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Wellbeing: Science and Policy

Richard Layard and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve

What produces a happy society and a happy life? Thanks to the new science of wellbeing, we can now answer this question using state-of-the-art empirical evidence. This transforms our ability to base our decisions on the outcomes that matter most, namely the wellbeing of us all including future generations. Written by two of the world’s leading experts on the economics of wellbeing, this book shows how wellbeing can be measured, what causes it and how it can be improved. Its findings are profoundly relevant to all social sciences, including psychology, economics, politics, behavioural science and sociology. A field-defining text on a new science that aims to span the whole of human life, this will be an invaluable resource for undergraduate and graduate students, policy-makers and employers, who can apply its insights in their professional and private lives. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.

The business case for an investment in wellbeing

The World Wellbeing Movement is delighted to announce its first-ever Insights webinar on the topic of workplace wellbeing.

Prof Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford and co-founder of the World Wellbeing Movement, will lay out the latest evidence for why an investment in workplace wellbeing is not just the morally right thing to do: but the financially sensible approach, too.

Join us via Zoom at 4.00pm GMT (UTC+0) on Tuesday 21 November to hear some of the latest insights which you can use to inform your organisation’s approach to wellbeing.

Register for free via Zoom.

Make people happier – not just wealthier and healthier


“Basically, economists wanted to be more scientific,” explained Michael Plant, who leads the Happier Lives Institute. “They thought something only counts as science if it’s objectively measurable. Feelings aren’t objectively measurable, therefore they are not science.”

So economists turned away from squishy concepts like happiness and toward objective proxies for well-being, like GDP. In the postwar period, GDP became the go-to way for measuring well-being, even though the concept’s inventor, Simon Kuznets, warned that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.”

ISQOLS Keynote: Edward F. Diener Lecture

Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, will deliver the Edward F. Diener Lecture at the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies’ (ISQOLS) 21st Annual Conference in 2023.

Hosted in the city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the ISQOLS 2023 Conference will offer a forum for discussion of the research findings concerning quality of life, well-being, and happiness.

The theme of ISQOLS 2023 is Towards a People-First Economy and Society: A World to Win. When we would like to truly improve quality-of-life, we need an economy and society that does not put shareholders above all stakeholders. Instead we need an economy and society in which economic growth is not seen as the ultimate goals but as a means to achieve a greater happiness for a greater number of people and in which the purpose of a company shifts from profit maximization to benefit of all stakeholders, also including employees, customers and communities. However, what will it take? Will governments lead us into the next era or will business do so? And finally, can capitalism work for the greater good, transforming the economy into a good and equitable economy, in which everyone can enjoy a good quality of life and feel the benefits of economic growth?

For more information, visit isqols.org/2023.

William MacAskill, What We Owe The Future: A Million-Year View

Michael Plant


In “What We Owe The Future (WWOTF)”, William MacAskill makes the case for longtermism, the idea that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time. By ‘longterm’, MacAskill means the really longterm: the book is subtitled ‘A million-year view’. MacAskill says his case is based on three premises:

  1. Future people count.
  2. There could be lots of them.
  3. We can make their lives go better.

He remarks ‘these premises are simple, and I don’t think they are particularly controversial. Yet taking them seriously amounts to a moral revolution’ (p. 9). His main proposals are to focus on reducing the chance of premature extinction, allowing continued moral development by strengthening liberal institutions, and growing longtermism as a research field.

The book certainly marks an evolution in MacAskill’s own thinking: he is a leading light in effective altruism, the research field and social movement that aims to find the best ways to help others. MacAskill recounts that he used to believe that this meant focusing on the global poor, but others eventually persuaded him of longtermism. Although MacAskill states his aim was to ‘write the case for longtermism that would have convinced me a decade ago’ (p. 6), the book is clearly aimed at the general public, not academic philosophers. Instead of dense, technical text and a creeping barrage of thought experiments, we are treated to flowing prose and a whistlestop tour of history; it was joyful, even moving, to read.

Given the objective of persuading others, the book must count as a runaway success. For its launch, MacAskill pulled off a media blitzkrieg, with either a profile of himself, or a review of the book – in either case usually glowing – seeming to materialise in every outlet this author had ever heard of. He even featured on a US late-night talk show, not the normal domain of philosophers.

However – and although I wanted to share MacAskill’s enthusiasm for longtermism – I found the case unpersuasive. Further, it seems too bold to claim that the premises are simple or uncontroversial or, if taken seriously, would amount to a moral revolution.

To be clear, my concern is not that MacAskill does not treat his topic with the painstaking rigour he is clearly capable of – that would be unreasonable, given he is writing for a general audience. Rather, it is simply that MacAskill does not do enough to identify or anticipate, then address, the weaknesses in his argument. At times, I found the book uncomfortably polemical, as if MacAskill had set out to convince the reader, as effectively as possible, to share his conclusion, even if they would not fully understand the reasons for it and the challenges to them. Before I elaborate on my concerns, I will summarise the book.

Fire & Wire: Wellbeing in the workplace

University of Oxford

In the second episode of the Vice-Chancellor’s podcast, Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre, speaks to Irene about why wellbeing matters in the workplace. He also discusses some of the latest research findings coming out of the Wellbeing Research Centre and current employee wellbeing trends across the world.

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HSBC announces two-year Research Fellowship in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre

HSBC and the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford are pleased to announce the launch of the HSBC Research Fellowship, a two-year programme that seeks to advance our understanding of the relationship between financial health and general wellbeing. Moreover, the partnership will also conduct interdisciplinary research on the role and impact that different themes such as financial fitness and mental wellbeing play for our overall quality of life.

As part of the fellowship, a post-doctoral researcher will be hosted at the University of Oxford for the duration of the programme, with the insights from this academically independent fellowship being used to inform HSBC’s market-leading health and wealth business model.

Areas of interest for the collaboration will include the further exploration of the behavioural drivers and obstacles for each of the key dimensions of human health, and to gain a deeper understanding of the geographical, cultural, demographic differences and similarities with the aim of producing a set of recommendations for how to improve holistic wellbeing overall. The HSBC Research Fellowship will take an interdisciplinary approach with methods based on economics, behavioural science and psychology, as well as leveraging state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools.

These areas of interest aim to also build upon the findings of the HSBC Life +Factor Study, completed in 2021 and 2022, by the life insurance business of the HSBC Group. It assessed the link between various aspects of wellbeing and confirmed the relationship and compound effect of mental, physical and financial health for overall wellbeing.

Both HSBC and the Wellbeing Research Centre are also founding members of the not-for-profit World Wellbeing Movement, which seeks to place wellbeing at the heart of both business and public policy.

Greg Hingston, CEO of HSBC Global Insurance, commented: “The Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford is a leader in its field, specialising in interdisciplinary wellbeing research as a driver for public policy, interventions, and for improving the wellbeing of future generations. At HSBC, we are fully aligned with these objectives and are delighted to partner with them on such an important area of study for the financial services and insurance industry.

“Health, wealth and life insurance play a key role across a universe of customer needs. Demand for life solutions is continuing to grow, globally, as ageing populations and rising healthcare costs continue to be an issue leading to the widening of the protection gap. Through this partnership and subsequent research, we aim to grow awareness of the benefits of healthier living and wellbeing, the need for protection and the cross over to wealth, as well as inform our health and wealth strategy to provide enhanced and market-leading solutions to our customers.”

Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford, added: “We are delighted to be collaborating with a like-minded partner in the form of HSBC to create this exciting new HSBC Research Fellowship. Our research already suggests that our financial situation is a key component of how we feel about our lives, and this collaboration will enable us to dig deeper into those factors which impact upon quality of life.

“By using the Wellbeing Research Centre as an independent platform for knowledge exchange, it is our hope that this research fellowship, and subsequent research, will enable meaningful and sustainable positive change in the sphere of financial wellbeing.”

Wellbeing in the workplace: A discussion with Oxford’s VC

Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve has appeared on the University of Oxford’s Fire & Wire podcast to discuss the latest insights into workplace wellbeing with Vice-Chancellor, Professor Irene Tracey.

The pair pick over the business case for increasing wellbeing in a workplace context, as well as the objective impacts that an improvement in subjective wellbeing can have on companies and organisations. They also discuss findings from the world’s largest study of workplace wellbeing, undertaken in partnership between the Wellbeing Research Centre and recruitment platform Indeed.

Listen to the full conversation on SoundCloud.

Oxford University Communications · Fire & Wire Episode 2: Wellbeing in the workplace

Making the four-day week work for Britain


Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, economics professor at the University of Oxford, said 10% productivity gains may be a more realistic aim for most than the 20% boost that would come from shifting to four days and maintaining output.

But even so, he believes there is a moral case to try a shorter week when many workers report poor mental health.

“It’s been almost 100 years since we moved to the five-day week … so it’s high time that we start thinking more cogently about next steps,” he said, referring to U.S. carmaker Henry Ford and his introduction of a five-day week in 1926.

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2301 | Machine Learning in the Prediction of Human Wellbeing

Ekaterina Oparina, Caspar Kaiser, Niccolò Gentile, Alexandre Tkatchenko, Andrew E. Clark, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Conchita D’Ambrosio

Subjective wellbeing data are increasingly used across the social sciences. Yet, our ability to model wellbeing is severely limited. In response, we here use tree-based Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to provide a better understanding of respondents’ self-reported wellbeing.

We analyse representative samples of more than one million respondents from Germany, the UK, and the United States, using the data between 2010 and 2018. In terms of predictive power, our ML approaches perform better than traditional ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions. We moreover find that drastically expanding the set of explanatory variables doubles the predictive power of both OLS and the ML approaches on unseen data. The variables identified as important by our ML algorithms – i.e. material conditions, health, personality traits, and meaningful social relations – are similar to those that have already been identified in the literature. In that sense, our data-driven ML results validate the findings from conventional approaches.