Well-Being and the Viable Economy

A report on our café conversation on Well-Being and the Viable Economy: Monday 23 May.


We had vibrant (and noisy) discussions about well-being and the viable economy at the latest of our Steady State Manchester conversations. We used Ketso (www.ketso.com) in order to help us think through the nature of well-being; what about the way we live now threatens well-being; and what policies might best enhance well-being. Of course there were lots of different views about what contributes to well-being, and during the workshop we were able to see what others thought and identify the great ideas as well as the policy priorities. Ketso uses the metaphor of a tree, from which branches (or themes) grow, sprouting leaves (ideas), and lets us form a picture of our ideas (rather like a mind map). With something as complex as well-being, the maps were full and detailed.

IMG-20160524-WA0000The aspects of well-being to emerge across all groups, with a summary of the issues connected to them were (* means these ideas were thought to be great ideas):

The Inner Person: sense if meaning and purpose*; inner peace and calm; happiness; joy; participation and engagement with the arts; able to talk about our emotions*; love; peace*; outlets for putting creative ideas into action; being able to have unscheduled time to just be*; creativity; musical/singing

Threats: lack of free time*; stress; worry about the state of society, the world and the environment; lack of opportunities or time for creativity; over-stimulation; unhappiness

Personal well-being: basic needs met; access to essentials; enough money*; solid financial security; means to live comfortably; comfortable home; ability and exercise; good health; a good, adequate and healthy diet; good spiritual and eco-health; job satisfaction; work that makes you happy*; access to the natural world; opportunities for following interests and achieving personal goals; opportunities for doing and appreciating art*; allowed to connect to your creativity; free time tio do as you please*.

Threats: poverty and inability to meet needs; good food not available; domestic violence; abuse; fear; fear of crime; poor air quality; traffic; information overload; mental ill health (individual or society?); lack of opportunity and time for pursuing personal interests; debt; lies*; media advertising.

Social well-being: family and friends; love; a happy home; good conversation; connectedness (with other people); good relationships; ability to connect and network; smiles; parties, festivals; social networks*; sharing.

Threats: no friends or family; social isolation; excessive bad news in the media.

Community well-being: resilient communities*; green living environments*; collaborative and cooperative neighbourhoods; spiritual organisations*.

Threats: struggling communities; lack of neighbourhood support or public services; shortage of kindness; current educational system*.

Collective well-being: availability of healthcare; safety; access to public services; access to healthy and enjoyable food; access to the arts; access to a variety of entertainment; disability support; medical health support available; job opportunities; a resilient local economy; housing support for vulnerable people or groups; a focus on equalities- acceptance for who you are*; cultural empowerment; social justice; civic freedoms; able to meet freely; education- free education for all; a healthy environment; access to nature and social spaces*; environmental infrastructure (parks)*.

Threats: increasingly having to pay for healthcare; structural inequality; lack of cultural awareness; cultural/social disempowerment; social tensions, racism, inequality; lack support for childcare; homelessness; cuts in public services; austerity; lack of quality jobs; unemployment; social norms (especially in post work, automated world); constant competition*; system that destroys connectedness and prizes profit; love of money; greed; skewed work ethic; shortage of time and necessity for paid work.

Societal well-being: access to the natural world; quiet green spaces; human connections to the cycles of nature; availability of time (leisure)*; security and safety*.

Threats: separation of people from nature; pollution; not being allowed to work with natural cycles; limited mindsets and resistance to change; an economy that does not have at its root people care, earth care and fair share.

Quite a lot here then! This is only one way of organising the thinking about well-being. In the workshop, the themes were given labels that included: cosmic; freedom from having to do; human connections; access to the natural world; opportunities for doing; basic needs; personal vibrancy; state of society; health; material wealth; community; meaning and purpose; jobs and the economy; housing and home; equalities; education; communities; actualisation; toxicity; environmental infrastructure; social; personal.IMG-20160524-WA0009

The policy priorities, following from the discussion of well-being, included:

  • New measures of success * beyond GDP (economists, politicians, SSM!)
  • Introduce a Universal Basic Income** (National or regional government, banks)
  • Introduce a working time directive for shorter working hours (UK and EU Governments, TUs, Civil society)
  • Sharing work (reduce maximum working hours) (Governments)
  • Automation of work (TUs)
  • Breaking monopolies (Law makers)
  • Reform local democracy and local decision making (Local Government)
  • Introduce community currencies (national and regional Governments)
  • Ensure building design enhances human connectedness* (Local Govt, Housing developers, architects)
  • Free education for all across the lifespan (Government)
  • Teach ethics (Education Minister)
  • Spiritual progress* (whose responsibility?)
  • Encouraging sharing (local Government,, communities, civil society)
  • More resilient food economy (supermarkets, advertisers, manufacturers)

These policy areas resonate with the position paper produced by SSM on The Viable Economy

SSM has also produced a report on how well-being is considered in other parts of the world – see report Living Well. This is worth a look if you are interested in both practical examples and other ways of thinking about living well. The philosophy of Buen Vivir (enshrined / co-opted[?] in both the Ecuador and Bolivia constitutions) are worth having a look at:

S. Deneulin (20120 Justice and deliberation about the good life: The contribution of Latin American buen vivir social movements to the ideas of justice. Bath Papers in International development and well-being, Working paper no. 17 Http://www.bath.ac.uk/cds/

M. Lanza (2012): Buen Vivir: An Introduction from a women’s rights perspective in Bolivia. Feminist Perspectives Towards Transforming Economic Power. Awid. www.awid.org

See also our webpage: Learning from Other Cultures for some further resources.

For the UK Government’s approach to measuring well-being, aiming to “produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation – how the UK as a whole is doing. It is about looking at ‘GDP and beyond” see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/user-guidance/well-being/index.html

For the UK ‘measurement’ of personal well-being, see http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/well-being/bulletins/measuringnationalwell-being/2015-09-23

Carolyn Kagan

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