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Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Volume V, Economics of Wellbeing by Cary L. Cooper, David McDaid

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A Short History of Wellbeing Research

Laura Stoll

New Economics Foundation, U.K.

Introduction

“Research” into what constitutes “the good life” began with the origins of philosophy itself. Its foundations lie in Ancient Greece: ideas that began there have shaped the way in which scientists and policy makers still think about wellbeing. After a period characterized by the rise of religious thinking about wellbeing, the Enlightenment signaled a change in the way that wellbeing was conceptualized: it was no longer based in faith and tradition, and could be treated as a science, much like physics or chemistry. This was followed by a growth of interest in wellbeing from sociologists, political philosophers, and psychologists. More recently, over the past 40 years or so and alongside the maturation of wellbeing psychology, there has been a rise in wellbeing as a field of study within economics, tightly linked to the development of its measurement in the second half of the twentieth century.

Ancient Greece

Any introduction to the history of wellbeing research must begin in Ancient Greece, where philosophers documented their theories on what constituted “wellbeing” or “the good life” and how it was to be obtained. These philosophies still form the basis of much of the subjective wellbeing research today (Haybron, 2008), and their different conceptualizations of wellbeing as hedonism, eudaimonia, and stoicism still guide much of the thinking about the different kinds of subjective wellbeing ...

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