Life events and life circumstances as drivers of subjective well-being

Examining the relationship between subjective well-being and other key well-being outcomes (e.g. income, jobs, health, social relationships, work-life balance, personal security, education, civic engagement, governance, housing, environmental quality) is then the first step for better understanding differences in subjective well-being observed between different groups or over time. As well as enhancing understanding of well-being as an over-arching construct, analysing the drivers of subjective well-being data offers a way to test empirically whether the outcomes currently used to measure and describe societal progress align with the outcomes that determine people’s perceptions of their own well-being. These analyses can also assist in identifying potential opportunities for new policy approaches, improving the design of existing policies or highlighting areas where policies or regulations can be withdrawn in order to improve subjective well-being outcomes. In particular, identifying the factors that influence how people react to adversity, such as the onset of disability or unemployment, as well as how successfully they adapt to these events over time, may be particularly relevant to policy-makers.

Although not all of the life circumstances that are important to subjective well-being will be amenable to policy interventions, subjective well-being evidence can have particular implications for government approaches to issues such as: mental health and resilience; employment, training and labour market flexibility; child welfare, and family and community policies; and taxation approaches to products (e.g. addictive substances) and activities known to have an impact on subjective well-being (Layard 2005; 2011). The next step may then be to examine the impacts that particular interventions are likely to have on subjective well-being outcomes, and how consideration of subjective well-being impacts can be used to inform certain policy design features.

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