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Windows to Wellbeing: methodology and impact
Helene Joffe, Project Lead (Psychology)
Sophie Bostock (Epidemiology & Public Health)
Tse-Hui Teh (Bartlett School of Planning)
Caroline Bradley (Psychology)
The Windows to Wellbeing project was the result of a prize given by the UCL Human Wellbeing Grand Challenge/CRUCIBLE for the best wellbeing project proposal in 2012. The prize was a small grant to run an intervention for new students at UCL and also for people at the end of their UCL careers, to ascertain whether wellbeing could be improved for people undergoing these periods of change. In comparison to before the intervention, anxiety was reduced significantly in the participants three months after the intervention. The three month follow-up also showed that life satisfaction had increased significantly in the participants and the tendency to ruminate had decreased. Thus the intervention appears to have been successful in increasing wellbeing.
This project was designed and run by three UCL researchers and assisted by Caroline Bradley, a research assistant (RA) based in psychology. The researchers were Professor Helene Joffe (PI), a professor (appointment from September 2013) in Psychology whose work focuses on public engagement with risk and wellbeing, Sophie Bostock a PhD student from the department of Epidemiology & Public Health, whose research focuses on the psychobiological mechanisms linking wellbeing and cardiovascular disease and Dr Tse-Hui The, a lecturer from the Bartlett School of Planning, whose work focuses on urban design of spaces that are conducive to wellbeing. An initial collaborator on the project was Dr Matthew Pope from the UCL Archaeology Department however due to field work commitments Dr Pope was unable to continue his involvement with the project.
Psychology has studied dysfunction and mental illness to the detriment of examining how people function well and effectively; what makes people happy? In recent years, however, there has been increasing interest in how wellbeing can be facilitated within the burgeoning field of positive psychology. This shift is motivated by the possibility of enhancing wellbeing among the general population, both in terms of feeling good and functioning well (Huppert, 2009).
In 2009, the UK government commissioned the ‘think and do tank’ New Economics Foundation (NEF) to summarise the evidence, collected and evaluated by the 2008 Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing and produce a public friendly health message. The specific focus was on actions that individuals could carry out to improve their personal wellbeing. This report combined the latest academic evidence with advice from experts in the wellbeing field, reducing multiple factors and evidence-based interventions to a five factor message, ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. These were “Connect”, “Be active”, “Take notice”, “Keep learning” and “Give”. Previous research has found that multiple factors are predictive of psychological wellbeing, however in order to produce an easily communicable message the NEF report aimed to reduce these to five, evidence-based factors that were universally appealing and individual-focused. Importantly, the basis of these recommendations offers a variety of ways in which people can improve their wellbeing. Early wellbeing research suggested that individuals’ happiness levels were largely genetically determined. Thus, although a change in behaviour could modify this for a short time, eventually this effect would reduce as people would adapt and revert back to their genetically predetermined happiness levels (Costa et al., 1987). The ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ operates from a different assumption: that wellbeing can be altered permanently. It aims to provide a wide variety of novel ways to encourage improved wellbeing.
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