10 Principles of Wellbeing Design

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Wellbeing is a practice of exploring and refining the behaviors and activities that bring us most vibrantly alive. I believe that we can all be designers of our own wellbeing. In applying design principles we increase our clarity and generate a rubric by which we can measure the success of our experiments against our intentions. These principles arise out of my own experience but are backed by science too! Just follow the links to dive deeper.


1. Move.

Our bodies are designed to move. While the benefits of exercise are widely known, the concept of movement goes far deeper. Author of What a Body Knows, Kimerer LaMothe, puts it this way: “A human body is not a thing. Humans are bodies, and bodies are movement. A body is a rhythm of its own becoming — a constant process of creating and becoming the patterns of movement that relate it to sources of ongoing sustenance in life-enabling ways.” Movement creates wellbeing!

My jam is dancing, what’s your move?

2. Eat real food.

Food is at the root of many chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Dr. Mark Hyman describes food as a powerful new drug, one that’s more effective than pharmaceuticals and with fewer side effects when used to prevent, treat, cure and reverse most chronic illnesses. Food is medicine.
 
What diet changes might contribute to improving your energy and overall health? How might you go about exploring these changes?

3. Sleep.

We are a sleep-deprived nation. Depression, weight gain and trouble focusing are often the result. In The Telomere Effect, Doctors Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, relate chronic insomnia to shorter telomere lengths. Telomeres (think the plastic cap on the end of your shoelace) protect your chromosomes from deterioration, shorter telomeres have been associated with decreased longevity. Sleep is vital to health.

What are your sleep patterns? How might you get better sleep?

4. Get in Nature.

Nature is literally a cure for what ails you. Time in nature resets our nervous system, makes us healthier and more creative. Doctors in the UK are now prescribing nature to treat everything from high blood pressure to anxiety and depression. Time to get outside!

How do you connect with nature?

5. Flow.

Flow is a path toward creativity, accelerated learning and synching with the universe. Flow researchers Jamie Wheal and Steve Kotler believe that access to flow is a critical tool for success in the 21st century. Check out their flow profile survey at the Flow Genome Project and find out your flow type.
 
What gets you in the zone?

6. Connect with people and other creatures.

We are inherently social beings. The Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the lives of 268 men for almost 80 years. The scientists following this group discovered that it is strong relationships that determine the overall health, success, longevity, and happiness of these men. Study director, George Vaillant, summed up the study findings as “love–full stop.” Loneliness, on the other hand, increases the odds of early death by 20%.
 
How might you build deeper connections with your tribe?

7. Be grateful.

Gratitude builds positive emotions. In studies conducted by Emmons and McCullough, subjects who kept daily gratitude journals reported less physical symptoms, more optimism and were more likely to make progress toward their personal goals. Gratitude is preventative.
 
 What are you grateful for? What might a daily practice look like?

8. Seek meaning.

Living a life of purpose contributes to feelings of self-worth, mastery, agency and even a healthier immune system. Dr. Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology explains purpose as the desire to live lives of meaning expressed through service to something bigger than the self. Meaning makes us more resilient. 
 
What’s your why? What goals can help amplify it?

9. Practice Presence.

Your ability to multitask effectivity is a myth. Put your phone away. Notice your breath even if for just a few moments. Studies show that meditators have greater focus, emotional flexibility, and improved executive function. Mindfulness practices are also beneficial for a range of issues from anxiety to depression and stress reduction.
 
Notice what tense your mind habitually goes to, the past, present or the future. How might you be more here now?

10. Keep learning.

Iteration is core to successful design. As designers, we make and act to think, it’s a continuous feedback loop. We set goals and intentions and try some stuff out. We learn what works and what doesn’t then we improve upon things in the next go-round.

What are you curious about? What experiments can you design and prototype?


These design principles form the base of a living and breathing framework. Take them as a starting point and develop your own list. Be creative, keep it simple and mix in a good dose of self-compassion and empathy. Remember to have some fun along the way because a happy brain is a better performing brain, 31% more to be exact.