of this students through their training. This is not to say that there was not a little stress involved and my focus for those days was almost solely on these students, but the reality is that I truly enjoy those types of experiences.
My personal goal is to continue to find opportunities to focus on my Strengths and continue to improve my overall work experience. For more information, Gallup released an article recently talking specifically about this topic:
Uncovering the Links Between Happiness and Health
Sarah Pressman’s research into wellbeing can help educators help students be healthy and engaged in the classroom
Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., will share her insights on the connections between positive emotions, relationships, and happiness — and the pathways that support health outcomes — at the Strengths in Education Conference. She will also discuss how these connections relate to the wellbeing of students and how educators can support students to have the highest wellbeing possible.
Dr. Pressman’s work as Beatrice Wright Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas seeks to find links between happiness, wellbeing, and health outcomes. It also has important implications for educators who want to promote student health and wellbeing in their classrooms and at the schools or on their campuses.
Strengths Insights: What connections have you found that link physical health and overall wellbeing?
Sarah D. Pressman, Ph.D.: Research in the field of positive psychology has shown that people who are happy are living longer and are less likely to get sick. For example, we’re exploring when and how positive emotions protect you from stress, because stress is associated with about 95% of the illnesses out there. When you’re stressed, you experience hormonal changes and your immune system is suppressed, but if you get over that negative physiological response faster, it’s better for your health.
Strengths Insights: How does your research into stress connect to students in a school system or on a college or university campus? How can teachers help their students learn how to better handle stress?
Dr. Pressman: One thing that students don’t understand is how much they compromise their health when they’re stressed. When our stress hormones go up, our immune system is suppressed. If teachers talk about how stress affects us all, maybe students will avoid the kinds of negative behaviors that will further compromise their health, so they won’t end up sick, missing school, or unable to take their exams. It might help students know and recognize that they’re probably not at their healthiest when they’re stressed, and they probably should be doing things to protect themselves, like getting enough sleep, and washing their hands.
Strengths Insights: Gallup research into wellbeing has shown that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs, while the absence of any close friendships can lead to boredom, loneliness, and depression. How does that align with what you’ve found in researching wellbeing? How does that play out in schools or on campuses?
Dr. Pressman: Social relationships, positive emotion, and wellbeing are extremely closely tied. Work is a very stressful place, and we know that your stress is buffered by having a perception of social support. So believing that you have a few close friends that are at work who can help you and give you emotional support will help you objectively reduce the kinds of physiological responses that you have during stress.
We did an interesting study a few years ago looking at how loneliness in college freshmen was associated with how they respond to the flu vaccination. What we showed is that social isolation predicted having a worse vaccination response to the flu immunization.
We also counted how many objective social contacts students had, and we found that the people who had the fewest contacts (for example, if they talked with only about five people every two weeks) had worse vaccination responses than people who reported speaking regularly with 10 or 20 people. College students might need more than three or four friends because they are usually away from their families and don’t have the support network that they had at home. In your first semester of college, you really might only know a few people, and if you’re feeling lonely, if those aren’t good quality ties, that will have a negative health consequence, and health is critical to having good wellbeing.
Strengths Insights: Do you have any specific suggestions on how educators can model healthy behaviors for their students or how they can help their students have higher health and wellbeing, handle stress more effectively, or become more engaged in their classes?
Dr. Pressman: First, they already are, to some extent, enhancing many of these things because of what they do with strengths. One of the reasons we ask students to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder and teach them about their strengths is because it should make them happier and enhance their positive emotions. If you can help someone have higher positive emotions, then they will have higher physical wellbeing. Just by trying to get students to think about their strengths and savor them, you will probably help them have higher wellbeing and be more engaged in the classroom, especially if you encourage them to keep [their strengths] in mind during times of stress.
But it’s important not to let stress become the entire focus of your message. You have to address stress, but we never tell people they have to be happy 100% of the time. They need to recognize when they’re stressed and experience negative emotions, but they also shouldn’t let negativity overwhelm the positive. That’s a really important message: Accept the negative, but try to focus on the positive.