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What do we mean by “wellbeing”?

What is wellbeing? How will we be using the term? Susan Halfpenny scribbles over the dictionary in search of an answer.
A cat with a book
© University of York (author: Susan Halfpenny)
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. The Jisc Six Elements of Digital Literacy identifies the following capabilities as being essential for digital wellbeing:
  • look after personal health, safety, relationships and work-life balance in digital settings;
  • use digital tools in pursuit of personal goals (eg health and fitness) and 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.
This all requires an understanding of the benefits and risks of digital participation in relation to health and wellbeing outcomes (JISC, 2019).
Jisc recently revisited their definition of digital wellbeing to capture some of the complexities of the topic. They have now broadened the scope to focus not just on the individual but also broader societal perspectives. This resonates with the approach we have taken in this course. Digital wellbeing requires reflection on how digital technologies have an impact on our emotions, relationships, and sense of self. This can’t simply be distilled to 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 have an understanding of the design principles underpinning the digital technologies we use – the data that we share. 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.
© University of York (author: Susan Halfpenny)
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Digital Wellbeing

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