Dr Phil Hammond, broadcaster and GP turned hospital doctor

How are you getting on with the Five Ways to Wellbeing? If you’ve never heard of them, you’re way behind the curve. The project was commissioned 5 years ago by the Government’s Foresight project (see www.neweconomics.org/projects/entry/five-ways-to-well-being). The result was five evidence-based ways towards wellbeing that just about anyone can do, irrespective of economic status—and remember CLANG!

CONNECT … With the people around you. Family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. At home, work, school, or in your local community. Think of these people as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building connections will support and enrich you every day.

Keep LEARNING … Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident and be fun.

Be ACTIVE … Go for a walk or run. Cycle. Play a game. Do some gardening. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good, so discover a physical activity you enjoy that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

Take NOTICE … Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch, or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and your feelings. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

GIVE … Do something nice for a friend, or stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Seeing yourself linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

What I like about these recommendations is that they embody the spirit of mindfulness. Many definitions of health are goal-driven. Health is seen as a measure of the gap between our aspirations and expectations, and what we actually achieve. But if our parents, teachers, or employers set unrealistic targets that we can never hope to achieve, we constantly feel like failures and it has a profound effect on our mental and physical health.

Mindfulness requires us to be in the here and now, not miles away. The NHS is full of workaholics who simply don’t have the time to take notice of their surroundings. We don’t take time to marvel at the colours of the autumn leaves, or a patient’s eyes, or to spot an avoidable error that is staring us in the face because we are rushed off our feet and always on to the next task. This is where patients and carers can help. By welcoming them to the team, we can use their eyes, ears, and experiences to spot errors and improve care. Indeed, the NHS is so short-staffed, and the problems it faces so overwhelming, I don’t think it can survive without asking patients and relatives for help. And most are more than happy to give it.

Why? Because giving is fundamental to mental health. When you add up the number of carers, volunteers, and staff in the NHS and social care, it’s the biggest workforce in the world. If we could somehow mobilise our collective ‘CLANG’, it would have a profound effect on improving the health of workers, carers, and patients. But to get there, we in the NHS have to do what many tough, invincible patients are very bad at. We have to admit we need help. Do that, and we’ll find there are millions of people out there prepared to give it. I’m a patron of a wonderful charity called Kissing It Better (www.kissingitbetter.co.uk), which uses community volunteers to put fun, compassion, and painted nails back into hospitals and care homes. A brilliant idea, hampered only by the defensive, fearful mindset in some parts of the NHS. Time to open up, ditch the fear, and welcome everyone to ‘Team CLANG’!

  1. New Economics Foundation website. Five ways to well-being: the evidence. www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/five-ways-to-well-being-the-evidence (accessed 28 November 2013). G