The term wellbeing can conjure up different images depending on your perspective. A consequence of this is that taking a wellbeing approach to assessing the progress of society can at first sight appear to some to be a bit ‘happy clappy’. However, it is a much more serious endeavour, with some well-established antecedents. As David Hume wrote:
“The great end of all human industry is the attainment of happiness. For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modeled, by the most profound wisdom of patriots and legislators.”
In a similar vein in 1913 Andrew Carnegie gave his UK Trust the remit of the “improvement of the wellbeing of the masses of the people of Great Britain and Ireland”.
A broader wellbeing framework is being adopted by many countries and by the OECD as a whole through its ‘Better Life’ work. Such an approach attempts to take a more balanced look at understanding what influences the wellbeing of citizens and measuring progress. In some places subjective surveys of happiness or life satisfaction are used, although they usually only form part of the picture alongside more objective measures of social, environmental and economic progress.
Scotland is recognised as being one of the leading countries in developing a wellbeing approach through its National Performance Framework. The SUII programme of work was in part aimed at looking at how this could be further developed. One of the conclusions reached was the importance of more actively engaging people throughout the country in identifying what factors are most important in improving their lives and how best they should be measured and monitored. This offers the opportunity to build on the energy generated by the referendum campaign and help strengthen accountability and democracy in Scotland.