What is Wellbeing?

Simply put, it’s about ‘how we’re doing’ as individuals, communities and as a nation, and how sustainable that is for the future. It is sometimes referred to as social welfare or social value.

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What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is personal and subjective, but also universally relevant.

Wellbeing encompasses the environmental factors that affect us, and the experiences we have throughout our lives. These can fall into traditional policy areas of economy, health, education and so on. But wellbeing also crucially recognises the aspects of our lives that we determine ourselves: through our own capabilities as individuals; how we feel about ourselves; the quality of the relationships that we have with other people; and our sense of purpose.

These psychological needs are an important part of what makes us human, along with our ability to feel positive and negative emotions. It matters how often, and for how long, we experience positive emotions – such as pleasure and a sense of purpose – or potentially negative emotions, like anxiety.

If we accept that some aspects of wellbeing are subjective, we can better understand the interactions and trade-offs between different experiences. We can also take into account the longer-term effects and the different importance of these things to different people.

Part of the value of wellbeing as a concept is that wherever you are and whatever your cultural background or personal circumstances, people intuitively understand the value of happiness and wellbeing. But this universality that adapts to so many different contexts and perspectives, can sometimes make it difficult to share a common understanding of what exactly wellbeing is.

What is wellbeing?

Definition and measurement

Although there is ongoing debate about the definition of wellbeing, the Measuring National Wellbeing Programme at the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has asked people across the nation what matters most to them. The results have been organised into a live dashboard that you can find below, including measures of personal wellbeing or people’s assessments of their own quality of life and experiences. From the outset, this work has benefited from the expertise of leading academics from around the world and national debate within the UK.

The Centre builds on this solid foundation, using the following definition of wellbeing based on the work of ONS:

Wellbeing, put simply, is about ‘how we are doing’ as individuals, communities and as a nation and how sustainable this is for the future.

We define wellbeing as having 10 broad dimensions which have been shown to matter most to people in the UK as identified through a national debate. The dimensions are: the natural environment, personal well-being, our relationships, health, what we do, where we live, personal finance, the economy, education and skills and governance.

Personal wellbeing is a particularly important dimension which we define as how satisfied we are with our lives, our sense that what we do in life is worthwhile, our day to day emotional experiences (happiness and anxiety) and our wider mental wellbeing.

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Indicators of change

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