Summary of the December Space Working Group Meeting

The discussion of well-being was led by Michael Drinkwater at the December 1, 2014 phone meeting of the Space Working Group. Michael discussed several journal articles and provided a PowerPoint presentation to guide our discussion.

  • Well-being frameworks posit that to understand the health of a social system, it is not enough to measure indicators that can be observed (e.g. income, nutrition, life expectancy). It is also necessary to gather information about how individuals feel about their health or economic status. Such subjective inquiries invoke the need for perspectives from psychology about what constitutes happiness and how it can be measured. We learned here are two approaches that inform what humans perceive as happiness. One is the hedonic approach (well-being results from attaining pleasure and avoiding pain). The other is the eudemonic or flourishing approach, where happiness stems from self-realization, full functioning, and finding meaning in one’s activities and life.
  • In addition to the objective measures and subjective experience, a third element is included in many frameworks of well-being: a relational dimension. This, in turn, can be parsed into two aspects: (i) perceptions of public or social respect (being treated right by others and personal honour); and the ‘happiness’ associated with harmonious close relationships (happiness and peace)
  • The Wellbeing and Poverty Pathways Initiation, with which our member, Michael Drinkwater is associated offers a modified interpretation of well-being called inner well being. It is assessed by examining seven key areas of life shown in the figure below:


The life factors that influence these domains are shown on the outer rim of the circle and notably include ECONOMY and PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. As such, wellbeing is a process that emerges through interaction

  • Between the different domains
  • Between different people
  • Between people and the broader environment

The model is dynamic; it shows pathways to well-being, with flow and interchange between its different elements. Relationships between the factors of influence (outer circle) and the well-being domains can be considered as shown in the figure shown below (which shows an example of how one domain of well-being, economic resources, can be viewed in multiple ways):


Working group members had great discussion both during and after the presentation. Some key comments that emerged include:

  • Group members unanimously agreed that subjective assessments are valuable indicators of social sustainability. Any definition of social sustainability should include subjective perceptions of individuals and recognition that relational factors are important to social well-being.
  • It was pointed out that there is a motivational component to human well-being. Individuals can play a role in pursuing happiness, with various factors influencing how effective they will be.
  • It is important to consider the pool of individuals from which subjective data is gathered. For example, men will have very different notions of what constitutes a satisfying life than women – especially in cultures where women have little range of opportunity or where they value cultural roles different from that of men.
  • The important element of subjective experience described here tells us that we can’t get a complete picture of the health of social systems without providing for subjective assessments
  • Some indicators of social system success require long periods of time for assessment, during which time interventions may be occurring. This well-being approach captures the complexity inherent in such measurements and monitoring.
  • Our perceptions of well-being can and should be influenced by others. For example, someone not reliant on mass transit may change their perception of its importance if they learn from someone else that such transit is very important to their well-being.

Further information is available in the Summary of our Meeting December 2014 and in the articles and PowerPoint on our Space Working Group wiki page.


  • White, S. C. (2009) Bringing wellbeing into development practice, Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD Research Group, WeD Working Paper 09/50, August 2009.
  • White, S.C. and S. Jha (2014) The ethical imperative of qualitative methods: developing measures of subjective dimensions of well-being in Zambia and India, Ethics and Social Welfare, 8:3, 262-276, DOI: 10.1080/17496535.2014.932416
  • To link to this article:
  • White, S.C.; S.O. Gaines, Jr., and S. Jha (2014) Inner wellbeing: concept and validation of a new approach to subjective perceptions of wellbeing—India, Social Indicators Research 119:723-746. DOI 10.1007/s11205-013-0504-7
  • Gasper (2009) Understanding the diversity of conceptions of well-being and quality of life, International Institute of Social Sciences, Working Paper No. 483, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands.