Wellbeing theory / frameworks
Over the past few years I have been developing various theoretical models and frameworks relating to wellbeing, and to related topics like happiness and flourishing. This includes a forthcoming "flexible map of flourishing", illustrated in the figure here.
Lomas, T., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2023). The mental illness‐health matrix and the mental state space matrix: Complementary meta‐conceptual frameworks for evaluating psychological states. Journal of Clinical Psychology. doi: 10.1002/jclp.23512
Objective: It is increasingly appreciated that mental health may not just involve a relative absence of mental illness, but the active presence of positive psychological desiderata. However, research attention on mental illness and health has tended to remain siloed and disconnected-proceeding along parallel tracks-with their potential relationship underexplored and undertheorized. As such, we sought to develop theoretical models to help us better understand the interaction of these two domains of experience. Methods: Through extensive engagement with relevant literature, we created two complementary meta-conceptual frameworks to represent and evaluate states of mental illness and health. Results: The Mental Illness-Health Matrix allows different forms of mental illness and health to be situated and assessed within a common framework. The Mental State Space Matrix further enables these various forms to be conceptualized and appraised in terms of numerous common parameters (e.g., valence and arousal). Conclusion: It is hoped that these frameworks will stimulate and support further research on the inter-relational dynamics of illness and health. Indeed, the matrices themselves are provisional works-in-progress, with their articulation here intended as a foundation for their further development as understanding of these topics evolves and improves.
Lomas, T., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2023). Toward an expanded taxonomy of happiness: A conceptual analysis of 16 distinct forms of mental wellbeing. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. doi: 10.1177/00221678231155512
Recent decades have seen a surge of scientific interest in happiness. However, its theoretical conceptualization is a work in progress. Much of the literature focuses on two main forms: hedonic (encompassing life satisfaction and positive affect) and eudaimonic (encompassing phenomena such as character development and meaning in life). However, this binary has been critiqued as being incomplete, in part because it reflects a Western-centric perspective that overlooks forms emphasized in non-Western cultures. As a result, scholars have begun to highlight other forms besides hedonia and eudaimonia. This article surveys the literature to identify 16 potential forms in total, classified according to whether they primarily pertain to feelings (hedonic, contented, mature, chaironic, and vital), thought (evaluative, meaningful, intellective, aesthetic, and absorbed) or action (eudaimonic, masterful, accomplished, harmonic, nirvanic, and relational). This article thus offers a more expansive, albeit still just provisional, taxonomy of this vital and still-evolving topic.
The past 150 years have seen remarkable advances in the study of wellbeing. To appreciate the value and significance of these developments, this paper offers a historical perspective on their dynamics, arguing that we have seen four great waves of wellbeing scholarship in the modern West. I begin by exploring the wave metaphor itself, and then propose that these waves have been unfurling in a Western cultural ‘ocean.’ As such, I then explore key historical currents that have shaped this ocean, including Greek philosophy, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. From there, the narrative considers the emergence of the first wave (psychiatry and psychotherapy), second wave (humanistic psychology), and third wave (positive psychology). The paper concludes by suggesting we are seeing an emerging fourth wave of ‘global wellbeing scholarship,’ in which these Western waters are beginning to intermingle with other regional oceans (which have likewise progressed through their own developmental currents and waves), creating a more globally inclusive picture of wellbeing.
Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic of interest across academia. However, relatively little attention has been paid to how it is created, especially not in a multidimensional sense. By ‘created’ we do not mean its influencing factors, for which there is extensive research, but how it actually forms in the person. The work that has been done in this arena tends to focus on physiological dynamics, which are certainly part of the puzzle. But they are not the whole picture, with psychological, phenomenological, and socio cultural processes also playing their part. As a result, this paper offers a multidimensional overview of scholarship on the ‘architecture’ of happiness, providing a stimulus for further work into this important topic.
Lomas, T., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2022). The garden and the orchestra: Generative metaphors for conceptualizing the complexities of well-being. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(21), 14544.
Our understanding of well-being, and related concepts such as health and flourishing, is shaped by the metaphors through which we think about such ideas. Current dominant metaphors—including a pyramid, ladder, and continuum—all have various issues. As such, this paper offers two other metaphors which can better do justice to the nuanced complexities of these notions, namely, a garden and an orchestra. Through these metaphors, this paper articulates a comprehensive framework for conceptualizing and appreciating the nature of well-being (and associated concepts), which it is hoped will generate further insights and research into these valued and sought-after phenomena.
We discuss certain critiques of the research literature on flourishing. We fully agree with calls for greater attention to qualitative work, to cultural differences, and to questions of power and justice concerning flourishing. We argue, however, that in spite of notable differences in understandings of flourishing across cultures, there is also a great deal that is held in common, including on topics considered by some as more controversial, such as character and virtue. We also argue that while qualitative research and understanding is important, it is likewise important not to be dismissive of rigorous quantitative research even if certain groups find its results to be unappealing. We further propose that the best way to navigate diverse understandings of flourishing in pluralistic contexts is to identify those aspects of flourishing which are in fact held in common, and to promote these together, but then to acknowledge that certain understandings of flourishing will vary by culture or religious tradition, and to allow and enable each community to exposit, study, and promote flourishing, as it understands it, in critical dialogue with others.
In this commentary, we offer some remarks concerning distinctions that might be drawn between psychological well-being, emotional well-being, well-being more generally, and flourishing. We put forward a flexible map of flourishing to help understand the relative place of these and other terms, and their respective nestings. We discuss some of the challenges concerning terminology related to the use of ordinary language, as well as practices of branding ordinary language expressions that potentially threaten understanding, and we offer some suggestions as to how to navigate some of these terminological challenges in the well-being literature.
The development of academic fields is often described through the metaphor of ‘waves.’ Following the instantiation of positive psychology (the first wave), scholarship emerged looking critically at the notions of positive and negative, becoming known as its second wave. More recently, we discern an equally significant shift, namely scholarship that in various ways goes beyond the individual and embraces greater complexity. This includes going beyond the individual person as the primary focus of enquiry to look more deeply at the groups and systems in which people are embedded. It also involves becoming more interdisciplinary and multicultural, and embracing a wider range of methodologies. We submit that these interrelated ripples constitute a form of epistemological ‘broadening’ that merit the label of an incoming ‘third wave.’ This paper identifies the key dynamics of this wave, allowing appreciation not only of the field’s leading edge, but also its developmental potential into the future.
Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic across academia, with a burgeoning array of research into its different aspects. Among the most dynamic and interdisciplinary work in this arena are studies exploring the myriad factors that influence it. These span multiple topics and fields of enquiry, from physiology and identity to politics and economics, covering analyses at both individual and national levels. This paper offers a comprehensive overview of such work, identifying seven overarching ‘conditions’ (in themselves multifaceted) that contribute towards the complex creation of happiness: temperament; health; demographics; relationships and communities; culture; economics and equality; and governance. Theoretically, these are conceived as constituting the ‘multidimensional conditionality’ of happiness (i.e. conditions that contribute to its arising, which interact in complex ways). The paper also highlights issues with current scholarship, providing a stimulus for further work on this important topic.
Scholars are beginning to appreciate the work-related 'drivers' of wellbeing, i.e., the ways work may promote or hinder employees' wellbeing. This paper brings a multidimensional perspective to bear on this topic by providing: (a) a multidimensional overview of these drivers; and (b) a multidimensional analysis of how they actually 'drive' wellbeing. The paper is in two parts. Part 1 briefly summarises the drivers, highlighting key theories and interventions. Part 2 then brings a multidimensional analysis to bear on the drivers, doing so by focusing on one driver in particular ('managing emotions') as a case study. This driver is analysed through the prism of a multidimensional model of the person, the 'Layered Integrated Framework Example' model. It is hoped that, in future, similar analyses can consequently be undertaken for the other drivers. The paper thus offers a generative research agenda for exploring how to enable people to flourish at work.
Lomas, T. (2017). Positive politics: Exploring the wellbeing implications of left-wing versus right-wing political agendas. In N. J. L. Brown, T. Lomas & F. Eiroa-Orosa (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology (pp. 351-367). Routledge: New York.
The impact of politics on wellbeing has perennially been a topic of some debate in society, and has more recently been a focus of concern in academia too. The current chapter considers this academic literature, drawing it together under the proposed rubric of ‘positive politics,’ defined as the study of the impact of political policies and processes upon wellbeing. The aim of this chapter, and of positive politics generally, is to encourage the use of wellbeing research to inform: (a) politicians and policy makers (with regard to policy making); and (b) citizens (with regard to democratic choices). To do this, the chapter offers a set of orienting analyses concerning the differences between left-wing and right-wing political perspectives. Rather than presenting left versus right as a unidimensional spectrum, the chapter suggests that the left–right polarity plays out across multiple spectra. Twelve different spectra are identified, three of which are constructed as overarching, with the remainder positioned as subsidiary to these: attributions (encompassing justness and equality), locus of concern (encompassing taxation, welfare, and institutional balance), and directionality (encompassing religion, freedom, statehood, and immigration). The chapter explores the implications that different perspectives on these twelve spectra have for wellbeing, thereby setting out an agenda for further research into the impact of politics upon wellbeing.
The relevance of the arts to wellbeing has been recognised within clinical fields, as reflected in therapeutic forms based on various art modalities, from music to drama therapy. However, there has hitherto been little appreciation in fields such as positive psychology of the broader potential of the arts as a vehicle for flourishing and fulfilment. As such, this paper proposes the creation of ‘positive art’ as a field encompassing theory and research concerning the wellbeing value of art. To show the scope and possibilities of this proposed field, the paper provides an indicative summary of literature pertaining to four major art forms: visual art, music, literature and drama. Moreover, the paper identifies five main positive outcomes that are consistently found in the literature across all these forms: sense-making, enriching experience, aesthetic appreciation, entertainment, and bonding. The paper aims to encourage a greater focus on the arts in fields like positive psychology, enabling science to more fully understand and appreciate the positive power of the arts.
Abstract: Critical theorists have accused positive psychology of paying insufficient attention to cultural variation in the way wellbeing is constructed and experienced. While there may be some merit to this claim, the field has developed a more nuanced appreciation of culture than its critics suggest. However, it could also be argued that positive psychology has not sufficiently appreciated or absorbed the wealth of literature within cross-cultural psychology pertaining to wellbeing. This paper aims to forge a bridge between positive psychology and cross-cultural psychology by introducing the idea of ‘positive cross-cultural psychology,’ an interdisciplinary conceptual space for existing and future cross-cultural research on wellbeing. Moreover, the paper offers a meta-theoretical perspective on trends within this literature. It is suggested that cross-cultural research is underpinned by two broad orienting perspectives: a ‘universalising’ perspective, which holds that, despite apparent cultural differences, people share a common human nature; and a ‘relativising’ perspective, which argues that people are strongly shaped by their cultural context. However, the paper finally argues that most research can actually be seen as offering a synthesising perspective – labelled here as ‘universal relativism’ – which recognises universals in the ways wellbeing is sought, constructed and experienced, but allows for extensive variation in the ways these universals are shaped by culture.
Abstract: Although the field of positive psychology has made great strides in developing interventions for wellbeing, many of these are aimed at individuals, designed to engender adaptive psychological qualities and skills. As such, relatively little attention has been paid within the field to the socio-cultural factors that influence health and wellbeing. However, there is an emergent body of work that does focus on these factors, as summarised in this paper. Using Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) multileveled ecological systems theory as a framework, the paper provides an overview of socio-cultural wellbeing interventions and research at multiple levels of scale (microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems, macrosystems, and ecosystems). In doing so, the paper has two main aims: (a) to show how positive change in wellbeing can be affected by the strategic manipulation of socio-cultural contextual factors; and (b) to suggest ways in which the adoption of such a contextual approach can inform policy making.
Abstract: Since its emergence in 1998, positive psychology has flourished. Among its successes is the burgeoning field of applied positive psychology (APP), involving interventions to promote wellbeing. However, the remit of APP is currently unclear. As such, we offer a conceptual map delineating the terrain that APP might conceivably cover, namely, the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example) model. The model is based on Wilber’s (1997) Integral Framework, which features the four main ontological ‘dimensions’ of the person. We then stratify these dimensions to produce a comprehensive conceptual map of the person, and of the potential areas of application for APP. For example, we deconstruct the collective dimensions of Wilber’s framework using the levels of Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) experimental ecology. The result is a detailed multidimensional framework which facilitates a comprehensive approach to promoting wellbeing, and which charts a way forward for APP.