What is Well-being?
Well-being is a composite experience of good emotional, volitional and intellectual function, along with satisfaction in one’s life, a sense of purpose and meaning, and resilience in the face of adversity. It is the product of one’s thoughts, actions, and experiences, and as such, is something that can be enhanced consciously.
Well-being is made up of emotional, physical, and social well-being, as well as well-being in the workplace and society. This involves being able to manage one’s positive and negative emotions; take care of one’s body and its function; communicate and build healthy relationships with others as well as build a support network; and enjoy a degree of interesting, valuable, and purposeful activity in one’s profession; and take an active part in a healthy community, culture, and environment. It is important to realize that each of these is interwoven with the others, and all need to function in a healthy manner for optimal well-being.
The term “well-being society” was used in the 2021 Geneva Charter for Well-being by the United Nations Organization (UNO), with the following meaning: “creating sustainable well-being societies, committed to achieving equitable health now and for future generations without breaching ecological limits.”
“We have to fundamentally change the way that leaders in politics, the private sector, and international institutions think about and value health, and to promote growth that is based on health and well-being for people and the planet, for countries in all income levels.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
The Charter encourages action in five areas:
- Design an equitable economy that serves human development within planetary boundaries;
- Create a public policy for the common good;
- Achieve universal health coverage;
- Address the digital transformation to counteract harm and disempowerment and to strengthen the benefits;
- Value and preserve the planet.
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Is Well-being Necessary?
According to some, well-being is an optional feature of life, rather than an essential part of human life. Such individuals might consider well-being to be the first requirement of ordinary life that can be jettisoned when faced with economic deprivation. Such an attitude makes it difficult to prioritize well-being during the shaping of policy.
Thinking about well-being on this level is itself a new thing. Some scientists consider that the data about the place of well-being in society and individual life is too limited to allow policymaking on this basis. However, recent research shows that most stakeholders in national policy bodies would put well-being higher on the list, rather than lower, during times of difficulty, because it helps us cope with hardship in a socially productive way.
During the recession, for example, well-being is important, being the reason why the government cares about the recession at all – it affects the well-being of its citizens by impacting employment rates and reducing the earned wages.
The Well-being Society
Conventional development comprises economic growth and prosperity, driven by industrialization and commercialization. However, this is recognized to be toxic to society and the planet. As a result, secondary prevention is often the order of the day, whether it occurs as treating and preventing respiratory disease caused by air pollution because of private transport, rather than switching to public transportation; rehabilitation of flood-affected people rather than mitigating and preventing climate change by reducing fossil fuel use and switching to renewable energy sources.
Traditional economic models use up the planet’s natural resources faster than they can be renewed. This is the reason for decreasing biodiversity and an increased rate of extreme weather events like tornadoes, wildfires, and high temperatures, which put a sizable part of the global population at risk of ill-health and poverty.
The mark of a well-being society is focusing on well-being and sustainable living rather than traditional economic parameters. This involves a wide range of policies, guidelines, and initiatives aimed at improving social relationships, ensuring a peaceful and equitable mode of existence rather than the fiercely competitive mode of living of modern capitalism.
Good relationships are fundamental to a well-being society. Being gainfully and productively employed is key to experiencing well-being as well. Thus, a well-being society is one where the different aspects of well-being are prioritized during fundamental policy and strategizing steps, over merely economic or scientific, or technological advancement.
In such a society, fair play, equal opportunities, social inclusiveness, and stability, are prioritized over economic gain, while not neglecting productive development. The path to development aims at the good of the people in their communities while preserving environmental health. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not the ideal measure for the well-being of human societies, as it is independent of gross socioeconomic inequities, environmental disruptions, and decreased health indices.
How is A Well-being Society Built?
Some key areas require to be focused on to build a well-being society.
Equitable Health Opportunities
The first requirement is prioritizing health and well-being as the measurable and desired outcomes of a well-being society, with equitable health opportunities. This involves, of course, access to and distribution of healthcare resources between groups with social and economic disparities.
But just as importantly, it deals with addressing those disparities that are the root of health inequities, by improving the quality of the surroundings in which people are born, live, work and die; providing good-quality education, and related resources; and phasing out social and economic discrimination.
Equitable Work Opportunities
The second key area is aiming at job stability and not growth. A rising rate of economic growth is not an automatic indicator of economic stability, because once incomes cross a certain limit that allows for basic necessities to be met, the link to human well-being becomes weaker. On the other hand, rising rates of joblessness are directly connected to lower well-being, over the long term.
Job insecurity also has a prolonged and marked impact on well-being. When jobs are not stable and unemployment rates are high, economic growth may actually be a negative determinant of social well-being by fostering a bubble that eventually bursts, leaving people worse off than at the beginning.
A third key area is making work more meaningful while making working hours more equitable.
“Too many people are working too long hours and too hard, and too many people aren’t working at all.”
One recommendation could be shortening the working week and improving its flexibility, depending on the type of work. This is an accomplishment one in three UK workers think impossible for them. To counter this impression, the government should take proactive steps to implement these measures in its institutions and organizations.
At the same time, people must be trained to work diligently, efficiently, and reliably, and must be given access to resources that help them to gain and hone workplace and social skills. Moreover, they should be able to balance work with other areas of their life to pursue their life interests.
Addressing inequity in society, whether social or workplace-related issues, is crucial to a well-being society. Worldwide, women are paid an average of 16% less than their male counterparts, and many times fewer women are in positions of power compared to men.
Protection and renewing natural resources is a fourth crucial component of a well-being society. This ensures that city and community planning embrace the well-being of the community and not just its esthetics or efficiency. Along with proper housing design, well-constructed and accessible schools and transportation, leaving green spaces in the center of the city provide lungs to the city, promote physical recreation and social intermingling in a safe and soothing environment.
By prioritizing health, sustainable planning for well-being over short-term growth saves money on fossil fuels by enabling and encouraging healthier means of transport, such as cycling or walking. This would reduce health costs by billions of dollars.
Costa Rica is among the few tropical countries that has reversed deforestation and has set its sights on carbon neutrality by 2050, while almost 100% of electricity generation is from renewable sources, and has been so, since 2015.
Meanwhile, industries will have to pay for the loss of natural resources and the ecological impact of their activity, rather than pass it on to the government. Switching from a traditional economic model to a circular economy is another important area. Here, waste-free manufacturing is the norm, with the waste products from one process being the raw materials of another.
Similarly, a shift to a collaborative, ecologically sensitive, and non-materialistic definition of economic prosperity is overdue, and in fact, is occurring in countries where actual poverty no longer characterizes the majority of the population.
Caring for the mental health of doctors and teachers, among the professionals most prone to burnout, is another pressing requirement for the well-being of society. It is estimated that over £70bn is spent on treating or managing mental problems in these groups, but only one in four patients with depression or anxiety are treated.
Medical curricula should be equipped to train future and present doctors and teachers with techniques that enhance mindful living, ensuring more mindful medical care and mindful education in schools. By improving people’s ability to cope with untoward situations and increasing resilience, mindfulness can improve well-being significantly. This will also help educational institutions shape future leaders who will practice inclusive and adaptive governance.
Fostering human creativity and artistic expression as well as craftsmanship is another token of a healthy society. A well-being community will have a proper approach towards actual creative and artistic activity, regarding it as an important and valuable part of human activity, and a driver of emotional, mental, and physical health, irrespective of their independent financial potential.
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“By redefining the goals and expectations of politics, businesses, and society, countries can transform the traditional economy focused on economic growth into an economy that builds and sustains a healthy and prosperous world. Government leaders must open themselves to new ways of thinking and commit to widespread systems innovation, using the principles of a well-being economy to help guide the way.”
- Hellstrom, E. et al. (2015). Towards a Sustainable Well-being Society: From Principles to Applications. Version 2.0. Sitra Working Paper 1.4.2015. Towards a Sustainable Well-being Society: From Principles to Applications
- The Geneva Charter for Well-being (2021). The Geneva Charter for Well-being
- Chrysopoulou, A. (2020). The Vision of a Well-Being Economy. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_vision_of_a_well_being_economy
- Berry, C. (2014). Five Steps for A High Well-Being Society. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-09-10/five-steps-for-a-high-well-being-society/
- Davis, T. (2019). What Is Well-Being? Definition, Types, and Well-Being Skills. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201901/what-is-well-being-definition-types-and-well-being-skills
- Hancock, T. (2022). Trevor Hancock: Well-being society needs a well-being economy. https://www.timescolonist.com/islander/trevor-hancock-well-being-society-needs-a-well-being-economy-5008537
- Hancock, T. (2022). What is a ‘Well-Being Society’? For Starters, One That Values Planet Earth. https://trevorhancock.org/2022/01/25/what-is-a-well-being-society-for-starters-one-that-values-planet-earth/
- Hancock, T. (2022). A Wellbeing Society Requires Achieving Equitable Health. https://trevorhancock.org/2022/02/15/a-wellbeing-society-requires-achieving-equitable-health/