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General Wellbeing


Although there is no consensus around a single definition of wellbeing, there is general agreement that at a minimum, wellbeing includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfilment and positive functioning (Frey and Stutzer, 2002). Veenhoven (2008) agrees with this and has described wellbeing as judging life positively and feeling good. From a public health perspective, physical wellbeing is also viewed as critical to overall wellbeing. Researchers from different disciplines (Strine, 2008) 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

What do we know?

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 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Health consequently aids social, economic and personal development central to well-being.

Environmental and social resources for health can include: peace, economic security, a stable ecosystem, and safe housing while individually, resources for health can include: physical activity, healthy diet, social ties, resilience, positive emotions, and autonomy. Therefore, health promotion activities aimed at strengthening such individual, environmental and social resources may ultimately improve well-being (Herrman, Saxena and Moodie, 2005).

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 (Diener, Scollon and Lucas, 2009). Lyubomirsky, King and Diener (2005) also associate wellbeing with numerous health, job, family, and economically-related benefits arguing that higher levels of wellbeing 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 have also been found to be more productive at work and are more likely to contribute to their communities (Tov & Diener, 2008), thus strengthening the arguments that wellbeing is an outcome that is meaningful to the public.

According to a report by The Kings Fund, older people report that what matters most to them in terms of wellbeing and quality of life include: the ability to remain at home in clean, warm, affordable accommodation; to remain socially engaged; to continue with activities that give their life meaning; to contribute to their family or community; to feel safe and to maintain independence, choice, control, personal appearance and dignity; to be free from discrimination; and to feel they are not a 'burden' to their own families and that they can continue their own role as caregivers (Tadd et al 2010).

There is increasing evidence that adopting healthy lifestyles can yield health benefits and maintaining behaviours such as regular exercise, smoking cessation, reducing alcohol consumption, healthy eating, and preventing obesity has a protective effect well into retirement (Rizzuto et al 2012).

Facts, figures and trends

Personal well-being is one of the domains in the national wellbeing programme. Estimates for personal wellbeing are based on data from the Annual Population Survey, which includes responses from around 165,000 people. This is a relatively large representative sample of adults aged 16 and over living in residential households in the UK.

The latest personal wellbeing estimates suggest year-on-year improvements in reported wellbeing since 2011/12, when Office of National Statistics (ONS) started to collect the data. Over this three-year period, there have been small but significant improvements in average personal wellbeing ratings in each UK country and across all four measures of wellbeing.

The percentage of people reporting higher levels of life satisfaction, feeling that the things they do in life are worthwhile and happiness levels all increased while the percentage reporting higher levels of anxiety declined. Between 2011/12 and 2012/13, there was a small but significant improvement in anxiety levels among those who rated their health as 'very good', 'good', or 'fair'. There were no significant changes for any wellbeing measures among those who rated their health negatively.

In 2013/14, the average ratings for each of the four measures of personal wellbeing were: 7.5 out of 10 for life satisfaction; 7.4 out of 10 for happiness yesterday; 7.7 out of 10 for feeling that what one does in life is worthwhile; 2.9 out of 10 for anxiety yesterday.

The proportions of people reporting the highest levels of personal wellbeing have grown since 2011/12 for each of the four measures. The greatest gain has been in reduced anxiety levels. The proportion of people in the UK reporting very low anxiety grew between 2011/2012 and 2013/2014 (ONS, 2015).

Unemployed people continued to rate their personal wellbeing much lower than those who were employed, but both employed and unemployed people rated their personal wellbeing significantly higher on average in 2013/14 than 2011/12. This may reflect a higher degree of optimism now that the economy is improving and a perception that employment opportunities may also be improving. However, personal wellbeing ratings fell among those who are not in work due to long-term sickness or disability.

These people may face multiple challenges to personal wellbeing, being both out of work and in poor health or disabled. They are also least able to take advantage of improving employment opportunities.

The Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) includes 4 indicators for wellbeing, which are taken from the ONS Annual Population Survey. These measure the percentage (%) of people who have low levels of wellbeing for each of the 4 measures. These all improved from 2012/13 to 2013/14. 5.6% of people had a low life satisfaction score (0-4 out of 10); 9.7% of people had a low happiness score (0-4out of 10) (Public Health England: PHOF indicators 2.23i - 2.23iv).

Personal wellbeing measures are taken from the annual population survey and provide estimates at a national, regional and local authority level. The number of people who responded to the wellbeing questions in Reading varied from 901 to 906 depending on the question.

Life Satisfaction: the survey asked, "Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?" (0 is 'not at all satisfied'; 10 is 'completely satisfied').

In 2013/14, the average life satisfaction score in Reading was 7.52 out of 10. This was comparable to the England figure of 7.49 out of 10. PHOF indicator 2.23i measures the % of the population who have low satisfaction levels.

Data has not been published for Reading for 2013/14, as the confidence levels were too high to be validated.

Worthwhile: the survey asked "Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile? (0 is 'not at all worthwhile'; 10 is 'completely worthwhile').

In 2013/14, the average worthwhile score in Reading was 7.84 out of 10. This was comparable to the England figure of 7.73 out of 10. (PHOF indicator 2.23ii measures the % of the population who have low levels of worthwhileness.

Data has not been published for Reading for 2013/14, as the confidence levels were too high to be validated).

Happiness: the survey asked "Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday? (0 is 'not at all happy; 10 is 'completely happy').

In 2013/14, the average happiness score in Reading was 7.47 out of 10. This is comparable to the England figure of 7.37 out of 10. 5.8% of people reported that they had a low feeling of happiness in Reading (0-4 out of 10), which was significantly better than the national figure of 9.7%. This was also an improvement on previous years, although the change was not significant.

Anxiety: the survey asked "Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

(0 is 'not at all anxious'; 10 is 'completely anxious').

At approximately 20%, the self-reported feeling of anxiety in Reading was significantly better than the England average at approximately 30% for the year 2013/14.

Figure 1: Estimated levels of personal wellbeing in Reading (2013/14)


Source: Office for National Statistics. Personal Wellbeing in the UK 2013/14 (September 2014)

Figure 2: Self-reported wellbeing - people with a low happiness score in Reading


Figure 3: Self-reported wellbeing - people with a high anxiety score in Reading


(Key: yellow- similar, green- better, red- worse)

Source: Public Health England; Public Health Outcomes Framework indicators 2.23i - 2.23iv).

What are the key inequalities?

A weakened social capital for people of different age and sex can in turn lead to inequalities in personal well-being (Eurofound report, 2014) and in accessing new opportunities or valuable resources for dealing with life challenges.

A society where people are less connected, integrated or engaged in civic duties can also have an impact on community well-being and on social cohesion.

The UK has an ageing population: the proportion of the population aged 65 and over has increased over the past 30 years and this is projected to continue. The over 65 population, and particularly the over 85 population, is also expected to rise steadily in Reading. It is known that older people, especially those aged 75 and over, are vulnerable to social isolation which can impact on their physical and mental health. People can become socially isolated for various reasons, including long-term health conditions and illnesses (Lloyd, 2014), or the deaths of spouses, other relatives and friends.

What are the unmet needs / service gaps?

The Government recognises that increasing the participation of young people in learning and employment not only makes a lasting difference to individual lives, but is also central to the Government's ambitions to improve social mobility and stimulate economic growth.

In 2013/2014, the estimated number of 16-18 year olds not in education, employment or training (NEET), in Reading was worse than the England average.

It would appear that certain vulnerable groups, including the homeless, older people, black and minority ethnic communities, young people not in education or training and those experiencing fuel poverty in Reading have unmet needs related to factors that are associated with a sense of wellbeing .

This section links to the following sections in the JSNA:

Mental health

Children & Young People


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013. Well-being concepts. [Online]. Available at:

Diener E, Scollon CN, Lucas RE. The evolving concept of subjective well-being: the multifaceted nature of happiness. In: E Diener (ed.) Assessing well-being: the collected works of Ed Diener. New York: Springer; 2009:67-100

Eurofound, 2014. Social cohesion and wellbeing in the EU. [Online]. 

Frey BS, Stutzer A. Happiness and economics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press; 2002.

Herrman HS, Saxena S, Moodie R. Promoting Mental Health: Concepts, Emerging Evidence, Practice. A WHO Report in collaboration with the Victoria health Promotion Foundation and the University of Melbourne. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2005.

Lloyd, J. (2014). The Bigger Picture: Policy insights and recommendations. London, Strategic Society Centre and Independent Age. [Online}. Available at:

Lyubomirsky S, King L, Diener E. The benefits of frequent positive affect: does happiness lead to success? Psychol Bull 2005;131(6):803-855.

Office for National Statistics, 2015. Personal Wellbeing in the UK 2013/14. [Online]. Available at:

Rizzuto et al, 2012. Lifestyle, social factors, and survival after age 75: population based study. [Online]. Available at:

Strine TW, Chapman DP, Balluz LS, Mokdad AH. Health-related quality of life and health behaviours by social and emotional support: Their relevance to psychiatry and medicine. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2008;43(2):151-159.

Tadd et al 2010; Personal Social Services Research Unit 2010; Nazroo and Matthews 2012).

Tov W, Diener E. The well-being of nations: Linking together trust, cooperation, and democracy. In: BA Sullivan, M Snyder, JL Sullivan (Eds.) Cooperation: The psychology of effective human interaction. Malden, M.A.: Blackwell Publishing; 2008:323-342

Veenhoven R. Sociological theories of subjective well-being. In: M Eid , RJ Larsen (eds). The science of subjective well-being. New York: Guilford Press; 2008:44-61

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