What is Wellbeing?

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Wellbeing is a personal choice. It is not something that we are given, but a choice that we can make. No matter what conditions we are in, it is a choice that is available if one is conscious of it. Designer Elina Grigoriou, who knows what’s what when it comes to the subject, having recently published a book – ‘Wellbeing in Interiors – Philosophy, Design and Value in Practice’ – presents us with a perfect introduction to our wellbeing spotlight.

What is also true is that unless we have comfort in our state, and through the setup of our surroundings, then we are using our resilience to achieve it.

It is a binary situation, if we do not have comfort, then we can’t sustain our wellbeing. We only have so much resilience in us and it is topped up by moments of wellbeing in equal measure. So a design that aims for occupant comfort and meets their preferred type of beauty will support their wellbeing.

But what is wellbeing?

We tend to talk about it quite a lot these days, but do we personally know what it is and how we are meant to feel or how occupants are supposed to feel when they achieve their wellbeing in an interior we have designed?

When I set off to find out how to design interiors for wellbeing, I realised very quickly that without knowing what exact feelings, state and actions I was trying to support, I was looking with my eyes shut.

To define wellbeing, we need to delve into human states of existence – aka existential issues! This is because it is describing a state of ‘being’ and not something purely physical. It is describing a state of flourishing and freedom combined. This state of being is experienced in all the parts that make up a human being: the physical body, the emotional centre/heart and the cognitive mind. So what states do these three need to be in, in order to sing together and create a state we call wellbeing?

In my research on this issue I delved into philosophy for an understanding of the human make-up that lies beyond just the physical, with answers on what happiness is and what is ‘good’ and so on – and there I found a description that provided the target needed and the answer to what wellbeing is. I extract and share findings from my recent book, Wellbeing in Interiors:

Wellbeing is a state where there is a feeling of wellness and happiness in all three parts of the self. Wellbeing is where: the body feels light, healthy, refreshed, agile, alert and at ease, the mind is clear, bright, perceptive and efficient, information and analysis can happen easily, learning is effortless, we have the ability to use our faculty of reason effectively and our memory is fresh, and the emotions are clear, we respond to others around us, where generosity, positivity and a sense of unity exists, where love and care occur naturally without expecting a return. [1]

So when we are working on the design of an interior or an aspect of it, keeping in mind the result we wish users to experience is key to supporting occupant wellbeing.

If we are designing chairs, floor or wall finishes, taps or lighting, we can ask ourselves how these will support the above result for the specific users.

Knowing the users is another key part of designing for wellbeing. A design that supports occupant wellbeing needs to harmonise with the users within it. To provide them what they may lack or not over-provide something they already have. This becomes clearer when we are creating stimulation – for example, through the effect of the interior design on users; if users are already stimulated and the tasks to be undertaken in the interior, which may be a workplace and require concentration, then the interior design needs less stimulation than it would otherwise. This type of user knowledge can be collated by creating user personas and captured in user profiles.

If we want to create ‘good design’ then that is one that supports wellbeing. To support wellbeing we need to know the users, what levels of comfort they need and where. We need to know what type of beauty they find attractive, and what the individual spaces they will occupy are going to be used for.

Design is a wonderful tool for doing good – and it’s just now starting to become exciting!

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‘Wellbeing in Interiors – Philosophy, Design and Value in Practice’ is published by RIBA Publishing and can be found through all major and local bookshops.

[1] The adapted description is based on text provided by the School of Philosophy & Economic Science www.schoolofphilosophy.org