Should We Be Playing With Our Wellbeing?

An Interview with Dr. Ilona Boniwell

Wish you had more wellbeing when it comes to the way you go about your work? Most of us would like to feel a little better and function a little more effectively when it comes to our jobs. But let's face it, if improving your wellbeing was easy then we'd all be flourishing.

As a result, employee wellbeing is becoming an increasingly serious business. With a growing body of evidence suggesting that your wellbeing impacts workplace engagement, productivity and profitability, analysts estimate the professional wellbeing market in America alone to be worth more than $6 billion dollars and growing steadily.

But does any of it work? When it comes to positively changing human behaviour so much is still being discovered. And while researchers continue to uncover evidence-based interventions that appear to improve wellbeing, it's important to remember that even the best science only tells us what works for some of the people, some of the time.

"To make the science of wellbeing real and tangible, people need the opportunity to feel it, to use it and to integrate it into their lives," explained Dr. Ilona Boniwell, one of the world's leading positive psychology researchers, teachers and consultants when I interviewed her recently. "We need to teach people to play with their wellbeing."

One of the often over-looked learnings from the science of wellbeing is the importance of finding the right person-activity fit when it comes to using interventions. Whilst writing a daily gratitude journal has been found to help many people feel happier and less depressed, for others it brings no real wellbeing benefits.

The truth is while scientific insights into human flourishing can help to accelerate your understanding and inform your wellbeing practices, ultimately you need to pull these ideas apart and figure out what works best for you. You need to play with these interventions in order to become an intelligent consumer of your own wellbeing.

After all researchers have found that play is one of the most effective ways of exploring new behaviors, thoughts, strategies, and ways of being. And it allows you to see things in a different way and stimulates your brain for learning, growth, and creativity.

Ilona recommends the following approaches may help people in your workplace do some serious play when it comes to their wellbeing:

  • Using strengths cards - while strengths surveys can be a great way to identify the things you're good at and enjoy doing at work, playing with strengths cards in group settings can greatly enhance your understanding of what you do best at work. "Hearing others talk about your strengths and give concrete examples of how you are using them in your work, makes your strengths more real, and makes it easier to integrate them into work," explained Ilona.
  • Maintaining a happiness dashboard - Capturing different scientifically validated indicators of wellbeing the Happiness Dashboard is an easy and visually appealing way to monitor your wellbeing, and engage the support of family, friends or a coach to explore the areas in which you want to create change. "Like driving a car the dashboard gives you an immediate picture of how you're doing right now and where you should take action to bring more balance, joy or focus into your life to help you feel good and function effectively," said Ilona.
  • Trying HEX cards - Combining images, words, and symbols to enable meaning making, learning and creative collaboration, HEX cards help teams accelerate their insights around ways to improve wellbeing, goal setting and creativity. "This game uses hexagons with different ideas and images about work and life to help people reflect on what matters, think strategically and solve problems so they can start to action agreed solutions," explained Ilona.

How can you start playing with your wellbeing more when it comes to work?

This interview was produced in partnership with the European Positive Psychology Conference and The Positive Psychology Program.