A theory of public wellbeing

Matthew Fisher

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)
    25 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: Wellbeing is seen as a matter of concern for governments and public policy. However, current theories on wellbeing are not well placed to inform this concern, because they fail to take account of and explain evidence on social determinants of mental health. Discussion: This article proposes a new theory of public wellbeing which does takes account of such evidence, by explaining the role of stress within three basic functions of social cognition. Building on this description, the article then proposes that wellbeing consists in seven basic abilities, which are always developed and exercised (or not) through constant processes of interaction between individual and environment. The article explains why contemporary theories on wellbeing are poorly placed to inform public policy for wellbeing. It also positions the proposed theory in relation to evidence on social determinants of health (SDH) and the associated public policy agenda. It is argued the proposed theory of wellbeing extends on and challenges the SDH policy agenda in relation to the normative target of policy proposals, factors identified as determinants, impacts of determinants on populations, and proposals for political and social change. Conclusion: Improved theory on public wellbeing can inform policy for wellbeing because it explains the contingent nature of wellbeing within contemporary social environments, and extends understanding of social determinants of wellbeing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1283 (2019)
    Number of pages12
    JournalBMC Public Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2019

    Bibliographical note

    This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.


    • Public policy
    • Social cognition
    • Social determinants of mental health
    • Stress
    • Wellbeing


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