The link between Vietnam, the New Economics Foundation and Wellbeing
I enjoy travelling – it makes me feel good. Yet, the feeling goes the moment I step back into my ordinary life and rhythms.
Over a month ago, the time had arrived for my trip to Vietnam. But being in tune with my “Western life”, I was reluctant to go as I had to put on hold all my responsibilities. At the same time, I had considerable reservations and preconceptions about the course of this “out of the ordinary” trip.
I returned from Vietnam with an enhanced sense of wellbeing. In other words, I had achieved “a state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy” (www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/well-being). When I realised this change in myself I found it fascinating and the observation led me to embark on a mental exercise.
Of course, what defines the state of wellbeing for one person might not necessarily be the same for another but there must be a certain process in the pursuit of our wellbeing that we must share as humans. So, what was different about this trip, what were the elements that contributed to this long-lasting change, and how can I pass this information on to my clients who seek to achieve a state of wellbeing in their lives?
For answers, I looked back at those days in Vietnam.
We were a group of around 50 people, most of whom were strangers to one another, yet we were embarking on an adventure together, aiming to reach Saigon from Ha Noi.
- waking up 6:00am every day to drive a M15A2 jeep (abandoned by the Americans after the war) through the city traffic and rural areas for anything between 100 and 300km, with temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and staying at different places each night;
- embracing the local cuisine and hospitality that differed in standards, requiring a great degree of adaptability and adjustment;
- having to stay hydrated and fall into the habit of keeping an eye on each other whilst on the road, in case a car in our group broke down or there was a need for something;
- witnessing scenes of everyday rural life that shocked us and visiting war museums, caves, and cities where we learned a lot about the local history, culture, ethos, and natural landscapes;
- blending with locals, encouraged by the fact that they were so inviting and welcoming;
- gathering together in the evenings as a group over food and drinks to exchange our experience of the day and share our stories;
- taking our time to experience moments when a new taste, a red full moon, a different smell in the air caught our attention.
This was not a passive trip; it was physically demanding, emotionally challenging, and required continuous engagement in connecting, learning, adapting, contributing, and experiencing, both on a personal as well as on a social level.
So, where did my subsequent sense of wellbeing derive from?
I reflected that the concept of wellbeing was once a question in the realm of philosophy. Philosophers since Aristotle have been trying to identify ways to achieve it. However, over time this question moved under the microscope of science. Numerous studies around the world have built up evidence as to what contributes to the quality of people’s experiences of their lives.
In 2008, the New Economics Foundation ran a study drawing on state-of-the-art research about mental capital and mental wellbeing through life which resulted in the Five Ways to Wellbeing.
- Learn: being exposed to new information and mastering new skills;
- Be active: undertaking regular physical exercise;
- Take notice: broadening awareness of your experiences as they are occurring;
- Connect: feeling close to and valued by other people;
- Give: offering acts of kindness.
Looking back at my trip, I realised how in those few days that I was in Vietnam I actively, although subconsciously, engaged in all the 5 Ways, which had a direct impact on my sense of wellbeing.
I learned so much about this exciting country, its history and culture. I mastered a new skill by learning how to drive in streets and under environmental conditions that I was never exposed to before. I showed the stamina to carry on with this task until the end. Both these experiences gave me a sense of achievement. I showed resilience by being active and keeping up with the schedule and its physical demands. This made me feel healthy and full of energy. I felt welcomed by the people of my group and felt connected to them through the days we shared and the memories we created. I felt valued and enjoyed the happiness I gave, even unintentionally, to locals just because I was driving through their village and responding to their salutations. I respected them back for the modesty, strength, kindness, warmness, and humanity they showed us. I cherished the moments I noticed a new taste or a beautiful image that imprinted in my mind as a vivid memory in a way that a picture often fails to capture.
Oh! The Great Five!
So I concluded, what if these five ways represent the process, or the “vehicle” if you want, via which we can reach wellbeing? Then, perhaps we can pursue it and maintain it by consciously and actively choosing on a regular basis:
- what we want to learn
- how we want to be active
- what we want to notice
- how we can connect with others
- what we want to give out
In my eyes, all these together are encompassed within two simple words: STAY INTERESTED.
Once, someone told me that anything of truly great value has great subtlety regardless of whether if it looks simple and easy on the surface. It seems to me that this is also true for our endeavours to achieve and maintain wellbeing.
Why don’t you give it a try and see if these great five could work for you?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli founded My Psychology Clinic where she gained her reputation working as Clinical Psychologist with clients on one to one basis in London and worldwide via online therapy. She specialises in adult mental health and couples therapy. Studied at the universities of East London, Oxford and Cambridge and trained at the Institute of Psychiatry where she worked across world-renowned NHS Trusts.
Click here to book an online session or in person with Dr Patapia Tzotzoli at My Psychology Clinic.