Episode 3

What is the future of wellbeing?

Our wellbeing is essential to our overall quality of life. But what is wellbeing? Why is it so hard to pin down? How is it different to mental health, and what can we do to understand, measure and improve it? We talked with psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Amy Orben, psychiatrist Dr Tamsin Ford, and welfare economist Dr Mark Fabian to try and get to grips with wellbeing. In doing so, we learnt about the negative (and positive!) effects of the pandemic, how wellbeing differs for children and adults, and the influence of ever-evolving technology on our wellbeing.  

This episode was produced by Nick Saffell, James Dolan and Naomi Clements-Brod. Annie Thwaite and Charlotte Zemmel provide crucial research and production support for Series 2.

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In this episode:

0:00 - Introductions - meet the guests

03:00 - What's the difference between well being and mental health?

05:49 -  What role does culture play in well being?

06:30 - Wellbeing and economics. How do we think about wellbeing outside of psychology? 

09:35 - How do we measure wellbeing?

13:15 - Could we measure wellbeing from moment to moment? 

15:01 - We’ve reached the recap point

19:04 - Can wellbeing be factored into factors that measure societal progress, like productivity GDP? 

21:25 - How has COVID19 affected wellbeing at a policy level? 

24:35 - Do the well being needs of children and adults differ? 

26:30 - What about adolescents, how do their needs differ?  

29:35 - How is wellbeing research going to change in the future? Could we use life satisfaction to measure social progress?

32:00 - Is there a link between technology and well being or mental health? 

35:35 - How do we react to technological change as a society? The debate around screen time. 

37:20 - Time for another recap! 

43:15 - Measuring student experiences during the pandemic

45:40 - How we might think differently about wellbeing after the pandemic

47:45 - Are we all in the same boat? How do we make sure people aren’t left behind? 

50:05 - How is this new thinking about well being going to shape our lives in the future?For individuals and for governments and policymakers? 

55:45 - What is it to live a good life?

57:30 - What do you look forward to thinking about the future?

59:05 - Recap three. Let’s close this thing out. 

Guest Bios: 

Dr Amy Orben  @OrbenAmy

Amy’s research uses large-scale data to examine how digital technologies affect adolescent psychological well-being and mental health. She uses innovative and rigorous statistical methodology to shed new light on pressing questions debated in policy, parenting and mental health. She also campaigns for better communication of trends in data and the wider adoption of Open Science.

Amy is a College Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge.

Dr Mark Fabian  @MarkFabian_Cam

Mark is a welfare economist working on the Measuring Well-Being project at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. His research focuses on the epistemology and ethics of well-being metrics, especially how policymakers and citizens understand well-being, its measurement, and the legitimacy of well-being policy interventions. 

Professor Tamsin Ford  @Tamsin_J_Ford

Tamsin Ford is Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. She is an internationally renowned Child Psychiatric Epidemiologist who researches the organisation, delivery, and effectiveness of services and interventions for children and young people’s mental health.

Is there any ‘further reading’ you can suggest to listeners?

Public Mental Health Priorities from the Chief Medical Officer Annual Report. 


Particularly chapter 1 which discusses well-being as overlapping but not equating to health and focusing her report squarely on mental health. 


NHS Mental Health of Children and Young People Surveys

https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england - this is the link to the national surveys of mental health – including the 2020 follow up of 2017 and where the 2021 data will be posted when available. 

Child mental health in England before and during the COVID-19 lockdown

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30570-8/fulltext - here is an 800 word summary for those who don’t want to dig deep.

Rethinking Assessment

https://rethinkingassessment.com/ - information about changing educational assessment (and thus the education system underlining it)

The health impacts of screen time - a guide for clinicians and parents


Book suggestions: 

Well-Being for Public Policy - Ed Diener, Richard Lucas, Ulrich Schimmack, John Helliwell 2009

Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor E Frankl 

Development as Freedom - Amartya Sen

About the Podcast

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Mind Over Chatter
Welcome to Mind Over Chatter, the Cambridge University Podcast! One series at a time, we break down complex issues into simple questions.

About your hosts

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Naomi Clements-Brod

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James Dolan