What is psychological well-being (and how to improve yours)?

a man wearing green shirt is experiencing good psychological well being

Psychological well-being is when you’re mentally healthy and feel positive overall about your life.

As more awareness and education is brought into the public conversation about mental health and taking care of yourself, it’s important to understand the role psychological well-being plays in your overall health. People who prioritize their psychological well-being have been shown to have decreased physical health risks, rate their happiness higher, and tend to have more meaningful relationships in life (more on that later).

Let’s break down psychological well-being, how it’s different from mental health, and how you can work on your own contentment.

Table of contents
What is meant by psychological well-being?
Is psychological well-being the same as mental health?
Why is psychological well-being important?
How can we have psychological well-being?
How do you achieve psychological well-being?
If you’re still struggling, speak to a professional for help
Your psychological wellness journey starts now

What is meant by psychological well-being?

When people talk about psychological well-being, they generally mean the health and wellness of the mind. When you are psychologically well, you have positive feelings about yourself, you’re content with your situation in life, and you feel optimistic about the future.

Is psychological well-being the same as mental health?

Here’s the short answer: nope. While the concepts are similar and are often easily confused, there are some differences between psychological well-being and mental health.

Having good mental health is only one part of your overall psychological well-being. Mental health focuses more on the state of your mind, whether or not you struggle with mental illness, and how your mind functions day to day.

So, what is psychological well-being then? It’s another step further and refers to how people see their lives and assess their own situations. Psychological well-being is achieved when you’re functioning and feeling well.

You can have good mental health but not feel good about your life situation, meaning your psychological well-being isn’t quite there. However, if your mental health is suffering, you’re probably missing out on the functioning piece of psychological well-being.

Why is psychological well-being important?

Psychological well-being carries a lot of weight because it impacts your overall life happiness and contentment. Achieving that level of well-being means you are content with your life and have a positive outlook on both yourself and your overall situation. You're better at navigating negative emotions and can keep your emotional vitality on track.

In addition, psychological well-being has been tied to better physical health. Numerous studies prove that a positive mindset is linked to decreased risks of cardiovascular diseases or complications. This is likely due to a desire to take care of yourself if you have higher levels of psychological wellness.


Another benefit of psychological well-being is better social life. If you are content with your life and feel good about yourself, you’re more likely to engage in social relationships and activities with others. This benefit is also two-fold, as having close relationships has been found to improve mental health and contribute to a better psychological well-being.

How can we have psychological well-being?

Fortunately, psychological well-being doesn’t need to be ambiguous. Researchers have relevant studies that show the key components that contribute to someone’s psychological well-being.

A common theory was developed by Carol Ryff, a United States based psychologist, called the Six-Factor Model of Psychological Well-Being. Ryff’s philosophy is that psychological well-being isn’t just based on positive emotions—it’s a balanced overview of multiple aspects of life.

According to Ryff’s well-being measures, people are evaluated with a survey focused on the six factors Carol Ryff identified that lead to someone’s psychological well-being. The higher someone scores in each category (from one to six), the more likely they are to have a high level of psychological well-being. Here are the factors:

  1. Autonomy: Evaluates a person’s independence and reactions to social pressure.

Example: All of Tim’s friends are getting new jobs outside of their hometown to experience a new city and lifestyle, but Tim is content where he’s at and knows staying in his hometown is what’s best for him and his family.

  1. Environmental mastery: Evaluates the level of control a person feels they have over their environment and everyday needs.
    Example: When Lisa had a job with a large corporation, she was feeling burned out by juggling her long working hours and responsibilities at home. Now, Lisa enjoys her work as a freelance graphic designer because she is able to set her own schedule, choose the clients and projects she takes on, and can grow her business at her own pace.
  2. Personal growth: Evaluates if a person has a desire to develop or grow.

Example: Jean enjoys her job as a history teacher because she is constantly learning from her students and their insights into the world. She hopes to one day pursue her Master’s degree and become the head of her school’s history department.

  1. Positive relationships with others: Evaluates the quality of relationships a person has in their life.
    Example: Olivia and Yusef have been married for 15 years and, while it hasn’t been easy, they’re both happy in their marriage. They show respect for one another and continue to prioritize time together to have fun and grow their love.
  1. Purpose in life: Evaluates the goals and determination a person has.

Example: Holly has wanted to become a lawyer since she was in middle school so she could help advocate on behalf of those who needed her help. Now, after graduating from law school, she’s excited to begin her career at a law firm focused on U.S. immigration.

  1. Self-acceptance: Evaluates the outlook a person has on themselves
    Example: Thai knows he may not be the wittiest person in his office, but he knows he brings other strengths to the team and is proud of himself for being a hard worker and an open-minded thinker who’s good at brainstorming new ideas.

According to Ryff, how you feel about these six categories will affect your total level of psychological well-being. Focusing on these areas will help you have a better quality of life, improve your mental health, and develop a more positive outlook about your circumstances.

How do you achieve psychological well-being?

To achieve psychological well-being, it’s wise to focus on developing the six focus areas outlined by Ryff. Here are some examples of how you can improve in each of those six categories:

1. Autonomy

One of the best ways to build up your autonomy is to improve your confidence in yourself. A confident person is comfortable with the choices they make in their daily life and doesn’t seek or become easily influenced by the opinions of others. To make yourself more confident, remind yourself of all of the good traits about yourself. Write them down. Don’t be shy—there are tons of great qualities you have that make you who you are.

Then, find a hobby or outlet that brings you meaning in life and make it a priority. It can be easy to be swept up in the needs of others, but having time that’s just for yourself to focus on what you love is critical to building up more autonomy and, ultimately, your psychological well-being.

2. Environmental mastery

If you feel like you are the creator of your own destiny, that’s a sign you have high environmental mastery in your overall psychological well-being. If you can’t wholeheartedly agree with that statement, consider what aspects of your life feel out of your control. Then, ask yourself if they are things that can even be controlled.

Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed because things happen without warning, but it’s important to keep in mind there is only so much you can control in your own life. Practice mindfulness to help yourself focus on the present and avoid worrying about things that you don’t have a say in. This can help reduce negative emotions and increase emotional well-being.

However, there are aspects of your life where you have a sense of control, such as your social relationships, career, or passions. Remind yourself of the goals or dreams you have for your life. If you haven’t pursued them yet, what’s stopping you now? See what goals you can start working toward now and make room for them in your life, even if it means saying no to other things. You only get one chance at life—make sure it’s a life you want to live.

3. Personal growth

A person who values personal growth and challenges themself to learn tends to have psychological well-being because they don’t feel stuck and know they’re working toward becoming a better person.

Depending on what you decide you’d like to challenge yourself with, there are many different ways you can go after personal growth. You could try to learn a new skill, focus on your physical well-being, learn about different cultures, or work on your patience with others.

It’s also helpful to write down the focus areas you have for your personal growth and create a life goals list. This list will help you stay on track and remind you what you’re working toward.

4. Positive relationships with others

Having good relationships with others is no doubt a huge indicator of a person’s happiness and overall psychological well-being. To develop positive relationships, find ways to connect with your loved ones you may have fallen out of touch with. You can invite them for coffee or reach out through a simple phone call. If there have been difficulties in the past, work through those issues together and see if you can come to acceptance and forgiveness for any past problems.

If you’re looking to build new relationships with others, consider opportunities that will put you in contact with new groups of people. For example, you could join a community book club or get a membership at your neighborhood gym. These activities will expose you to new people who could develop into positive and lasting friends.

5. Purpose in life

Find a way to live with purpose, and you’ll feel fulfilled and content. Many people find meaning in life by serving others, whether it’s through volunteering or raising children. Others may find their purpose in their career or by discovering new innovations to improve the world.

No matter what your purpose is, it should motivate you and give you energy to work toward it every day. When you feel like your life has meaning and is part of bettering the world, your psychological and emotional well-being will improve.

6. Self-acceptance

When you are at peace with yourself, it opens the doors for your psychological well-being and overall happiness. You can work on your self-acceptance by being kinder toward yourself. Talk to yourself as if you are one of your closest friends and avoid belittling or bashing on yourself if you don’t succeed at something.

Another way to move toward self-acceptance is to avoid comparing yourself to others. While easy to do, comparison does nothing except make you feel worse about yourself and your circumstances. No one else is you, and you shouldn’t want to be anyone else. Embrace the qualities that make you unique and try to see yourself through the lens of your loved ones.

If you’re still struggling, speak to a professional for help

For many, achieving psychological well-being isn’t easy and they may need professional assistance to help them work toward wellness. If this is the case for you, don’t be afraid to try well-being therapy. These practitioners are experts in mental health and psychological well-being and can help you find ways to manage anxiety, deal with negative emotions, and bring emotional vitality to your life.

Meditation is a common practice that people struggling with mental health can find helpful. Practicing mindfulness or meditation has also been shown in numerous studies to lower physical health risks and improve your quality of life. It can also support people with chronic diseases by relieving stress and chronic pain. Speak with your practitioner about what meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being might be beneficial for you on an individual level.

Working with a life coach is another option to help you work on your psychological well-being. This person can help you evaluate your strengths, and weaknesses, and point you in the right direction to fill certain gaps in your life, such as building relationships with others or having more confidence in yourself. While a life coach is not a substitute for a health practitioner, together the two roles can help you on your psychological well-being journey and keep you moving forward.

Your psychological wellness journey starts now

Prioritizing your psychological well-being is critical for your mental health and overall happiness.

While you can’t completely flip your mindset and well-being overnight, work on these key focus areas and speak with an expert if you’re struggling. Your wellness is a lifelong journey—don’t wait to take the first step toward psychological well-being.

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