When people hear the word ‘health’, they almost invariably think of medical conditions and the treatment and prevention of disorders. In this chapter, however, we focus on what leads to good health and wellbeing, examining the individual and social determinants of good physical and mental health. Individual factors associated with good health and longer life expectancy include positive emotions and positive attitudes; having a sense of autonomy, competence, and meaning; and above all, having close social connections. We show that the mind and body always interact – physical health has an effect on mental states, and our mental states effect our physical health and physiology. We show how both physical states, and mental states such as stress can be improved through the foundational skills of mindfulness and compassion towards ourselves and others. Research on the social determinants of health shows populations are healthier when people are free from insecurity, exclusion and deprivation, and can play a full and useful role in their society’s economic, social and cultural life. Taking a whole of society approach to health, and engaging the public in the co-creation of health, are approaches that can optimise health for all.

Shauna Shapiro (2017) The Power of Mindfulness: What you practice grows stronger. TEDx.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas Talk (2013) Compassion in the Brain. UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Centre

Felicia Huppert (2020) Wellbeing is contagious too: Inner strength and compassion during and after COVID-19. Prevention United webinar series.

Kelly McGonigal (2013) How to make stress your friend. TEDx.

Richard Ryan (2012) Facilitating Children’s motivation and wellness. University of Queensland

Michael Marmot (2018) Social Justice and Health Equity. UC Berkeley

WHO (1986) Ottawa charter for health promotion. World Health Organization.

Towards positive health

Both physical and mental health matter

How much does health depend on our healthcare system?

Individual factors that influence health

Body and mind always interact
Managing stress and pain
Mindfulness and compassion as foundations of physical and mental heath

Social determinants of health

A whole of society approach to health

Co-creating health