Author: Elena Menchetti
Publication date: 19.12.2023
What is well-being?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), well-being is a positive state determined by social, economic, and environmental conditions. This means that well-being can be influenced by our genetics, personal history, and lifestyle. However, it can also be influenced by the environment we find ourselves in.
In addition, well-being includes such things as an individual’s quality of life and a sense of meaning or life purpose. Thus, when these aspects are missing in someone’s life, well-being might be lower.
Environment is not what you think
Most of us, when we hear the word environment, we probably think of nature or associate the word with planet earth. However, the environment is more than that. Indeed, our environment consists of the people we surround ourselves with, our society, the workplace, as well as our community.
Hence, the same way it is important to have a healthy planet for our well-being, it is equally important to have a healthy (social) environment.
The role of the environment in development
1. Our very first environment: in utero
We all find ourselves in a new environment when we are born. However, we have an environment even before then. Indeed, our very first environment is in utero. When the baby is forming, the environment that the mother provides is essential for healthy development.
Indeed, scientists suggest that environmental conditions in utero have to be optimal in order for the baby to develop a healthy brain and body. This is why they emphasize that stress levels during pregnancy should be decreased and levels of social and emotional support increased.
2. The second most important environment for well-being: our family
Our family is considered as the second most important environment for our well-being. This is because most of us will spend quite some time with our parents and siblings, especially when young. Early age is a key period of an individual’s lifespan. This is because during that time, most of our behavioral and emotional patterns are established and integrated into our nervous system.
What’s more, during that time, parents and siblings will serve as examples and role models. This means that our development and well-being will be highly influenced by the emotions and behaviors commonly present within our family.
3. The role of close friends and the education environment
Once we grow up and reach school age, the influence our parents had on us up until then is likely to be replaced by our friends. Especially during adolescence, we tend to detach from parental rules and adopt those present in our social groups. This phase is important for the development of one’s identity and the learning of social skills. Moreover, belonging to a social group is proven to increase well-being.
4. The role of the community and society we live in
One last, very important environment is our society and community at large. It is important for individuals’ well-being that they feel welcome and safe in their community. Studies show that well-being and quality of life are higher in neighborhoods where violence and crime rates are lower. Presumably, this is due to the fact that people’s stress levels are lower. Indeed, people’s perceived safety of their place of residence can say a lot about their mental health and well-being.
The relationship between environment and mental-physical health
There have been a number of studies showing that social and environmental factors can influence our health and well-being. When it comes to our mental and physical health, the factors that were found to have the biggest influence include:
Sleep deprivation - which could be due to noise, stress, or extreme weather conditions
Environmental pollution - which includes poor air quality and high traffic rates
Smoking and unhealthy lifestyle - which includes things like poor diet and lack of exercise
Abuse and discrimination - which are likely to make one feel guilty, “wrong” or isolated, therefore affecting mental health and well-being
Poverty and unemployment - which often increase individuals’ stress levels and negative moods
Lack of social support and interaction - which increase feelings of loneliness and therefore lower well-being
Lack of access to green spaces - which could actually increase people’s positive emotions and therefore quality of life
Environment and well-being
The importance of social support
The conditions in which we live, learn, grow, and work are all going to determine our health and well-being. These conditions can include things like our education level, exposure to violence, and access to health care. In addition, the presence or lack of social support is of main importance when it comes to our well-being. This is because having supportive people in our life can decrease our stress levels and lower the risk of mental health problems. Fostering genuine connections was also found to increase resilience and self-esteem.
What we can do: a quote to remember
On a last note, related to the topic of environment is this quote: “when you realize that a plant is not growing, do you blame the plant or do you try to change its environment, including the soil type, water amount, and sunshine exposure?” We can apply this same perspective to ourselves and our growth. In other words, although it is not always possible to change our environment, we can at least try to change some aspects of it.
For example, we could start by finding a place that really suits our interests and needs. In addition, we could do the things we really enjoy more often, and eat healthy foods to support our body. What is important to keep in mind here is that, blaming ourselves for slow growth or progress is in no way going to make things better. If you feel like your growth is being hindered, look at your environment!