What really matters, part two

What really matters: well-being

We’re drowning in this stuff. Ten steps to this, four ways to that. I like that Gallup has for decades teamed up with other organizations, economists, psychologists, and scientists, to understand the elements of a life well-lived — how we experience our lives and the things that are important to us — and they’ve kept it data-based and fad-free. While global well-being research informs broader societal decisions for employees, communities, and countries, it’s helpful for us to be reminded of what really matters, as we often operate on autopilot in our busy and distracted lives.

Five Things

The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index measures well-being based on the five elements below and categorizes people as Thriving: well-being that is strong and consistent, Struggling: well-being that is moderate or inconsistent, or Suffering: well-being that is low and inconsistent.

Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals. People can attain this working for themselves or an organization, caring for family, pursuing an education, volunteering, or other endeavors.

Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life. These relationships can be with family, friends, or anyone a person feels emotionally connected to and can rely on in difficult times. The data says we need six hours a day of meaningful social interaction to thrive.

Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security. People thriving financially are generally satisfied with their overall standard of living and actively manage their finances. If basics are covered (that’s a must to thrive), spending on experiences and other people boosts well-being more than buying more stuff.

Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community. Feeling safe is table-stakes. Ways to interact socially and develop community spirit such as parks, restaurants, and sports fields come second, and a tolerant, open, and welcoming community is third. Actively engaging is necessary to thrive.

Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. Physical well-being is often a result of thriving in other areas. People are well-informed about healthy vs. unhealthy choices, have access to nutritious food, and have strategies for making good decisions.

As with physical well-being, these elements are all interconnected and dynamic. Jim Harter, Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Well-Being at Gallup, points out, “When you get the first two [purpose and social] right, you interpret your financial situation differently.”

The secrets of a long life circa 1959

George Gallup was tapped by the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1950’s to study centenarians and discover the secrets to their longevity if they existed. The results were published in 1959’s The Secrets of a Long Life. It’s a hoot to read — full of stories and anecdotes (and stereotypes) of the time, and jammed with tidbits of data.

29,000 US citizens were 95 years of age or older at the time of the study. (Life expectancy for those born in 1860 was 42 years.) Gallup sampled 402 of them: 152 men and 250 women (the M/F ratio of the 29,000). “We found them in every state in the continental United States, in hot climates and in cold, at high altitudes and at sea level, in cities and on farms.” The median age was 99; 2% were over 110. Some were born during the Civil War, and all endured the Great Depression. Over 90% were white, 8% were African-American. 70% of the men were farmers or laborers. 25% of the women worked as servants or did manual work, and the rest stayed at home “in a time when a woman was a housewife.” 3% were college grads. The average level of education for men was 7th grade, and 8th grade for women. “...only 7% were hazy, 26% were reported as “sometimes hazy,” while 66% were either “alert,” or “unusually alert.”

“If there are rules for living long — and it seems there are — they would include these: Don’t be fussy about your food, and never, ever overeat. Don’t worry. Work at a job you love, and if it gives you physical exercise, so much the better; if not, be sure to get your exercise — and lots of it — some other way,” Gallup summarized, and went on to say, “They have been honest, hardworking, law-abiding, religious citizens who have reared their children into useful adulthood. They have paid their taxes and have never upset the social order . . . These people loved their lives — almost every minute of them — and most of them still do.” While there were “single and rare exceptions to indicate that almost any kind of human behavior may result in a long life,” as a group they practiced “moderation in almost everything.”

Selected tidbits:

Working: 75% were extremely happy with their work and took pride in it. The typical man worked until he was eighty years old and averaged a 60 hour work week.

Eating & drinking: Almost 90% favored “just plain cooking . . . They are meat-and-potato people.” 50% ate fried food regularly. They used salt, butter, and ate bread. 60% had a sweet tooth. Almost four out of every five said they were always careful not to overeat and didn’t eat between meals. Nearly half never touched alcohol and the remainder were infrequent and extremely moderate drinkers, save just a few.

Sleeping: 85% slept at least 8 hours throughout their lives, while 16% got in 9 or 10 hours a night. 90% were early risers and they woke up bright and fresh. 70% liked fresh air at night.

Smoking: 68% never smoked. 14% were smoking at the time of the study.

Family: Over 80% reported extremely or fairly happy marriages; fewer than 5% were ever divorced. 94% said, “their home lives had always been quiet and peaceful and they’d always gotten along well with their relatives . . . Overall, their marriage partners and children had been their comfort and pride.”

Religion: 97% had religious affiliations; 73% described themselves as deeply religious all their lives. “To them, religion was not based on fear.”

Money: About a quarter reported worrying about money at some time in their lives, but “almost half said that more income would not have made them happier.” 71% owned their own homes, greater than the national average at the time.

Community: They did not participate in the “great westward migrations of the 19th century . . . They were happy where they were, happy with their jobs and neighbors, and stayed.” A quarter lived in cities, and the rest lived on farms, in villages or small cities.

Health: Nearly 60% never had a major illness. 13% had heart trouble (after 80). “They were a highly energized group.”

Temperament: 70% reported laughing a lot, and 60% whistled and sang to themselves. They didn’t worry. They didn’t get upset by little things.

Heredity: “Our study confirms the importance of heredity, but indicates that it might be less important than we have thought.”

So then what?

Work hard at what you love with no expiration date in mind. Connect. Love. Engage. Control the worry monster. Tend to your physical health and energy. Manage your money sensibly. Laugh. Sing (or your equivalent). Get a bunch of sleep. Love your life. Moderation. And, “Don’t be fussy about your food, and never, ever, overeat.”


Last week we explored What really matters, part one — what really matters at work. Today, we expanded to well-being. All based on Gallup research. Hope you enjoyed!

Sunday Morning Reflection

Gallup asked then and asks now: imagine a ladder with steps from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top is the best possible life. The bottom is the worst possible life. Where are you at on that ladder of life? Where do you think you’ll be in the next five years?

What’s your answer to those two questions?

People who answer 7 or above to the first question, and 8 or above to the second question are in a thriving state. About one-quarter of the world’s population is thriving.

Sunday Morning: 123