What does wellbeing mean?

‘it's a hearts and minds thing'

Wellbeing is a subjective evaluation of how we feel about and experience our lives. Wellbeing, positive mental health and mental wellbeing are often used interchangeably, although ‘wellbeing' is also used in a broader sense to include physical health. In the sense being used here, wellbeing includes:

  • How we feel
  • How we think
  • Relationships
  • Meaning & Purpose

Source: Friedli 2009
Mental health, resilience and inequalities

Wellbeing may be domain specific e.g. hate my job, happy with my partner, feel the neighbourhood is declining, or overall wellbeing e.g. I'm satisfied with my life these days. Wellbeing is now included in the Integrated Household Survey (IHS) which asks people to rate ‘life satisfaction', as well as how happy and how anxious they feel, and whether the things they do in life are worthwhile.

Integrated Household Survey

What's in a name?

The use of different terms to describe wellbeing (e.g. resilience, mental capital, flourishing, happiness) can cause confusion, but the debate about language reflects wider political, cultural and religious debates about the meaning and importance of wellbeing and perceptions and interpretations of mental illness. Different definitions and ways of thinking about mental health and well-being are also influenced by age, class and gender, as well as by people's experiences, expectations and beliefs.

Black and minority ethnic group perceptions of mental wellbeing in Scotland (2008)

Ethnic differences in the context and experience of psychiatric illness

Mental health, race and culture S. Fernando 2010

Women and mental health

Terms like positive mental health and mental wellbeing are used to distinguish mental health from mental illness. Different sectors and professions tend to use different terms, for example ‘emotional wellbeing' is generally used in educational settings. There are also cultural differences in the relative value given to individual and group wellbeing and to attributes like confidence, optimism and self efficacy. There are different domains of wellbeing e.g. environmental, economic, physical, political. Our focus here is on mental wellbeing and how other domains e.g. the quality of the natural environment or employment, influence mental wellbeing. [link] What influences wellbeing?

National debate, local debate

During 2011, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) ran a [link] National debate on ‘what matters to people's wellbeing' ? The results will contribute to greater clarity about wellbeing, as well as to the development of new measures of national wellbeing.

Measuring national wellbeing

Some councils have used ‘wellbeing' to bring together a wide range of different stakeholders. Wellbeing can provide a useful umbrella for exploring different cultural perspectives on health and mental health and for reducing stigma and taboos around mental health problems. [link] Case Studies

Wellbeing and Happiness in Lambeth Programme

The Wellbeing Project ( www.wellbeingproject.co.uk)

A wide range of campaigns and agencies are involved in the debate about what wellbeing means and what influences it. Some are focussed primarily on individual wellbeing, others are concerned with wider economic and environmental factors.

Action for Happiness

nef Wellbeing Centre

Workplace wellbeing charter

Some mental health voluntary agencies also campaign around wellbeing and the concept is important within the recovery movement.

Oxfordshire Mind

Mental Health Foundation

Scottish Recovery Network

Community wellbeing

“Flourishing communities are those where everyone has someone to talk to, neighbours look out for each other, people have pride and satisfaction with where they live and feel able to influence decisions about their area. Residents are able to access green and open space, feel safe going out and there are places and opportunities that bring people together.”

Ruth Hussey

A glass half-full

Community wellbeing includes characteristics familiar from the literature on social capital e.g. trust, tolerance, participation, influence, mutual aid, social networks and social support. Other indicators of collective wellbeing are ‘collective efficacy' i.e. coming together to solve problems or improve things, intergenerational solidarity and informal social control e.g. neighbourhoods where adults keep an eye on children and young people.

Community wellbeing is relevant to the role of councils as place shapers and evidence that neighbourhood life is a key factor in health and other outcomes. In the North West, A Fair Deal for Wellbeing provides a framework for discussing the findings of a major survey on people's wellbeing and for bringing groups or communities together to think about wellbeing.

A Fair Deal for Wellbeing Discussion Kit

A focus on community wellbeing is also part of an assets based approach, focussing on what a community or locality has - rather than what it lacks - and making the most of strengths, resilience, skills and potential.

Appreciating assets

A glass half-full: how an asset approach can improve community health and wellbeing

What does wellbeing mean? Everything you ever needed to know...

The ONS Wellbeing Knowledge Bank includes a very wide range of research,data and discussion papers on all aspects of wellbeing.

Wellbeing knowledge bank

27 December 2011

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