What is "well-being"?
Often, the term “common good” is taken to be synonymous with “well-being”. But what is well-being? The roots of well-being research are in ancient Greece, where philosophers such as Aristotle focused on how to achieve “the good life”. Since then, the search for the good life has been a constant topic handled by different disciplines. Today, research on fields such as in psychology, economics, and social sciences addresses well-being in terms of "the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life". These dimensions cover factors such as physical and mental vitality, social satisfaction, and a sense of personal achievement and fulfillment.
Well-being studies can be divided into three main subtypes:
- The subjective theories. These focus on questions such as how people feel as they go about their daily lives, or how a person evaluates their lives. This type of psychological well-being is often described as the experience of high life satisfaction, high levels of pleasant emotions and moods, and low levels of negative emotions and moods.
- The eudaimonic theories. These consider well-being primarily as the outcome of positive goal pursuits. The eudaimonic perspective differentiates well-being from the satisfaction of desire. According to eudaimonic theories, well-being and subjective happiness should not be equated because the pleasure-producing outcomes that underlie subjective happiness do not necessarily promote wellness and well-being. Instead, well-being can be taken to require components such as autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, a sense of having a purpose in life, and self-acceptance. These dimensions describe well-being as an overall positive evaluation of oneself, acceptance of one’s past life and individual talents as a member of a community, the belief that one’s life is meaningful, and a sense of self-determination.
- The social theories. In these, well-being is approached in terms of social factors, such as integration, contributions to social life, social coherence, and social acceptance. Well-being is dependent on the degree to which an individual is functioning well in their social environments.
Today, many of the approaches to well-being combine elements of all these theories. Well-being is seen as a complex combination of psychological, social and physical aspects, and takes an overall quality of life approach.
Surveys like The World Happiness Report provide examples of this holistic approach to well-being. The report is an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It contains articles and rankings of national happiness based on respondent ratings of their own lives, which the report also correlates with various life factors. (As of March 2020, Finland was ranked the happiest country in the world three times in a row.)
Moreover, researchers develop constantly novel ways to approach well-being. For example, big data is nowadays utilized for well-being research in many ways. Contemporary methods include the more advanced analysis of demographic and socio-economic data, but also for example utilization of text mining tools in any written documents – such as Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, or other social media data, as well as the analysis of digital footprints and even facial features.