Wellbeing and being well

John Appleby

What does being healthy mean? What it does not mean – according to the well-worn World Health Organization (WHO) definition – is the absence of disease. More positively than that, as the WHO definition clarifies, health is a 'state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing'.

This classic definition of what it means to be healthy is great – as far as it goes. But what does wellbeing mean? And – at the risk of getting into a definitional loop – is wellbeing essentially the same as being well?

Publication:  British Medical Journal
Reference:  BMJ 2016;354:i3951

Traditional, largely economic measures such as gross domestic product and unemployment rates have long been recognised as providing only a partial picture of a nation’s progress or wellbeing. But since 2011 (and following an early commitment by the coalition government in 2012) the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported on an annual UK-wide survey covering around 160,000 members of the public designed to elicit views about their wellbeing.

The survey asks about satisfaction with life, the extent to which the things they do in life are worthwhile, and how happy and how anxious they feel. It also gathers data on personal characteristics and self assessed ratings of health. Data from these subjective surveys of individual wellbeing are now increasingly combined with more traditional measures to provide an overview of national wellbeing.