Is our understanding of wellbeing at a crossroads?

It's no longer enough to measure wellbeing on a country's wealth.
6 October 2016

How have you been feeling lately? For many of us the answer may be not as good as you’d like, because a curious thing appears to be happening...

It seems that, despite a growing economy and a supposedly better quality of life jam-packed with apps, tablets and phablets, our collective wellbeing appears to be on the slide.  

Something is off kilter.

How good we feel is the result of a complex web of influences.

Feelings of depression and anxiety are on the rise, according to ONS statistics released last month. Young women, in particular, appear to be suffering from more mental health problems and self-harm. The NHS is now considering health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and smoking-related bronchitis as new and untreatable epidemics. And in a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) which measured the wellbeing of citizens across 160 countries, Britain ranked in the bottom 25 out of 162 countries when it comes to boosting the wellbeing of its citizens.

Interestingly, it’s this very report that holds the clue as to what’s going on.

The classic approach to measuring a country’s success is its GDP – and that’s why the UK generally tends to do well. According to International Monetary Fund figures, the UK fluctuates between having the fifth or sixth largest GDP in the world.

But the BCG report is different. Claiming that “Leaders around the world increasingly recognize that GDP alone cannot give a full picture of a country's performance”, it instead uses other measures – such as how many people are employed, how economically stable they are, what their income is, what their environment is like – to build up a more holistic picture.
This makes sense, because a successful state is not just one that is wealthy, but also a place where people feel healthy, happy and fulfilled.

Of course, how good we feel is the result of a complex web of influences. Are we always ground down from working in cramped offices? Do high rents mean we don’t have much disposable income? Does the need to find work in different parts of the country separate us from family and friends? Is our addiction to social media making us depressed?

It’s not all doom and gloom however. There are lots of people that are looking at solutions to these problems.

This changing view of wellbeing is something we, at Central YMCA, are keen to tackle. We’ve always been about mind, body and spirit. We understand the importance each has to play in creating happy, healthy and fulfilled people. But how can we put that into practise today?

To help us come up with ideas we’ve holding a special event called Eudaimonia! with The School of Life. We’ve got a great line up of speakers to help us, including philosopher Alain de Botton and author/journalist Charles Leadbeater – known for coining the term 'Endies' (or 'Employed but with No Disposable Income or Savings'), to describe to the growing number of households in London struggling on modest incomes in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

If you’re also interested in the future of wellbeing and would to help us investigate what its future might be, join our Eudaimonia movement here.