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What do we mean by "wellbeing"?

Wellbeing refers to our sense of self and our ability to live our lives as closely as possible to the way we want to. It encapsulates the abilities to have positive relationships, promote healthy living and feel life satisfaction.

Our sense of wellbeing is affected by how we might feel about something we do or the relationships we have – if something triggers positive emotions such as happiness or enjoyment. However, when we are talking about wellbeing we are not just thinking about the fleeting moments of happiness we experience but also our overall satisfaction with life (King, 2016).

Positive Psychology

Throughout this course we will draw on frameworks that have been developed in the area of positive psychology to consider the various elements of wellbeing. Positive psychology is:

“The scientific study of what makes life most worth living.” (Peterson, 2008)

As a field of study it focuses on topics such as character strengths, resilience, and happiness. Studies examine positive experiences, positive states and traits (e.g. joy, inspiration, love, gratitude, compassion etc.) and the stimuli that cause such feelings and states.

The main model that we will use to explore wellbeing was developed by Martin Seligman, who is a prominent psychologist in this field. The PERMA model helps to explain the five measurable elements of wellbeing (Seligman, 2011):

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

We will explore the concepts that make up this model in more detail, through a digital lens, as we progress through the course.

Digital Wellbeing

As digital technologies permeate our everyday lives it has become increasingly important that we consider what impact this is having on our wellbeing. What effect have digital communications, online networks and wearable technologies had on our sense of self and our relationships with others? Such questions have led to a relatively new area of research on ‘digital wellbeing’.

Digital wellbeing is often defined in terms of the capabilities and skills that an individual requires to successfully make use of digital technologies. In the Jisc Six Elements of Digital Literacy digital wellbeing is defined as:

“The capacity to look after personal health, safety, relationships and work-life balance in digital settings”.

The Jisc (2015) framework goes on to identify the following capabilities in this area:

  • use digital tools to pursue personal goals for health and fitness
  • use digital tools to participate in social and community activities
  • act safely and responsibly in digital environments
  • negotiate and resolve conflict
  • manage digital workload, overload and distraction
  • act with concern for the human and natural environment when using digital tools.

In order to successfully develop these skills we need to consider how digital technologies have an impact on our emotions, relationships, and sense of self. This can’t simply be seen as a tick box set of skills; it needs to be underpinned by a knowledge of digital society and the measurable elements of wellbeing. We need to engage with debates on the topic of technology and health, online social networks and information security to develop our understanding of this topic. This will then enable us to make informed and critical decisions about the use of different technologies to promote both our own wellbeing and that of others.

As you progress through the course we will explore research on digital society to develop our understanding of digital wellbeing and identity. We will also reflect on our emotional responses when engaging online or making use of technology, and how this impacts our wellbeing.


  • King, V. (2016). 10 Keys to Happier Living: A practical handbook for happiness. Headline: London.

  • Seligman, M. (2011) Flourish: a new understanding of happiness and well-being - and how to achieve them. NB Publishing: London.

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Wellbeing

University of York