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Life as a whole

Wellbeing assessors often ask people not about specific domains or aspects of wellbeing, but about their overall life satisfaction or happiness
When we talk about wellbeing as a concept, we often refer to it as a property of individuals or we refer to particular types of positive attributes, like good feelings or positive cognitive evaluations. As we discussed in week one, wellbeing can be conceptualised in many different ways, and how we conceptualise wellbeing influences how we may think about policies and evaluating their success. In terms of applications of approaches to policy, research, and practise, the biggest difference of a wellbeing approach is the conception of life as a whole. This notion was made popular in research by the Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven in the 1980s, as one of the pioneers in utilising wellbeing and happiness approaches in evidence-based social science research.
Using Veenhoven’s work helps us translate some of the conceptual research into frameworks for social policy. He suggests to distinguish two crucial dichotomies in making wellbeing meaningful for practical usages. First, we need to make sure to distinguish between life chances and life results, a classic distinction in sociology with particular importance for us. We cannot simply think about a person’s wellbeing in terms of the outcomes we observe or they report, their life results, but we also need to understand that there are different life chances people have in the first place to achieve certain domains of wellbeing. Traditionally, we often looked at material aspects, but as you have seen in the course already, wellbeing depends on many contextual and societal circumstances as well.
Beyond this, we need to take into account a second distinction, contrasting outer and inner qualities of wellbeing. While outer qualities refer to characteristics of the environment, inner qualities reflect aspects of oneself that could be associated with positive or negative manifestations of different domains of wellbeing. When we take this all together, it becomes clear that a proper wellbeing lens considers life as a whole from both an individual and a societal perspective. Policies developed following such an approach take all these aspects into account and comprehensively reflect what Veenhoven referred to as the four qualities of life. The livability of the environment, the life-ability of the person, the utility of life, and the appreciation of life.
None of these can be measured in a very simple way, but as we have seen, they can all be reflected in different concepts and measures, and different organisations try to assess them through a variety of means. While some are clearly characteristics of an individual, others need to be assessed at a societal level and only an analysis that looks at the interaction between them will create policy and practise solutions.

In this video we look at a type of approach that could be described as considering “life-as-a-whole”. Using a typology developed by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven we will ask the question how the complexities of wellbeing we engaged with in weeks 1 and 2 can be meaningfully applied to policy analysis.

To do this we need to be able to understand which areas of policy need to be addressed through the wellbeing lens in order to achieve better experiences and positive societal outcomes.

It is important to pay attention to the contexts which make positive or negative experiences more likely. Furthermore, a clear awareness of our intended effects for individuals and societies is crucial in ensuring that our analyses and subsequent practical solutions are based on thinking at the appropriate level.

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Social Wellbeing

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