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.
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- Public policy
- Social cognition
- Social determinants of mental health