4 Keys to Wellbeing

These four cognitive lifehacks formed the cornerstone of a talk given at a meeting about mindfulness at work.


Richard Davidson, Ph.D., founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, recently outlined four keys to wellbeing during a presentation at the Mindfulness & Wellbeing at Work conference, presented by the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center — which adapted Davidson’s talk for its website.

Resilience is the rapidity with which we recover from adversity; some people recover slowly and other people recover more quickly. We know that individuals who show a more rapid recovery in certain key neural circuits have higher levels of wellbeing. They are protected in many ways from the adverse consequences of life’s slings and arrows.

The second key to wellbeing — outlook — is in many ways the flipside of the first one. I use “outlook” to refer to the ability to see the positive in others, the ability to savor positive experiences, the ability to see another human being as a human being who has innate basic goodness.

Across a large group of adults in America, researchers found that people spend an average of 47 percent of their waking life not paying attention to what they’re doing. Forty-seven percent of the time! Can you envision a world where that number goes down a little, by even 5 percent? Imagine what impact that might have on productivity, on showing up, on being present with another person and deeply listening.

There is now a plethora of data showing that when individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering wellbeing. These circuits get activated in a way that is more enduring than the way we respond to other positive incentives, such as winning a game or earning a prize.

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