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Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Volume III, Work and Wellbeing by Peter Chen, Cary Cooper

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Chapter 19

Measuring Wellbeing in Modern Societies

Paul Allin

Imperial College London, U.K.

Introduction

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Governments have long been interested in the wellbeing and happiness of citizens, as exemplified by one of the most famous and frequently cited phrases from the United States Declaration of Independence. Of course there has been debate over what Jefferson actually meant by “the pursuit of happiness,” but among the most interesting views is the one presented by historian Garry Wills who, in his book, Inventing America—Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, compared the original draft with the final version and observed:

When Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness, he had nothing vague or private in mind. He meant a public happiness which is measurable; which is, indeed, the test and justification of any government.

Wills (2002), p. 164

Jefferson may well have been influenced by the work of Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson, who offered a test and justification for action, that it should achieve “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” This was, at its time in 1725, an early expression of utilitarianism, an ethical theory later developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, but at least as old as the ...

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