Psychological well-being (PWB) is defined as one’s level of psychological happiness/health, encompassing life satisfaction, and feelings of accomplishment. At the risk of being dualistic and separating physical well-being from PWB, it is helpful to note that physical well-being encompasses physical health, including disease states, fitness level, and ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL). PWB encompasses the person’s perspective on life, including not only perceptions of physical health but also of self-esteem, self-efficacy, relationships with others, and satisfaction with life. A monistic perspective, wherein it is recognized that physical well-being and PWB are integrally interrelated, is preferable.
Subjective well-being (SWB) can be addressed from a primarily psychological perspective. Ed Diener suggested that SWB is comprised of the presence of positive affect, the absence of negative affect, and high levels of life satisfaction. However, research indicates physical well-being should be considered as well in evaluating PWB. The Roman poet Juvenal was correct in that mens sana in corpore sano (“a sound mind in a healthy body”) is most desirable. PWB can range on a continuum from the absence of well-being, identified as ill health or even mental illness in some cases, to optimal well-being, perhaps having attained the state of self-actualization described by Abraham Maslow. Many individuals will identify their PWB as being on the wellness side of the continuum. Striving toward one’s psychological potential and toward balance in one’s life and happiness (perhaps noting a positive psychology approach) might bring one closer to optimal PWB. Brian C. Focht also noted the connections of PWB to health-related quality of life (HRQOL). A “sound mind” can be examined from a number of perspectives within an exercise and sport psychology (SP) framework: assessment of physical capabilities, including fitness; social relationships; level of athletic or exercise identity; the balance in life across a variety of domains, including social, work or academic, and spiritual; and feelings of accomplishment and progress toward attainment of an individual’s potential.
The first perspective involves assessment of physical capabilities, including fitness. PWB is certainly affected by fitness level, both in terms of exercise and sport participation but also in an individual’s ability to perform ADL. Ability to perform ADL (e.g., self-care or personal hygiene, mobility, housework) will likely affect one’s PWB. Impairments in ability to perform ADL may decrease PWB due to decreased independence and subsequent reliance on others and/or assistive devices to help in accomplishing ADL. PWB would be expected to be high to the degree that one is fit enough (fitness encompassing cardiovascular capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility) to perform in preferred exercise and sport modalities. PWB level may be affected by goals. If a person is striving to improve exercise or sport performance, then increases in PWB would accompany increases in fitness (perhaps also tied into performance, which may encompass skill development in aspects of a given exercise or sport, such as the backhand stroke in tennis). Bonnie G. Berger and David A. Tobar addressed physical activity (PA) and quality of life (QOL) more extensively.
In terms of social relationships, most individuals desire some level of social interaction (e.g., No man is an island). PWB would be expected to be higher if a person has the level of social interaction desired. If an individual has fewer close friends than desired, however, then PWB would be expected to be lower. Social relationships and social interactions are often found in exercise and sport settings; examples include friendly get togethers for a Sunday basketball game or a bicycle ride in one’s area, or attending a local sporting event. Exercise or sport can be an excellent vehicle for meeting people, such as at a local health club or fitness center or at participatory events such as running road races or triathlons.
Athletic or exercise identity refers to the degree to which one identifies as an exerciser or athlete. The greater an individual’s identity is tied to her or his exercise or athletic existence, the greater PWB is likely to be affected by exercise or athletic performance as well as injuries or illnesses that might make participation challenging. Research indicates the desirability of individuals having other coping strategies for times when the exercise or athletic component of their lives is not going as well as desired.
Of particular importance is the balance in one’s life across a variety of domains, including social, work or academic, and spiritual. Life is a balance of the roles we play—work, family, religious or spiritual, exercise or sport, to name primary ones. Concerns might be raised if exercise–athletic identity is primary and other important areas of a person’s existence are excluded. It is important to attempt to be nonjudgmental and know the individual before deciding if someone’s life appears out of balance. If someone’s PWB is high due to the high priority given to one area of their existence (such as exercise or sport), then this should be acknowledged, assuming this is a conscious choice on the part of the individual. Sometimes, however, individuals find themselves drifting into one area of primacy, while neglecting other areas unintentionally. This can lead to exercise addiction in some cases, where a person has lost control of the activity and her or his life is seemingly governed by exercise or sport. A conscious decision-making process on allocation of time and energy to the various important areas of one’s life, including the role of exercise and sport participation, is critical to PWB.
Feelings of accomplishment and potential attainment of a person’s potential is also related to PWB. PWB may be tied to satisfaction with life— that is, has the person accomplished or attained the goals that were set? Has the person reached her or his potential in one or more of life’s domains, as noted previously? To the degree that the person has, then her or his PWB would be expected to be higher. This can encompass exercise or sport as well—attaining one’s goals and reaching one’s potential in preferred exercise or sport pursuit(s) contributes to enhanced PWB.
In summary, PWB is affected by an array of factors associated with physical and mental health. Exercise and PA and sport play key roles in both physical and mental health, and therefore have profound effects on PWB.
- Berger, B. G., & Tobar, D. A. (2007). Physical activity and quality of life: Key considerations. In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 598–620). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- Diener, E. (1994). Assessing subjective well-being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research, 31, 103–157.
- Focht, B. C. (2012). Exercise and health-related quality of life. In E. O. Acevedo (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of exercise psychology (pp. 97–116). New York: Oxford University Press.
- Sachs, M. L., & Pargman, D. (1984). Running addiction. In M. L. Sachs & G. W. Buffone (Eds.), Running as therapy: An integrated approach (pp. 231–252). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
- Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press/Simon & Schuster.