Five ways to wellbeing

by Mark Drinkwater


The Five Ways to Wellbeing, developed by the New Economics Foundation in 2008, has been adopted by councils, NHS and charities around the country as a set of techniques to promote better mental health and wellbeing.

In my role as the Health Inequalities and Social Care officer at Voluntary Action Lewisham I recently delivered a workshop introducing and exploring the Five Ways  at this year’s Lewisham Mental Health Conference on 11 September.

I first began to consider the usefulness of the Five Ways to Wellbeing when the Government’s Office for National Statistics initiated discussions on National Measures of Wellbeing back in 2011. It is a holistic approach to wellbeing that is simple, but strikes me as one that could have important insights for voluntary and community sector organisations who are interested in promoting wellbeing (which are most charities, I guess).

I developed the Wellbeing workshop with this in mind and gave it its first major outing of this was at the second mental health conference, which seemed an appropriate setting to road-test these ideas.

The hour-long workshop started with a lively one minute exercise (it’s a secret – you’ll have to come to a session if you want to find out!) designed to show that you can lift the mood of a room full of people in a short space time. Perhaps this element worked a little too well as I found that participants seemed to be enjoying the exercise so much that they seemed reluctant to stop when the minute was up!


The five actions

Next, I gave a brief explanation of the five actions that individuals can incorporate into their day-to-day lives that are important to maintaining wellbeing:

  1. Give – spending time on others. For example, doing something for a friend or stranger.
  2. Keep learning – Trying something new. Such as signing up for a course or learning a musical instrument.
  3. Take notice – noticing the remarkable in your environment, savouring the moment – and reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
  4. Connect - Connecting with those around you – your colleagues, family, friends, neighbours.
  5. Be active – going for a walk in your lunch break, gardening, swimming, setting up a running club.

Then the workshop got more interactive. In pairs, participants identified the opportunities in Lewisham for service users and staff to engage in Five Ways to Wellbeing activities. Examples of this included: ‘giving’ – by volunteering time at a local charity; and ‘keep learning’ – by attending training or an evening class.

Feedback at the end of the session indicated that participants wanted to learn more about promoting wellbeing and, in particular, about understanding the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Feedback from participants was encouraging and included: "Very interesting”; "I enjoyed this workshop. Very interactive”; "Lovely workshop.”

Workshop participants will be contacted shortly about how they can learn more and how they can join the Lewisham Five Ways to Wellbeing Network that I’m setting up through my work at Voluntary Action Lewisham.

We will be holding further sessions explaining the Five Ways to Wellbeing. If you wish to be involved please contact me at