Four science-based keys to well-being – and how you can practise them

Four keys to well-being: resilience, positive outlook, focus and generosity

In 2015, Dr Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, spoke at an event called Mindfulness & Well-Being at Work. In his talk, he described what he sees as the four science-based keys to well-being.

The effects of each of these four elements on the neuro-circuits of your brain can be physically measured. These neural circuits all exhibit what scientists call neuro-plasticity. This means that the circuits can be altered. Most importantly for your well-being, they can be strengthened by exercising them.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at these key elements and suggest some practices that can help you increase your own sense of well-being.

1: Resilience

Resilience can be defined as the speed with which you recover from adversity. Developing resilience helps protect you from life’s inevitable trials and tribulations.

Simple mindfulness meditation practices can change your powers of resilience. However, unlike the other three key elements, resilience can take significant time to develop; changes aren’t going to show in your neuro-circuitry quickly. The benefits of developing resilience through a mindfulness practice, though, can be a major motivator to keep you going.

2: A positive outlook

Having a positive outlook includes:

  • Being able to see the positive in other people, and
  • Having the ability to savour positive experiences.

Research shows that simple kindness and compassion meditation practices may alter your neuro-circuitry quite quickly. Even modest amounts of this practice – as little as seven hours of training over two weeks – can make a measurable change.

To get started, try this loving kindness meditation from

3: Focusing your attention

Research has shown that a wandering mind is often an unhappy mind. The importance of training the wandering mind was recognised as long ago as 1890 by the American philosopher and psychologist, William James, who wrote:

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will…. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Learning to pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment, listening deeply to other people and being aware of what’s going on in your mind and body can help you:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Enhance your memory and your ability to focus, and
  • Encourage feelings of well-being and happiness.

Get started with this five-minute breathing meditation from

4: Generosity

Extensive research has been carried out on the effect on the brain of practising generosity. Being generous has been shown to activate circuits in the brain that are essential to fostering well-being. In addition, these circuits are activated in a way that lasts – the effects are not short-lived.

If you’d like some inspiration to get you started, read Seven tips for fostering generosity, by Jeremy Adam Smith.

Enhancing your well-being

The welcome conclusion to all of this is that enhancing your well-being is a skill. You can learn this skill and, with practice, get better and better at it! You can shape your own brain.

To find out more, watch this extract from Dr Richardson’s talk:


To learn how to practise mindfulness, book onto a Mindfulness Association-approved course or get one-to-one coaching from a Mindfulness Association teacher.

Free weekly pebble

Sign up for our newsletter and receive a beautiful message on a pebble every week:

  • Plus, you'll get the latest news on mindfulness courses and special offers.

Bring a moment of balance and calm into your everyday life with a weekly mindfulness reminder.