Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Data Briefing

Wellbeing and being well

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 20 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i3951
  1. John Appleby, chief economist
  1. King’s Fund, London, UK
  1. j.appleby{at}

John Appleby looks at the correlation between health and happiness

What does being healthy mean? What it does not mean—according to the well worn World Health Organization definition—is the absence of disease.1 More positively than that, as the WHO definition clarifies, health is a “state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing.” This classic definition of what it means to be healthy is great—as far as it goes. But what does wellbeing mean? And—at the risk of getting into a definitional loop—is wellbeing essentially the same as being well?

Traditional, largely economic measures—gross domestic product, unemployment rates, etc—have long been recognised as providing only a partial picture of a nation’s progress or wellbeing. But since 2011 (and following an early commitment by the coalition government in 20102) the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported on an annual UK-wide survey covering around 160 000 members of the public designed to elicit views about their wellbeing.3 4 The survey asks about …

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