Well-being is a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well. Good living conditions (e.g., housing, employment) are fundamental to well-being. Tracking these conditions is important for public policy. However, many indicators that measure living conditions fail to measure what people think and feel about their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions and resilience, the realization of their potential, or their overall satisfaction with life—i.e., their “well-being.”Well-being generally includes global judgments of life satisfaction and feelings ranging from depression to joy.
Why is well-being useful for public health?
- Well-being integrates mental health (mind) and physical health (body) resulting in more holistic approaches to disease prevention and health promotion.
- Well-being is a valid population outcome measure beyond morbidity, mortality, and economic status that tells us how people perceive their life is going from their own perspective.
- Well-being is an outcome that is meaningful to the public.
- Advances in psychology, neuroscience, and measurement theory suggest that well-being can be measured with some degree of accuracy.
- Results from cross-sectional, longitudinal and experimental studies find that well-being is associated with
- Self-perceived health.
- Healthy behaviors.
- Mental and physical illness.
- Social connectedness.
- Factors in the physical and social environment.
- Well-being can provide a common metric that can help policy makers shape and compare the effects of different policies (e.g., loss of greenspace might impact well-being more so than commercial development of an area).
- Measuring, tracking and promoting well-being can be useful for multiple stakeholders involved in disease prevention and health promotion.
Well-being is associated with numerous health-, job-, family-, and economically-related benefits. For example, higher levels of well-being are associated with decreased risk of disease, illness, and injury; better immune functioning; speedier recovery; and increased longevity. Individuals with high levels of well-being are more productive at work and are more likely to contribute to their communities.
Previous research lends support to the view that the negative affect component of well-being is strongly associated with neuroticism and that positive affect component has a similar association with extraversion. This research also supports the view that positive emotions—central components of well-being—are not merely the opposite of negative emotions, but are independent dimensions of mental health that can, and should be fostered.Although a substantial proportion of the variance in well-being can be attributed to heritable factors, environmental factors play an equally if not more important role.
How does well-being relate to health promotion?
Health is more than the absence of disease; it is a resource that allows people to realize their aspirations, satisfy their needs and to cope with the environment in order to live a long, productive, and fruitful life. In this sense, health enables social, economic and personal development fundamental to well-being. Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health.Environmental and social resources for health can include: peace, economic security, a stable ecosystem, and safe housing.30 Individual resources for health can include: physical activity, healthful diet, social ties, resiliency, positive emotions, and autonomy. Health promotion activities aimed at strengthening such individual, environmental and social resources may ultimately improve well-being.
How is well-being defined?
There is no consensus around a single definition of well-being, but there is general agreement that at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning. In simple terms, well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good. For public health purposes, physical well-being (e.g., feeling very healthy and full of energy) is also viewed as critical to overall well-being. Researchers from different disciplines have examined different aspects of well-being that include the following:
- Physical well-being.
- Economic well-being.
- Social well-being.
- Development and activity.
- Emotional well-being.
- Psychological well-being.
- Life satisfaction.
- Domain specific satisfaction.
- Engaging activities and work.
Because well-being is subjective, it is typically measured with self-reports. The use of self-reported measures is fundamentally different from using objective measures (e.g., household income, unemployment levels, neighborhood crime) often used to assess well-being. The use of both objective and subjective measures, when available, are desirable for public policy purposes.
There are many well-being instruments available that measure self-reported well-being in different ways, depending on whether one measures well-being as a clinical outcome, a population health outcome, for cost-effectiveness studies, or for other purposes. For example, well-being measures can be psychometrically-based or utility-based. Psychometrically-based measures are based on the relationship between, and strength among, multiple items that are intended to measure one or more domains of well-being. Utility-based measures are based on an individual or group’s preference for a particular state, and are typically anchored between 0 (death) to 1 (optimum health). Some studies support use of single items (e.g., global life satisfaction) to measure well-being parsimoniously. Peer reports, observational methods, physiological methods, experience sampling methods, ecological momentary assessment, and other methods are used by psychologists to measure different aspects of well-being.