Saturday, 13 September 2014

Pathways to well-being and happiness

Fundamental ingredients for a happy life at the individual level, according to Diener (2008), are to have important goals and values, strong and supportive relationships, material sufficiency, positive emotions and the ability to make wise choices. Based on the psychological approach, happiness can be achieved by learning to understand what matters for us as individuals. Trying to find answers to the question: “What do we want?” and to achieve happiness by answering this question.   

In NEF’s report ‘The role of local government in promoting wellbeing’ (2010) a 5-step model for promoting and integrating well-being into Children’s Services in Local Authorities is provided (Table). It identifies some ideas that Local Authorities can consider adopting and this type of practical advice for Local Authorities might inspire the children’s services workforce to develop strategies that are appropriate in local contexts.  One interesting aspect of the 5-step model is the fact that it promotes
pathways to well-being as activities. (Connect, Be Active, Take notice, Keep learning, and Give.) Sen (1992) points out that focusing on activities when looking at welfare and wellbeing is important instead of focusing on recourses, capabilities or rights. Sen argues that life is composed of functions such as ‘being’ and ‘doing’ and we should concentrate on these elements when assessing what makes life good.

Any “step-by step” guide to well-being and happiness might need to be adapted both to the local context and to take age and developmental stage of the individual or group into consideration. 

Table.  ‘step-by step’ guide how to promote well-being by Local Government Improvement and Development and NEF (2010).

The 5 step model of prompting and integrating well-being into Children’s services in Local Authorities.
Example: Facilitating contact between younger and older residents.
Be Active:
Example: Support buddies for disabled young people to help them to be active in sport and physical activities.
Take notice:
Example: Public art project devised in collaboration with young people to encourage appreciation of public spaces.
Keep learning:
Example: An online directory of informal learning activities to encourage participation.
Example: Peer support award for young people to recognise their efforts in helping others.


Diner, E. and Biswas-Diener, R., (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Malden, USA: Blackwell Publishing.

NEF (2010).’ The role of local government in promoting wellbeing.’ Local Government Improvement and Development and NEF. London, England: The New Economics Foundation.

Sen, A. (1992). Inequality Reexamined. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Promoting well-being and happiness

Will promotion of happiness benefit individuals, but also communities and nations as whole?  There has been a recent trend of  moving away from negative aspects of life towards a more positive approach of assessing well-being.  In the recent joint publication by the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency and the independent think tank New Economics Forum (NEF) called ‘The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing’ (2010) it is argued that: “The front-line staff employed by local government should be seen as wellbeing advocates – an important channel of communication with local residents and communities” Does this mean therefore that in Scotland (for example) social workers and teachers can act as well-being advocates by using the GIRFEC (2008) model even though many Local Authority social workers are mostly occupied of working with those ‘at risk’ or being considered as ‘vulnerable’.  The essential crisis intervention work is a fundamental function of any community. The danger of focusing mainly upon people in crisis is that it shifts the focus away from the well-being of the rest of the public. The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing (2010) publications support this view by stating that: “Focusing continually on those labelled as ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’ can undermine the psychological and social wellbeing of those individuals and their communities.” In other words, should we learn more about why some people’s sense of well-being is stronger than others’ and try to promote the ‘golden formula‘ of these happy people rather than exhaust our energy in crisis intervention work? Very loaded questions indeed, but perhaps worthwhile to be explored further.

The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing (2010) document proposes that one effective way to promote well-being is by “Empowering staff to act on ideas they develop through their contact with members of the public.”  I will therefore conclude that children services workers need to continue to assist vulnerable children by assessing their needs but also by celebrating their existing well-being and happiness. 

However well-being and happiness are issues that might evoke difficult emotions and this is a particularly important consideration when working with vulnerable children and young people. For example, how can we ask a vulnerable young person about their subjective well-being and feelings of happiness in a safe way? I believe that age appropriate ways of doing this need to be used. For example,  drawings, observations and play can offer alternatives to verbal communication. In all situations consideration of the most appropriate communication method should be based on the individual child’s needs and circumstances.

The Scottish GIRFEC model is mainly used by social workers and teachers aiming to improve outcomes for children and young people who are often from troubled backgrounds. Is it acceptable to leave these practitioners to judge how effective the GIRFEC model is in terms of improving well-being outcomes? Or should we directly ask young people to evaluate their well-being over period of time despite the fact that this might evoke difficult emotions? Should young people be offered opportunity to express their feelings and should someone measure changes in these feelings over time? What are the benefits of collecting comparable data in this nature? One might argued that this would assist the design process of effective policies that are aimed to improve children and young people’s well-being and happiness.   Knowing what threatens happiness at the individual level might provide knowledge that would allow policy makers and practitioners to minimise these factors.

Perhaps by promoting well-being and happiness require further studies. By promoting a sense of well-being might provide the resources for children and young people in our communities to be more confident and resilient to cope with everyday life situations.  This might be one practical way of promoting well-being and prevent crisis situations occurring in the first instance.


Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) programme (2008). Scottish Government. Edinburgh: Scotland.(

NEF (2010).’ The role of local government in promoting wellbeing.’ Local Government Improvement and Development and NEF. London, England: The New Economics Foundation.

Measuring well-being and happiness

The Stiglitz commission report (2009) recommends that:  “...the time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being.” Traditionally, GDP has been considered as measure of nation’s prosperity and seen as seen as the measure of progress.  The importance of material wealth as one of the key building blocks of happiness is evident from research, but it has been suggested that GDP growth does not correlate with happiness after a certain point of wealth has been reached. This phenomenon is known as the Easterlin Paradox.

Happiness will always remain subjective in nature as a person’s experience of happiness can only be measured by an individual’s own subjective judgments of their feelings. The ‘Measuring Subjective Well-being ‘guidance by ONS (2011) outlines three main categories of subjective wellbeing measures for policy purposes:
1. Evaluation, 2. Experience and  3. ‘Eudaemonic’ measures. These categories are based on the work of several other academics.  Evaluation measures are the ones where people are asked to provide overall assessments of their life satisfaction based on life domains such as job satisfaction and health. Experience measures directly assess a person’s mental state by asking about their feelings. Eudaemonic measures are based on the theory that humans have underlying psychological needs that need to be met in order to enable individuals to reach states of well-being and feelings of happiness. It appears that internal and external factors contribute towards happiness and therefore a combination of both objective and subjective measures should be used as the measurement method.

There are a number of issues and gaps in current knowledge of measuring -especially children and young peoples- well-being and these raise many methodological and ethical issues. However, there are ways that can be employed to assess and measure children and young peoples well-being effectively.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Well-being and happiness as the goal of public policy

Quality of Life (QoL) is often used as a synonym for well-being. To keep clarity will continue to use the term ‘well-being’, instead of ‘quality of life’. However, its notable that QoL is often linked to the personal capabilities of individual. Interpersonal qualities of a person such as self-esteem and sense of autonomy also play a role in an individual’s sense of well-being.

Relationship play an essential role for human happiness and can have direct impact upon people’s self-esteem. One might say that by investing in quality of relationships will improve interpersonal qualities of person and therefore support human development in the sense of achieving greater level of QoL or well-being?

Numerous studies point out that investing in human well-being has a long term positive impact not only at an individual level, but for communities and nations as a whole. For example, Ben-Arieh et al. (2001) argue this point by evidencing the fact that understanding children’s health and nutrition alongside their spiritual, social and moral development not only provides insight into children’s wellbeing now, but also their ’wellbecoming‘ in the future. From the children right’s perceptive children can be seen as citizens in their own right who have declared rights as pointed out in United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  (UNCRC) (1989). Acknowledging and establishing the fact that children have rights to well-being now and wellbecoming in the future, provides justification for policies which are purely designed for children and young people in mind.  

High profile media cases of child abuse have also led for a call for governments to design policies that will not only keep children safe, but promote their well-being. Or one could argue that these cases are simply making politicians and policy makers paranoid about child protection at the expense of wellbeing. However,  a number of policies have been developed to meet this need such as the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) (2008), a  policy programme in Scotland which is broadly similar to the English policy programme ‘Every Child Matters’. Both of these programmes are designed for professionals in the children’s services workforce to improve children’s well-being.  The UNICEF (2007) report ’An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries ranked children’s well-being in UK very poor in comparison with 21 other industrialised countries. This finding itself demanded reforms and new policies which aim to improve children’s well-being in the UK.  Data such as the UNICEF publication provides evidence that can be used when arguing on behalf of new policies. It gives a weight for the demands to place well-being at the core of public policy design that is aimed for children and young people.  If feelings of happiness are subjective, making happiness an aim of policy might be a difficult task.  A recent NEF (2010) publication concludes that: “Wellbeing is more than happiness. The aim of local government, therefore, should not be to set out to make people happy, but to create the conditions that enable citizens and communities to do well in life, to flourish.” Investing in functioning communities that support social interaction and  relationships might be a sensible way forward to support individuals and communities to do well in life.


Ben-Arieh, A. and Goerge, R. (2007). Multinational Project for Measuring and
Children’s Wellbeing (

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) programme (2008). Scottish Government. Edinburgh: Scotland.(
NEF (2010).’ The role of local government in promoting wellbeing.’ Local Government Improvement and Development and NEF. London, England: The New Economics Foundation.

UNICEF (2007).’An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries.’ Florence: UNICEF (

UNCRC United Nations (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York/Geneva: Centre for Human Rights, UN.