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A Recipe for Wellbeing – Three ‘Basic’ Ingredients?

In a time where so much is outside of our control, many people find themselves grappling with the concept of what is really important, and struggling to find the motivation to do what we’re told we “should” be doing.

As we all adjust to a changing world, some of us have turned our efforts to creating something comforting at home. Sourdough anyone?

With just a little bit of attention every day, three simple ingredients; flour, water and salt, can grow into something that will nourish you and your loved-ones time and time again.  Similarly, a little bit of self-care approached in the right way can work wonders for our wellbeing, and for many this has never been more important!

The concept of ‘wellbeing’ is widely discussed. We’ve all heard about it. We all want it, and many of us spend a great deal of time and money trying to get it. However, when we pause and reflect on our own lives and those of the people around us, it turns out that achieving wellbeing is not as simple as buttering a slice of bread.

We logically know that being healthy and doing all the right ‘things’ will enhance our quality of life, but why do some people find this so easy and others so difficult? These “go-getters” are the same people who get energised by life’s challenges and strive for excellence in the things they do. They have good mental health and are satisfied with the lives they have. These people, while we do admire them, can leave us wondering “what am I missing?”. Well, what if ‘thriving’ instead of simply ‘surviving’ was simpler than we thought?

I’d like to share with you one recipe that I’ve come across for wellbeing. It lies at the heart of Self-Determination Theory and has been triple tested by world renown wellbeing experts. You might just find that it’s worth a try!

Self-Determination Theory tells us that everybody is naturally motivated to be active and cultivate skills and knowledge, provided that three basic psychological needs are adequately fulfilled. Plain and simple, 1 + 2 = wellbeing. Right?

Our three ingredients are……

  1. Autonomy (1-cup), involves feeling ownership over the things we do. It is not about doing what we want when we want, but having opportunities to create alignment between our values and our actions. Autonomy is supported when we have meaningful rationale for the things we do, or when we have freedom of choice with the decisions we make. It can be the small things that nurture our basic need for autonomy, such as doing things in our own time or by approaching a task ‘our way’, rather than having the process prescribed to us.
  2. Relatedness (1/2-cup), is achieved when we develop meaningful connections with others and achieve a genuine sense of belonging within our social contexts. This could be with family, friends, workplace colleagues or members of the community. Relationships that enhance this key ingredient are supportive, reliable, warm and involve personal attention.
  3. Competence (3 tsp), is fulfilled when we feel effective within our surroundings and have opportunities to apply our skills and enhance our knowledge. It is not about achievement, but is rather a personal satisfaction that we experience when we feel masterful. Our need for competence is fostered when we feel effective, this may come from receiving positive feedback on our efforts, or when we feel capable to succeed.

A growing body of literature supporting Self-Determination Theory shows how satisfaction of our needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence leads to positive health outcomes.

For children and adolescents, our three ingredients have been shown to enhance:

  • effort at school and interest in learning
  • self-belief and identity formation
  • resilience to adverse experiences
  • personality formation and cognitive functioning
  • psychological wellbeing
  • perceptions of family and friends relationships

In adults, they have been shown to enhance:

  • intrinsic motivation and self-belief
  • workplace wellbeing and job satisfaction
  • personal effectiveness
  • emotional and psychological functioning

By combining these three ingredients our innate drive is activated, and motivation is realised. This positive reinforcement drives us to naturally seek more autonomy, competence and relatedness, creating a self-maintaining cycle. So, if I stick to my bread metaphor, you’ll keep reaching for another slice!

So how are your environments nurturing, or thwarting your basic psychological needs and what are you doing to support those of the people around you? While it isn’t as simple as ‘just add water, flour and salt’, these three ingredients provide a recipe for wellbeing that promises to satisfy!



Pfeiffer, M. (2020). Enhancing Adolescent Self-Concept, Life Effectiveness and Locus of Control: The Immediate and Lasting Effects of Outdoor Adventure Education. PhD Thesis, Aust, Catholic University.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Publishing.

Mathew Pfeiffer
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