Well-being is a very complex philosophical topic1.  Nonetheless the following rough sketch can serve as a useful instrument even while allowing us to uphold that life is more complex that any measurement we may want to use.  Practically one can start by distinguishing between two basic gauges:

1. Inner gauges:  It is what one senses deep-down to be valid and true and good.  It would include such notions as a sense of dignity and self-respect.  It serves as a guard against paternalism – ultimately no one else can tell you whether you have a sense of well-being.  The chief way to measure this component is by asking the person (interviews, questionnaires, etc).

2. Outer gauges:  This aspect consists of outwardly measurable factors – basic ones like food, clothes, shelter, education, as well as less tangible ones like freedom to choose (which has inner aspects as well).  The outer component is a necessary corrective to self-absorption, ignorance and delusion.  For example, the “happy slave” owned by a benevolent slave-owner might truly believe “my life is full.”


Here is a quick summary of the current list of the components of basic levels of well-being:

1.    Physical – has water, food, shelter, free from physical abuse, etc.

2.    Mental/Emotional – has a sense of dignity & self-worth;  nurturing environment (loved, educational opportunities, etc), free from emotional abuse, etc.

3.    Livelihood / Economic – has a dignified means of supporting oneself / one’s family;

4.    Relational – has a sense of home, of place, of community;

5.    Structural – has structures (political, legal, economic, ownership dimensions) that support/ do not inhibit the above.  Person has basic freedom to choose; has a voice in dynamics that affect oneself.

6.    Environmental – immediate environment and broader ecosystem is in a sustainable flourishing state.

7.    Spiritual – has reverence for life; sense of purpose; sense of beauty, awe;contemplation of life and its flourishing;

Not directly related to the above, but an axiom of the overall web project is that "there is always a reason for things, why people act that way they do."   We either stop and discover as best as possible what the reasons are, or we label, objectify the person or dismiss the underlying causes.  See: Justice and Openness


1  James Griffin: Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement and Moral Importance. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).  [The above sketch does not come directly from this book, although it has loose parallels in some places.]

Another good reference is the Stanford Encycopedia of Philosophy.  Here are two related references from it:
a. Well-being (a more standard treatment of the topic: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/);
b. Happiness and modern reconsiderations from science and pschology; in:
Haybron, Dan, "Happiness", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/happiness/

Last revised: September 01, 2011


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