Doing the right thing: Measuring wellbeing for public policy


  • Marie J. C. Forgeard Positive Psychology Center University of Pennsylvania
  • Eranda Jayawickreme Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania Wake Forest University, Department of Psychology
  • Margaret L. Kern Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania
  • Martin E. P. Seligman Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania


Well-Being, Wellbeing, Public Policy, Measurement


Many experts now recognize that income is not a measure that alone captures the wellbeing of individuals, and governments around the world are starting to rethink the ways in which they measure the welfare of their citizens. Wellbeing is best understood as a multifaceted phenomenon that can be assessed by measuring a wide array of subjective and objective constructs. This review summarizes the state of research on the various domains of wellbeing measured by psychologists and social scientists, and provides an overview of the main theoretical perspectives that integrate these domains. Among these theoretical perspectives, we highlight Well-being Theory, which decomposes the wellbeing construct into five domains: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (PERMA). We conclude by formulating recommendations for future research on the measurement of wellbeing. These recommendations include the need to combine both objective and subjective indicators, and the use of a dashboard approach to measurement. This approach conveys the multifaceted nature of wellbeing and will help policy-makers and citizens understand which domains of wellbeing should constitute priorities for public policy.


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