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Introducing the wellbeing lens

We identify the main ways in which a 'wellbeing lens' can make a difference: positivity; empathy; and integrative thinking about the whole person
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So you’ve signed up for a course in wellbeing, and you probably want to know a bit about what wellbeing is. But also, more interestingly, perhaps you want to consider more carefully what kinds of difference a wellbeing lens might make to your organisation and to your goals. Regarding definitions, we think most people actually already understand pretty well that wellbeing is a general rubric for living well, for living happily and healthily, for engaging well with other people. But more interestingly, and more challengingly, a wellbeing lens, we think, can change the way you look at the world around you.
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And so the most important question about wellbeing may not be, what is it, but rather, what kinds of difference does it make to our conversations? We believe there are three main kinds of effect that the wellbeing lens has on our ways of thinking and talking and planning. These are positivity, empathy, and integration. In other words, by deliberately adopting a wellbeing lens in social planning, we’re trying to make our approaches more appreciative and more aspirational, more focused on ultimate values. We’re trying to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, considering their feelings and their subjective viewpoints, and we’re trying to interact with people as wholes, thinking about their various life domains and roles and considering the course of their lives.
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Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail. Positivity makes us think and talk about people’s strengths and their enjoyments. That is, about what people ultimately value. Imagine a line, below which some or all aspects of someone’s life are unacceptable. This line represents a minimally adequate life. Let’s call it the OK line. If your work mainly concerns things that go wrong, you are in effect using a pathological or remedial lens that pays attention to things below the OK line. By focusing on people’s deficits and weaknesses, you may miss really important lessons about how people achieve wellbeing. A balanced approach includes positivity, considering people’s strengths and enjoyments, not just their deficits and sufferings.
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Your learning strategies become appreciative, and your goals become more aspirational, aiming at ultimate values and not just at meeting minimal standards of decency. The second part of the wellbeing lens is empathy. A wellbeing lens humanises our approaches to planning by making us consider people’s feelings and by encouraging us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Empathetic planners consider all aspects of planning from the perspective of the experiencing subject. You want to know not just the objective facts of changes in people’s lives– that they are healthier or have higher income or are getting better grades. You want to know what these changes mean to people, how they feel about their health, what their income or academic grades mean to them.
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If you’re genuinely, empathetically interested in people’s wellbeing, you ask them for their own views on the matter. And the third feature of the wellbeing lens is about integration, thinking holistically about whole persons and whole lives. For example, we often interact with people on the basis of our specialisms or theirs, usually considering only that part of them that directly concerns us. For example, a doctor might look at the symptoms rather than the whole patient. A sports coach might see athletes and fail to consider the rest of people’s lives. A wellbeing lens reminds us that people have lots of identities, lots of different life domains and objectives. To interact well with people, we need to think about how these parts interact.
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Also, since wellbeing unfolds over very long periods, we need to consider how aspects of people’s current wellbeing is affected by their lifelong experiences and about what the long-term effects may be of any changes we make to their current lives. So remember, if you deliberately adopt a wellbeing lens, you are choosing to be a more appreciative learner. You’re choosing to plan in more aspirational ways. You’re deliberately trying to be more empathetic, to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and you’re consciously thinking about and caring about not just the specific aspect of someone’s life that matters in a particular encounter, but rather caring about the whole person and the whole of people’s lives.

This short film introduces the idea that wellbeing is better understood as a kind of ‘lens’ that influences how we perceive the world around us, and hence shapes how we think and talk about our activities, our objectives, and the outcomes of our work.

We group the differences that a wellbeing lens can make into three areas::

positivity (exploring, appreciating, and learning from successes and enjoyments, and planning aspirationally),

empathy (considering, listening to, respecting, and responding other people’s subjective experience of the matters at hand), and

integration (considering how wellbeing is derived from interactive processes, and looking at how the various parts of people’s lives ‘fit’ together or ‘harmonize’ through the life course).

The following three steps explore each of these three aspects of the wellbeing lens in more detail.

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Social Wellbeing

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