I recently attended a conference organised by ‘What Works Wellbeing’, which looked at the emerging evidence of what promotes wellbeing and quality of life for individuals and society more generally. The conference was organised around the themes of the What Works programme – work and learning, culture and sport, communities and cross cutting methods.
The idea behind a wellbeing focus is that it goes beyond narrow measures of economic output. Scotland’s National Performance Framework illustrated below is an excellent example of just such an approach.
By its very nature a wellbeing focus is multi-faceted and dependent on context yet there are a number of general themes, that are being confirmed by the work of the ‘What Works’ centre, which appear to have an impact on individual wellbeing and healthy societies. They are very much in line with what emerged in the SUII wellbeing programme in 2014. These include:
- strong personal relationships
- good work
- sufficient income
- good health
- access to green space
- individual agency
- vibrant, empowered, equitable communities
Societal wellbeing appears to be greater than the sum of its individual parts and the overall sense of wellbeing in a community can have an impact on wellbeing of individuals. This certainly seems to be one of the central messages of the latest book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (‘The Inner Level’) regarding the relationship between mental health and inequality of income and wealth.
Building on their earlier work in ‘The Spirit Level’ they argue there is a clear relationship between unequal societies and mental health at all levels of society, driven by how we perceive our relative position in society, status competition and the stress associated with this. This results in conditions such as depression and anxiety at one end of the spectrum and narcissism at the other.
Interestingly individuals, organisations and societies with high levels of wellbeing are more likely to be more innovative, productive and economically successful and spend less on having to ameliorate social problems.
Wellbeing remains a highly topical issue, and there are currently two ongoing SUII programmes for which it is central: Creative Communities and Poverty, Educational Attainment and Wellbeing.