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Considering and engaging with sceptical views

It is possible to deny that wellbeing matters, but this is extremely rare and frankly implausible. It is a lot more plausible, and a lot more common though still fairly unusual, to deny the value of talking about wellbeing.

Or it may be seen as alright to talk about other people’s wellbeing but not about your own: ‘Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so,’ claimed the philosopher John Stuart Mill. Much more common again, is the idea that even if we ought to talk about wellbeing, it is pointless and potentially counter-productive to try to plan for wellbeing.

So if you encounter someone who seems sceptical about wellbeing, check what it is that they’re sceptical about – sceptical of its value, of the value of talking about it, of the value of pursuing it for ourselves, or of the value of trying to promote wellbeing through social planning.

Obviously not everyone agrees that social planning and learning ought to be strongly focused on wellbeing. Although all of our course team are strongly in favour of using a wellbeing lens, it is not our assumption that people taking the course will necessarily agree. In fact, we are hoping that during and after the course we can foster constructive debates about the pros and cons of emphasising wellbeing themes in general, and in particular lines of work or particular situations.

Here are some of the issues we would like to stoke debates about:

Too vague? Is wellbeing not just too vague, too diverse in meanings, to serve any useful purpose as a heading for planning or evaluation?

Tokenistic? Has the increasingly common practice of adding ‘and wellbeing’ to ‘health’ added any discernible difference to policy discourse, planning, or practice?

Pursuit of excellence or adequacy? If wellbeing is an aspirational concept in planning, how far should we go? To be distinctive and coherent, do ‘wellbeing’ approaches need to emphasise socially inclusive and aspirational planning that emphasises the pursuit of excellence? Does the remedial pursuit of adequacy or ‘decency’, targeted at people living less-than-adequate lives, count as ‘wellbeing policy’?

Radical reorientation towards ultimate value? Using a ‘wellbeing lens’ implies radical humanism, ie. insisting that human wellbeing is intrinsically valuable and must be central to all plans and purposes. If an employer or business consultant refers to the ‘business case’ for workplace wellbeing, or refers to staff as ‘human resources,’ does this not suggest that they haven’t understood this point, and that they need to be politely offered some re-education?

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This article is from the free online course:

Social Wellbeing

The University of Edinburgh