With our learning community at Learn with Sue, we recently explored the concept of Wellbeing Literacy. The discussion sparked some interesting questions surrounding the power of language.

If you are here reading our blog, you probably have some knowledge of positive psychology – and have developed language to match. The enquiry into wellbeing literacy considers people who have less vocabulary or comprehension surrounding the topic. If research shows that positive language leads to positive wellbeing, how does wellbeing literacy affect us as individuals?

When your mother tongue is English, you naturally form word associations and attach meaning to English words. If other languages assign gender to certain emotions or objects, how does this affect our relationship with them?

It is intriguing to discover words in different languages, where we have no direct English equivalent. For example, the term ‘La Passeggiata’ in Italian, a simplified translation, means a leisurely walk or stroll.  Although, the authentic Italian meaning is a leisurely walk or stroll, especially in the evening, with the purpose of connection. The indigenous word ‘Dadirri’ translates to deep listening, and the cultural context includes spiritual awareness and waiting. Acknowledging words that don’t directly translate to English highlights how language can alter our understanding of wellbeing practices.

Studies have shown how we express ourselves affects how our message is received and that using positive language can kick-start the motivational centres of our brain. It is also documented that our internal dialogue can significantly affect our overall sense of wellbeing.  We can therefore use positive language as a tool to actively construct our own psychological and social realities. With this, we see how understanding the significance of wellbeing literacy can shape human experiences.

Whether scrolling past motivational memes on social media, digesting feel-good advertising messaging or taking part in workplace wellness initiatives – many of us are inundated with wellbeing language at every turn. With the explosion of the wellness industry, words such as mindfulness and meditation have become part of our daily vocabulary. This trend has been turbocharged by the uncertainty and isolation COVID-19 has brought to our communities, along with our continued desire for wellbeing.


Away from the mainstream appetite for wellness, the definition of wellbeing literacy is carefully constructed.

To explore the meaning in more detail, let’s first break down how we define this term. Literacy has traditionally meant “the ability to read and write”. Considering that wellbeing communication is a social practice that is not necessarily shared in the written word, here we broaden the definition of ‘literacy’ to include the socio-cultural language surrounding wellbeing.

“Wellbeing literacy is defined as a capability to comprehend and compose wellbeing language, across contexts, with the intention of using such language to maintain or improve the wellbeing of oneself, or others or the world.”

(Oades, Jarden, Hou, Ozturk, Williams, Slemp & Huang, 2021)

From this definition, we can see wellbeing language is multifaceted and requires the intention of improving wellbeing combined with the ability to compose language across contexts.

The five components of wellbeing literacy highlight how this capability is different between individuals. Does the ability we have to use language that describes and encourages wellbeing translate to our experience of wellbeing? When we consider that wellbeing literacy is a capability (something that we have or do not have in varying degrees), it highlights the complexity of the subject – Is wellbeing literacy a driver of wellbeing outcomes?

We must also consider the meaning attached to ‘wellbeing’. The concept is both subjective and culturally specific. For example, the measure of life satisfaction in one part of the world may be vastly different to that of another. The language used to speak to a young child about positive psychology may differ significantly from discussing it with an adult.

“Freedom to choose what wellbeing means to a person and choice in how that is maximized via language and knowledge. Wellbeing is highly individual, and the freedom and choice to decide what wellbeing means to them is essential to wellbeing itself.” (Oades et al, 2021).

Language is a vehicle for transporting ideas and thoughts between people and processing information within one’s mind as a communication system. If people can develop language capability related to wellbeing, they have more choices about their construction of wellbeing through language.

Here at the Langley Group, we are highly motivated by this concept. We live and breathe wellbeing literacy in our daily work in the belief that it will propel teams and individuals towards positive outcomes. Perhaps something to ponder in your ‘passeggiata’ this evening!

Learn with Sue is an online membership like no other. Interact with the brightest minds in positive psychology who have dedicated years to identify the secrets of “what makes a good life” both personally and professionally. Access a library of resources, tools, and tips to help you implement the science to boost your wellbeing. For more information about a Learn with Sue membership visit Learn with Sue