Edinburgh Research Explorer

Contrasting conceptions of wellbeing and their implications for educational planning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWellbeing, Education and Contemporary Schooling
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781138668492
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2017


For those involved in education in its widest sense, we naturally wish learners to be happy and well. The happier learners are the more likely they are to make good decisions about their wellbeing, their education and their future lives. Thinking along these lines, it could be argued, just makes common sense. However, the term wellbeing is a relatively new one in comparison with a plethora of historically related terms such as welfare, utility and happiness, and is new as well in relation to broader educational considerations such as civic values and cultivating virtues (Thorburn, 2015). This is further evident from a comprehensive literature review on wellbeing and schooling noting that approaches to understanding wellbeing ‘have developed in accordance with historical, cultural and philosophical positions, relative to disciplinary traditions and their dominance in research and the academy’ (O’Brien, 2008, p. 56). The newness of wellbeing coupled with varied approaches taken towards understanding wellbeing can lead to wellbeing meaning different things to different people. Therefore, as Tiberius and Plakias (2010, p. 402) note, it makes ‘a big difference what conception of wellbeing one adopts’. The diverse nature and range of current wellbeing theories is captured by Tiberius (2013a) who highlights five main wellbeing theories. On this basis wellbeing could either be considered as a subjective theory (i.e. based on things which are intrinsically good for us) such as hedonism (Bradley, 2015), desire fulfillment (Griffin, 1986) or life-satisfaction (Sumner, 1996) or, as an objective theory (i.e. based on things which are instrumentally good for us) such as human nature fulfillment theory (Nussbaum, 2000) or individually driven nature fulfillment theory (Haybron, 2008). The chapter begins by examining these five theories of personal wellbeing and analyses their relative educational significance in a context where wellbeing is considered as part of everyday learning and teaching; i.e. one where wellbeing is included in holistic learning 28environments (rather than as a component of a separate subject e.g. Personal and Social Education). Thus, the task being taken forward is to better understand some of the main influences on theories of wellbeing and their implications for educational planning and practice.

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