Three evidence-based daily habits for wellbeing and happiness


This week I spoke with Megan McDonough CEO and co-founder along with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of the Wholebeing Institute. Megan is here in Australia working with Justin Robinson the director of the Institute of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School. They’re promoting the Australian version of the Certificate in Whole-Person Positive Psychology (CiPP). Which by the way looks fabulous … and if I wasn’t so busy building my own program I’d sign up on the spot!!!

Megan approaches well-being from a broader perspective than the traditional ‘what’s wrong’ focus of looking solely at pathology, disease and illness. This ‘what’s right’ focus is the basis of Positive Psychology the science that studies individual and societal flourishing, and on cultivating happiness, strengths, self-esteem and optimism.

SPIRE – a framework for wellbeing

Much of Megan’s work is based around the framework SPIRE.

“SPIRE focuses on the whole person which encompasses spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional well-being. It is only by taking into account the whole person that the greatest wellbeing can be realized.”

To reach the highest point a person is capable of, and the deepest connection to self, one requires a focus on five measures:

  1. Spiritual Well-being: Leading a meaningful and moral life and living mindfully, while contributing to the greater good.
  2. Physical Well-being: Cultivating a healthy body through exercise, nutrition, and adequate rest and recovery.
  3. Intellectual Well-being: Acquiring knowledge, engaging in rigorous scholarship, cultivating creativity, and fostering the love of learning.
  4. Relational Well-being: Contributing to, and in turn, benefiting from other people by focusing on the role that the person plays in his or her social environment.
  5. Emotional Well-being: Increasing one’s ability to experience pleasurable emotions while acquiring the resilience necessary to effectively deal with painful emotions.

Megan’s three daily habits to achieve wellbeing

I asked Megan for her top three evidence-based daily habits for achieving optimal wellbeing:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.

“As you know Rick Hanson says our brain is ‘Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good’ [yes, I am aware this idea is following me around! SM], so every night in your gratitude journal write down what went well, what you’re grateful for.  I know it sounds like very simple advice, something your grandmother would give, but its good solid advice.”

2. Know and play to your strengths

“Another thing I like to do is to do some ‘strength spotting’. A very powerful way to look at yourself and others is through the lens of character strengths. An organisation called Via offers a free character strengths assessment online. One daily practices is to actively engage these strengths. When people engage their strengths they report they feel authentic, they feel themselves, they say ‘It feels easy to be me’. Knowing and identifying your strengths is easy and powerful tool.”

3. Cultivate awareness by being mindful of the moment

“Awareness and being mindful and opening up the lens of our perception to take in more information allows us to see choices that we couldn’t see before. You can direct your focus to become more actively engaged, interested, and curious with each moment.”

Sage advice from a wise lady!

I took Megan’s second piece of advice and did the strengths assessment.  Here are my top 5 character strengths as assessed by Via (I’d say they’re fairly accurate!!):

  1. Love Of Learning You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
  2. Judgment Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.
  3. Hope You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.
  4. Bravery You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.
  5. Love You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

If like me you’re very brave (who knew?) then feel free to share your strengths!

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  1. Megan McDonough on March 4, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Sarah, I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion and appreciate the wonderful work you do to make neuroscience so accessible to all. Thank you!

    • Sarah McKay on March 4, 2015 at 10:43 am

      Hi Megan – likewise! Delighted we got the chance to talk.

  2. Maureen Collibee on March 8, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing these treasures. I hang onto every word and it lifts my spirit to read your thoughts. Very much appreciated.

    • Sarah McKay on March 8, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      You’re so welcome Maureen. Thanks for your kind words – made my evening 🙂

  3. caroline on March 9, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Sarah

    love this and sharing on my biz facebook page – the balancedapproach.

    A little aside I was putting the finishing touches to module 3 of my online program when your email came about your time spent with Dr Rick Hansen – I ‘borrowed” his quote about “our thoughts can structure our brains” as module 3 for me is all about mindset, subconscious mind and beliefs systems etc. Timing was perfect. And by the way I mentioned you too and your website if my audience want to learn more about all things brain! I hope that is OK – if not please let me know as I’ve yet to do the audio at the moment its script!!

    Have a fab Monday!

  4. Shirley Woods on March 10, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for all the helpful information! I do teach Ageless Grace and am enjoying the benefits and also helping others! I look forward to more learning! I love learning and have always!


  5. rachel on March 10, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    hi Sarah, thankyou so much for sharing this, very timely for me at the moment while i work on my own positive psychology and try to incorporate this into my leadership role. I took the survey and my top five traits (actually six as i had equal score the last two) are:

    Kindness (Score: 5)
    You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too
    busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others,
    even if you do not know them well.
    Love (Score: 4.8)
    You value close relationships with others, in particular those
    in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to
    whom you feel most close also feel most close to you.
    Honesty (Score: 4.4)
    You are an honest person, not only because you speak the
    truth but also because you live your life in a genuine and
    authentic way. You are down to earth and unpretentious; you
    are a “real” person.
    Fairness (Score: 4.2)
    Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You
    do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about
    other people. You give everyone a chance.
    Forgiveness (Score: 4.2)
    You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give
    people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy, not
    Social Intelligence (Score: 4.2)
    You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people.
    You know what to do to fit in with different social situations,
    and you know what to do to put others at ease.

    • Sarah McKay on March 10, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      Cool …. does it sound like you to you??

      • Rachel on March 10, 2015 at 9:51 pm

        Indeed it does. One of my managers did it this afternoon and it was spot on too – so to use this info day to day

        • Sarah McKay on March 12, 2015 at 1:51 pm

          I get to use ‘love of learning’ every day … happy me 🙂

  6. Jo on March 15, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Hi Sarah, this information is just so powerful. I am currently challenged by what is basically bullying in the workplace and these strategies are helping me regain my confidence to fight back!

    Can’t tell you what a relief it is to be taking time to focus on my strengths and rebuild my confidence

    Many thanks

    • Sarah McKay on March 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      That is such great feedback Jo. I’m so glad this was of help to you 🙂

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